Teac AI-503 USB DAC/Integrated Amplifier

As much as it might look like it, this is not your father’s long lost amplifier—the one you remember sitting on a rack in the den next to the Dual turntable and AR-3s—recently discovered in a remote corner of the attic. Nope, behind those vintage VU meters is a thoroughly modern USB DAC/integrated amp designed for the post-analog age or, more specifically, the Age of Hi-Res Audio. Simply put, Teac’s mission with the compact AI-503 is to preserve the fine details and nuances of your carefully curated music collection, whether you’re pulling tunes off your home network, a USB thumb drive, or a digital audio player.

Though he couldn’t have imagined it at the time, Dad would love the AI-503’s LDAC-compatible Bluetooth capabilities for wirelessly streaming files up to 96-kilohertz/24-bit resolution from his device of choice, not to mention its dual-mono topology, which extends channel isolation to the preamp and digital-to-analog converters—in this case, a pair of Verita AK4490s (the flagship from Japan’s Asahi Kasei Microdevices), each poised for the highest of hi-res action: 11.2-megahertz DSD and 384-kHz/32-bit PCM. Dedicated clocks running at 44.1 and 48 kHz further preserve audio quality by precisely controlling the timing of audio signals while suppressing jitter and providing asynchronous transfer via USB.

Dad would also appreciate the preamp’s flexible connectivity with analog and USB/optical/coaxial digital inputs—including an analog/digital minijack combo on the front panel—super-efficient ICEpower Class D amplifier (rated for 2 x 15 watts into 8 ohms or 2 x 28 into 4 ohms at 1 kHz with 1 percent distortion), fully balanced architecture, and high-precision volume control, designed to eliminate “gang errors” between the left and right channels and preserve signal purity and channel separation right up to the power amp.

Taking cues from Teac’s UD-503 USB DAC, the AI-503 has a dedicated Class AB headphone amp with separate grounding for the left and right channels, a dedicated 3.5mm headphone jack that supports a four-pole ground connection, and a high-/low-gain switch to accommodate a variety of headphones—from low-impedance in-ear monitors to high-impedance over-ear models (16 to 600 ohms).

All this in a noise- and vibration-resistant 11.4 x 3.2 x 10.4-inch metal chassis (available in black or silver) with aluminum control knobs that weighs only 8 pounds. The AI-503 is ideally suited for headphones or desktop speakers, but Teac says floorstanding speakers aren’t out of the question, though for the latter it will likely make more sense to use its preout jacks to feed an external amp of the kick-ass variety. Price: $1,000.