Is Totaldac the best DAC in the world?
Words Oisin Fogarty Graveson Photography Jussi Puikkonen
Vincent Brient has made music his life. In search of true live-like sound, he’s set himself up a modest pile in the wide open landscape of St. Michel, France – an audio craftsman in the striking wetlands below a castle-crowned mountain. Vincent needed a device that would improve the quality of his digital music, a Digital Audio Converter (DAC), if he was going to get closer and closer to that real-life sound. After spending years searching for a DAC that would meet his sonic needs, he decided it would be quicker to just make it himself.
Brient lives nearby Mont Saint-Michel, a rural area of France which is flooded daily by wild tides. He designs his equipment, which also include pre-amps and servers, from the confines of his workshop, testing the sound in a cabin he built himself so it would have no parallel walls. Reducing interference with any sound in the room, it is here that he chooses to listen to the music he loves, on the gear he built himself. One of these products, his D1 Core DAC, landed on our desk a while back and we gave it a try.
What is a DAC? Often unseen, they are everywhere. They turn the music we listen to on our phones, computers, on Spotify, from ones and zeros into what we can actually hear – from digital into analogue. Amid the throngs of people upgrading their headphones, few realise that a great way of improving the quality of their music is to improve the quality of their DAC.
With closed eyes it was as if the instruments were being played around us in the room
From our own modest set up in Amsterdam, we tried Vincent’s Totaldac. Our opinion? The Totaldac D1 Core creates highly detailed sound which, like vinyl compared to digital files, is naturally fluid and smooth to the ear, reproducing the three-dimensional spaces that producers create in their studio recordings. With closed eyes it was as if the instruments were being played around us in the room.
We listened to Wilco’s ‘One Sunday Morning’, and it was as if he was singing for us. From Beyoncé to Miles Davis, this DAC, for a second, whisked us into their worlds. We tried the DAC in different setups and with different speakers. We were didn’t know what to expect but one quality stood out: we could hear every single part of the recording, and the DAC still maintained an enormously coherent sound.
Although it’s not entirely plug and play, after the initial setup it’s an extremely easy to use product and it has ipad control, integration of services like Tidal, Spotify and Playback from computers and externals storage devices. The TotalDac D1 just needs an amplifier and speakers before it’s away.
The D1 Core model sits at €4,700, which is €700 more expensive than the five-star-wearing Chord Hugo TT DAC – a favourite of WhatHifi in 2016. Yet this DAC is only entry-level for Vincent’s standards, and it already rivals DACs well over twice it’s price. Vincent’s Totaldac is his uncompromising answer to the DACs that he wasn’t satisfied with, but rather than comparing it to other products, Brient used his workshop in Normandy to get as close to real performances as possible.
That’s audio craftsmanship which goes back to the source – the music.