Trying to magic what to many people is simply a USB stick into an attractive piece of hi-fi equipment is no mean feat.
But, credit to AudioEngine, the D3 gives it a jolly good go.
Clad in an aluminium case which is held together by the tiniest of bolts, the D3 looks and feels like a solid little unit with a robust case that resists any attempts to flex it out of shape.
We’re slightly disappointed, though, by the lack of a matching aluminium end cap to protect the USB connector when it’s out in the open, or in your pocket.
But the D3 does come with its own woolly-esque carry pouch, perfect for keeping it warm in the cold winter months if nothing else.
Also in the box is a brief yet easily understandable set-up guide and an adapter cable for making the D3’s 3.5mm output compatible with headphones that use a 6.3mm connector.
The D3 is compatible with Apple Macs and Windows computers, and the latter doesn’t need any additional drivers.
Like the Audioquest DragonFly v1.2, the D3 can play sample rates up to 24-bit/96kHz natively.
Similarly, it has no problem handling 24-bit/192kHz music files but these will be downsampled to 24/96 during playback.
The D3 also allows for the asynchronous movement of data between your computer’s USB output and the Audioengine, for supposedly improved sound performance (see Jargon Buster).
On the top of the stick you’ll see two tiny indicators. The outer one glows blue when the D3 is being used with tracks boasting a sample rate of 88.kHz and above.
Otherwise, the indicator remains unlit. The inner light simply glows white to show the DAC’s powered up and ready to receive data.
Unlike the Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS and like the AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2, the D3 does without any external volume controls. Instead, it uses the control on your music software.
Play a WAV rip of Eminem’s Bad Guy and the D3 extracts a fair level of detail from the track. The device favours a direct, unfussy sound.
The track’s brooding bass notes hit with a decent sense of impact, and the claps that litter the track sound concise and well-defined – although the emotion in Eminem’s vocal doesn’t quite come across as convincingly as it does when heard through the AudioQuest.
We’d like a bit more subtle detail and texturing of notes too. There’s a lack of refinement to the general sound, which takes some of the gloss and joy out of the music.
Playing Lily Allen’s Christmas cover of Somewhere Only We Know, the delicate piano play and her sweet vocal sound focused and distinct, but the D3 doesn’t sound as natural or believable as the DacMagic XS.
The tune doesn’t display the same sonic subtleties, nor does it have the same emotional impact as the DragonFly.
The D3 is a solid little device, but sonically it fails to grab your attention and make enough of a lasting impression.
And, when you consider the D3’s isn’t the cheapest of its kind, this leaves it lagging behind the pack leaders.
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