This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Big rig. In this context my usual ancillaries upstaged the DS5 grotesquely but that went with the territory. Metrum's Hex became the first direct comparator. Either DAC received digital square-wave pulses via Light Harmonic's LightSpeed cable, Audirvana 1.5.10 set to 176.4kHz upsampling. The Hex's M2Tech OEM module for USB doesn't support integer mode so the DS5 enjoyed a small unfair advantage. Nagra's Jazz preamp fed FirstWatt SIT1 monos into soundkaos Wave 40 speakers and Zu's Submission sub <40Hz for some very light first-octave assist. The first track was the opener of Imaginarium by Kevin Seddiki & Bijan Chemirani for some very well-recorded simplicity of guitar, zarb and hand percussion.

My 7-14mm wide-angle lens is usefully panoramic but distorts at the edges to render my left speaker positively engorged. The electronics on the far right are equally stretched.

It didn't take long to conclude that the li'l Ami wasn't to be embarrassed. Yes the Hex was dynamically more accelerated and on extreme image focus the even more locked in to also stage a bit deeper. But against this pricklier accuracy the DS5 retorted with a deeper technicolor saturation and slighter softer edge handling where it rather recalled the Concero from Canada's Resonessence. By extension it also pointed at AURALiC's Vega which likewise counters the hexy virtues of timing precision coupled to minor dryness with glossier colors and wetter textures. Since I own a Vega as alternate DAC, confirmation on this flavor familiarity was a few cable swaps off. And indeed the DS5 acted as the poor man's Vega. It wasn't as color intense nor did it recapture quite as much ambient nuance but the gestalt and core qualities clearly belonged into the same bag.

Snobbism might prefer it differently. Yet with ongoing advances in digital and clever implementation as here there was no reason to consider a $599 box the weak link of my—without iMac and power conditioning—€45K system. That wasn't to brag. It also didn't roll off the tongue. I had to think and run the numbers to make this point. To look once more I reconfigured hardware to eliminate €20K worth of electronics. Nagra Jazz and SIT1 monos exited stage left, Crayon Audio's CFA-1.2 entered at right. As a truly premium integrated with passive pot, I could suss out how AURALiC's digital on-chip Sabre volume compared to Ami's Cirrus Logic equivalent and in the context of my system gain, room size and regular listening levels see how those held up against going analog with the Crayon.

With the Crayon wide open the DS5 got into the middle of its 4th LED. With the 4V Vega I managed a bare 20 out of 100 on its readout. To run the Vega at 100 meant the Crayon sat at half mast (40 out of 80 on its analog range). With the DS5's volume bypassed the Crayon got to 46. These levels were higher than I'd use for evenings with my neighbors home. Even so losses were already apparent. This was more obvious with the Vega whose higher circuit gain meant I needed more signal cut. Knowing the offsets I'd consider the DS5 still fine for my daylight use but not the Vega. At 22:00 hours I'd play more quietly. Now I'd not use either in full-on variable mode as I'd not get my money's worth. Think fresh fruit bursting with acids and juice. Leave it on the kitchen table for a week. It dries out and shrivels up. Well before turning brown it tastes progressively paler, less layered and pungent. That's what overactive digital attenuation does. Use the DS5 with a traditional integrated or preamp and none of it applies.

In such a scenario or with a low-gain amp and inefficient boxes running the DS5 'mostly' open, the advanced Amanero USB transceiver plus smartly chosen top-class Muses opamp output deposit one just a rung lower than Hex and Vega and beneath the latter by offering very similar if slightly diluted sonic qualities. As a mostly non-tube guy these days—my Nagra preamp is the lone holdout—I reach for the Vega whenever I need higher color temps and slight transient softness. The DS5 aims in the same direction. So just as I said for the AURALiC in its review, the designers' efforts to render DSD as good as possible, PCM (which today still means playback's crushing majority) gets a dose of 1-bit's sweeter mellower flavor.

I'm not a vinylista. My off-the-beaten-path music doesn't exist there. Colleagues who do vinyl and have begun to explore DSD feel that the format comes closer to vinyl than PCM. They also admit that the latter has the edge in greater treble realism. I'm not informed enough to suggest that AMI Musik's affordable DS5 can stand in for a ProJect turntable. But if there's something to this connection, it should get you a bit closer than other digital even on standard PCM. And that would be interesting. Of course everyone and their granny do USB DACs and headphones now (after Focal, Martin Logan and PSB, Musical Fidelity just introduced their first closed-back can). And digital competence where all the basics are licked continues to migrate downmarket. Differences remain but they grow subtler. To enjoy and justify them will often demand a super resolving system of the very costly sort. Far easier to see/sell are build and features as well as brand awareness and associated prestige

The smart shopper skips the latter two, refuses unnecessary features and bling and concentrates on eyes-shut results. If that's you and the DS5 complies without remote and balanced outputs, AMI could take you farther than $599 suggest. As they did with their DDH-1, this Japanese design team with manufacture in South Korea proves to have their/our sonic priorities well sorted. In that context it's interesting that the DS5 platform was conceptualized as an upmarket deck with concomitant tariff first before the company repositioned it. Whilst the box shrank as a result and one imagines a few features with it, the sound per se had been locked in already. From how well AMI's little box held up against my ~$3K decks, that doesn't seem marketing spin but basic fact. Heck, it's a very good time to be a well-informed digital shopper!
Quality of packing: Very good.
Reusability of packing: Many times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: A cinch.
Condition of component received: Flawless. Includes far better than average USB cable. Windows XP driver installed without fuss.
Completeness of delivery: Perfect.
Human interactions: Good.
Pricing: High value.
Final comments & suggestions:
Subwoofer users could want a second preout even on 3.5mm stereo to avoid clunky adaptors. There's no permanently visible volume setting as the confirmation lights default to sample rate display. To see what another user set the deck to, you have to twiddle the volume control and trigger the lights. That seems impractical. Digital-domain volume for headphones and main outs gets lossy the more attenuation is invoked. With speakers the very best sound is in fixed-out mode. With headphones you'll preferably have impedance/sensitivity ratings which run them in the upper third of the DS5's range. Ideally then the DS5 would have an analog pot and it's indeed a very good question why it doesn't.

AMI Musik website