Danish company Tangent Audio doesn’t do things the same way as the majority. In a time when only the most expensive and heavy gear is available as separate components, they offer preamp and power amplifier sets at budget prices – and in mini format.
We have previously tested the Tangent Preamp II / PowerAmpster II amplifier set. Now it’s the turn of the series’ digital converter, Tangent DAC II.
The Tangent DAC II is the same size as the amplifier set, so the units can be combined and stacked as needed. Each piece measures 19.5 cm in width, 19.4 cm in depth and 7 cm in height. There is also a CD player and a radio with DAB+ and FM in the range, so you can build a real rack system.
Can be used in three ways
The DAC II is quite versatile. It can be used as a pure digital converter, but since it has volume control and the option of up to five signal sources, it makes sense to use it as a preamplifier or headphone amplifier. In this way, it can become an alternative to the Preamp II, which has only one digital input but three analogue inputs, including a turntable input.
An amplifier set with separate components for the same price as a mid-range multi-room speaker? It can be done!
The Tangent DAC II has only digital inputs. There are two optical, one coaxial, and a USB host input, which means the converter can be used as an external sound card for a computer. USB inputs are becoming a rarity, so Tangent is to be commended for including it. But for most people, an HDMI input would be more useful.
AptX HD – but not Lossless
Many people will probably never need the many inputs – instead, they will stream music wirelessly to the converter from their mobile phones. In that case, it will be in compressed, lossy quality via Bluetooth. But at least using the rather hi-fi friendly AptX HD protocol. Unfortunately, the newer AptX Lossless is not supported.
You won’t find any network functions, so forget about lossless streaming from your mobile phone or NAS.
Since the Tangent DAC II can act as a complete preamplifier, it was allowed to be attached in front of the NAD C298 power amplifier in my system. This is a rather unrealistic combination as the NAD costs almost 10 times as much as the Tangent DAC, but it makes it easier to assess strengths and weaknesses as the power amplifier adds far less colouration.
The Tangent DAC II is one of the cheapest digital converters we’ve tested in years. And the few exceptions, like the Cayin RU6, have been small converters to plug into the USB port.
Argon Audio Solo can upgrade your classic analog amplifier with proper quality audio streaming.
But there’s no need to worry. The inexpensive DAC II sounds quite nice. The first impression is an open and close soundstage that fits well into the space in front of the speakers. And a feeling of “I could live with this!”
In more general terms, the Tangent DAC II has a well-balanced soundstage, with no tonal areas dominating or seeming withdrawn. The bass is fairly punchy and the treble is clear without being harsh.
As listening progresses with familiar tracks (and alternating with the NAD C658, which normally acts as a preamplifier in the system), it becomes easier to identify the Tangent’s sonic characteristics.
The DAC II does a lot of things very well. And the straightforward sound works well with pop music.
Losing the perspective
But perhaps it’s best to leave it at that. As the music gets more complex, Tangent loses some of its overview and mixes room acoustics and instruments together, and the perspective (which is actually really nice on simpler acoustic music) collapses.
Interestingly, this is very similar to the experience of the Tangent Preamp II / PowerAmpster II amplifier set.
Is that a problem? That the task could be handled better is apparent: we’re dealing with some of the cheapest hi-fi money can buy. But it does exist, and that means you can start listening and experimenting. And as your quality demands grow, so does the realisation that you have to pay correspondingly more. The next step could be a FiiO K9 Pro ESS, for example.
The Tangent DAC II is not the ultimate digital converter, but it can be a gateway drug to a real hi-fi addiction. Which should be understood as a good thing. And on the day when the DAC II is no longer part of the proper system, it can make an excellent desktop headphone amplifier.
The Tangent DAC II is a nice and inexpensive digital converter that can be used for just about anything. It’s obviously not in the same class as many of the much more expensive DACs we’ve tested, but if you have an amplifier with no digital inputs at all, it’s an easy upgrade. And it will also be an upgrade over the digital inputs in most mid-range amplifiers. What the Tangent DAC II doesn’t offer is networking capabilities. Playing files from a NAS is out of the question, as is access to streaming services. You’ll need to invest in a separate streaming receiver. For example, the Argon Solo.