I have been talked to Mr Wong from Arce not too long ago, thanks for his effort for sending me review sample of Arce MDAC3 (DAC) and MUA1(USB 24/192 Async Digital Interface), but I will mainly focused on MDAC3 in this review, then another separate review for the MUA1.
Just before we venture more into how Arce MDAC3 sounded, do allow me to tell you more about Arce first. Arce is a passionate manufacturer that has interesting product range in China, such as DAC, AMP combo, Stereo Amplifier, desktop speaker, USB Async digital interface and so forth, and has gained respectable growth and reputation in China, especially the ultimate DAC/Amp combo, Mdac 5, which if you read through review articles in China, majority of them has Mdac5 as their reference unit, but for some marketing issues, they have not yet introduce their excellent products outside of China, so I am sure most of us have never heard of Arce before, however at least to my listening, their product range is really impressive and nothing come short when compared to DAC that came from giant manufacturer. Simple said, Arce is a company that always passionate to music and make excellent products to offer to end users.
In this review article, I will be reviewing the DAC that sits in their top of the product range, MDAC3 (630USD). MDAC3 is a pure digital to analog converter (DAC), does not features a headphone amp and whatsoever, also for some reasons, it does not support USB input as most of the DACs do, so if we want to use it as PC-fi, we must added in an USB Async Digital Interface such as Yulong Audio U18, M2tech Hiface 2 and Firestone Audio Redkey. However, Arce have developed a separate USB converter to pair with MDAC3, which is MUA1 (320 USD).
Well, a 950USD is not a small or tiny figure for most of us, and we might think, what the Hell are they going to sell us for 950USD? I can get XXX for just XXXUSD, why 950USD to buy a DAC that I probably never know of? Well, just before this, I have to tell you first that in China, all of them have exposures with that high-end audio equipment such as Lavry DAC, Weiss and so forth, but most of them preferred and have actually bought MDAC3, why? I believe that we should not place down any judgments before we have experiences with them. Let me tell you more in this review.
Well, MDAC3 is just 630USD, if you are using it on your Hifi system, you don’t really need the MUA1, and so you can save another 320USD. Also, I have tried it with some other USB/SPDIF interface such as Yulong Audio U18 and it turned out to be good, I will do the comparison between U18 and MUA1 in another review.
Outlook and Ergonomics
MDAC3 has a solid and tough build quality, the unit is big and requires a lot of space to put it. Layout is simple though, plugged in the coaxial cable and you can enjoy your music already. MDAC3 is beautiful only the front panel metal has some kind of ‘brushed metal’ effect and pattern which I suspected not everyone will find liking with it. Asides from that, MDAC3 is really nice looking and ‘Hi-Fi’ looking enough, gives me an overall mature and ‘expandable’ feel.
MDAC3 accepted AES, Coaxials and optical input, and output as Balanced along with RCA. MDAC3 is a DAC that can play 24bit 192khz music, the power on button and all of the components are solid and durable, I will not worried on their durability.
How does MDAC3 sounded?
I have paired Arce MDAC3 (through Arce MUA1 and Yulong Audio U18) through Firestone Audio Fubar HD(Amp section), JDS Labs Objective 2,Firestone Audio Fireye HD and iFi Audio iCAN.vHeadphone being used are mainly the Hifiman HE400, Soundmagic HP-100 and German Maestro 400.
MDAC3 undeniable has an admirable and very pleasant to ear sound signature, which you can keep listening to it non-stop, never fatigue after long session listening period. What I have to say is while MDAC3 has a robust and deep bass response, a lush and detailed mid, a well extended and spacious treble, I can tell you that this is a very balanced DAC and giving slightly towards warm sound signature, if not I will said that this is a perfectly neutral DAC.
I played the album ‘The best of The Cranberries’, while playing the song ‘dreams’, normally the beginning of song will give me like ‘rushing’ feel, but played through MDAC3 is a whole new experience, all instruments have their own place to play, so you will never felt fatigued while listening through MDAC3, the treble is never being harsh.
While I said treble is not harsh, don’t get me wrong that the treble is muffled, tamed or not extended far enough, because seriously it is not the cases. Treble is always detailed and extended well, the reasons why it will not making me fatigued is because of the spaces between each of the instruments, so you will not feel like everything are ‘forced’ to be heard, but in a pleasant way, which like pulling everything further back (Little bit).
Being said, MDAC3 has a wide/deep and PLEASANT soundstage. Sometimes I see gigantic soundstage will not be everyone’s liking, because sound will be pulled and become weaker. First of all, MDAC3 has a lush and rich sound (Not overly lush or rich that I will say it is thick, it is just nice), I felt that every space of music has been filled so I never think that the sound is weak or something else, truly enjoyable.
So I moved to Vivaldi by The Four Seasons, I can’t really fault anything in term of sound signature, everything played in a harmonic situation, in a wide/deep/high soundstage, I can’t stop but keep praising the layering and instrument separation, the imaging is pretty nice especially paired with the imaging supreme Hifiman HE400, you can ‘see’ it. Nothing comes harsh.
Things are still impressive with some vocal based songs, sound signature is gentle and expressive. Detail level is really good but not that impressive. Compared to Yulong D100 II, D100 II will has a much more resolving sound but arguably not as musical/warm as the Arce MDAC3, also the layering and richness is not something D100 II can achieved, although there is a HUGE price differences among them. But for sound quality, I preferred MDAC3.
I can’t really fault anything regarding sound signature of MDAC3, the only thing that I am really headache of is not supporting an USB input, and this is extra-ordinary inconvenience to most of the users. Athough I do have the Arce MUA1 and Yulong U18 for making MDAC3 sync with my computer, but I just can’t denied that this is not my style, I like to keep things as simple as it can. I really hope Arce can come out with a DAC that can accept USB input, giving same or better sound than the MDAC3, but lowered the price, I can’t say that price of MDAC3 is really competitive, with 620USD you can have a lot of choices, although MDAC3 can easily stay in the higher end mid fi product range, but Arce really need some time to let people feeling confidence in their products.