YBA Design WD202 D/A headphone amplifier
YBA Design's new WD202 D/A processor and headphone amplifier showed up while I was turning the pages of Don and Jeff Breithaupt's Precious and Few: Pop Music of the Early '70s, recommended by John Marks in his October 2009 "Fifth Element" column. Each page drips with great examples of why the 1970s often wind up on the wrong end of the culture stick (the Osmonds, anyone? Terry Jacks?).
Still, piles of the awesome tunes that redeem that era beckon from every chapter, and with CD prices in free fall on Amazon.com, I started grabbing dozens of titles. Most could be had used, or even new, for a couple bucks or less. (Quite a few are at 1 cent plus $2.98 shipping and no taxI have no idea how they make money.) In many cases the earlier CD releases, not yet remasticated to make them LOUD, were available, providing the best sound at the lowest prices. Take that, lo-rez iTunes downloads at $10/album.
And what sound! Some of these early-'70s recordings are absolutely primo, and the best of them were my core listening material for this review. They were recorded before the widespread use of digital reverb, and I love the dry, honest acoustic of many of themit puts the instruments right in my room. And speaking of '70s music, who knew that John Atkinson was a huge Sylvester fan? With Erick Lichte and Jason Victor Serinus as my witnesses, there he was at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, rocking out to "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real." But I digress . . .
Thanks to music servers and all the new digital source options, digital-to-analog converters are hot again. This time around, USB and FireWire have been added to the connection mix, and while some DACs are optimized for only USB connection, others sport such options as input switching from multiple digital connections and formats, headphone jacks, and volume controls that turn them into useful digital preamps. The YBA Design WD202 is one of these multipurpose solutions.
In and Out of the Box
The YBA arrived attractively wrapped in a black cloth sleeve inside a sturdy box. The first thing I noticed was that it's very solidly built, and heavy for its sizeat a little over a foot wide, the WD202 is smaller than a standard component, but larger than the Benchmark DAC1 USB. On the bottom are three padded supportsactually small extensions of the thick metal caseand on the front is a small strip of reflective metal; I like the overall clean, concise design. And for such a well-made product, I also like the price: $879.
My review sample was accompanied by a robust metal remote that can control several other components in YBA's Design series. For the WD202, the remote can be used to change the input source and volume, or to bypass the volume control for fixed audio output from the rear panelwhich is what I did for all of my DAC evaluations, except when I listened through headphones.
Designed by YBA in France and built in China, the WD202 is a versatile digital product along the lines of Benchmark's DAC1 USB, which means it has ample digital input options, and can be used as a digital preamp and headphone amp. From left to right on the front panel are the power switch, input selector (Coaxial/USB/Optical/AES), infrared receiver, minus and plus buttons for volume control, and a ¼" headphone jack. On the rear panel, from left to right, are the balanced and unbalanced left and right line-level output jacks; a coaxial digital output; optical, coaxial, USB, and AES/EBU digital input jacks; an IR port; and an upgrade port. On the right are the three-pronged IEC AC connector and fuse holder.
A fully symmetrical design based on Texas Instruments' PCM1796 Audio Converter and codec, the WD202 reclocks and upsamples to 24-bit/192kHz signals it receives at sample rates of 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, or 192kHz, and at bit depths of 16, 18, 20, or 24.