SPL Phonitor XE Uber-DAC Review
August 10, 2019 Luckbad 1
This review is a supplement to the existing SPL Phonitor XE review here at Basshead.Club.
After reviewing the Phonitor XE as an amp, I had to get my ears on the version with the Uber-DAC module. I personally ended up purchasing the Phonitor XE after reviewing it the first time and consider it my favorite solid state headphone amplifier of all time.
My primary chain is the SPL Phonitor XE fed from an RME ADI-2 Pro FS. The RME utilizes the same AKM AK4490 DAC as the the SPL Phonitor XE’s Uber-DAC module, with clocks in as an $800 option for the Phonitor XE.
I primarily compared it against the RME ADI-2 Pro FS and RME ADI-2 DAC given my level of familiarity with them and their use of the same AKM DAC. I tossed in a couple of other DACs to zero in on some of what I heard as well.
The short version of this review: The Uber-DAC part is very good, but is outclassed by the amp (in that the amp is superlative).
It’s the inverse of the RME ADI-2 DAC, which has an outstanding DAC that outclasses its very good amp.
If you specifically need an all-in-one unit, I would go so far as to say that it’s better than the ADI-2 DAC if sound is the only consideration.
The USB is quite capable. I tend to listen for USB issues that I describe as hash or swoosh. Those issues are very common and are present in almost all USB implementations (exceptions include RME, Schiit, and Soekris). The SPL Phonitor XE does not have these issues.
The Uber-DAC is clean, transparent, and revealing. Without an amp as resolving as the Phonitor XE, it would be difficult to tell the difference between it and the RME. For those familiar with the ADI-2 DAC/Pro, I believe the Uber-DAC sounds like it uses the SD Sharp filter, which in the case of the SPL Uber-DAC cannot be changed by the user.
My only issue with the SPL Phonitor XE’s Uber-DAC option is that you’re paying a considerable sum for a really good DAC that can only be used with exactly one amp. Without preamp outs or direct output from the DAC, the DAC itself has essentially no versatility. You’re locked into the stock filter of the AK4490 and can only use it with the Phonitor XE headphone amp.
For a couple hundred more, I slightly prefer the RME ADI-2 DAC and it comes with incredible versatility (more than any DAC ever, to be fair).
Back to the USB momentarily: I did feel the sonics were improved just a touch by using the AES output of the RME ADI-2 Pro FS vs. the USB of the Phonitor XE. It became more effortless and smooth in comparison.
As an AIO, the Phonitor XE is outstanding, but it’s hard to recommend if you ever plan to have an additional amp since you cannot use the Uber-DAC with anything else.
In the end, my primary personal setup is an RME ADI-2 Pro FS going to an SPL Phonitor XE without the Uber-DAC. I need the extra versatility that the RME provides. Perhaps an SPL Director Mk2 can change my mind as to which implementation of the AK4490 is better in the future.