The FX-Audio DAC-M1 is a compact but full-featured DAC with an ES9038Q2M chip, Bluetooth and resolution up to 32 bits / 768 kilohertz. It currently retails for $219.
Disclaimer: This sample was provided by FX-Audio for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
- Hi-res wireless codec support
- Can be used as a preamp and/or headphone amp
- Remembers separate headphone and line out volume
- Compact size
- Clear, detailed sound
- Unit gets quite warm
- EMI shielding could be improved
- DAC chipset: ES9038Q2M
- Headphone output power: Up to 500 mW
- THD+N: 0.00025%
- Inputs: USB, digital optical, coaxial, Bluetooth
- Outputs: (2) RCA, (1) ¼-inch headphone jack
- Maximum audio resolution: Up to 32-bit / 768 kHz
- Bluetooth codecs supported: LDAC /AAC /SBC /APTX /APTX-LL /APTX-HD
- Weight: 12.3 oz (350 g)
- Dimensions: 13×7.5x6cm
Packaging & Accessories
Compared to previous product releases, the DAC-M1 has much improved retail packaging. Unlike the old unbleached cardboard boxes, the M1’s box is white with “GOOD TIME” printed on the front in colourful lettering. The look is more modern and gives a better first impression, at least for me. Inside the box, you’ll find the DAC-M1, along with a USB Type-A to Type-C cable, the power cable and remote.
The FX-Audio DAC-M1 looks more modern and chic compared to older models such as the DAC-X6. I think it’s a refreshing change visually. For those who prefer a more utilitarian style, there are several other FX-Audio DACs to choose from.
The M1 is available in 3 colours: grey, pink and blue. It’s reasonably small in size and takes up very little space on the desktop. The aluminium alloy chassis has an anodized matte finish and feels smooth to the touch. Moving away from the old straight-edged, boxy designs, the M1 has rounded edges all over.
On the front panel are (from left to right): the On/Off/Mute button, a 6.35mm headphone jack and the volume knob/select button. These are accompanied by an OLED display that shows useful information such as the current input and output setting, volume, sample rate and filter setting.
Around on the back panel are (from top left to bottom right): Optical input, Bluetooth antenna, USB Type-C port, DC 12V port, coaxial input, L&R line outputs.
Pressing the volume knob opens the menu. Here are the menu items:
- Input: USB, coaxial, optical, Bluetooth
- Output: RCA & HP, RCA or HP
- Filter: allows you to choose from 7 digital filters
- Dimmer: you can set the brightness of the display to 25, 50, 75 or 100%
- Monitor: turning this on sets the display to go to sleep automatically
- Reset: reset all settings to their default values
With the RCA & HP output option, the unit sends the signal to both the line output and headphone output simultaneously. When set to RCA or HP, the unit intelligently switches between outputs: when a headphone is plugged in the signal will automatically switch to the headphone output only. If there’s no headphone plugged in it automatically switches to the line output.
Overall, the build quality, aesthetics and functionality are great. However, I did experience some EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) from my iPhone when it was placed close to the DAC. But to be fair, that happens with a lot of DACs, including more expensive ones. Moving my phone a little further away (approx. 30cm) eliminated any interference.
In charge of conversion is an ES9038Q2M DAC chip with an XMOS XU208 USB chip. The DAC-M1 can support up to PCM 32Bit/768kHz and DSD512. A Qualcomm CSR8675 Bluetooth chip supports LDAC /AAC /SBC /APTX /APTX-LL /APTX-HD wireless audio codecs.
The headphone jack is powered by a Texas Instruments TPA6120A2 chip. As far as headphone output power goes, the DAC-M1 does 500mW @ 32Ω. It drives my 250 Ohm Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro to ear-busting levels. So it’s perfectly adequate for most IEMs and a wide variety of headphones up to 300 Ohm. I also found it sufficient for my Hifiman Sundara and Acoustic Research AR-M20 planar headphones.
Setup used for testing the DAC-M1
The FX-Audio DAC-M1 was connected to a Windows 10 PC via USB. The music software used was Foobar2000 and MusicBee playing a variety of FLAC and DSD files. I also tested using some playlists on Spotify Premium from my iPhone (AAC). In addition, I connected my Sony NW ZX-300 to test with LDAC and I was very satisfied with the wireless audio quality.
Headphones used for testing were the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro, Hifiman Sundara and iBasso SR2. For IEMs, I chose the Thieaudio Legacy 2 and Whizzer HE03.
To start things off, I plugged in the Whizzer HE03 IEMs and played Solar Fields’ “Cruise (Earthshine)” 320 kbps MP3 (don’t judge me!). Although it’s not a particularly complex track, it does rely heavily on drive and rhythm. The DAC-M1 handled it well, showing a good sense of rhythm and solid bass extension. The soundstage was wide and the treble airy, despite the lossy compression of the MP3 file.
Next up I switched to the Hifiman Sundara and cued up OSI’s “Invisible Men”. I was taken aback by the level of resolution here as the DAC-M1 dissected the song piece by piece and laid it down. A focused low end kept things tidy while rendering all the texture in the bass guitar and clean leading edges of the kick drum.
The vocals sounded articulate and forward with an impressive level of layering between the main and backing vocals. Meanwhile, the panning of the electric guitar was clean and clear as day, showing that the DAC-M1 has good stereo imaging and channel separation.
I then hooked up the DAC-M1 to my Kali Audio LP-8 studio monitors for a listen to The Pineapple Thief’s “Stop Making Sense”. The LP-8’s intoxicating and authoritative bass was present in all its glory. Bruce Soord’s vocals were forward and articulate and the DAC-M1’s tonal balance found just the right levels for the meaty kick drum and vocals.
Furthermore, the acoustic guitars and xylophones had a realistic timbre and decay. The soundscape had excellent width, depth and layering. Overall, the sound has maturity and nuance that I didn’t expect from such a cute little unit: despite its fun aesthetic, the M1 is a legitimate piece of kit.
The FX-Audio DAC-M1 is a solid little device that does exactly what it sets out to do. And what better way for the brand to unleash their 2.0 Era than with this new DAC and modern aesthetic. The unit itself looks great and has a bunch of user-friendly features coupled with some bona fide quality internal hardware.
Hi-res Bluetooth connectivity: check. Good sound: check. Ease of use: check. I absolutely love the automatic output switching feature and it will be something I hope to see in every future desktop DAC regardless of brand or price. This one is a keeper and is easy to recommend.