All-in-one DAC/Amp for 500? Correction – make it 398. Well, what is the HUD-DX1? Made by Korean audio company Audinst, the HUD-DX1 currently represents the pinnacle of the Audinst DAC/Amp development tree. It’s just about packed everything possible into its rather small 104 x 120 mm industrial metal enclosure –including the latest (and depending on who you ask, the greatest) means of playback. Yes, native DSD/DXD. Let’s not also forget the list of other fairly impressive features and components. But wait you say–it’s more than twice the price of the original MX1! And here is where I do apologize. I’ve never had the opportunity to try the HUD-MX1 or MX2, so I can’t say with certainty how much of an improvement it is over these older models. But it is an opportunity to look at the HUD-DX1 from an independent perspective.
DISCLAIMER: This unit was provided by Audinst for the purposes of this review. We are neither affiliates nor employees of Audinst. All media rights are reserved.
The Audinst HUD-DX1 comes in a small, unassuming white cardboard box with glossy photos on the front. Fairly standard fare. Inside is the unit along with the power supply unit, USB cable, Allen key, metal feet, literature and a EU plug adaptor. All the electronic components came nicely sealed in clear plastic bags, along with a pack of desiccant for the main unit. It’s a thoughtful and extremely nice touch on the part of Audinst. Overall, nothing particularly difficult to understand, and the DX1 was up and running in less than five minutes.
The HUD-DX1 has a solid build. While neither as heavy nor as finely machined as the stoic DACmini, the DX1 is nonetheless able to hold its own in terms of general build quality. It is definitely small and light enough to be used meaningfully as a portable device (not portable setup!) The black and gold trim is stunningly elegant, and the overall aesthetic is rather good. The machined lines could definitely go though, as these make the DX1 look strangely reminiscent of the O2. The unit can sometimes run slightly warmer than one would expect. As a final touch, the DX1 can be run off of both USB bus power or from a socket.
Amplification comes in the form of the MUSE8920 OPAMP (used for I/V and filtering) and the TPA6120 headphone amp. The DAC chip is none other than the Sabre ES9018K2M, which is fairly well implemented in this setup. Noise regulation and protective circuits are also present on the DX1. More information can be found on the DX1’s webpage, which seems to source components from the MX2 page (DX1 is strangely referred to as the MX2 on some occasions). All quirks aside, it is a technically competent build and one that would be hard to fault.
Usability is sometimes problematic. 1/4th and 1/8th headphone outs and two switches occupy the front panel of the DX1. The first switch toggles between headphone out and lineout. The second between optical and optical inputs, as well as the power-saving mode. Strangely absent is the gain switch. Like previous models, you need to take apart the DX1 and manually adjust the gain on the PCB. To do this, unscrew the volume knob with the Allen key, and then unscrew the back panel, which pulls out to reveal the PCB. From there, find the jumpers and follow the instructions provided in the manual. 5 minutes for the inexperienced, two for the familiar. But that’s still two minutes more than I’d like to spend adjusting gain. Also absent is a true lineout. Given the very nice DAC section on the DX1, a true lineout would’ve complemented the unit very nicely, especially if used to scale with a better amp section. Apart from that, the DX1 works smoothly with very few actual hiccups.
The specifications page for the DX1 can be found here.
The DX1 sounds very good. Generally, I’d describe the sound as being smooth and polite. The bass is rounded nicely and carries excellent body. It’s got enough presence that I’d describe this as warmer sounding, and the transition into the weighty mids makes this all the more apparent. Vocal tracks sounded overwhelmingly pleasant, and some of my favorite Bossa Nova tracks were rendered in a truly engaging, albeit sometimes intimate, fashion. Highs do have some sparkle, but lack a certain airiness that would’ve otherwise opened up the sound. Take Só Danço Samba (Stan and Getz). The guitar is portrayed with a slight sparkle and the bass line really hits home. It’s a situation in which the DX1 shines.
Compared to the DACmini DAC/amp, the DX1 sounds significantly more engaging and lively. It simply has more presence than the somewhat flat sounding DACmini. However, when running the T1, it became obvious that the DX1 didn’t always have enough power behind it, even after removing the jumpers to adjust to high-gain. At higher volumes, a slight graininess started leaking into the sound. Compared to the iFi iCAN, the DX1 wasn’t as speedy or as powerful, and didn’t have the cleaner sound either. In addition, the 3D Holographic feature on the iCAN really dwarfed the soundstage on the DX1. However, the overall musicality and liveliness of sound made the DX1 a fun and compelling option, and with certain tracks it simply sounded better.
The HUD-DX1 isn’t breaking new ground with its hardware or performance. However, it does feature a refined and highly likable sound, one that works very nicely with most headphones. Aside from its odd design quirks, the DX1 functions almost flawlessly, and interfaces with most devices without a hitch. It is well suited for portable setups, being small/light and easily transportable. It’s got a wide range of features, and the added DSD/DXD playback option means that the DX1 has secured a place among newer DACs. If DSD/DXD support and portability are key factors in determining your next DAC/Amp purchase, then I’d recommend the HUD-DX1 for your consideration.