Empirical Audio

News and Reviews

Overdrive SX, SE and Signature DAC Reviews

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Overdrive SX Audiostream review:

“The Overdrive SX puts out an enormous, wide soundstage with excellent depth perspective...The Overdrive SX DAC is very revealing from top to bottom and is superb in resolving inner detail with a lifelike presence in both timbre and dynamics.  The Overdrive has extremely low noise and overall coloration. Steve Nugent has designed a first-class sounding DAC that I found to not only be transparent and revealing, but musically engaging as well.”

Audiostream, Steven Plaskin

Feb. 2018

Overdrive SE, Final Drive, Short-Block Audiostream review:

"I have always found a slight dryness to the Reference Recording sound of their digital HRx recordings. The Overdrive SE played these titles without this quality resulting in a totally engaging musical experience. Eije Oue / Minnesota Orchestra Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances (24/176.4) never sounded as good as it did with the Overdrive SE. The Overdrive did a superb job reproducing the hall acoustics with a wide and deep soundstage. The air and bloom around the instruments was reproduced with rich tonal colors."

"But it was not only orchestral music that benefited from the Overdrive SE, but well recorded vocals such as Reinaldo Brahn's Brasileiro Soul. This 24/176.4 Reference Recordings HRx also sounded better with the Overdrive SE than any other DAC I have heard it reproduced with. The voice and instruments were reproduced without image smearing and excellent image solidity."

"The resolution of transient detail was also very good with this DAC endowing instruments and voices with pleasing clarity."

"Overdrive's volume control to directly control my amps sounded better than any other DAC I can remember that had an internal volume control be it analog or digital.... Connecting the Final Drive between the Overdrive and my amps was a different story....Using the Final Drive between the Overdrive SE and The Ayre MX-R amps improved the overall sonic results considerably. I felt that there was significant improvement in terms of a lower noise floor with enhancement of microdynamic nuances and rhythmic drive. The sound from the Overdrive SE combined with the Final Drive was more relaxed with greater purity and liquidity."

"I did notice an improvement in low end definition and high end detail. The soundstage seemed to be a little larger using the Short Block. Background silence was also enhanced with the Short Block."

"The MSB Technology Analog DAC at $6995 welcomes comparison with the $5999 Overdrive SE. These two DACs sound quite different from each other. The Analog DAC is bigger sounding with a less forward presence to its sound. The Overdrive SE is faster sounding, particularly in the low end. The Analog DAC has a more "relaxed sound" overall compared to the Overdrive SE. If one adds the Short Block to the Overdrive SE, there is an increase in overall definition and further reduction of noise with an even blacker background than that heard with the Analog DAC and its Desktop Power Supply."

Audiostream, Steven Plaskin
Apr 14, 2014

Overdrive shootout:

"the ODSE is a black hole - you can't turn it on and start listening and not get sucked in. It's like getting hugged by the right girl, you don't feel the arms or the body or the breath on your neck (although they are all there and rather enjoyable), you just close your eyes and sink into the utter magic of the moment."

The top contenders in the shootout were:

  1. PSAudio Direct Stream
  2. Jeff Rowland Aeris
  3. Lampizator Big 6
  4. Meitner MA-1
  5. Empirical Audio Overdrive SE

He chose the Overdrive SE and purchased one.

June, 2014


"I have not experienced sound that is so free of digital artifacts since I reluctantly made the transition from vinyl to digital for the sake of convenience and access to a wider range of titles. It is phenomenal and a revelation about how good the humble redbook CD format can sound."

April 2013


“When listening to the overdrive [se] you simply abandon PLANET DIGITAL and arrive at PLANET MUSIC. And yes it has this vinyl like quality , but I would say Vinyl Plus, as it has a very pleasant silky yet realistic sound, pretty much like live opera or chansons also have in my experience.”

Nov. 2012


“I recently upgraded my dac to an Empirical Audio Overdrive SE and it is a game changer for sure. … I never thought PC audio could sound this good. Better than SACD!”

Erndog Nov.


“If you have an Overdrive I would highly recommend the upgrade to the Turbo Clocks, if you have an Offramp I would go that route as well, it is just so much better. I can't stop tapping my foot…”

Aug. 2011


“…the Overdrive actually exceeds my vinyl playback system”

Jason Burchett
Jun. 2011


“Overdrive front-end is one of the best I have ever heard; digital or analog.”

Apr. 2011

Dagogo Review

“Not only was it the best USB DAC I’ve heard, it was better than the vast majority of DACs I’ve heard of any type. In all cases the Overdrive showed no weaknesses, having great extension, resolution, body, speed and coherence.”

“There are some components about which people say things like: “the treble is great, but it’s a bit weak in the bass” or “incredible midrange, but not the most extended” or “great extension, but the treble is a bit brittle,” etc. None of that applies to the basic Overdrive – it has no weaknesses, only strengths. That is the basic requirement for a component to be exceptional.”

“I can definitively say that the Overdrive/Pace-Car with Monolith is easily among the elite digital front ends available today. Moreover, it achieves this at a much lower cost than most of its competitors.”

Ed Momkus
Mar. 2011


“We have had the Weiss, Antelope, several Apogees, the Ayre, Tranquility, the PS Audio DLIII and PWD, and Benchmark. None of these were even close to what your DAC [Overdrive] presented.”

“This is the first DAC I have heard that rivals good vinyl as far as soundstaging and detail. It gives an organic quality to the music that one rarely hears on digital devices.”

Dec. 2010

The Absolute Sound Review

“Not only did the Overdrive have better low-level resolution when used alone, but it also delivered a slightly bigger soundstage, subtler micro-dynamics, and more macro-dynamic slam.”

“the Overdrive’s preamp doesn’t detract from its sonics. In fact, the Overdrive sounds better when used without an additional external preamp!”

Steven Stone
The Absolute Sound
Feb. 2010


“In my many years of playing this audio game, this DAC produces the cleanest, most musically honest sound I have heard.”

Thomas James
Oct. 2009


“Beautiful gorgeous mids, silky pristine highs that must go all the way to to heaven, and the bass, my God the BASS. I have never heard bass like this outside the concert hall!”

Paul M
Feb. 2009

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