Review: Audio Alchemy DDP-1 Digital Pre/DAC/Headphone Amplifier
Audio Alchemy, a Californian based high-end audio manufacturer established since the late ‘80s may have undergone some restructuring over the years, but 2015 saw them shift their focus specifically on a new line of higher-quality, full-featured audio products.
The DDP-1 ($3500 RRP) is one such product, being a small form-factor central nervous system for your audio, which includes an analogue pre-amp, DSD capable DAC, headphone output and a smorgasbord of input and output options.
INS & OUTS
Input can be by USB, coax (x2), optical (c2), l2s, AES/EBU, RCA analogue (x2) or XLR analogue inputs. Output is all analogue, via either RCA or XLR. The DAC is 32-bit/216 kHz with PCM and also capable of 2.82 Mbps with DSD, with four DSP output filters. To ensure that all the boxes are ticked, there is also a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Nestled amongst the ports for the myriad connections is a multi-pin input labelled “Powerstation Option”, which allows coupling of the DDP-1 to the PS-5, an add on power supply that houses bigger capacitors, takes AC/DC conversion into a separate box and includes separate power supplies for the digital and analogue stages of the DDP-1. Audio Alchemy claims improved dynamics, lower noise floor and enhanced detail.
I agree with the manufacturer’s assessment of the benefits of the PS-5 and expect that the vast bulk of DDP-1 sales will be partnered with a PS-5, either straight up or as an add-on in due course. The PS-5 includes two DC output slots, with the second able to be used to upgrade the power delivery to Audio Alchemy’s PPA-1 phono stage. This modular approach allows the Audio Alchemy solution to be tailored to user specific needs, and provides a neat upgrade path for those looking to improve their audio in a fiscally responsible way.
The modular approach works well, as the various add-ons match the casework and, in particular, the PS-5 has a crescent cutaway on its right side, so that it nestles neatly beside the DDP-1 and is visually congruous. The DDP-1’s case is an attractive silver, matt finished brushed aluminium. While definitely consistent with a high end product, the laser-etched “Audio Alchemy” lettering appears to be rubbing off in places so, while attractive and worthy of the high-end moniker, I wouldn’t put the casework in the very upper echelon. The remote is a cheap feeling plastic thing and a bit of a let down next to the fit and finish of the component. I’m told this is to save costs and that an optional machined remote is planned for future release.
My primary use of the DDP-1 was on my desktop, where it replaced a separate preamp and DAC, which in tandem have a similar retail price to the Audio Alchemy. My testing was mostly done with the DDP-1 feeding Adam Tensor Deltas, which are active speakers. The choice of speakers demonstrates that I think the DDP-1 is a high end component worthy of testing with appropriate transducers, which is also why it’s been doing the rounds of audio shows at the heart of some very expensive show setups.
Despite its aesthetic shortcomings, the remote does a great job of controlling the DDP-1, and at the end of the day function over form is important for a remote control. For those who want to touch the device, which is my main form of control, the DDP-1 has a round analogue volume control, which when turned changes the volumes in steps (0-99). It is a pleasure to use. Changes are in two step increments from 00 to 30 and by one thereafter, a thoughtful approach recognising the need for greater control resolution as the volume increases. The volume level is displayed on a small 5cm LCD screen, which also denotes the source, bit rate and filter choice. The screen is clear and legible, even from some distance away.
Source can be changed with the flick of a button on the remote, but is a more clunky process using the selection dial on the unit, which requires scrolling through the nine sources to find the right one, and then pressing enter. A software change to allow the enter button to toggle between the two most recently selected sources would be a welcome enhancement.
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