Review: Samsung DA-E750

With so many audio connection technologies available now, it's gotta be tough to be an audio product manager. Smartphone fans want to connect via Bluetooth. iTunes enthusiasts want AirPlay. Computer audio nuts expect a USB connection. A few old-schoolers demand a hardware dock for an iPod. And there's that one guy who still owns a Zune and needs an analog input.

What to do? If you're Samsung and you're trying to make a "statement" product, you throw it all in. The $699 DA-E750 includes all of the above technologies - plus DLNA, plus a fold-out "dual dock" that works with Samsung Galaxy phones as well as iPhones, iPads, and iPods.

Incongruously, the DA-E750 combines all this advanced connectivity with one of audio's most dated technologies: two 12AT7 dual-triode vacuum tubes visible through a window in the top of the unit. I couldn't find a way to get to the tubes without disassembling the unit, so it seems they're intended to run for the life of the product. My guess is that they're there just as buffers to lend a little "tube flavor," the same way some manufacturers use tube output stages in their CD players.

To get the most out of those tubes - from a marketing standpoint, at least - Samsung added orange LEDs underneath 'em to enhance the soft glow coming from the tubes' filaments. The LEDs came on immediately when I powered up the DA-E750, cruelly suppressing the sweet anticipation of watching the tubes warm up.

What's likely to play a much bigger role in the DA-E750's performance is its solid construction and nice driver complement. The box is made from MDF, so it won't suffer from the annoying vibrations that vitiate the sound of typical plastic speaker docks. The front midwoofers are woven-fiber cones with "phase plugs" (actually dust caps styled to look like phase plugs), accompanied by a couple of soft-dome tweeters. A downfiring woofer with a rear-firing port provides the bass. The front speakers get 20 watts of Class D amplification per channel, while the woofer gets 60 watts.

So Many Connections, So Little Time

I usually check out every type of connection on an audio product, but the DA-E750 has so many options I didn't have a chance to try them all. For my evaluation, I relied on Bluetooth, AirPlay, the iOS dock, and the analog input.

The one difficulty in getting the DA-E750 going is that its networking capabilities are more like 2002 than 2012. It has Wi-Fi, but doesn't have an easy way to enter the password for a Wi-Fi network. If your network uses password security (and whose doesn't?), you can configure the DA-E750's wireless connection by using a Samsung Galaxy app or by plugging your computer into your router and doing the old thing. I networked it the easy way: I just ran an Ethernet cable into the DA-E750's LAN port.

That one snag aside, I had no problem getting Bluetooth, AirPlay, etc., to work. Buttons on the remote and on the top of the unit select among the sources.

Tubes + Tech = ???

Feeling the heft of the DA-E750, and eyeing its downfiring woofer and rear port, I was eager to see if this compact box could slam serious bass. So after opening iTunes on my laptop and connecting through AirPlay, I played "Dimples," from James Blood Ulmer's Memphis Blood. Blood's rendition of this John Lee Hooker classic starts with a deep, plodding, hard-grooving acoustic bass line that has a tendency to push small woofers beyond their limits. Well, it didn't challenge the DA-E750 at all. Even with the volume cranked up loud enough to fill my large listening room, the DA-E750's bass didn't distort.

Then I noticed the Bass button on the remote. I expected that punching this button would spoil the fun, making the bass boom and distort like a bad car audio system. But it didn't. It just made the bass even fuller- and bigger-sounding, without introducing any undesirable artifacts. This is the first time in 20+ years of reviewing audio gear that I've been able to say that about a bass boost control.

Blood's soulful, guttural, growling vocals kinda sound the same on most speakers, so I cued up some of my usual test tracks to give the DA-E750's midrange a thorough workout. The first several bars of Toto's "Rosanna" inspired me to write, "Anyone would have to say this is pretty awesome" in my notebook. The kick drum and bass locked in for a powerful groove, and the guitars, keyboards, and snare sounded unusually lively.

The sound didn't seem to expand much outside the enclosure; from a soundstage standpoint, I never forgot I was listening to a speaker dock. But from a dynamics standpoint, I felt like I was listening to a good set of bookshelf speakers driven by a high-quality amp.

"Rosanna" also revealed what I felt was the DA-E750's one significant flaw: slightly colored upper midrange and lower treble. The unit's tonal balance is essentially flat, so it's not like you hear obvious peaks or dips in this part of the audio spectrum. But you do hear something a little unnatural, as if someone used a graphic equalizer to put in a narrow dip at one upper-midrange frequency followed by a peak at the EQ's next highest frequency. To me, it sounded like the result of a not-so-smooth transition between the midwoofers and the tweeters. I never noticed it in the sounds of instruments, only in higher-pitched vocals (Donald Fagen, Bebel Gilberto, Toto's Bobby Kimball, etc.) Thus, audiophiles who demand excellent voice reproduction might be better served with the Edifier Spinnaker or a more traditional desktop system.