Your computer manufacturer may not have had sound quality at the top of its priority list when it implemented whatever sound card is installed in your machine. That’s why so many companies are out to deliver better audio quality from your PCs and Macs, especially if you want to play some better-than-CD-quality high-resolution audio files.
Following the ultra-compact design path taken by companies such as AudioQuest, Cambridge Audio, Sony, HiFiMan and Meridian on their portable USB DAC (digital-to-analog converter) offerings, Audioengine has the affordable and attractive little D3 DAC and headphone amplifier.
The concept and connections are along the same lines as others in the USB DAC category — plug it into your computer via the USB connector (which serves for both power and audio signals) on one side, hook up to your headphones or your stereo system via the mini jack analog output on the opposite side. Audioengine throws in a 1/8-to-1/4-inch adapter so you can connect to a greater variety of headphones.
The D3 accepts audio file depths of 16- and higher-res 24-bit, to which it also upsamples, and accepts up to 192kHz data rate frequency sampling (with 96k native playback). The device features asynchronous data transfer with dual master clocks, and employs an AKM4396 D/A converter.
Another common tool of these USB DACs is a bit of lighting flair, so the D3 includes an LED status indicator that glows blue when the audio signal is above 48kHz. Audioengine says the D3 is compatible with Mac and Windows without requiring extra drivers, and the 2-volt output should be plenty for driving your headphones.
Shipping weight is a mere pound, and the silver finish looks pretty slick next to Macbooks. Cost is only $189.