The TEAC AI-503 combines a high-performance DAC, digital/analogue preamplifier and a built-in amplifier. Is it a 21st Century answer to the 1970s Music Centre?
If that statement sounds rather bizarre, I beg you, dear reader, to hear me out; for those younger readers, the ‘Music Centre’ was a uniquely 1970s concept incorporating a radio, turntable, and amplifier into one stylish unit (if you happened to like Formica wood grain that is).
In a very 21st century way, one could argue that the AI-503 does exactly the same thing; day to day listening typically revolves around varied digital sources, with possibly one analogue source. Add an amplifier and a stylish enclosure, and voila!
TEAC AI-503 – Retro Style, Modern Convenience
A first glance at the AI-503 immediately recalls strong affections for vintage Hi-Fi and professional recording equipment; this should come as little surprise bearing in mind TEAC’s history along with their professional offshoot TASCAM. It’s fair to say TEAC knows a thing or two with regards to high-performance audio.
Available in eye-catching black or silver, the front panel is dominated by a pair of beautiful, retro, moving coil VU meters. Two bevelled knobs control volume and input selection, with a retro-styled power switch rounding out the vintage aesthetic. Beneath the 70s referenced visage, however, lie very modern features and functionality.
The front panel input selector allows the user to select between a stereo line input, optical, coaxial, USB, Bluetooth and a neat front panel mounted 3.5mm line/optical input. Pretty much all the day-to-day connections one could require.
The TEAC AI-503 incorporates all the functionality we’ve come to expect of a modern, conventional DAC; based as it is on TEAC’s stand alone UD-503, that should come as little surprise. A notable addition, however, is the inclusion of AptX Bluetooth support – arguably essential for casual day to day digital listening.
Connecting the TEAC AI-503 via USB to either a Windows of Mac computer unlocks the AI-503’s ability to function as a complete DAC interface for playback of digital files, or for streaming audio from your computer. If you have conventional S/PDIF digital sources, they too can benefit from the TEAC AI-503 high-performance DAC. Speaking of which…
The TEAC AI-503 utilises a dual mono configuration, using twin VERITA AK4490 D/A converters. Sample rates of up to 11.2MHz DSD and 384kHz/32-bit PCM are supported for true ‘Hi-Res’ digital support.
More than ‘just’ a DAC
The ‘party piece’ of the TEAC AI-503, must surely be its ability to function as a hybrid digital/analogue pre-amplifier, with a combined power amplifier; again, the spirit of the Music Centre as a central hub for your music is alive and well. A single pair of analogue stereo inputs is provided on the rear of the unit, allowing connection of any line level source.
The integrated 120w, Class D power amplifier provides enough ‘grunt’ to make the proposition of using the TEAC AI-503 as your core system, very possible indeed. Should the user at any time wish to add more power to the system, a stereo pair of pre-out sockets allows connection of an external power amplifier.
Add in a very capable headphone amplifier, with switchable gain settings for headphones of varying impedances, and it’s clear to see that the TEAC AI-503 is a remarkable all-around unit, with a wide palette of functions and talents.