While they were initially popular in the 80s and 90s, standalone digital-to-analog converters have enjoyed a resurgance recently due to the popularity of digital music files.
Sad as it is to say, in a few years the local music shop that we know now won't exist and most people will get all of their music online. Services such as iTunes and newcomers like online streaming service mean that people are just a click away from most of the music in the world.
But for the true audiophiles it's formats such as FLAC, WAV and Apple Lossless which are enabling PCs and portable players to rival — and even exceed — the quality of CDs. Today's DACs enable you to connect a USB cable to facilitate this, in addition to the regular optical and coaxial digital cables.
Arcam has taken the blue-print established by rivaland expanded upon it with the release of two new models: the rDAC (AU$598) and the rDAC wireless (AU$775). If you buy an rDAC you have the option of buying an upgrade to the wireless version with a kit costing AU$198.
The rDAC features a higher specification than the DacMagic with the inclusion of a 24-bit/96kHz BurrBrown DAC which will also decode USB files at the same rate. This feature is welcomed as we criticised the Cambridge Audio product for its inability to process free, high-quality music from the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead.
The rDAC features fewer inputs than the Cambridge though as it only has one optical, one coaxial and one USB. On the output side it does both kinds of (non-PC) digital and stereo RCA. Like the Cambridge it also jettisons a remote control. The device instead uses a push button on top to cycle through the three (or four in the case of the wireless version) different inputs.
Build quality is exemplary with a sturdy rubber base and a compact design meaning it can fit into tighter spots than the DacMagic.