Denon is no stranger to the world of hi-fi, but the DA-300USB is its first crack at the affordable DAC market.
At £330, the DA-300USB undercuts a lot of rivals at this level, and with a spec list that means it’s equally at home on a desktop as it is as part of a larger system.
Although a largely plastic construction, the DA-300USB feels solid and well made. Denon has thoughtfully included a stand that allows horizontal or vertical placement for those short on space, with its OLED display adjusting automatically for each position.
Perhaps not so thoughtful is its lack of bundled cables – you get a pair of RCA leads for connecting to an amp or CD player, but you’ll need your own for the rear-mounted asynchronous USB-B socket, one coaxial in and two optical digital inputs.
On the front, you’ll find a 6.3mm headphone socket and volume control – doubling up the DA-300USB as a headphone amp, as well as a more traditional DAC.
It’s here that you’ll select your source too, by tapping a touch-sensitive icon. The bright OLED display will then show the source selected and the music bitrate.
All inputs can handle all files up to 24-bit/192kHz and support both PCM and DSD files natively.
The DA-300USB uses the same Advanced AL32 signal processing and digital-to-analogue conversion found in Denon’s top-of-the-range CD/SACD players.
Squeezing such high-end tech into a device at this price is admirable and shows in its performance, which is assured and well balanced.
Play Angels by The xx through our reference system via coaxial and the wonderfully stripped-back production is handled beautifully, with the vocals front and centre, full of expression and emotion.
The DA-300USB is on the relaxed side in its character though, meaning it can lack the impact and edge needed for more lively tracks. Timing can feel off compared to the best, and bass kicks are on the soft side.
Play Elephants by Them Crooked Vultures and the aggressive guitar riff doesn’t have the same feeling of grit to it, while the drums that underpin it lack punch. If your music is of a heavy sort, there are better options.
We found all inputs to have a similar character, including the headphone stage, which worked wonders in bringing new levels of detail to our Spotify collection.
Don’t forget you’ll need an adapter if your headphones feature the standard 3.5mm jack though.
The Denon DA-300USB is an easy-to-listen-to DAC offering detail and a good selection of inputs for the majority of setups.
But it won’t be for everyone. The softness in the bass and the timing issues means it can’t make five stars.
MORE: See all our DAC reviews