STAX DAC-Talent – Howard Popeck offers his observations and thoughts

What can you tell me about this rare beastie?

Yes, I owned one and so I write from direct personal experience. First though – this is what STAX said about the model, And incidentally, STAX use terms here that we’ve never previously come across. Perhaps it was translation and/or typesetting errors? Anyway, here’s what they said:‘The DAC-Talent is a compact and affordable D/A converter in which we have utilised all our experience obtained during the development of the DAC-X1t. A high quality 20-bit D/A converter is used on each channel in the Sign-magnitude configuration. This ensures no zero-cross distortion or zerocross noise is produced.

A double phase locked loop circuit lock on to the incoming digital signal which can have a fs of 33kHz, 44.1kHz or 48kHz. Electrical or optical connection is possible. Facilities include an optical/electrical input selector, absolute phase switch, and an automatic sampling frequency display. STAX is planning to produce a range of similar high quality/small size audio products under the name Amenity Series’

It’s fair to say that when STAX launched their two DACs, it was totally unexpected. First to arrive was the extraordinary DAX-X1t which retailed in the USA for around $40,000 and in the UK, around £8,000 – and that was in 1990. Even though the UK distributor (Path Premier) could sell all they could get hold of, bearing mind production was limited, STAX decided to build a cheaper model, and that was the DAC-Talent. This sold for around £1,400 in the UK.

Sensibly in my view, STAX concentrated on the sound of this unit and not the cosmetics. The DAC-Talent's case is workmanlike and well-finished in a gold lustre – but is nowhere as magnificent as it’s vastly more expensive companion. When we used it in the early 1990s partnered with the transport sections of stand-alone CD players that had digital outputs, it produced a more musically satisfying sound, more believable reproduction that those CD players on their own. Interesting, neither the STAX Quattro 1 or 2 models had digital outputs, so it wasn’t possible to use the DAC-Talent with them.

The overall improvement to CDs and transports of that era, such as Teac and Meridian when partnered with the STAX was that the sound became more vivid, more alive and compelling. We greatly preferred it to our Meridian 606 DAC especially when partnered with the Meridian 602 transport and was in our view considerably more exciting than the onboard DAC of the Meridian 601 digital preamp.

A slightly cautionary note in that this DAC was, and presumably still is transport-dependant in that inappropriate partnering (you’ll just have to experiment!) could make the sound a bit too smooth, a bit too dull for our liking. We seem to recall this being the case with Marantz units, but memory can be unreliable and we might be wrong about this. What we are certain of though, is that there was not one single occasion where hooking up the DAC-Talent decreased the enjoyment of the music. And as we said earlier, it was an outstanding match with 1990s Meridian transports.

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