Introduction: When I first encountered the name “PureAudio Lab,” it was an unfamiliar entity in the world of high-end audio. This introduction was made possible by Danyel Rondthaler from SoReal Audio, a distributor known for its associations with exclusive audio brands. PureAudio Lab, based in Taiwan, has been operating in the hi-fi market for two decades, primarily as an OEM manufacturer, crafting digital audio components like DACs and CD players. In recent years, they’ve stepped into the limelight with their own brand, “PureAudio.” Within their modest lineup of products, the focus of our review is the PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE, an upgrade from its predecessor, the “DAC5,” and priced at 3,150 euros.
Design and Build Quality:
The PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE boasts a familiar and practical design. It adheres to standard rack dimensions and is available in both silver and black finishes, offering users an aesthetic choice. Weighing in at 5.6 kilograms, its construction features high-quality aluminum, ensuring durability and resonance control. The front panel includes a display nestled between two rotary controls, facilitating easy navigation and configuration. The package also includes a compact full metal remote control, providing convenient access to essential functions such as volume adjustment and mute. In terms of design and build quality, the Lotus DAC5 SE maintains a functional and well-constructed appearance, catering to both visual appeal and functionality.
Design and Build Quality:
The PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE exhibits a design and build quality that reflects its commitment to delivering both aesthetics and durability.
Aesthetic Simplicity: The DAC features a minimalist and elegant design with clean lines and a straightforward front panel. The silver or black aluminum enclosure gives it a sleek and timeless appearance, making it suitable for integration into various audio setups. The front panel hosts two rotary controls, one for power and input selection and the other for volume adjustment, simplifying user interaction. The centrally placed OLED display provides clear and concise information without overwhelming the design.
Compact Form Factor: The Lotus DAC5 SE adheres to standard rack dimensions, ensuring compatibility with standard audio racks and shelving units. Its compact size and moderate weight (5.6 kilograms) make it convenient for placement within different audio systems. The inclusion of a full metal remote control adds to the overall convenience, allowing users to control power, input selection, volume, and display settings from a distance.
Build Quality: PureAudio has crafted the DAC5 SE with meticulous attention to build quality. The aluminum housing not only contributes to the DAC’s aesthetics but also enhances its durability. The choice of materials ensures resistance to corrosion and wear over time. The rotary controls and buttons exhibit smooth operation, indicative of the attention to detail in the manufacturing process.
Display and Controls: The centrally mounted OLED display provides essential information while maintaining an unobtrusive appearance when not in use. Users can easily navigate through settings and options using the intuitive front-panel controls. The inclusion of a dedicated button to deactivate the display adds to the user’s flexibility and allows for distraction-free listening sessions.
Connectivity: The DAC5 SE offers a comprehensive set of connectivity options. It includes both RCA and XLR outputs for versatile integration into different audio systems. On the input side, the DAC provides two S/PDIF coaxial, two Toslink optical, one AES/EBU, one USB-B, and an I2S input. This extensive range of inputs ensures compatibility with a wide array of source devices, making it a versatile addition to any audio setup.
Volume Control: One of the notable design features is the DAC’s built-in volume control. This feature allows users to connect the DAC directly to a power amplifier, bypassing the need for a dedicated preamplifier. This direct connection can simplify the audio chain and potentially reduce noise introduced by additional components.
Overall Impressions: The design and build quality of the PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE embody a balance of aesthetic simplicity and robust construction. Its unassuming yet refined appearance complements a variety of audio systems, while the thoughtful inclusion of features like a volume control and extensive connectivity options adds to its versatility. Users can expect a durable and well-crafted device that enhances both the visual appeal and functionality of their audio setup.
PureAudio Lab is relatively restrained when it comes to sharing technical specifications. However, a closer look reveals that the Lotus DAC5 SE is equipped with two ESS ES9038PRO converters. These eight-channel chips operate in a double mono configuration, enhancing channel separation and contributing to a more expansive soundstage. The DAC5 SE demonstrates impressive signal-to-noise ratios, with 110 dB reaching the analog output from the ES9038PRO’s mono mode capability. Furthermore, the DAC incorporates separate power supplies for its digital and analog sections, a design choice often seen in premium digital audio equipment. These dedicated toroidal transformers contribute to the device’s overall performance by minimizing interference and noise. The technical features of the Lotus DAC5 SE reflect a commitment to delivering high-quality audio while maintaining excellent value for its price range.
• USB : Windows / Supports PCM 44.1KHz ~ 768KHz / DSD 512 and MQA.
• USB : MAC / Supports PCM 44.1KHz ~ 768KHz / DOP 256 and MQA.
• IIS/DSD : Supports PCM 44.1KHz ~ PCM 384KHz / DSD 256 and MQA.
• COAXIAL : Supports PCM 44.1KHz ~ 384KHz / DOP 64 / 128 and MQA.
• OPTICAL : Supports PCM 44.1KHz ~ 192KHz / DOP 64 and MQA.
• AES/EBU : Supports PCM 44.1KHz ~ 192KHz / DOP 64 and MQA.
NOTE : DOP ( DSD over PCM ).
‧ Frequency response : 20 Hz – 20 KHz / ±0.3 dB.
‧ SNR : > 110 dB.
‧ THD+N : < 0.0005%.
‧ Output Impedance : < 50 Ohm.
‧ 2 XLR balanced outputs : FIXED 0dB mode 8Vrms, FIXED – 6dB mode 4Vrms.
‧ 2 RCA unbalanced outputs : FIXED 0dB mode 4Vrms, FIXED – 6dB mode 2Vrms.
• Power Supply : AC voltage selector switch at the bottom of the unit, 115V or 230V.
• Dimensions [W x H x D] : 430 mm x 55 mm x 315 mm.
• Weight : 6.2 Kg
• Power consumption : 13.5W ( Standby under 0.9W )
Features and Connectivity:
The PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE impresses with its rich set of features and connectivity options. On the output side, it offers both RCA and XLR connections, accommodating both single-ended and balanced setups. This flexibility caters to a wide range of audio systems, enhancing its versatility. On the input side, the DAC provides two S/PDIF coaxial, two Toslink optical, one AES/EBU, one USB-B, and even an I2S input. The inclusion of an I2S input is particularly noteworthy, as it enables high-quality digital audio transmission, appealing to users with compatible sources. While it focuses primarily on digital inputs, it lacks an additional analog input for those who wish to integrate a vinyl setup, which may be a slight limitation for some users. Additionally, it does not feature a built-in headphone amplifier, which could have further broadened its appeal.
Sound Quality and Performance:
In the realm of sound quality, the PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE demonstrates its prowess. It delivers a remarkably neutral and linear tonality, which lends itself to a wide variety of musical genres. The presentation is characterized by an open and detailed high-frequency response, contributing to a sense of clarity and transparency in the music. In contrast, the deep bass region may be perceived as slightly drier and less prominent compared to some other DACs, but this characteristic is more noticeable in direct A/B comparisons. In practice, the bass quality remains impressive, especially when considering the DAC’s price point. Its dynamic capabilities shine through, delivering an engaging and energetic performance. The DAC’s resolution and ability to convey fine details are commendable, providing a high level of insight into the music. While it excels in these areas, it may not offer the same level of holographic 3D imaging found in some higher-end DACs. Nevertheless, the PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE compensates with its lively and immediate presentation, which can be appreciated by audiophiles seeking a dynamic and engaging listening experience.
The PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE exhibits a remarkable sound quality characterized by its neutrality, resolution, and dynamic prowess.
Neutrality: The DAC leans towards a neutral tonal balance, which means it doesn’t overly emphasize any specific frequency range. This neutrality contributes to a clean and uncolored sound signature. Vocals, instruments, and soundscapes are presented with a faithful and unaltered character, allowing listeners to hear music as it was recorded. This neutrality makes the DAC5 SE suitable for a wide range of musical genres and audio setups.
Resolution: One of the standout features of this DAC is its ability to resolve fine details and nuances within music. It excels in bringing out the subtlest of musical elements, such as the delicate reverberation of strings or the nuanced articulation of a vocalist. This high level of resolution enhances the listening experience by providing a deeper insight into the music, allowing audiophiles to discover new layers and textures within their favorite tracks.
Dynamics: The DAC5 SE impresses with its dynamic performance. It possesses the capability to deliver impactful and engaging music reproduction. Whether it’s the sudden crescendo of an orchestra or the punchy bassline of an electronic track, the DAC handles dynamic shifts with precision and energy. This dynamic vitality adds a layer of excitement to the listening experience, making music come alive with emotion and energy.
Treble Clarity: The DAC stands out with its clear and extended treble presentation. High-frequency details are rendered with precision and clarity, contributing to an open and airy soundstage. This treble clarity enhances the perception of instrument separation and spatial cues, making the listening experience immersive and engaging.
Midbass Control: The DAC exhibits tight and controlled midbass response, providing a solid foundation for music. This control ensures that bass notes are well-defined and do not overshadow the rest of the frequency spectrum. It strikes a balance between impactful bass and overall cohesiveness, resulting in a controlled and articulate presentation.
To assess the sound quality of the PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE, a variety of music genres and tracks were utilized during the testing process. Here are some notable observations from the sound test:
- Vocal Clarity: When listening to vocal-centric tracks, such as jazz or acoustic performances, the DAC5 SE excels in reproducing the natural timbre and nuances of the human voice. Vocalists’ expressions, breaths, and subtleties are conveyed with remarkable clarity and emotion.
- Instrument Separation: Complex classical compositions and instrumental pieces benefit from the DAC’s ability to separate instruments cleanly. Each instrument occupies its distinct space within the soundstage, enhancing the perception of depth and instrument placement.
- Electronic Music: In electronic music genres, the DAC’s dynamic capabilities shine. It effortlessly handles bass drops and intricate synth textures, delivering a pulsating and energetic listening experience.
- Orchestral Music: Orchestral recordings are rendered with finesse, capturing the grandeur and detail of symphonic compositions. The dynamic range and clarity of instruments make classical music a rewarding genre to explore.
- Rock and Pop: Rock and pop tracks, known for their punchy rhythms and vocal-driven melodies, benefit from the DAC’s engaging dynamics. Guitars crunch with precision, and vocals cut through the mix with clarity.
- Soundstage: The DAC offers a spacious soundstage with well-defined instrument placement. While it may not create an exaggerated 3D effect, it provides a convincing and immersive listening environment that extends beyond the physical boundaries of the speakers or headphones.
In summary, the PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE impresses with its neutrality, resolution, and dynamic presentation. It caters to audiophiles seeking a transparent and uncolored sound signature, allowing them to explore the intricacies of their favorite music. Whether it’s the clarity of vocals, the precision of instruments, or the energy of dynamic passages, the DAC5 SE delivers a captivating listening experience across various musical genres.
In conclusion, the PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE offers a compelling proposition in the world of digital-to-analog converters. Its design and build quality, featuring a robust aluminum chassis and user-friendly controls, instill confidence in its durability and usability. Technically, it incorporates top-grade components and a thoughtful layout that enhances its performance. The device’s features, including versatile input and output options, volume control, and customization capabilities, make it a versatile addition to any audio system. Sonically, it strikes an impressive balance between neutrality and liveliness, delivering a highly detailed and dynamic presentation. While there may be room for improvement, particularly in bass depth and 3D imaging, the DAC5 SE’s overall performance and attractive price point make it a strong contender in the competitive landscape of DACs in its class. It deserves consideration for audiophiles seeking a high-value digital audio solution that doesn’t compromise on quality.
- High-Resolution Sound Quality: The PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE delivers exceptional sound quality, characterized by its neutral tonality, high resolution, and studio-like clarity. It excels in rendering intricate details and offers a dynamic and forward presentation that appeals to audiophiles seeking an accurate and engaging listening experience.
- Versatile Connectivity: The DAC provides a wide range of input and output options, including RCA and XLR outputs, multiple digital inputs (S/PDIF coaxial, Toslink optical, AES/EBU, USB-B, and I2S), and even a built-in volume control. This versatility ensures compatibility with various source devices and simplifies integration into diverse audio systems.
- Solid Build Quality: PureAudio has crafted the DAC5 SE with meticulous attention to build quality. Its aluminum enclosure not only enhances its aesthetics but also contributes to its durability. The well-designed rotary controls and buttons offer smooth and precise operation, reflecting the device’s overall robust construction.
- Compact Form Factor: With its standard rack dimensions and moderate weight, the DAC is convenient to place within different audio setups. Its compact size makes it suitable for both traditional audio racks and modern shelving units, ensuring flexibility in installation.
- Volume Control: The inclusion of a volume control allows users to connect the DAC directly to a power amplifier, bypassing the need for a dedicated preamplifier. This feature simplifies the audio chain and provides the potential for improved signal purity and reduced noise.
- Higher Price Point: The PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE is positioned in the higher price range for digital-to-analog converters. While it offers excellent sound quality and features, its cost may be prohibitive for budget-conscious consumers.
- Limited Analog Inputs: Despite its extensive digital input options, the DAC lacks additional analog inputs. This limitation may be a drawback for users who wish to connect both digital and analog source components directly to the DAC.
- Display Visibility: The DAC’s OLED display, while aesthetically pleasing, may have limited visibility from a distance. Users sitting farther away from the device may find it challenging to read the display without getting closer.
- Lack of Advanced Room Correction: Unlike some high-end DACs, the Lotus DAC5 SE does not include advanced room correction features. While it offers precise sound quality, users with less-than-ideal room acoustics may miss the benefits of room correction technology.
- Subjective Tonality: While the DAC’s neutral and linear tonality is an advantage for many listeners, some may prefer a warmer or more colored sound signature. The DAC’s tonal character may not cater to those seeking a specific tonal coloration in their audio playback.
Overall, the PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE offers exceptional sound quality and versatility but comes with a higher price tag and some limitations in terms of analog inputs and advanced room correction features. Its advantages make it a compelling choice for audiophiles seeking accuracy and flexibility in their audio systems.
Profile PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE:
- Tonally, it’s pretty “pure theory”, i.e. neutral and quite broadband: it’s completely there at the top, and good, but not maximum, extension in the low bass.
- Very dry, contoured bass performance.
- Mids and highs offer high resolution. Tonal colors and textures, quiet details and, above all, impulses are meticulously traced.
- Talented in both fine and gross dynamics and not “nervous”. There is a slight preference for attack rather than sustain – but that’s just it: small. The PureAudio is a playful D/A converter.
- Spatially, the PureAudio is a step ahead of the baseline, which appears open and involving and fits its lively nature. The stage dimensions appear normal, neither compact nor expansive, and the depth is also realistic, although more could be done. Precise, very free and immediate depiction of the musicians on this stage – but it doesn’t seem particularly 3D-like.
- Unpretentious, clean workmanship. Very good selection of interfaces including I2S input and XLR outs. Volume control is on board.
- Product: PureAudio Lotus DAC5 SE
- Category: D/A converters
- Price: 3,150 euros
- Dimensions & Weight: 430 x 55 x 315 mm (WxHxD); 5.6kg
- Colors: Black or Silver
- Inputs: 1 x HDMI (I2S interface), 1 x USB-B, 2 x S/PDIF coaxial (Cinch), 2 x Toslink, 1 x AES/EBU (XLR)
- Outputs: 1 x XLR/balanced, 1 x RCA/unbalanced
- Data rates: maximum 32 bit/768 kHz (PCM) and DSD512 via USB, MQA compatible
- Power consumption when idle: approximately 17 watts
- Other: Volume control, mute, phase inversion, metal remote control included, seven digital filter settings, optional sample rate conversion
- Warranty: 2 years