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Nathan Edwards Jun 25, 2008

SilverStone Ensemble EB01 External DAC

At A Glance

Silver Lining

Decent specs, inexpensive pricing, attractive design

Storm Clouds

USB-powered, only 16-bit; Not as flexible as a soundcard.

When we decided to test external digital-to-analog converters (DACs) for the upgrade story in our June issue (“19 Bright Ideas: Upgrades You Didn’t Know You Needed”), we were surprised to learn that SilverStone offered one with pretty decent specs. We recommended Stereo-Link’s upscale A1300 in that story, but SilverStone’s less-expensive EB01 is a solid value.
As we pointed out in the June issue, there’s a widespread misconception that digital audio is an all-or-nothing affair, and so the quality of the equipment you use to extract it doesn’t matter. It’s common knowledge, for instance, that getting audio physically off the electrically noisy motherboard results in cleaner sound, so it’s understandable that keeping audio in the digital domain until it’s entirely out of the PC would also help maintain its sonic integrity.

Stepping down in price from the $225 Stereo-Link E1300 to the $90 SilverStone EB01 does require making some compromises. While the E1300 uses a 20-bit DAC, the EB01 delivers only 16 bits of resolution (although the Burr-Brown PCM2072E is certainly a good component choice). More importantly, the AC-powered E1300 includes a built-in 25mW headphone with a thumbwheel volume control in addition to its line-level RCA outputs; the EB01 can’t draw enough power from the PC’s USB bus to support that feature. In fact, its reliance on USB power is the likely reason SilverStone spec’d a lesser DAC. From an industrial-design standpoint, on the other hand, the EB01’s curvaceous brushed-aluminum case leaves the E1300 looking like a wallflower.

When using the EB01, “Venus as a Boy,” from Bjork’s Debut, sounded like a delicious layer cake, with ultra-crisp highs, sweet mids, and thick-as-chocolate lows. If you already own an X-Fi card, the EB01 won’t deliver any additional benefits. And a soundcard would be a better upgrade choice over both Stereo-Link’s and SilverStone’s offerings if games are your principal audio application. But if your PC is your primary music player, you always rip your CDs to a lossless format such as FLAC, and you’re still relying on motherboard audio, your ears will appreciate what the EB01 has to offer.

THE VERDICT

SilverStone Ensemble EB01 External DAC

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