This week, we tested the Encore mDSD, a small auto-powered DAC designed to work with computers, smartphones and tablets. What is it designed for? To convert digital audio signals into audible sounds, with a quality level superior to the traditional headphones output featured by these devices.
Encore mDSD: introduction
Encore is a branch of NuPrime, which made a name for itself in 2015 with its first portable headphone amplifier / DAC. The Encore mDSD is a brand new model which stands out from its previous version due to the removal of its battery and the handling of very high definition audio stream, up to 32 bits and 384 kHz (PCM) and 11.2 MHz (DSD). In other words, this small portable DAC is made for listening to Hi-Res audio music services such as Qobuz or Tidal, for example, and for HD audio files available via HDTracks, as well as DSD format ISO images of Super Audio CD.
Encore mDSD: functions
The Encore mDSD portable DAC is fitted with a type A USB plug in order to be connected to a computer from which it receives the necessary electrical power to work. It is possible to use this DAC with an iPhone, iPod touch and iPad via an Apple Lightning to USB cable. As regards Android smartphones and tablets, a simple USB OTG micro USB cable can be used to enjoy the performance of the Encore mDSD, as long as the device offers USB audio output.
The mDSD features a 3.5 mm mini-jack connector for headphones, shared with an optical S/PDIF output. A brilliant idea which allows the user to use the Encore mDSD as a digital transport between the aforementioned sources and an external DAC without USB ports, such as many hi-fi and home-cinema amplifiers.
The shell of the Encore mDSD is made of brushed aluminium and not plastic like too many portable DACs in this price range. It is therefore especially sturdy and not afraid of being roughed up a bit (falls, etc). A small LED placed on the top indicates when the device is working. Two volume buttons are also featured.
Encore mDSD: ES9010K2M ESS Sabre DAC and XMOS USB controller
NuPrime has worked hand in hand with ESS Tech once again and integrated an ES9010K2M DAC to the Encore mDSD. The ES9010K2M is directly derived from the ES9018K2M which is found in a lot of more expensive DACs. The difference between these two chips is based on the signal to noise ratio. Not quite as good with the 9010, yet better than that of the ES9023 which was used for the Encore mDAC. As regards the USB controller, it is an XMOS model, a reference component which ensures excellent digital data extraction from computers and smartphones.
Encore mDSD: operating
The Encore mDSD DAC is plug and play with Macintosh computers as well as Linux, smartphones and tablets. For Macs, all there is to do is select the mDSD as audio peripheral device. For iOS and Android smartphones, the mDSD becomes the default audio peripheral device as soon as it is connected. For Windows users, it is necessary to install a driver (which can be downloaded via Encore?s website). The driver is Wasapi and ASIO compatible, an ideal solution to allow optimal conditions for the listening experience (with Foobar 2000 or JRiver Media Center for instance).
Encore mDSD: listening impressions
The Encore mDSD offers a very clean sound straight out of the box, although cold and clinical with a narrow stereo effect at first. After about twenty hours of use, the sound stage widens and both ends of the audio spectrum seem to expand.
Welcome to my world / Angel / Heaven, Depeche Mode, FLAC 24/96 (source PCM Blu-ray)
Synthetic sounds are well reproduced and benefit from incredible accuracy. The overall sound is sharp, the lower range is powerful and swift. The amplification doesn’t get carried away during crescendos. A very convincing result with little compression at high volume.
Kashmir (Live at O2 Arena), Led Zeppelin, FLAC 24/48
The very dense sound take shines a light on the weaknesses of most DACs in both ends of the spectrum. The Encore mDSD stays clear in the treble and delivers low and powerful bass. The bass guitar rumbles on without ever diminishing or fading in the background. We would have liked a little more space but the overall result is convincing.
Somebody to love (Live at Montreal), Queen, FLAC 24/96
Dense and spirited delivery yet, there is an obvious lack of micro-dynamics with this track, so much so that Roger Taylor?s voice loses its raspiness.
Habanera (L’amour est un oiseau rebelle), Maria Callas, FLAC 16/44
The phrasing of La Callas is easy to follow and the same applies to the choir and bow attacks. The details and dynamic range are outstanding but it lacks some breathing room for absolute listening pleasure.
Star Wars Episode 7, stereo DTS 16/48
The sound signature of the Encore mDSD perfectly fits films and series. The amplifier delivers fantastic deep lows and crystal clear highs. The sound of blasters, light sabers and Tie fighters send chills down your spine. The output power is impressive but not tiring.
Watchmen, stereo DTS 16/48
Our first impression is now confirmed with this movie which mixes explosive effects and musical hits from the 1960s all the way to 2000. The Encore mDSD is excellent with this type of source as it offers a different balance from audio CDs and HD tracks downloaded from Tidal, HDtracks or Qobuz.
Encore mDSD: conclusion
An enjoyable tonal balance, a solid sound delivery from infra-bass to high treble, a wide dynamic range, the Encore mDSD knows how to please the listener and transfigures the headphone output of any iPhone or Android tablet. Vigorous, powerful and compatible with the highest resolution audio files, not much is missing, except for a little more breathing space, to take over the portable DAC market even with devices sold for 5 times its price, while most of them do not offer USB to S/PDIF conversion.