Review of the FX-Audio DAC-X6
This is my personal review of the DAC-X6. I have been contemplating buying a DAC (Digital Analogue Converter)/Headphone amplifier for years, but it always felt like an audiophile excess. However, as I started dabbling in things like headphone EQ settings with Peace Equalizer and Headphone EarPad upgrades, I noticed tiny gains in audio quality and my enjoyment of music. I could finally understand some of the enthusiasm that the online audiophile community have for better audio source files and gear. I pulled the trigger and bought the DAC-X6, but only after considerable research into available options. Audio gear can quickly become a bottomless money pit in pursuit of diminishing returns. At K1,100.00, the X-6 represents a middle ground for what I am willing to spend and would be considered as budget or not worthy of consideration by many in the audiophile community.
What is a DAC/AMP and do you need one?
There are some excellent videos online explaining the purpose of a DAC/AMP with more eloquence and understanding than I ever could, here is a good one:
To quickly summarize, all devices with a headphone jack like your phone or PC/Mac have a built in DAC that converts digital music into an analogue signal, which speakers or headphones require. The audiophile consensus is that the quality of this onboard DAC is awful. I could never argue with that position/opinion since onboard PC audio is all I ever used. Enter DAC-X6!
My listening setup is:
PC > Browser Streaming Spotify > USB > DAC-X6 AMP > CoolerMaster MH751 (with upgraded pads).
I bought the MH751’s because I needed a headset with a mic for gaming/Discord, and Zeos (a crazy audiophile Youtuber) did a raving review on them.
The first thing I did after unboxing the DAC-X6 was to place some felt pads on the side of its body so I can rest it against my PC to reduce the amount of real estate it steals from my desk. I plugged in the power and USB and routed the cables (I am a cable management freak). Then I hit a major snag. My PC did not recognize the device. I tried an alternate USB port on my PC with the same result. Next step – reboot PC. Same result. This wasn’t looking good. What does Google say? After an exhaustive search I couldn’t find anyone else with the same issue. Next step – test on another PC. Same result. At this point I was getting desperate and was tempted to write a review on Amazon reporting my broken-on-arrival device.
At the back of the DAC-X6 is an optical-in port for a Toslink cable. My PC does not have an optical port. However, I do own a XBOX360. It does have an optical out. Trying the DAC-X6 with an optical cable on the XBOX revealed that the device does work! I was able to hear the crystal clear and amazing sounds from COD4:Modern Warfare on my headphones. So why does it not work via the USB cable? It turned out the included blue coloured USB cable was faulty. Swapping the USB cable allowed my PC to immediately recognize the DAC-X6 and list it under the available output devices within Windows.
My Thoughts & Some Music I Used
Could I immediately hear a difference going from onboard audio to the DAC-X6? Honestly, I couldn’t. I felt like I wasted my money…
I kept at it and after a few careful listening sessions with music I know intimately, a few things became apparent. First, there was more bass, like it just sounded fuller. And yet, the additional bass did not overwhelm or bleed into the mids or highs. Second, the bass sounded crisper, like a drumbeat would be more precise with defined beginning and ending of the beat. For example, in A Thousand Kisses Deep, the clarity of both the male and female vocals is exceptional and its easy to hear the words both are singing.
Going outside my comfort picks, Theater II by Recondite, has super punchy bass that just felt more alive on the DAC-X6 in contrast to the onboard audio. Moving on to music that pushes the spacial reproduction of headphones, Bubbles on the DAC-X6 revealed small details in the track that I never heard with my onboard. Another track in which the X6 allowed the music to pop all around my head was Echo Saw You by Kaleida.
All of these are subtle differences that I only noticed over repeated listening sessions. None of these were immediately apparent, and at times I was afraid that my desire for the DAC-X6 to improve the music would influence me subconsciously and some of my conclusions could simply be placebo effect. However, for this review I have spent 5 days listening intently for small differences and do feel that I am honest with myself, and believe my conclusions are valid.
Pivoting to higher frequencies, the trumpet section in Little Bit of Rain by Natalia M. King sounds fantastic! It has always sounded great, but I just feel like the X6 is able to bring out more clarity in this beautiful recording. Most of the music I listen to during the day as I work are movie or gaming soundtracks with some classical music thrown in for good measure. I am certainly an outlier when it comes to music taste. A song I know like the back of my hand is Now We Are Free from the Gladiator soundtrack. The clarity of the background instruments is amazing when played through the X6. Another track that made the fullness and presence of music evident is a current favourite track of mine, Lovers Death by Solace featuring Annaca. The last track on my list is Memory by Joseph William Morgan. Playing this on the DAC-X6 sounded cleaner and crisper in the high notes, and the bass again had more punch to it.
I need to preface my conclusions by mentioning that I watched and read a lot of reviews on DACs and Headphone Amplifiers before purchasing this device.
Does the FX-Audio DAC-X6 make a significant difference in my music? No, at times I couldn’t even tell the difference in A-B testing between it and my onboard audio. Am I happy with my purchase? Yes, even though the difference is subtle, it’s these subtle improvements that make some music sound better. I like the punchier bass in some tracks, I like the added clarity of treble and high frequencies and love the tangible weight that I can sometimes feel is added to the music. On second thought, I shouldn’t say that weight is “added”, the correct term is “revealed”, since it has always been there but my onboard couldn’t reproduce it as the artist intended.
Is this worth K1,100.00? It is to me. Your mileage may vary and will depend largely on the headphones you use and in what format/device you play your music. Onboard audio for a PC/Mac is already a step above your mobile phone. If you already own a decent set of headphones, love music, and want an improvement in your listening experience then I feel a DAC/Headphone Amplifier combo like the DAC-X6 is a good investment. I also love the physical volume knob and do feel when (not if) I upgrade to better headphones the DAC-X6 will serve me well!
I might revisit this review at a later date when I have had more time with the DAC-X6 and my thoughts differ. Stay tuned for more Nerd|Otaku content!
Revisiting of this review:
Its been about 2 years since I purchased the DAC-X6. I could not be happier with my purchase. I have since gotten access to more gear in the form of the AKG N400c TWS wireless buds as well as the TruthEar X Crinacle Zero. What has really revealed how important these a DAC/Amp is in an audio setup is my recent acquisition of the HifiMan HE-4xx planar magnetic earphones. Using my onboard audio with a really good integrated amp on the Asus Strix ROG X570-E Gaming, the sound is noticeably flatter and lacking in character compared to using the DAC-X6. I also need to up the volume a lot more and cannot drive these headphones at higher volumes, volumes that are easy for the DAC-X6. I can therefore conclude that if you wish to get better headphones, a DAC/AMP becomes an essential part of your audio setup.
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