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‘Portable’ vinyl with the KORG DS-DAC-10R & AudioGate

  • Potafesu, Tokyo. December 2015. The Diana Krall album propped up behind an 11” MacBook Air hollered “Nothing to see here” to this showgoer. Ditto the iPhone app promising The Eagles’ “Hotel California”. Ignoring the alarm bells and spying the Technics SL-1200, I moved closer…

    Between turntable and laptop sat KORG’s DS-DAC-10R (US$599). To the casual drive-by inspector, it’s a USB-powered DAC and headphone amplifier with contemporary stylings. The volume pot is encircled by a colourful LED glow that indicates the incoming sample rate.

    Rated by the manufacturer as serving 75mW into a 32 Ohms load, the KORG’s 6.4mm output socket sits somewhere between AudioQuest’s DragonFly Black (US$99, 45mW) and the better specified Red (135mW, US$199).

    The KORG won’t win any price-bracketed awards for driving more challenging loads and if all you’re after is a USB DAC and headphone amplifier then the DragonFly Red is easily the better choice for PCM up to 24bit/96kHz and the Resonessence Labs Herus for anything above, including DSD.

    Keeping things Tokyo local, I found Final Audio’s (downright superb) Sonorous III to be an excellent fit for the KORG’s more modest power output.

    However, headphone drive and D/A conversion are sideshows to the main event: the DS-DAC-10R is also an A/D converter that, when used in tandem with the company’s own AudioGate software application, provides digital audio encoding in PCM up to 192kHz, DSD64 (2.8Mhz) and DSD128 (5.6MHz).

    On the floor in Akihabara, KORG could be found conducting live demos of their DS-DAC-10R’s vinyl ripping and playback capabilities. The SL-1200’s output was connected directly to the DS-DAC-10R analogue input which in turn pushed the digitally encoded signal over USB into AudioGate 4.0 running on an Apple MacBook Air.

    Recording complete, this same app takes care of the freshly minted file’s playback, again in PCM up to 192kHz, DSD64 (2.8Mhz) and DSD128 (5.6MHz). On-the-fly up/down-sampling is yours for the taking.

    One might reasonably ask: why rip vinyl? Why own a dog and then bark yourself? The Potafesu event provided the necessary portable audio context: to take the sound of one’s favourite turntable and phono stage out of the house with DAP or smartphone.

    KORG’s own iAudioGate (US$9.99) lends a helping hand to iOS users but any hi-res content played back via an iPhone or iPad’s own audio circuitry will be down-sampled to 44.1kHz or 48kHz. A Chord Hugo/Mojo (or similar) will handle digital extraction for full exploitation of the app’s hi-res potential: PCM (up to 192kHz) or DSD (up to 11.2MHz).

    A wide selection of hi-res-capable playback apps present for Android users but again a third party DAC is required for breaking through the smartphone’s own decoder chip ceiling.

    This is where DAPs from the likes of Sony, Astell&Kern and Pono get a serious leg up. Hi-res file playback is baked into their circuitry.

    Besides, not every vinyl-ripper has one eye on portability. A few months earlier I’d learned from one of Japan’s most respected audio reviewers that some of the country’s more fastidious record collectors often play their new records only once before storing them away, sometimes never to see a needle dragged through their grooves again. This first and only spin is used to digitise the turntable’s output.

    Such digital time-shifting is mandatory for Devialet Phantom owners who don’t wish to drop between one and two thousand dollars on a digitising phono stage.


    With “phono” optioned from the appropriate drop-down in AudioGate, a turntable’s output can be directly connected to the Korg’s back panel. For those who wish to add a phono stage to the mix, this same RCA input can be re-configured to a line level input via the same drop-down menu. MC cart runners have their hand forced here; the DS-DAC-R’s input impedance as phono is set at 50k Ohms and therefore calls for the upstream cartridge to spill with 2.5mV-ish.

    According to the DS-DAC-10R’s circuit designer Naohiro Oho, the incoming signal meets with a “flat characteristic amplifier” before arriving at the ADC. EQ curve correction to MM signals is executed in the digital domain in AudioGate itself. The RIAA option will suffice for all but the oldest pressings.

    AudioGate also takes care of hardware configuration, in/out data processing, (optional) normalisation and file export. In other words, Korg’s AudioGate is mandatory. Mac OS and Windows versions are available.

    As such, the DS-DAC-10R box is used to upgrade AudioGate to the full version, adding the DSD and “high-quality conversion” functionality required to converse with the 1-bit capabilities of the KORG unit’s internal Texas Instruments PCM4202DBR ADC and Cirrus Logic CS4398-CZZR DAC chips.

    (Note: AudioGate 4.0 Lite is available as a free download for use with non-Korg hardware but its sample rate compatibility is restricted to 44.1kHz or 48kHz PCM).

    KORG’s Naohiro Oho [left] and Michiko Nagaki [right] present the DS-DAC-10R at Potafesu 2015.
    Wonder, as I did, how RIAA EQ and normalisation is applied to a 1-bit data stream? AudioGate’s developer Michiko Nagaki explains: “The sampling frequency is retained during signal-processing on AudioGate but when you edit the 2.8MHz DSD data it is converted into 2.8MHz multi-bit (PCM) data. 5.6MHz DSD is converted into 5.6MHz multi-bit (PCM) data. It is the same with the digital phono equalizer. After signal processing, it is converted into the original format again. This is a strong point of our AudioGate application”.

    This might not strike the right notes for DSD purists and it might also be of concern to everyone else if the resulting DSD rips didn’t sound sonically superior to any PCM equivalent creatively natively or downsampled/dithered using AudioGate’s file export function. I’m pleased to report that they do. DSD-encoded vinyl rips deliver more ambient information and spatial cues on top of more readily discernible layer separation.

    As a format, DSD has no place in the streaming world because of its enormous file sizes but as an archive format for vinyl rips, it earns its keep. The storage cost of each DSD64-encoded 20-minute side of vinyl runs close to a gigabyte.

    Is the DSD rip transparent to its vinyl-turntable source? An unanswerable question! Why? The digital rip must first make its way through a D/A converter before it meets the amplifier. This means varying degrees of colouration from the DAC’s receiver chip, re-clocker, decoder chip and output stage. DAC considerations go with the digital ripping territory. For some, they’re this process’ raison d’etre.


    The DS-DAC-10R’s headphone socket and line-level output can be used to monitor the rip as it progresses or plays it back once recording stops. Either way, the sound is the same – the KORG unit’s internal DAC is put to work in both cases. A quick hit of ‘Rec standby’, the equivalent of a paused record, gives us a listen to an on-the-fly encode/decode without committing any data to the hard-drive. Useful!

    The DS-DAC-10R gets its go juice from the USB bus so it’s easy to move from hi-fi rack to work desk and back again.

    However, by configuring Roon to watch AudioGate’s destination folder, I can let those same DSD files fly free by having Roon fire them at a DragonFly Red connected to my desk-chained MacBook Air or at the Roon Ready PS Audio DirectStream Junior sat below the KORG box in the rack, all without any additional file manager copy/paste. Roon takes care of the downsampling required for AudioQuest dongle compatibility.

    This brings us to our first and only quibble: when encoding to DSD, AudioGate creates DFF files which cannot be tagged for use outside of the app itself. I renamed the destination folder files according to album name and side e.g. “LiveRustD”, thus breaking any links with AudioGate’s own internal database.

    The source files in AudioGate’s destination directory don’t reflect the changes made in the application itself. Any in-app written album/artist tags, file merges and track splits take place on (KORG’s own) meta level.


    AudioGate’s file export function gives us the best of both worlds. It does exactly as you’d expect, allowing us to create a second copy of the rip for use in Roon, Audirvana+, JRiver or whatever, all whilst keeping the ‘master’ tucked up inside AudioGate.

    Here we see yet more file flexibility: export options present for up/down-sampling and the dither algorithm used: TPDF or KORG AQUA. (Any differences between these two algorithms remains beyond the scope of this coverage).

    Mercifully, there are no wizards to plough through. AudioGate’s clean intuitive UI makes for a pleasurable experience – one that’s generally in short supply in the vinyl-ripping world and unheard of at the DS-DAC-10R’s asking price. What a pleasant find.

    Further information: KORG


    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Vinyl ripping is great. In a lot of cases it’s the ONLY way to enjoy the best available master of an album in digital form, which is one of my biggest pet peeves. Since everybody records and mixes digitally these days, the “vinyl master” is likely a 24/48 or 24/96 digital file like any other album master. The labels will often press 500 or 1000 copies from that master, and then lock it away somewhere. So if you don’t own a turntable or you didn’t jump fast enough to grab one of the copies from limited pressing, too bad, you can’t have it.

      There are other advantages too. Software products like Izotope and ClickRepair can turn a snap, crackle, pop vinyl copy into something nearly as clean sounding as a CD with just some time and effort. And of course you can skip tracks, make playlists etc. Fully automatic turntables from the ’70s and ’80s with optical sensors offered rudimentary track skipping, but you can’t make a multi-artist/album playlist unless you happen to own your own cutting lathe.

    2. Great read, JD. Thanks.

      I can see why vinyl ripping would make sense for a company like KORG. Producers/remixers rip their fave LPs in order to work on remixes, or simply for the flexibility of running a vinyl exclusive track (not uncommon among electronica labels, as you know) on a CDJ for sets – both scenarios offer a gateway for KORG to sell their production or live performance equipment. I’m not quite sure how workable DSD is as a format for DAWs and stuff compared to traditional PCM, so maybe I’m completely wrong here.

      Also, this bit caught my attention;
      RE:” KORG’s own iAudioGate (US$9.99) lends a helping hand to iOS users”
      How does one even transfer their FLACs to iOS devices anyway? I’m sure that the iTunes desktop app doesn’t handle FLAC transfer/sync. So what gives? Does the app have it’s own network transfer method, or do users need to go through some convoluted upload-to-cloud-service-then-redownload method?

      • Actually, the iTunes app *does* handle FLAC transfer – see the KORG site and/or iOS app page for details on how.

        • Aah, it seems you use iTunes to transfer the files straight to the iAudioGate app instead of your regular iOS Music app. Makes sense.

    3. I’ve heard vinyl rips at 24/192 (Ayre) that I challenge anyone to consistently tell apart from the vinyl -when played back over the same system. It just sounds like vinyl – with all those characteristics that LP lovers often say have something inherently to do with being an analog format.

      But apparently it has nothing to do with analog vs. digital, but with some characteristic sound of the LP format itself – that good digitizing successfully reproduces.

      I’m sure the results with this device are much the same.

    4. Why would anyone prefer an album cut from a digital master than playing back the files themselves on a good DAC? The DAC method bypasses many stages of loss and coloration. I think vinyl playback adds euphonic coloration.

    5. From Copper, Journal of Music and Audio, published by PS Audio
      Submitted by Jerry Garcia on July 28, 2016 – 1:21pm
      The Perpetual Pilgrim

      My nephew, Andres, has turned his audio hobby into a religion. He takes his quest for the ‘Ultimate Sound’ as seriously as the quest for eternal life. He is consumed by audio nervosa and spends his free time studying audio magazines and websites to find absolution for his past buying decisions, and blessings to make changes. Recently, he even sacrificed the value of a pilgrimage to Rome in favor of new interconnects — based solely on a decree from his most trusted bishop, a ‘Golden Eared’ reviewer in one of the magazines.

      He invited me to spend the weekend at his apartment to solicit confirmation for his pricey investment. When I got there, he raved about the ‘night and day’ difference using the vernacular of reviewers: romantic richness, sweet delicacy, fatigue-free tonal lusciousness, liquid voluptuousness ………… I’m beginning to suspect he needs a girlfriend.

      I could neither confirm nor deny any audible improvement as I wasn’t sufficiently familiar with the sound of his system, but I was skeptical of his claims. So I decided to conduct a test. Overnight, while on a bathroom break, I switched his anointed interconnects with my Radio Shack ‘Gold’ cables — which can be purchased for the price of a Roman candle.

      While sipping coffee the next morning, Andres opened his stereo cabinet and played his favorite SACD, The Mission soundtrack, from beginning to end. He turned up the chorale to concert hall volumes and praised the sound.

      He had no idea he was listening to the profane ‘Rat Shack’ cables. It was clear that the ‘night and day’ differences he raved about was not apparent the day after the night. His belief that the new cables were in play was sufficient to justify his enthusiasm. This experience confirmed to me that people do not have reliable perceptual capabilities. Perception is cognitive and the brain tends to be the dominant factor – the brain tells them what they experience more than their senses.

      The most publicized case in point concerns Trader Joe’s house wine, ‘Two Buck Chuck,’ as Charles Shaw’s Chardonnays are known. They got less respect than Rodney Dangerfield until the 2007 California State Fair’s Commercial Wine Competition. There, 64 judges awarded it the prestigious Double Gold award. That placed it first not only over 350 other Chardonnays, but on top of the entire collection of 3,029 wines! Wine tasting competitions are always conducted blind. Would the judges have ranked “Two Buck Chuck” as highly had they been able to see the label? When faith in price, status or reputation is eliminated from the equation, judgments change.
      How different might the annual ‘Recommended Component Buyers’ Guide’ be if audio components were evaluated like wines? Would ‘night and day’ differences be confirmed or non-existent in a double-blind testing protocol? It’s one thing for a reviewer to claim a component is superior, it’s quite another to prove it. When a reviewer recommends expensive upgrades without evidence of their primacy (and expensive equipment is virtually always deemed superior in the media), he is asking followers to part with their money on the basis of faith.

      Nonetheless, Andres agonizes over the words in the ‘Recommended Components List’ like St. Augustine over the Scriptures. He has a divine belief that these products are accurately appraised by sound quality — despite a complete lack of evidence to that effect. For the most part, products with good reviews sell, and those without, don’t. That’s a lot of power to put in the hands of a few pundits with questionable hearing, motives and methodologies. How many good products have gone by the wayside due to the prejudices and preconceptions of reviewers? Conversely, how much snake oil is still on the market for the same reason?

      In a recent e-mail, Andres wrote, “I still don’t feel like I have my arms around my system, the big picture, yes, but the subtle things that ultimately define it, not yet…….hoping in the process to do that endless loop of keeping my ears tuned, attentive, and aligned with others.”

      I have no idea why he thinks his young ears have to be “aligned with others”? What is it that he wants to get his “arms around.” Like sex, music is an emotional, not an intellectual activity. Constantly nit-picking the equipment ruins the experience.
      Someone once said, “You can’t know what’s best is unless you have heard everything.” Andres will never have sufficient time nor energy to audition everything. Even if he could, he’ll never know how his ultimate system would compare to the live event unless he’d attended it. And even if he had, his health, mood and the location of the seat he chose would affect his memory of the performance. That’s taking for granted there was a live performance, and he’s not listening to a synthetic creation of the recording engineer.

      Even assuming his acoustic memory of the live event is impeccable, the recording flawless, and his ‘dream system’ provided perfect fidelity, his listening room acoustics will distort the sound enormously — as any pair of studio headphones will demonstrate.
      Andres needs to see the light and accept the fact that every facsimile of the live event is corrupted and deficient. If his system is capable of turning him onto the music, if it takes him to a blissful state, his prayers are answered. This endless search for the Holy Grail will only keep him a perpetual pilgrim.

      B. Jan Montana


      • Again – assuming this is a copy/paste from the Stereophile comments section?

    6. rzr’s picture
      Fremer’s review of the Moon 780D new
      Submitted by rzr on July 28, 2016 – 1:49pm
      Stereophile has no expertise in the area of digital music in regards to music servers, streamers, etc.. or the know how on how to make them work or provide maximum performance. This review is a prime example of this.
      Where do I start?
      #1: Fremer would rather listen to vinyl than digital, that’s no secret. But he doesn’t realize that when he compares digital to vinyl, he is comparing a $200k vinyl setup to a much cheaper digital setup, not realistic. He needs to come down to earth in his reviews and statements about the differences between the 2 using a vinyl setup that costs the same as a digital setup. He can’t do this!!
      #2: Fremer balks about purchasing a $250 NAS drive for this review. Fremer’s 2 bolts that hold his cartridge onto the tonearm probably cost more than that! The reason I bring this up is that some manufacturers claim that their products sound better when using a NAS, in this case with the Moon, we will never know since it wasn’t tested.
      3: Fremer bitches about no documentation that can help him setup the Moon in different configurations. Again, this goes back to my #1 point above: Stereophile needs to get expertise in this area. I purchased an Auralic Aries and the pamphlet they send out is a couple of pages. But if you know this stuff, it was very easy for me to use the Lightning software, or the Lumin software (both on iPad), plus having the data stored on a NAS or using Minimserver on my OSX server, or a direct connected disk. Very easy to do! What are all the possibilities with the Moon 780D? The reader will never know after reading this review.
      #4: Fremer keeps touting his Soloos setup. Soloos was not that good when it was new years ago in SQ and compared to the latest playback software, its pretty bad. Today, Roon SQ isn’t as good as some of the other players like Audirvana. Roon along with Soloos are noted for their GUI interface and metadata collections: not a big deal to me. SQ is much more important than GUI, but with the new software like Lightning DS and Lumin and others, you get both. Hopefully, Roon SQ will improve. It seems that all the new music servers can support Roon and other software.

      Bottomline: Stereophile needs to get somebody with much more experience when reviewing current digital systems like a music server/streamer so they can put the product thru the paces to get maximum performance. I don’t want to hear that a reviewer was limited in his testing because something wasn’t documented, documentation should not be an excuse, the reviewer should have enough knowledge to dig in and come up with many ways to configure the system for best performance. For example: Auralic is not going to document that using the Lumin software might sound better than using Auralic’s own Lightning software. Just like Fremer has enough knowledge to setup tonearms and cartridges in his sleep and would never use documentation as a scapegoat, Stereophile needs to have the same type of reviewer for the digital world.


      • I assume what you have quoted here are not your own words but a comment from the Stereophile’s pages? Michael Fremer is a most knowledgable reviewer, especially in the field of vinyl but I’ll confess to not having read the same coverage as you and therefore cannot speak to the issues raised here. Besides, I am sure they were dealt with on Stereophile’s own pages. Let’s not move the fallout to DAR.

        Point of order though: Stereophile *has* a digital expert on staff in the form of Michael Lavorgna.

        For a digital streamer setup, I only consult the product documentation when I come unstuck. However, when it comes to installing and aligning a cartridge on a tonearm, I’m noway near as carefree. I don’t do it myself. Instead, I call on the services of VPI’s Australian distributor.

    All terrain USB audio with the PS Audio LANRover

    The inconvenient truth about vinyl