No, I am not talking about a V-Dub or an annoying flying insect, but Audioquest’s Beetle – an Optical-Bluetooth-USB, Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC).

To put this in perspective, you have a digital audio source – say an iOS or Android smartphone/tablet/TV/Amplifier with Bluetooth, TV with Toslink Optical and a PC or Mac computer with  USB or Bluetooth. Yes, some of these also have a 3.5mm audio output as well – except Apple.

And the Beetle takes these and outputs very clean analogue audio from the 3.5m stereo headphone jack.

The 3.5mm stereo audio jack needs to be connected to an analogue speaker, or headphones, or it could go into the AUX IN of an amplifier or amplified speaker – it will adjust output accordingly. Got it – digital sound can be converted to analogue sound!

The purest sound input is Optical Toslink as it has no transmission issues and no induced ‘electronics’ noise. Most devices with Toslink can also be configured to output sound to Toslink and HDMI or the speakers simultaneously allowing a headphone to be used with the Beetle while the sound is also coming from the TV speakers – great for the hard of hearing.

Beetle has the following inputs (from a music device):

  • Asynchronous Bluetooth – Beetle’s LED will turn blue for 10 seconds.
  • Optical – Beetle’s LED will turn red for 10 seconds.
  • Asynchronous USB audio – Beetle’s LED will change colour for 10 seconds

Its input sampling rates are:

  • Green = 44.1kHz;
  • Blue = 48kHz
  • Amber = 88.2kHz
  • Magenta = 96kHz.

Tech specs:

  • ESS 9010 DAC chip with minimum-phase filtering, plus a Microchip MX Series microcontroller.
  • Asynchronous Bluetooth 4.0 (software upgradable) and up to eight Bluetooth pairings
  • Optical sample rates 32kHz-96kHz; 16-24 bit
  • Bluetooth sample rates up to 48kHz @ 384kbps
  • Volume control: USB/Bluetooth 64-bit-Perfect Digital and Optical Unity Gain

A DAC is about getting the best possible sound out of a sound source device to the listener. A dedicated DAC like Beetle is far better than internal DACs on most devices.

In the box

  • The Beetle
  • A manual
  • It mentions an analogue USB charger, but there was none supplied. Any micro-USB 5V/500mA or greater is fine.

It retails for A$349 and is sold via Amber Technology

First impressions are a scarab-like, black bug like thing with three inputs – that is it.

What use is it?

I am going to borrow from Master Switch’s review paraphrased of course.

  • You can use the Beetle as a standard USB-or-Bluetooth-driven DAC in a home hi-fi setup.
  • You can also use it to power headphones – the DAC has just enough juice coming from its 3.5mm output to power decent headphones
  • You can connect it up to your TV, using the optical input to handle the sound, and using it to supply the audio to a separate set of speakers.
  • You can use it to improve the audio inside your car, hooked up to the internal system.

I tested with all possible inputs and found that in all cases the sound was at least equal to or better than the source. I found Bluetooth sources via the Beetle to be markedly smoother and superior.

Pros

  • I did not know this existed until I review it – very handy in any home audio setup and especially handy if it can be used for hearing impaired purposes
  • Outstanding Asynchronous Bluetooth
  • Good flexibility

Cons

  • Did not know a good DAC could cost $329 (and that is apparently a low price)
  • The LED light is very bright
  • Requires constant power via USB (no battery)
  • Does not do aptX HD, 192kHz, DSD or MQA (Audioquest has a separate product for that)