B.audio B.dac EX Streamer and DAC


BOB’s Review Series - No 43 – B.audio - B.dac EX – DAC / Streamer / Server

Introduction – Saint Hippolyte is a region in the northeast of France and is probably most famous for its Rouge de Saint Hippolyte (Pinot Noir) wine. The fortified City Wall was built in 1316 although the town goes back much further and it’s located close to the boarder with Germany. In more recent times France has developed a highly regarded audio industry with the likes of Focal, Jadis, Lavardin, Metronome and Triangle all being based there and recently they have been joined by B.audio who are based in this ancient town. The Bermann brothers, Sebastien and Cedric, both from an engineering background, formed B.audio in 2016. In terms of high-end audio, they are a relatively new company, but this means they were able to look at design from a fresh viewpoint and to come up with solutions for their DACs and amplifiers free from the constraints of previous components, design, style, and manufacturing. Today they have a reasonably comprehensive portfolio of products and they have been getting some great reviews in audio press magazines worldwide.

B.Audio have now joined Reference Audio’s portfolio of equipment on demo and sale and this review is a detailed look at of one of their Streamer DACs the B.dac EX which also includes comprehensive acoustic correction filtering all of which is automatic and/or user configurable.

B.audio currently have two ranges of electronics, the ‘B. One’ series is their entry level components and the ‘B.’ series is their Reference range which has enhanced internal components and power supplies. These two ranges include the following components:

B. One Series

  • B.dac One (just a DAC)
  • B.dac One EX (DAC/streamer/server/acoustic correction)
  • B.dpr One (DAC with analogue volume control)
  • B.dpr One EX (DAC/streamer/server/acoustic correction and analogue volume control)
  • B.amp One (stereo power amp)

B. Reference Range

  • B.dac (just a DAC)
  • B.dac EX (DAC/streamer/server/acoustic correction)
  • B.dpr (DAC with analogue volume control)
  • B.dpr EX (DAC/streamer/server/acoustic correction and analogue volume control)
  • B.amp (stereo power amp – with ability to be bridged into a monobloc amp)

The B.dac EX reviewed here is from their Reference range and costs £12,000. There is also a .dpr version which includes an analogue volume control and analogue inputs and costs £15,350 (all at the time of writing)

System Components used in this Review:

Amplifiers: Gryphon Essence Pre and Power Amps

Streamer: Innuos Statement

Compact Disc: Shanling SCD-T200 CD Player

Music Streaming: Tidal, Qobuz, Roon

DAC: PS Audio Direct Stream DAC

Analogue Sources: Sansui TU-719 Tuner

Speakers: Marten Mingus Quintet

Cables: Jorma Cables throughout

Technology – B.audio utilise a fully balanced circuit design on their pre amplifier input stages and all their amplifiers run in Class A/B. Their DACs use a technique they describe as SJR (source jitter removal) which they say removes 100% of the source jitter, quite impressive.

The B.dac EX as noted above includes a streamer and a comprehensive Acoustic Correction facility which although it’s an automatic process once activated in the comprehensive menu it can also have considerable user interaction by the inclusion of 8 user configurable filters. To get the best from this facility you really need to have a good understanding of the frequency response of your listening room before setting any of the 8 filters available to ensure you get the best room response once activated. All 8 filters can be enabled, disabled or adjusted independently and have a dramatic effect on the sound. For those who like to tinker this is a great option that enables your B.dac EX or indeed the B.dac one EX to work with the rest of your system in harmony with your room and not many manufacturers of DACs offer that flexibility and capability.

Overall gain is automatically set by the device to avoid saturation occurring and once the acoustic correction facility has been activated in the menu using the remote control the various filters become available. The filters act in a way like the equalisers of old with their slider controls but are much more sophisticated. Not having a detailed analysis of my room’s acoustic performance, I elected to use the B.dac EX with acoustic correction activated but all 8 filters disabled.

B.audio give the following advice when setting up the filters for your specific room constraints – “it is better to plane the bumps than to attempt to raise the dips”. So, there you go, automatic acoustic correction that is fully user configurable, but it’s best if you already know the constraints of your listening room before attempting the set up.

Looking at the DAC side of things the B.dac EX uses a multi-bit Sigma-Delta chip, but the make and type is not specified by B.audio. It will support PCM files from 44.1kHz to 384kHz and 16 to 32 bit via USB but as is common the SPDIF RCA input is limited to 192kHz 24 bit and the Toslink to 96kHz. It has inputs for 2 x Toslink, 2 x RCA, 1 x AES/EBU on XLR and 1 x USB/B. The EX-version also has an Ethernet input for streaming and a USB/A connection for USB media sticks or USB Drives. Should you opt for the .dpr version it will then also come with analogue inputs on both RCA and XLR and of course the volume control.

The B.dac EX is housed in a casing that is design constant across their product range and is 450mm x 375mm x 91mm (WDH) and weighs in at 7.4kg. The front plate is a CNC machined 20mm thick aluminium plate with a silver-grey finish and with an acrylic display screen on the left-hand size. Display text is however very small so you need to be close up to read it. The rotary source selector dial is great to use but has no text, just white LEDs to illustrate what source is selected but the display does give that information. The aluminium remote is similarly unlabelled on the front but does have guidance on what each button does on the back. Software updates are possible via the rear USB/A port, and I updated the software before starting the review.

The streamer function has numerable menu selectable features accessed via the remote and the front screen. It is Roon ready (not a Roon Core) and does not include MQA decoding. Streaming is therefore possible via Roon but only if you have a Roon Core elsewhere on your network or computer, I was able to use my Innuos Statement as the Roon Core and connected it to the B.dac EX via ethernet cable. The B.dac EX supports Tidal, Qobuz and Spotify. Music stored on USB sticks or drives can be accessed from the MConnect app and I did try this and it brings about one added feature in that the front display now also includes artist and track information, otherwise I much preferred using Roon being so familiar with how it works.

The streamer can be configured in the menu for – local server on/off – DHCP on/off – HQ Player on/off – Squeezelite on/off – Spotify on/off – Roon on/off – Airplay on/off and MPD/UPnP on/off.

Performance – You can tell from my descriptions above that this device may be simple to look at but it hides a comprehensive menu of user adjustable settings and is only as complex as you want it to be. For the inveterate fiddler this will be a delight but for those of you who just need a DAC without the streaming option then the B.dac or B.dac One may be a better choice. I liked what the automatic Acoustic Correction did when used without manual filter adjustments so that’s how I used it throughout this review, AC on and all filters disabled.

There is no doubt that this is an exceptional DAC with or without acoustic correction, sitting easily with if not ahead of its peers in terms of sound quality and flexibility. The inclusion of the streamer is icing on the cake unless of course you already have a cake. The output from the B.dac EX seemed higher than most so be careful with your volume control.

It can be used in many ways and here is what I found:

Used in streamer mode via the ethernet output on my Innuos Statement - Because I favour using Roon I couldn’t use the B.dac EX as a pure streamer because the B.dac EX is only Roon Ready and was therefore looking elsewhere for a Roon Core. But I was able to use it via the Innuos Statement by connecting it to the streamer ethernet output and used this way the B.dac EX was acting as a Roon Bridge. I did use the MConnect app to stream music directly from Tidal without going through the Statement and found this to sound excellent and a great way to access streamed music files if you prefer not to use Roon and/or don’t have a separate Roon Core.

Play any track from the album ‘Eyes Closed’ by Haevn and you will know what I mean. The sound is smooth and inviting with top end sparkle but not the dry overly bright top end that some DACs present but it’s the high levels of exceptional detail retrieval that most impresses. Sometimes detail can be confused with brightness but not with the B.dac EX which presented an unusually smooth and beguiling yet detailed sound that draws you in for longer listening sessions. If you audition the B.dac EX make sure it has been turned on for at least 3 days prior to a serious listening session because I found it got much better over this period becoming smoother and more inviting after a few days use. It takes this long for the internal clocks to stabilise and warm up.

The 1976 original version of Alan Parson’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination has its moments of greatness and the B.dac EX seeks them out with full detail and dynamics in such a way that you can forgive these early Parson’s albums their tendency towards brightness. Instead of brightness came intimacy, presence, and texture. ‘The Mass’ by Era is another enjoyable ‘after work’ listen and I admit to playing the whole album such was the level of detail and impressive content brought to the fore by the B.dac EX. Many DACs just don’t rise to the occasion like the B.audio can and this results in much longer listening sessions.

Used via USB input form the Innuos Statement – I played the Era album again and it sounded great, and I know that many audiophiles prefer the USB connection, but I tend to find the Ethernet connection to be just sufficiently better to keep me entertained for longer and this was the case here. But this was not always the case and when I played track 7 of the Alan Parson’s album again the opening rainstorm sounded more realistic to my ears via USB. So, experimenting with connections is encouraged. ‘Don’t Give A Damn’ by Pete Anderton (Qobuz 44.1/24) was rich, deep and rewarding, the B.dac EX bringing out the full rhythm of this track keeping my foot tapping.

Used via Coax RCA from a CD Transport – I admit to not owning a topflight CD player but such was the resolution capabilities of the B.dac EX that it did show up my 30 year old transport. There was a distinct lack of air around the music no matter what I played when compared to the same tracks streamed or ripped to my Innuos Statement although this applied less to more modern recordings. I hope to try it with a better CD transport soon.

Used as a Pure Streamer via MConnect Player – Bypassing Roon and using MConnect Player I was able to stream directly from Tidal or Qobuz without the Innuos Statement being involved. I was also able to play music stored on a USB dive connected directly to the rear input on the B.dac EX and the sound quality was everything expected of it. I didn’t find the MConnect app anywhere near as intuitive as Roon but I couldn’t fault the sound. There was one advantage however, used this way the B.dac EX now also displayed track and artist information on its front screen.

Conclusion – The output voltage from the B.dac EX is not specified but I suspect it’s well above the standard 2v standard output, especially via the XLR outputs. I would have liked to see a user option to reduce output from a menu setting. Otherwise, I can’t fault this device. France already had may audio brands to be proud of and now it can add B.Audio to that list. It stands easily alongside its peers at or near this price point and in many ways betters them. Not until you get to DACs costing much more does any further digital magic start to happen. There is also little else out there with the flexibility and user adjustable configuration of this DAC.

Watch out for my review the B.audio amplifiers sometime soon.

Bob – Team Reference Audio