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Optoma-NuForce Audio DAC80 D/A Converter Review

by April 19, 2016
  • Product Name: DAC80
  • Manufacturer: Optoma-NuForce
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: April 19, 2016 10:00
  • MSRP: $ 549
  • Output impedance: 100 Ohm.
  • Maximum sampling rate: 192/24KHz
  • Bit resolution: 24bits
  • Frequency response: 20-25kHz +/- 0.25dB
  • Signal to noise ratio: 96dB, 1kHz, A-weighted
  • Total harmonic distortion: 0.005%, 0dB, 1kHz
  • Power supply: 100V/110V/220V/230V
  • Power consumption: 12-Watts
  • Output voltage: 0dB, 1kHz: RCA 4.0Vrms
  • Native bit rate: 32,44.1,48,96,192KHz
  • Volume control: 32Bits Digitally controlled
  • USB sampling rates: 192/24
  • SPDIF sampling rates: 192/24
  • Connections input: USB-B, Toslink, 2xDigital Coaxial
  • Connections output: Analogue RCA L+R
  • Connections control: Digital volume control
  • Supported HD audio: Up to 192/24KHz
  • Weight: 2lb 10.3oz
  • Dimensions (W x H x D) (mm): 229 x 51 x 216
  • Standard accessories: IR remote, Power cord
  • Color: Black, Silver


  • Excellent sound and build quality.
  • Flexible utility piece that fits anywhere two-channel stereo digital audio decoding is required.


  • Too expensive for most consumers.
  • It has only one function that is already performed by many, less expensive components.


DAC80 and HA200The newly minted Optoma-NuForce brand has wasted no time getting new lines of medium to high-end audio products to market. The company’s hi-fi product lines include mobile music, home stereo and home theater, with a limited number of premium items in each category.

The DAC80 is a dedicated DAC component for home audio. Based on its small size, it’s most likely intended to be a headphone DAC, designed to be paired with Optoma-NuForce’s HA200 headphone amplifier. The two components are bookend pieces that share the same minimalist aesthetic in either black or white. They are also the same width at about 8.5 inches. Yes, individually the components are beautiful, but together they make an even more enticing pair.

But this review will focus on the DAC80 on its own, it’s a flexible device that can be worked into nearly any system plying its trade as a high-quality digital-to-analog converter to an upscale stereo system.

I want to give special thanks to project86 and the rest of our friends over at Head-fi.org for providing insights, photos and info directly from Jason Lim, the former CEO of NuForce who has since started new projects. Check out Celsus Sound and NuPrime to see what’s become of some of the talent behind NuForce since the Optoma acquisition.


DAC ChipThe DAC80 is compact and rugged-looking with a machined metallic face, whether you choose the black or white model. The look radiates quality. It has a front panel that is utterly free of clutter, except for a dial that serves as the DAC’s 32-bit digital volume control. The dial is multipurpose, also acting as a touch-sensitive button that switches between inputs at a single touch, and when your touch is held for several seconds it turns the device on or off.

Inputs include USB, 2x Coax and Optical. The selected input is indicated with an LED in the shape of the first letter of each input option. Arranged in order of USB, coax, optical and coax (again) across the front panel they spell: UCOC. I hope a NuForce engineer somewhere is getting a good laugh.

A series of smaller LEDs indicate the frequency of the digital file being decoded. The DAC80 is capable of up to 24-bit/192kHz. One of the most beautiful sounds, possibly ever, is hearing the DAC80 automatically switch from 16-bit, 44kHz when one of your standard FLAC files is playing to 24/192 when it detects a high-resolution audio file. It gives off a satisfying audible snap, letting you know it’s switching to different modes to facilitate the higher res.

Overall, every detail of this unit oozes the kind of build quality you’d expect from something in this price range. It has a rugged, minimal look and a certain visible weight and presence that is sure to impress in any setting.


DAC-100The first thing you might notice for such a small unit is that it has some weight. It’s a healthy heft at 2 lbs. 10.3 oz., or roughly the weight of a whole bag full of Quarter Pounders from McDonalds, or Royales with cheese if you’re in France. That’s significant weight for a mini-unit that’s only 8.5-inches wide, 2-inches tall and 8.5-inches deep.

Inside, you’ll find an over-the-top high-capacity power supply with a beefy Noratel toroidal transformer as its centerpiece. The heart of the machine is an AKM AK4390 32-bit DAC

At the output stage is a pair of LM4562 opamps with no discrete transistors present.  So, (likely) rather than discreet devices, high quality op-amps were used for output drivers which is common for low level signal pre-amplification since you typically get better matching, lower distortion and lower cost than employing more complex discrete circuitry. There is a Xilinx FPGA chip for jitter elimination, so no upsampling at the output stage. The resulting signal from the DAC80 is a pure audio signal, sent directly from the chip itself straight to your headphone amp.

Interesting evidence of the old NuForce pedigree that goes into the DAC80 is the USB board inside the unit that says DAC-100. This is a predecessor to the DAC80 that was an integrated headphone DAC/amp. The DAC-100 product has long been discontinued but perhaps Optoma-Nuforce had some old stock and a winning design idea for a new DAC.

The DAC100 was a well-received headphone DAC/amp combo that used much of the same electronics used today in the DAC80. But the decision to go with separate, discrete components makes the DAC80 a more flexible dedicated component that can be used with any headphone amp or as a pre-amp to a stereo system.

Optoma-NuForce DAC80 Sound Quality Test Results

A DAC’s contribution to sound quality is a kind-of sonic version of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Perhaps you’ve heard the story about ancient slaves living deep in a cave, never having seen sunlight or the colors it reveals. The story goes that one of the cave dwellers escaped to see a whole new world outside the cave. He goes back to the cave anxious to tell everyone about the wonderful visual discoveries he’s made. But the people of the cave don’t believe him and basically tell him to just shut up and get back to work.

Once you get locked into a particular sound, your perception grows around it like a vine. Sometimes you might discover something that breaks you free from your acoustic confines. That was what discovering how much a DAC really contributes to sound did for me recently.   I’ve always been skeptical of the DAC’s full contribution. Sure, I’m tacitly aware DAC chips are performing the interpretation of digital music. But, shouldn’t a digital music file only have a wrong way or a right way to read it? Without really thinking about it, I have always assumed the DAC was a low priority to sound quality.

But like most things, it’s never that simple.

Testing the Optoma-NuForce DAC80 gave me one of those aha moments when I set it up in head-to-head comparisons with other systems’ built-in DACs that I was accustomed to listening to. The results I found using the DAC80 were pretty consistent, whether listening to headphones or a full-room stereo system.

I streamed some of my best quality hi-res FLAC files, and after some setup and volume matching, my universal remote was switching between the DAC80 and two other DACs within the same system, playing back the same song.Sound Quality

Gottschalk, Suis Moi Caprice: features an array of focused piano notes that range from rapid and bouncy to slow and steady, and that traverse all over the scale. The lack of distraction from any other instruments really lets you hear the tonality when various keys are hit. 

Sound Test: HRx Sampler 2011: A Classical and Jazz High Resolution Spectacular! This particular compilation is a natural fit for testing the DAC80 because it features some of the most quality-obsessed recordings. It’s a great place to listen for subtle details. 

DAC80 performed remarkably on this track, a clear notch above what I was used to hearing. During the performance there were keys being hit rather hard on the piano, resulting in a sound bordering on angry and certainly not a pretty tinkle on the ivories. But the tonality presented through the DAC80 was smooth but still revealing of the subtle imperfections in the notes that were hammered on by the pianist compared to the sweetness of the gentler notes. The DAC80 held back any sibilance or exaggeration to the middle-highs.

Satie Gymnopédie #1: This is a piece of music I’ve been listening to on headphones and I've been loving the way it piles on layers of violin. It has been identified as an ancestor of the very modern style of music we call ambient chill. The Gymnopédies were published in Paris in 1888 by Erik Satie, and were controversial for their day because Satie purposely wrote them with subtle dissonance against the harmonies that produces a melancholy mood. This experimentation with the interplay of ambient sounds would make the Gymnopédies a venerable predecessor to modern industrial music that uses sonic dissonance to produce musical noise. Erik Satie was clearly the Brian Eno of his day.

The slow pacing of Gymnopédie #1 really lets you hear all the detail of a single, unhurried stroke of the violin. What jumps out at you through the Optoma-NuForce’s DAC80 is the smooth warmth of the violin. Where occasionally the high pitch of the violin might produce some sibilance or other harshness through the lesser DACs my ears were accustomed to, the DAC80 seemed to smooth it all out in its honeyed reinterpretation of the sound. 

The DAC80 excelled with both headphones and a full-room stereo system, and whether I was playing classic rock or classical, the instruments seemed to open up just a bit more than I was used to. There was a beautiful sonic effect – I experienced what some audio reviewers might call “airy highs”. 

It was a treat to listen to DAC80 and it gave me a whole new way of looking at the contribution of the DAC to music. One of the most obvious yet startling improvements is in the soundstage. It really opened up the music, especially on headphones, making it feel like you were in the middle of the performance rather than having a performance going on inside your head.


Optoma NuForece SetupAt around $750, the price might scare some away from the DAC80 – it’s definitely not a budget option. But if you do a lot of critical listening and may have overlooked the sonic contribution a DAC can offer in your digital listening experience, this is a great piece to save your pennies for. Pictured here  demonstrates the flexibility of the unit in a dedicated headphone setup. The DAC80 receives digital audio from a dedicated online streamer (Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6 V2) then sends decoded audio to the headphone amp that powers the Koss ESP950 electrostatic headphones.

But, let’s face it, this product aimed squarely at those who appreciate separate components. At this price you can get a solid DAC that multitasks as an audio streamer, an amp or A/V processor. But there is just something about separates and the engineering of a dedicated DAC that has perfected one job that makes for a compelling reason to spend a little extra. 

If you are in this product’s target demographic and willing to spend nearly a grand on a two-channel audio processing, the Nu-Force DAC80 deserves your attention. Its array of ins and outs and flexibility as a stereo component means it will integrate into virtually any system and will remain a relevant technology for lifetime.

About the author:
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Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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