Aune X1 DAC – Review

Well, it’s been about a month now since I’ve taken delivery of the Aune X1 DAC and I thought I’d provide a follow-up as promised in my unboxing post.  But before I get started, let me remind everyone what my intend was in purchasing an outboard DAC along with setup used.

First and foremost, I want to qualify that I am on a budget.  I have spent ridiculous amounts of month over the years on stupids things and I am in the mode of “simplifying” my life.  I have over $20k in electronics in my living room that were once considered “high-end”.  I’m sure a $500 Costco receiver can kick the pants out of my $10,000 Classe SSP 75…Well..maybe not for all things, but still, it’s a bit long in the tooth at this point.  What was I thinking?

But I digress..You have most likely stumbled upon my blog because you too are on a budget and looking to get the best value possible in music listening from a digital source.  In my case, that source is my Macbook Pro (mid 2010). Perhaps yours is your desktop PC or laptop as well.  If you are here looking for a DAC to match your latest Bryston purchase, then move along..these are not the reviews you are looking for.

Again, I am only going to focus on MY own listening impressions and I will NOT go into technical details like THD and the like.  I really don’t give a ^%#% (any more) about THD, S/N, RMS and any other acronym you can think of.  At some point in my life I did, and it really doesn’t matter.  Just trust yourself and don’t get caught up in the marketing.

Ok, so you’re on a budget and while $250 for a chinese made DAC could be a bit of a gamble, it was for me, but someone had to take the plunge.  I’m sure you’ve gone through eBay and searched the ends of Goggle to narrow down your decision to the Aune X1, Aune Mini DAC (does not include optical out), Topping, Music Streamer, or even something from Fiio.  I’ve looked at all of those too but I decided to roll the dice and go for the X1 because, “I too like to live dangerously”, it was the only one of the bunch that had an optical input, it was the newest, had a pretty good set of components on paper, and it looks pretty.

For those of you that don’t know, the Macbook Pro has an optical output inside the headphone out.  So what I did was connect the X1 via USB as well as through the toslink out using a mini toslink to toslink cable.  They sell these at the Apple store but costs $40.  I ordered mine from ebay for $5 shipped.  took almost 3 weeks, hence the delay of this review.  For those of you with a Macbook Air, you are out of luck.  The Air does NOT have a “hidden” optical out like the Pro’s.  You will be stuck with USB, which isn’t neccessarily a bad thing.

The speakers I am using for this review are the AudioEngine2’s.  They are excellent for their size and price.  For $150, they are the best speakers on the planet.

So I connected the AE2’s to the Aune x1 using Ultralink Audiophile RCA interconnects which I had lying around from years ago.  Again, the only digital music source is from my iTunes that has been configured to maintain lossless audio..in some cases 24bit/96khz source files.

Test 1

In my first test, I connected the X1 via USB and the speakers directly to the Macbook Pro’s headphone out using a regular mini-jack cable.  I wanted to first compare the quality the MacBooks internal audio processing compared to the Aune first.  You can toggle between the two outputs in the Sounds section of System Preferences.  I won’t waste your time.  The quality between the two are night and day!.  The Aune X1 blew the pants of the regular analog output, which, without comparison sounds pretty good.  So mission 1 accomplished: The outboard DAC of the X1 is superior to internal Mac DAC.  The range, depth of soundstage, separation created from the X1 is terrific.  Really very happy with the USB performance of the X1.

Test 2

After confirming the merits of an outboard DAC, I wanted to compare the differences if any, to the Aune X1’s processing capability from it’s optical input compared to USB.  So using the mini toslink cable, I toggled between the optical and USB digital outs of the Pro to the X1. I would like to test the coax input one day, but I will most likely never use that as the X1 will be used 99.9999% of the time with my current or future mac. This is what the output toggle pane looks like:

I gotta be honest, I cannot tell the difference between the USB and the toslink outputs with the X1.  Some will talk about jitter and other theoretical reasons why one might be better than the other, but my humble ears cannot tell the difference.  Both are excellent and you can’t go wrong with either connection methods.  So this was test confirmed to me that when connected DIRECTLY to the X1, either USB or Toslink sound great.  So you Mackbook Air people need not worry.

Test 3

Ideally, when I come home and plop my Macbook onto my office desk (my home office PC is the Macbook), I want to plug as few cables as possible into the laptop.  So I have the mandatory magsafe power plug, USB printer cable and..well, that’s about it.  I don’t really want to plug in anything else.  With the Aune x1, I would have to use up the second USB output on the Macbook, or get a USB hub.  But I may want my speakers placed elsewhere at some point and time in the future…Maybe on a shelf somewhere (I am in a temporary workspace at the moment in my wife’s craft room).  A solution to this is to use an Airport Express unit.  You may not know this. but the mini plug audio out on the AEX has a built in optical output when using a mini toslink!  The USB does not output audio in the current generation of the Airport Express.

So this is wonderful, an optical out that I can use Airplay with from my Macbook iTunes that will eliminate one more wire.  Super.  Or so I thought.

So with the Macbook streaming to my AEX and then via toslink to the Aune X1, I was expecting similar performance to the direct wired connection with USB or optical.  Well, after firing my beloved Natalie Merchant’s “Ophelia” (excellent production btw), I was expecting an truly immersive experience.  Far from it.  I was very disappointed with the flat and soft sound stage when streaming wirelessly with the AEX.  Maybe it’s the fact that the volume was about 30% lower when connected in this fashion compared to direct wire. But I cannot fault the Aune X1 in this case.  After some research, I realized that the AEX is only capable of outputting 16 bit/44.1khz.  Maybe that’s the reason, but while the sound from the Aune X1 when streaming sounds great at a decent volume, it sounds less full when compared to direct connection via USB or optical.  I won’t waste to much time as to why this is, but my ears tell me that streaming to the Airport express with the X1 should only be reserved for desperate times….like when I need a pair of speakers in the backyard for a BBQ, I can plug the AEX into the patio outlet and bring my speakers outside.  Other than that, I will be sticking to directly optical or USB connections.

Also, the Aune X1 drops the connection sometimes when I pause a song and then ski to another one.  I’m not sure if this is a fault with the X1 or the Airport Express.  I think it’s the X1.  I solve this by toggling the input button on the X1 until I get back to “optical” and the music plays again.  But this is annoying.  I cannot live like that.  The AEX and toslink should only be used in emergency situations.

Airport Express and Aune X1 via Toslink

Summary

At $250, the Aune X1 is not the cheapest DAC out there.  But then again, there are others out there that cost 2,3,and even 10 times as much.  I doubt they can be significantly better sounding than this little unit.  at the same time, the X1 has an excellent headphone amp.

Note that the volume control only works when used as a headphone amp.  It cannot be used as a preamp volume control when using speakers despite what the company’s literature might allude to.  My powered AudioEngine2’s have their own volume control, or you can use the volume control built into iTunes.

I highly recommend the Aune X1 if you are on a budget and want an excellent headphone amp that is more than capable of handling the best headphones you can throw at them (Beyer, Grado, AKG, Sennheiser, etc).  No Dr Dre users please =).

A gripe that I have is that the X1 does not have any feet.  I am currently sourcing some rubber feet that I will screw on myself. Without feet, the slick aluminum chassis just slides around.  It’s a minor upgrade cost-wise, so I’m surprised that this was overlooked by the designers.  Otherwise I love the black powered coated aluminum enclosure and sleek lines of the design.

Are there cheaper DAC’s?  Yes there are.  I’m sure the previous generation Aune mini-usb DAC is just fine too.  But I cannot comment on that as I’ve never heard it.   I have bought a lot of things where I experience immediate buyers remorse.  Not so with the X1.  I can happily recommend it if you are looking to maximize the quality of your lossless audio files.  I would not spend any more than $250 for it though.  Frankly I think it’s a touch on the high side and think the “correct” price should be around $200-220, but it’s priced at what the market can bear I guess.  So with the DAC, AudioEngine2’s, a decent set of interconnects, you too can enjoy the best sound possible for less than $400 in my humble opinion.  I have recently purchased Aune’s 2 channel mini amp that pairs aestetically with the X1 which I will review in the near future.

Aune’s done a great job with the X1 and for the price, you really can’t go wrong if you are going to be using it in a similar way that I am.  My iTunes library has never sounded so good.  I’m enjoying every minute of my old vinyl rips thanks to the Aune X1.

P.S.  My project for the fall is to build a pair of concrete speakers.  yes, concrete.  I am currently designing the enclosures and figuring out the best way to conduct the pour.  I will post progress when I the process starts.  They will eventually be replacing the AudioEngines on my desk.  Stay tuned.

37 Responses to “Aune X1 DAC – Review”

  1. Thank you, excellent, informative reviewing! Love the Dr. Dre-comment and Mike Myers quote ;)
    Just bought this one myself, arriving this week hopefully. I’m hooking it up to my BD-player, Xbox360, Pioneer CD-player (these three through optical toslink mechanical switch), TV-tuner (coax) and Macbook (USB). NAD C356 BEE amp, Jamo full-range E670 speakers.
    The Aune X1 is my first DAC, and I’m very excited to just hear for myself if there will be any differences compared to using my devices’ internal DACs. I was originally going for Cambridge DacMagic, but I thought I’d try and get satisfied with the X1 which is almost half the price in Norway.

    • darthbane883 Says:

      I’m happy you fell across my blog. One word of caution, I just received a bill for $35 from the courier company that deliver the unit. It was a charge for taxes and brokerage fees. The Canadian government is very draconian with certain types or methods of imports. Sometime I get a bill, but usually not. I hope that is not the case for you, but just want to give u the heads up.

      I think with the components you will be using it with, it will be a great fit.

      Peace out.

      • Likewise. Oh, no problem there, I bought it from a guy here in Norway who imports Aune products himself from China. Paid ahead and got free posting.
        Should be arriving tomorrow or Friday. I’ll leave a word here once I’ve heard the unit in action :)

  2. I have now received the Aune X1 and tested it with the setup mentioned above. It delivers beyond my expectations! I think it is because this was the missing link in an otherwise good setup – now the NAD amp really shines. Every source sounds more “tangible” so to say – there is more articulation in all sounds and instruments, as well as improved separation between them.
    The sources were all affected positively, but I would rank the difference in each source like this:

    1. Xbox 360 (optical) – the Dolby Digital sound effects found in many games sound much more REAL now, and of course the soundtracks are done justice. Need for Speed: The Run demo now just sucks me in with crystal clear and deep ROARS! To my wife’s despair of high volumes :0
    2. Panasonic BD-player (optical) – first and foremost avoids molding different sounds together and mixing with the instruments in soundtracks, and allows the NAD to deliver crushing sound effects and keep clarity
    3. TV receiver (coaxial) – really helps tidy up the lo-fi audio that my TV signal provider…uhh provides
    4. Macbook (USB) – just clarity is all I can say, way improved in that regard
    5. Pioneer CD player (optical) – didn’t really see this one coming, but it sounded better, like I removed a lot of “muffle”

    In the three video sources I was using HDMI -> integrated DAC of my Toshiba TV prior to getting the X1. I tested the difference acheived with the X1 by keeping the old calbes connected and swiching channels on the NAD amp. All in all, I think the clear differences i experienced in sound quality came from now keeping the signals pure and digital until the very end that is the DAC, and then a high quality RCA cable to the amp. It lets my NAD C356 finally work with some high quality input so to say. BOOM!

  3. There is an eBayer selling the Aune X1 dac for $199 with shipping included.

  4. The X1 dac can be used as pre-amp! You are wrong about the statement that it cannot be used as a pre-amp. The volumecontrol for the line-out on the back can be activated or de-activated pushing one of the front buttons. I am the Norwegian distributor of Aune and know this.

    • hmmm. You are absolutely correct. I apologize for the erroneous fact. Strange. When I tried the p-line out the other month, the volume would not work and toggling between p-line out and line out made no difference. I even contacted Candy at Aune to discuss this. She said that it should work, and that I might have a dud. But I was willing to live without it.

      Unusual why it works now. But I’m glad you made me try again. Thanks again.

  5. Robert Simpkin Says:

    Please can someone give me their thoughts on using this mainly as a headphone amplifier, using the DAC connected to my computer? Most reviews talk about using it as a DAC so there is only a line or two about the headphone amplifier.

    Thanks

    • Even when you are using the Aune X1 as a headphone amp, the unit still utilizes the DAC processors. The quality of the headphone amp is very good. I cannot give a full review of it as I only have Etymotic earbuds (for my iphone – they are great BTW) and Senheisser HD280’s that I have now given to my oldest son. I am considering buying a pair of AKG 701’s that I will using only with the X1. In the limited tests that I have done with the headphone amp on this unit, I am very impressed. The digital to analog conversion is the same as the line out’s, but given the fact that we are most likely looking at a small solid state amp for the headphones, one might think that the quality would suffer. I don’t think so. If you are looking for just a dedicated headphone amp, then you should consider a mini tube amp as well. The X1 should be used primarily as a DAC for your mains, and secondly as a headphone amp IMHO. But for a unit that has all the features of 4 inputs, line out, and headphone amp, the X1 is still the best value on the street.

      As I mentioned, my project for the fall is to build a tube amp that I will use inconjunction with the X1.

      I just completed my concrete speakers and will post a “review” of my work in the coming days.

  6. Just bought one of these and was initially disappointed with the sound compared to the analogue out of my Squeezebox Touch, however after being run in for a few days it now sings, I love it. Have even bought some 192Khz 24 bit recordings.

    One question how do I disable the pre out when using headphones as my power amp has auto sensing and switches on when there is a signal.

    • Hmm. You raise a good point. At the time of my review, I did not have my desktop speakers on when I was testing the headphone amp. But I checked last night. And yes, the pre outs are still broadcasting a signal, even when you have headphones plugged in. You would think there should be an internal switch to rediect when/if headphones are installed.

      I contacted Aune about this and they said that the headphone and line outs are on the same line. You cannot shut off the line out when the headphone is installed. That is dissapointing.

      My line outs now go directly to the Aune X2 amp, that has it’s own volume control. So it’s not a problem for me as I only have that volume on when I want to use my own speakers (the concrete ones- absolutely love them fyg).

      Not sure what to suggest for you auto-sensing amp..I’m assuming there is no volume control on it. You don’t really want to be turning an amp on and off manually. that sorta sucks.

      I wrote Candy a sternly worded letter stating that its a design flaw. However, this will not change my review. It’s a great DAC performance/cost-wise. But it lacks this one seemingly important feature for someone in your position.

  7. I see you had the DACmagic, how does it compare to that if used just as a DAC?

  8. I got mine yesterday and it seemed completely broken. I first tried the USB input via my Alix MPD server -> could not get the usb to recognize. I then tried a different PC with the same result. I then tried a different usb cable (using one that worked on my other dac, that failed too). So I then tried testing a different input and ran coax spdif from my cd player into the Aune to listen on my headphones. Nothing there either. I also notice that at power up all the LEDS flash once for an instant and just stay dark from then on. Pressing the buttons gets no response from the LEDs. Am I correct that in normal operations there should always be two LEDs lit up?

    • same thing happened to me. all the lights came on then off. The problem was the aune power supply. For some reason, it was broken. Using different 15v 1A power adapter now, and work great

  9. Thanks for an excellent, real-world review :)

  10. Concrete speakers. The easier way would be to build the cabinets out of wood (or whatever) and then pour the concrete around the outside.

  11. budesonidex Says:

    Got my X1 last week. Sounds great :-) Drives my Sennheiser HD800 like a champ!

    One question, if I hold down the lower button to select P-line Out / Line Out a few seconds, the LED turns red from green. What does this mean??? Does this change anything?

  12. Samantha Says:

    If I could ask, have you experienced any problems with left/right balance when playing music at very low levels? On one hand I have a very powerful amp I’d like to use this as a preamp for and on the other my favourite headphones are quite efficient so I feel that the pot will be near “one” most of the time while using it.

    Thanks!

    • I have noticed that extremely low volumes (when using speakers – currently using concrete speakers as per my DIY article), the left speaker can be a touch lower than the right. Of course at moderate to high volume, I notice no such differential.

      I have been able to solve this issue by adjusting the output on my amp… I am currently using the matching Aune amp with the Aune X1. Because the amp has a variable out, I leave it around the 9:00 mark (the 5th dot….on a scale of 1-10, I would say the volume is about a 3). Anything lower than that, then I may get a slight left/right volume difference when the X1 is set as say the first or second notch.

      But because I have not paired up the X1 to another amp when driving external speakers, I cannot say that the volume difference is attributed to the X1 preamp or the amp itself. It could very well be the amp, and your existing amp may have no issues at all. At any rate, it has not been a problem for me. I hope that helps.

      • Samantha Says:

        So, what you’re saying is that if the volume on the Aune X1 is set to less than 50% it starts to get left/right channel problems? Yeah, I’m afraid that’s going to be a big problem for me. I think I read somewhere that the line-level rails of the Aune X1 run at 2V. According to my multimeter conveniently jammed in the back of my preamp 0.5Vrms is intolerably loud. Normal listening is more like 0.3Vrms and I often listen to it at volumes more in line with 0.10 to 0.15Vrms.

        Assuming that it operates at 2V maximum when in preamp mode and assuming some semblance of linearity in the potentiometer my normal listening levels are below the second dot. :p

        Channel imbalance at 50% volume is really bad, actually… Even my current preamp with its worn out potentiometer doesn’t start acting up till around 15% (at which point it starts drifting as much as 50%).

        Thanks, though

      • Samantha Says:

        Oops, looks like I misread your reply. Very slight channel imbalance at 10% volume isn’t terrably bad. Sorry ’bout the misunderstanding.

        Combined with a quality pair of attenuators, as Grant mentioned and I should be spiffy!

    • You need to get some attenuators, the output voltage is quite high and do 15db ones did the job for me

      • Samantha Says:

        Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?

        Could I ask where you got your attenuators and/or what brand they are? The only RCA attenuators I can find that look like they’ve had any care in their construction at all are some Harrison attenuators on Amazon and they look like they’re a good 2″ long which, combined with the cable, is more space than I have behind my receiver.

        Thanks!

        • I found a guy in eBay who makes them to order so he made them as short as possible. If I find out his eBay details will let you know

  13. Hi

    Do you know if it sounds compatible on Auduze`s LCD-3? I ask you this because i want it.

  14. I was going to buy one not now, dead on arrival & problems with left/right balance & other problems & no feet, ebay sell them for £139 & free P+P

  15. Ammar Mariti Says:

    Hi, I purchased one of this as a used unit and I am experiencing channel imbalance. The left channel is louder than the right channel at all volume levels. Does the warranty cover this?

  16. Hi guys, Read all the posts in this blog, just to make sure I purchased the right DAC. I have 2 V-Dacs and very happy with them. I just miss the headphone and volume option, but I can live with that. Has anyone done a direct comparison between the X1 and the V-DAC v1/v2? I am just very curious….
    I can tell you up front that the V-Dac has no balance issues, whatsoever.

    • Has anyone modified the X1 output resistors to attenuate the headphone output?

      Pics? Wiring diagram? Components used?

  17. Sherril Irene Says:

    i usually use an external headphone amp for convenience.^

    Check out all of the best and newest write-up on our webpage

    http://www.prettygoddess.com/index.php?board=3.0

  18. was curious to know what the outcome was with the airplay issue, which unit was at fault the X1 or the airplay devise

  19. Hello. Question my friends. I have Beyerdynamic 770 PRO 80 OHm. Would this DAC be good for them ? Mainly I’m listening dubstep music.

  20. Stephen Campisi - Friend of all that is good and right in audio Says:

    Can the Aunebe used as a phono preamp for input to an amplifier that lacks a phono input?

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