Audio Analogue AAdac & AAdrive: DAC und CD-Player im Test

Review: Audio Analogue AAdac & AAdrive: D/A converter – I used the online dictionary to check whether there is the word “analogue” in Italian and whether it has a different meaning than in English. Does not have it. The word doesn’t even exist in Italian. Of course, I wonder why an all-Italian company that proudly advertises its headquarters in Tuscany calls itself Audio Analogue . Especially when she sends me a D / A converter (3,700 euros) and a CD drive (1,800 euros) for testing with the AAdac and the AAdrive.

The whole thing seems to have a method, however, because the first product Audio Analogue launched when it was founded in 1995 was a DAC called Vivaldi. In the new device series called “PureAA Line”, to which my test devices belong, there is also a phono preamplifier with the AAphono. And the integrated amplifier belonging to the PureAA Line, which goes by the name of AAcento, works with an analog class A / B circuit . The AAcento is currently the only device in the PureAA Line that has the normal rack width of 445 millimeters. AAdac, AAdrive and AAphono are each almost half as wide at 220 millimeters.



To my delight, the Audio-Analogue devices are not only available in silver, but also in black. I think the design of the Audio Analogue AAdac and AAdrive is very successful. Italian companies almost always have a knack for doing this. Occasionally it looks different when it comes to manufacturing quality. But Audio Analogue also meets very high standards here – both of my test devices are perfectly processed. For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that Audio Analogue has even more to offer in terms of amplifiers: Above the PureAA Line, the Italians have a stereo preamplifier with the Anniversary Line, which Audio Analogue launched in 2015 on the occasion of the company’s 20th anniversary Power amplifier and two integrated amplifiers on offer.

The Audio Analogue AAdac is nowhere near as “pure” as the name might lead you to believe. On the contrary – its equipment is lavish. Among other things, it has a volume control. If you only listen to digital sources, you can do without a preamplifier and connect the AAdac directly to a power amplifier or active loudspeaker . This can be done asymmetrically via cinch or symmetrically via XLR. In addition, the AAdac offers a headphone connection. If you actually prefer to operate the device on its own, as a DAC, you can bypass the volume control of the line outputs. Then the level control only affects the headphone output. The AAdac offers USB-B at digital inputs, S / PDIF – twice via cinch and once optically via Toslink – as well as AES / EBU. As a special feature, the Audio Analogue AAdac can also transmit music data via Bluetooth . This is a nice feature if you just want to play music from your smartphone through your system. But even with the sound-enhancing aptX codec offered by the AAdac, Bluetooth can barely transmit the data rates that a high-quality DAC needs to generate real euphony.

And the stylish Audio Analogue AAdac can handle high data rates. Saber originally designed the built-in ESS9038Q2M for use in high-quality mobile devices. In addition to a compact design and low power consumption, it offers almost all converter technologies that Saber has developed. According to Audio Analogue, they deliberately did not reach the very top of the shelf because they preferred to concentrate on the complex, symmetrically structured analog output stages. They are given a higher priority in terms of sound than the slightly better measured values, such as those offered by the current top-of-the-range Saber chip ES9038PRO. Whatever the case, the ES9038Q2M processes PCM data with a resolution of up to 32 bits and a sampling frequency of 384 kilohertz in conjunction with the USB interface provided by Amanero, DSD up to 22.5792 megahertz (DSD512) and is also MQA-capable.

The currently selected digital input and the sampling rate of the applied signal are displayed on the front with light-emitting diodes. Audio Analogue does not have a display. That reminds me of an hour-long lecture by Ivo Linnenberg. As part of the test of the Linnenberg Telemanhe discussed with me how difficult it is to find a display that does not have a negative impact on the sound of a DAC. It is certainly a wise decision by Audio Analogue to do without a display right away. Of course, the Italians also pull out all the stops to bring the AAdac to the fore in terms of sound: separate circuit boards and power supplies for digital and analog circuits, discrete components, a symmetrical output stage etc. chic remote control.

A very similar remote control is included with the AAdrive audio analogue CD drive. I’m undecided which I think is better: If a manufacturer supplies a remote control with which you can control all devices or if each device has its own remote control. In the first case, if I only have one device from the manufacturer, I have superfluous buttons on the transmitter, in the second case I have to juggle two.

Inside the front loader sits a modified Teac CD5020 drive – one of the last pure CD drives currently in production. The drive outputs data via cinch socket as S / PDIF or via XLR socket as AES / EBU. This is absolutely fine for the interaction with the AAdac, I would still consider an optional I²S connection, perhaps in the form of the HDMI socket established for this, to be a real added value. However, the AAdac would then also have to offer a corresponding input.


Audio Analogue AAdac and AAdrive: Sound & Comparisons

Audio Analogue AAdac and AAdrive meet North Star Design Supremo and Transport – also a combination of DAC and CD drive from Italy. In a listening comparison, there is a mixed double. This is going to be exciting! First of all, the AAdac can make itself comfortable next to my Antipodes S40 music server. In terms of proportions, the devices go well together. And sound?

Ah, capisco! Hence the name. The brand name “Audio Analogue” is not based on the technology, but on the sound. The Audio Analogue AAdac immediately floods my listening room in the most pleasant way with melodious sound. A shot of warmth, lush timbres and a wonderful liveliness – a sound that people like to describe as “analog”. With the first tones, the Italian DAC makes it clear that it does not feel obliged to any numbers – be it zeros, ones or decibels – but solely and exclusively to the music.

It starts with a lush, beautifully sonorous bass range that tends to be lush. The Audio Analogue AAdac caresses you with deep tones. Take the jazz classic “Take Five” by The Dave Brubeck Quartet on the Time Out album . The double bass line stoically played by Eugene Wright carries the piece forward with ease. The AAdac brings the instrument across substantially. I almost feel the presence of the large resonance body in the room. Even here, in the bass cellar, the Italian DAC draws the timbres cleanly and makes it clear where Dave Brubeck’s piano takes over the melody from the bass and where it plays it back. Lush and clearly differentiated timbres can be booked as a clear strength of the DAC. Also the alto saxophone by Paul Desmond … no, we will come to that later. First, Joe Morello’s ingenious drum solo that dominates the middle of the piece deserves due attention. Here, too, the double bass forms the background against which the drums let off steam. The AAdac sets the drums and toms impressively, with power and energy and never leaves me in the dark about the fact that taut heads and non-vibrating strings make the tone. Incidentally, it also shows that the output stages apparently have plenty of power and even cut out violent level jumps as a matter of course. In terms of coarse dynamics, the AAdac leaves nothing to be desired.

It is interesting to compare this with my North Star Design Supremo DAC (3,000 euros), also from Italy. He also stages the drum solo in a very exciting way, but sets different accents. In general, the bass sounds a bit slimmer here, the strings of the double bass seem to have a shade more tension, the heads of the drums to be tighter. The drums stand out more through their explosive character than through the timbres. Or to put it more technically: The Audio-Analogue-DAC seems to concentrate more on the decay behavior, the North Star Design places a stronger emphasis on the transients. Which surprised me a little, because in comparison with the Audiomat Tempo C(2,750 euros), who gave me a guest performance some time ago, I found my North Star design to be more full-bodied. Well, the three DACs simply focus on different things when it comes to playback. Yes, maybe there is a DAC that combines the different talents – I think the Merason DAC-1 . But it is a) a lot more expensive and b) limited in terms of format and thus probably less mass-compatible.

I can already guess how the whole thing will turn out, but Madonna’s “Die Another Day” from her album American Life  to the playlist. And as expected, the hard synth impulses are not necessarily the preferred fare for the Audio Analogue AAdac. It reproduces the bass very impressively and powerfully, but the hard stopping of the notes, which can only be achieved artificially, the Italian does not master like other, “tough” acting DACs. He is more interested in natural decay processes. Here, for example, a Linnenberg Teleman acts more rigorously, more brutally.

The subject of the alto saxophone is still open – and that brings us to the mid-range. And yes, yes, yes – the Audio Analogue AAdac can tones like very few. Why saxophones are among the woodwinds can be explained: Even if the instrument is made almost entirely of metal, the reed of the instrument responsible for producing the sound is made of wood. But you can also hear it. The AAdac leaves no trace of a doubt with the haunting saxophone on “Take Five”. It’s clear, haunting, confident and unbelievable fun to hear. I got full marks for this performance.

Even with voices, the Audio Analogue Pure AAdac does a lot of work. Strong soul voices, such as Cassandra Wilson (Album: Coming Forth By Day), get under the skin immediately. The woman has soul in her voice and that is what the Italian DAC brings across intensely. Things are a little different with “Strange Fruit”. The song, which is part of Ms. Wilson’s repertoire and deals with the lynching of African Americans in the southern states of the USA, is staged by the colored singer in a brittle manner and with many breaks. This song doesn’t want to “please”. But the AAdac does. At the same time, he also wants to be honest. And so on the one hand, thanks to its high resolution, it reproduces details and nuances that are supposed to disturb and disturb – but on the other hand it tries to make it harmonious and round. Ok, this perception can now also be due to my expectations, I simply associate a certain mood with this song.

And what does the CD drive do?

The AAdac is so fascinating that I hardly have any space left to go into the Audio Analogue AAdrive CD drive. Although I can keep this short, because it simply turns out to be a very well processed data provider that perfectly matches the AAdac. In terms of sound, I don’t hear any significant, reliable, comprehensible difference – regardless of whether my Antipodes S40 music server is delivering the data from a ripped CD or whether the CD is read by the AAdrive. And I definitely want to take that as a compliment for the AAdrive, because the Antipodes server, which is almost three times as expensive, usually does a very good job.

Incidentally, it doesn’t really make any difference whether I use my North Star design drive (around 2,700 euros) as a data supplier instead of the AAdrive. In the combination of “drive plus DAC”, my North Star team is slightly ahead – but only if I connect the two devices via I²S, an option that the audio-analogue combination does not offer.


The Audio Analogue AAdac is a device with character. He puts the emphasis on a performance that is as “analog” as possible and sounds wonderfully non-technical. It starts with the bass, which leaves aside the very last bit of hardness and control in order to swing and groove in a dreamlike rousing manner, goes into a mid-range, which offers strong timbres carried by the fundamental tone and at the same time has a high resolution and clean dynamic gradations, and ends in one silky, finely resolved, supple high tone. He confidently passes through coarse dynamic attacks. Spatially, he likes it a little bigger.

The Audio Analogue AAdrive is essentially a high-quality data supplier designed to match the AAdac for people who want to play CDs. That sounds absolutely clean in the station wagon. I can’t attest to the fancy team’s special sonic synergy effects, but given the high level of the components, they don’t even need to be completely convincing overall.

The Audio Analogue AAdac …

  • is tonally slightly warmer and offers an “analog” sound image in the best sense of the word.
  • offers a powerful, sustaining bass that swings and grooves enthusiastically, instead of bringing ultimate control and brute force.
  • plays powerfully sonorous in the mids, which is mainly due to a subtle boost in the keynote. This is so much fun, especially with voices, that its excellent resolution and fine dynamic differentiation can almost fall behind.
  • presents a silky, stress-free and excellently differentiated high tone, which on the one hand sets exciting highlights, on the other hand guarantees absolute long-term listening capability.
  • can grapple with great dynamics.
  • likes it a little bigger in all aspects of space, without exaggerating too much. The proportions are consistent and natural. In addition, it offers good localization sharpness.
  • is extensively equipped and of high quality.

The Audio Analogue AAdrive …

  • is a very solidly made CD drive.
  • offers the best conditions for delivering clean data.
  • Visually matches the AAdac and brings out its sonic potential when playing CDs.


Audio Analogue AAdac

  • Category: D / A converter with volume control (can be switched off) and headphone output
  • Price: 3,700 euros
  • Inputs: 1 x Toslink, 2 x S / PDIF coaxial (Cinch), 1 x AES / EBU, 1 x USB-B
  • Outputs: 2 x line-out (1 x XLR, 1 x cinch), 1 x 6.3 mm stereo jack socket
  • Data rates: PCM up to 32 bit / 392 kHz; DSD 512; MQA capable
  • Dimensions & weight: 220 x 390 x 100 mm (WxDxH), 5.5 kg
  • Colors: black, silver
  • Other: remote control
  • Guarantee: 5 years

Audio Analogue AAdrive

  • Category: CD drive (without D / A converter)
  • Price: 1,800 euros
  • Outputs: 1 x S / PDIF coaxial (Cinch), 1 x AES / EBU
  • Dimensions & weight: 220 x 390 x 100 mm (WxDxH), 5.5 kg
  • Colors: black, silver
  • Other: remote control
  • Guarantee: 3 years