Analogue DAC Thoughts and Impressions

My Analogue DAC showed up about two weeks ago and I finally had some time to play with it and write down my thoughts. Before my own DAC arrived, I was curious why there was a lackluster amount of reviews for the device online. Now that I have one, I see why most folks would pass on reviewing the DAC. It works exactly as advertised and serves a niche segment of an already tiny market. As some one who falls into the more casual side of that segment, I do think it’s worth the effort to discuss critically though.

The DAC gives the line of Analogue products flexibility. Before the Super NT, Analogue made the Nt mini. This was the NES FPGA console and it cost a whopping $450, but it had both digital and analog output. It also was made out of a solid block of aluminum. When the Super NT was revealed, one key factor that played into the significantly lower cost of $190 was the removal of analog support. Arguably, most customers want a simple plug-and-play, high-def way to play their SNES games. CRT televisions live on through the retro game community, purists that crave the highest quality video that the developers intended back in the 1990s. Most folks have chucked these kinds of TVs to the curb.

For those that want that analog output, the DAC provides that. For an additional $80 (really $100 after shipping), you can plug in any Analogue console and output the system to a CRT television. It still ends up being cheaper than an NT mini and works with any Analogue console.

As for the DAC itself, it is a small box that acts as the midway point in a daisy chain of video signals. Power is through the same USB Micro power supply that comes with an Analogue system. There is an additional USB Micro cable included that goes from the DAC’s USB port to your Super NT or Mega SG. This provides pass-through power to the console; no need to have two power supplies.

From the console to the DAC is where the HDMI cable goes. The console and the DAC communicate somehow, which makes the console kick into DAC mode. Then the DAC converts that digital input signal to analog out through a HD-15 port. All you need to do is buy the HD-15 cable you need. I went with the component cable that Analogue recommends, as it is the highest analog video I can currently play on. You also need a separate cable for analog audio.

And that’s it. I powered on my CRT and it worked immediately. I have to admit, seeing the Analogue boot sequence on an actual CRT was pretty rad. It just feels right. And that’s part of why I bought the DAC, because I enjoy playing games on my CRT. I currently have some form or another to play almost all my home consoles on an HD TV (sorry N64 and PS2). There is an authentic feeling when playing on a CRT. Maybe it’s just nostalgia that throws up blinders to convenience, but I genuinely enjoy having this capability.

The DAC also provides the promise for future compatibility in Analogue’s line. The Pocket connected through the Dock to the DAC (say that five times fast) opens up high fidelity analog video for handheld consoles that is extremely difficult to experience. Mods and software emulation melt away through the use of FPGA consoles and the DAC. Players could venture down the path of the MiSTer, but that is for the people into tinkering with computers. Analogue offers a path of least resistance, but that comes at a cost; both financially and straight-up consumer demand.

When stepping slightly outside the realm of plug-and-play, I did run into some issues. I wanted to test capturing analog footage. I have an older Elgato HD capture card that supports analog video capture. I plugged everything in and bupkis. At Jeremy Parish’s recommendation, I tried all the sync options, but to no avail. Somewhere in this chain of wires, a miscommunication is happening and I can’t figure out how to correct it. This doesn’t impact my ability to play the games, but It did mean I couldn’t capture direct footage for my needs (i.e. this article).

The DAC is a smart solution for multiple problems. It allows Analogue to make their primary consoles cheaper for every customer. It gives customers that do want analog video an accessible option that works with any Analogue console they own or will buy. It opens the gateway for consoles to get high quality analog output, even those that have to jump through numerous, technical hoops. Preservationist, historians, and enthusiasts get the performance they desire, while Analogue gets to have their cake and eat it too.