Pioneer U-05 DAC

For anyone with a sizeable digital music collection - including Compact Discs, possibly SACDs and DVD-As, and music files from MP3s to hires FLACs - 2015 is a harvest year. Never have a lot of multi-tasking DAC preamplifiers come out, and nor have they been so affordable.

It all began in 2007, almost a decade ago with products like the Standard DAC - a professional sound USB-able DAC preamp that sounded great for around GBP1,000. Then out came Stello's exceptional DP200 around the same time - an upsampling DAC using a volume control. It looked a bit market but proved quite pleasing to live with, and then arrived a wave of more mainstream goods such as Audiolab's MDAC only a couple of years back with complete 24/192 USB playback and a good headphone amplifier. Now, finally and belatedly, big Japanese brands are getting in on the action. Pioneer's U 05 would happen to be regarded overly niche only a few years back, but has nearly universal appeal.

Being a little late to the party, you get the possibility cut your cloth accordingly and to examine the before arriving guests. The Pioneer would have a challenge on its hands if it was only another DAC preamp with 32/384 PCM and DSD128, and so it brings balanced headphone output signals as its bash trick.

Three pairs of headphones are switchable via a fascia knob that is little or you can output signal via the line out.

There is a choice between high and low gain via a fascia switch, plus the larger master volume control with fine level adjustment if you are working with earphones. There is a pick of two coaxial digital inputs, two optical digital ins, an AES/EBU balanced and one USB. Just the Audiolab M-DAC comes close in terms of functionality, but even this can't fit its flexibility.

That isn't where the likeness with the Audiolab finishes - it sports twin ESS Sabre32 ES9016 DAC chips running in dual differential mode. The MDAC uses the slightly more pricey ES9018, but even its designer John Westlake told me the difference between the two processors is bare, and both are outstanding. The switchable Hi-Bit 32 function enables you to upconvert 16 and 24-bit files to 32-bit depth, and there's also an upsampling function, that will take everything north to 384kHz.

The brushed aluminium fascia is sleek as well as the knobs are bevelled to incorporate a swish feel. The screen is dimmable and defeatable via the provided remote control, which itself is a pleasant thing to have. This also lets you fix the filter coefficients.

Sound quality

Fed with a Cyrus CD Xt Signature CD conveyance, the U-05 proves most remarkable. You actually get a feeling of the power of the bassline, yet it's enjoyably bouncy too and pushes the song along. Treble is smooth, quick and glossy, with plenty of wonderful detailing on the hi-hat cymbal sound.

Again, it's clear what I'm listening to, with a lot of detail thrown at me and an extreme, 'front row' sort of sound. You would never accuse of being harsh or forwards the Pioneer, but it is obviously direct and well defined. Leading edges are loved by it, and propels guitar rock that is powerful along with zeal. In this respect it's like the M-DAC, with. Its opponent's soundstage is more three dimensional, though, but it does not quite have the polish of the U-05 up top, or the punch down below. Running top notch hi res music such as this, both are most remarkable for the cash.

The Pioneer also offers serious headphone amplifier capability, and that I attempt a wide selection of headphones with it - from Jays' v-Jay at GBP30 to Oppo's PM-1 (at 35 times that). The forensically showing Oppo proves a treat on Debussy's La Cathedrale Engloutie, although it's a joy with everything. A beautiful French Impressionist-era work, the Pioneer is adequately revealing to get the delightful, starting the subtle rhythmic inflections of the player, along with harmonics from the piano also. The record's acoustic is represented in a believable way together with the room seeming broad and atmospheric.


The U-05 succeeds, and sets out to do many things well. It is an impressive, open and feisty -seeming DAC, and a headphone amplifier that is strong yet subtle. Given the exceptional build quality, vast attribute count and clear talents across several regions of the Pioneer, it is hard not to give a hearty recommendation to this.

It can be a little late to the party, but it's bound to get the joint jumping since it's finally arrived.

Pioneer U-05 DAC photo

Review price £699 / $1048.5