Articles, Reviews and Measurements of Audio Products (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases)

Review and Measurements of VMV VA2 Headphone Amp

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the (SMSL) VMV VA2 Headphone Amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. It seems to have come out back in 2016 but online sellers are still selling it from USD $96 (Amazon) to $140. So in that sense it competes with the likes of JDS Labs Atom and Schiit Magni.

VMV is SMSL's higher up brand and as such, the VA2 comes in a solid aluminum case that weighs a good bit but otherwise is ordinary:

SMSL VMV VA2 Headphone Amplifier Audio Review.jpg

The volume control can only be grabbed from the top which I found a bit hard to turn and adjust. If the music is too loud all of a sudden, you will have have a hard time lowering its volume as you have to lift your finger when you get to the end of the slot and start over.

The two headphone connectors made me think one had higher gain, and the other, lower gain. Turns out this was a mistake as you see later in the measurements section.

The back panel is simple and has nothing other than an...

Review and Measurements of Sony STR-ZA1100ES AVR

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Sony STR-ZA1100ES Audio/Video Receiver. It is on kind loan from a local member. It costs US $999. It must have price protection as Amazon price is only $1 cheaper.

Being part of the ES series from Sony, one expects good look and feel and performance. The latter we will see in measurements. Overall, I say it has a more elegant look among the crowded AVR market:
Sony STR-ZA1100ES AVR Audio Review.jpg

Sorry about the dark picture. Took this at night. In person the display is nice and gives the unit a more formal look. There is a panel with magnets that hides all the buttons if you wanted. The volume control has good feel unlike the stiff one I have used.

The back panel is full of connectors as you can imagine:

Sony STR-ZA1100ES AVR Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

For my testing, I focused on left and right channels of the amplifier. For DAC testing, I used Zone 2 output and S/PDIF input.

I did not test HDMI. It is a pain...

Review and Measurements of Audio-gd NFB2 192 DAC

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Audio-gd NFB2 192 khz DAC. It is on kind loan from a member. It costs US $450 from Audio-gd website.

The overall package while heavy and functional, is not that exciting:

Audio-gd NFB2 192 kHz DAC Audio Review.jpg

The back panel has the usual connection plus the current mode "ACSS" proprietary connectors which I did not test:

Audio-gd NFB2 192 kHz DAC Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

I see no safety or regulatory marks on the unit which is concerning for mains operated units (i.e. NOT using external power supplies).

The unit was plug-and-play on Windows although oddly exposes inputs in addition to outputs! That threw off ASIO4ALL wrapper I use to talk to it in my analyzer. Once I shut down the input, it worked fine.

"NFB" stands for no negative feedback which Audio-gd goes to great lengths to sing its virtues:


DAC Audio Measurements
As usual, we start with our dashboard using USB Input...

Review and Measurements of Matrix Audio Element X DAC/Streamer/Amp

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Matrix Audio Element multi-function audio streamer, DAC, and headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member who purchased it and had it direct shipped to me. As it turns out, the company also contacted me to send me the same unit so kudos to them for volunteering to have their product tested. The Element X cost US $2999.

The Element X leaves a positive impression as soon as you unbox it:

Matrix Audio Element X streaming DAC Audio Review.jpg

There are elegant strips on each side and the case overall fits well in the portfolio of any high-end audio company.

You have dual unbalanced headphone jacks to the left (or balanced pair?) and a single 4-pin for balanced out. The button with circle next to it lets you quickly select rear outputs, unbalanced headphone or both. The latter nicely light up with subtle white LEDs when enabled.

There is a nice high resolution display which as you see indicates MQA content being decoded and...

Review and Measurements of Paradigm PW-Link Streamer/DAC

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Paradigm PW-Link Streamer, DAC, pre-amplifier with room equalization. It is on kind loan from a member. The PW-Link normally costs US $349 but Paradigm has it on sale for just US $157. If the device performs, it is a killer with all this functionality.

The PW-Link comes in a very similar configuration to the PW-AMP which I recently reviewed:
Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier Audio Review.jpg

As with that sample, I left the protective plastic over the controls for the owner to take off. Same controls are here for volume, power and input selection (streaming or hard-wired).

The back-panel however, is much richer than what we had with PW-AMP:
Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

I was pleased to see Toslink optical input which I used for all of my testing. I wish there also was a USB input but there is...

Review and Measurements of Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL phono stage/preamplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. The MX-VYNL costs US $999.

The overall look and feel of the unit is a step above DIY/mass market products:

Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL balanced phono stage Audio Review.jpg

Starting from the left, there is an on/off switch but oddly off is up, on is down. Hmmm. Kind of backwards.

There are two equalization settings, one for standard RIAA and another for IEC (see measurements for the difference).

There is a gain setting of 0 dB and +6 dB. This is on top of the standard gains for MM and MC cartridges. I did my testing at 0 dB.

The dial on the right allows independent loading for MM and MC cartridges. Oddly, changing this or any other setting causes a one second or so mute. I say odd because I am assuming such controls would be analog and take effect instantly. Otherwise it implies a microprocessor in there and electronic control which would not be needed in...

Review and Measurements of Paradigm PW Amp

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Paradigm PW Amp streaming capable power (speaker) amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. The PW Amp normally costs US $499 but is being sold currently for just US $225 from company's website. Needless to say this has generated a lot of interest in the unit.

Due to use of class-d amplification and likely switching power supply, the PW Amp is quite compact and light:

Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier Audio Review.jpg

Please pardon the plastic over the controls. When someone send me a unit this way, I like to give them the privilege of removing it. :)

Beside the obvious controls, the one with arrow changes the input from streaming to back analog RCA and back. In use, I thought that when you streamed to it, it would take priority and play that input.

Here is the back panel:

Paradigm PW Amp Wireless Streaming Amplifier Back Panel Audio Review.jpg
Not wanting to mess with configuring Wifi, I did my testing using Ethernet port.

The speaker connectors are...

Review and Measurements of the HDPlex 200W Supply

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the HDPlex 200 watt linear, multi-voltage power supply. It is on kind loan from a member. The 200W costs US $485 from the company.

The enclosure is small but impressively hefty and quality feeling:

HDPlex 200 Watt Linear Power Supply Review.jpg

As you see, there are no controls or indicators in the front. The business end is the back:

HDPlex 200 Watt Linear Power Supply Back Panel Review.jpg

I was pleased to see so many concurrent outputs with two of them fixed and two programmable. For my testing, I only used the 5 volt output to power USB based DACs.

Use of an XLR connector is a bit unusual but is fine if one wires it up with heavier gauge wires. One adapter came with the unit that went from XLR female to 9 volt plug. That allowed me to test the unit with Topping D50. I also tested the 200W with Schiit Modi 3 DAC which requires a micro-USB cable. I managed to build an adapter to power that.

I wanted to test the 200W with my two best performing...

This audio cable business is getting out of hand...

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I got tired of using my long RCA cables to interconnect small DACs and Amps so decided to get a short one. Saw one on Amazon (by "World's Best Cables') that used Canare Star-Quad cable and Amphenol connectors for just $22 shipped. My time was worth much more than that to make one so I ordered it. It came promptly. When I opened though, I was shocked to see this massive sign in there:

Cable Direction.jpg

Are you kidding me? Even a low-cost cable using proper material spreads such a myth?

It is one thing to see this on multi-thousand dollar cables but on a $22 one?

Inside there is an instruction sheet and it says that again. To their credit they acknowledge that such burn-in will take out of Amazon's 30 day return window so they provide instructions on how to still get a return.

The danger here is that such practices will spread to the general public, not just high-end audiophiles.

Yes, it is also "directional" although here, it is due to the way they utilize the...

Review and Measurements of Nord One NC500 Amp

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Nord One Hypex NC500 class-D module based power (speaker) amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member who recently purchased it. Nord is a British company so lists the cost of the Nord One as £ 979 or US $1,250 as of this writing. For that cost you get a pair of NC500 class-D modules from Hypex with dual PS1200 power supplies. I *think* this cost includes the stock input "buffer" (amplifier) from Hypex. You also have a choice of fancier, audiophile-type input buffer.

The Nord One comes in a very large enclosure (full 19 inch rack width):

Nord One NC500 Amplifier Class D Audio Reviews.jpg

A hard push button turns the unit on and off. Even with overdriving the unit, I could not get it to go into protection mode so not sure if such a feature is there or not.

The back panel has the bare minimum plus trigger sockets:
Nord One NC500 Amplifier Class D Back Panel Audio Reviews.jpg

The unit as it came had an issue. Can you spot it...

Review and Measurements of the Topping D70 DAC

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the new Topping D70 balanced audio DAC. The company was kind enough to send me a sample for review. The D70 costs US $499 although their products frequently go on sale.

The D70 has a similar look and feel to other Topping products which is to say feels quite solid:

Topping D70 Balanced DAC Audio Review.jpg

The display is now white OLED which gives the unit more of a professional look. Alas, even in its highest setting, it was not bright enough for my taste.

The back panel is what you expect with the addition of IIS port:
Topping D70 Balanced DAC Back Panel Audio Review.jpg
The D70 like the rest of the Topping products comes with full set of safety and emissions regulatory certificates which is important for a mains operated product. These certifications are expensive and add to the development time and hence the reason they are skipped in some other competing products.

The D70 comes with a new revision of their standard remote...

Review and Measurements of Peachtree Nova Pre

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Peachtree Nova DAC and Preamplifier. It belongs to my son who bought it years back prior to upgrading to the Oppo HA-1. Peachtree site still show it as current but I don't think it is available in distribution now. It cost US $999 when it first came out I think.

If you are not familiar with Peachtree, they burst into the scene back in 2007 and due to clever online participation and marketing, became a huge success. I remember threads with thousands of posts on them and people would eat every word about newer versions of them and such.

The Nova Pre is one of the largest and heaviest DACs I have tested:

Peachtree Nova Pre DAC and Headphone Amp Audio Review.jpg

Some of the weight comes from the very thick, glossy finished case though. I had to take that apart to figure out why the line outs were not working. My son had...

Review and Measurements of Audio-gd DAC19 DAC

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Audio-gd DAC19 DAC. It is on kind loan from a member who sent me two of their DACs for review. The DAC19 costs US $640 plus shipping from the company's website.

The design of DAC19 is similar to the rest of the Audio-gd line:

Audio-gd DAC19 DAC Audio Review.jpg

Controls feel solid and good. The unit also has good bit of heft to it so overall impressions are positive from a male perspective.

The back panel is what you expect plus a couple of their current-driven proprietary "ACSS" connectors:
Audio-gd DAC19 DAC Back Panel Audio Review.jpg
At this price range, XLR balanced output should be mandatory to help avoid ground loops which can readily occur with computer audio. It is missing here which is disappointing.

There have been many revisions of this model over the years. I think the original unit came out in 2010 and seems like that is the marking that is on the back of the unit. I am not an expert in all of that so...

Review and Measurements of Benchmark AHB2 Amp

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Benchmark AHB2 Amplifier using THX technology to reduce distortion. I was going to request one for testing due to membership demand but to my pleasant surprise, the company volunteered to contact me and send not one, but two units! I requested the second one because of something I was seeing in the measurements that turned out to be my issue, not the amp's. The AHB2 retails for US $2,999 from the company direct.

The AHB2 is a very compact form factor, enabled by use of switching power supply to increase efficiency/density:

Benchmark AHB2 Amplifier Audio Review.jpg
There is just a power switch in the front. It might be but I constantly reached for the screw next to it to power it on! Having the power switch be slightly different color or shape may help with this.

There are a set of LEDs that show the status of the amplifier. They are driven by an FPGA (field programmable digital logic) that monitors all aspects of the...

Review of NanoPi NEO2: World's Smallest Audio Streamer

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This is a review and detailed measurements of NanoPi NEO2 tiny single board computer acting as an audio streamer. It was purchased and drop shipped to me by a kind member. It costs just US $19.99 although for some reason it is listed for $60 to $75 on Amazon.

The NanoPi NEO2 is one of the many variations of the Raspberry Pi single board computer. It gets its tiny size from elimination of the HDMI video output and some of the ports:

NanoPi NEO 2 Dietpi Roon Streamer Dashboard Audio Review.jpg

It is so tiny that I had to keep smacking the pink panther to keep it from eating it!

The low cost and small size is courtesy of Chinese implementations of ARM SoC (system on a chip) which you can see on the back:

NanoPi NEO 2 Dietpi Roon Streamer Dashboard Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

The "Allwinner H5" is the Soc sporting quad-core ARM processors. The NanoPi NEO2 has just enough peripherals for a "headless" (no display) audio streamer: gigabit ethernet port and one USB to connect to your DAC.

This is a blank slate: the...

Review and Measurements of Sony UDA-1 DAC & Amp

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Sony UDA-1 DAC, headphone and power (speaker) amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. It seems the UDA-1 was released back in 2014 with a retail price of US $799. Depending on the color, I see used ones around $350.

First impressions are positive on UDA-1 with a very hefty box and controls that feel nice:

Sony UDA-1 DAC and Amplifier Audio Reviews.jpg

There is no display but what is there is functional. Here is the back panel:

Sony UDA-1 DAC and Amplifier Back Panel Audio Reviews.jpg

Disappointed to see a fan in there for a box with such modest capabilities (rated at just 23 watts/channel). I had headphones on during testing so don't know how loud it gets.

Nice to see line in/out which makes my testing a lot easier as I can test the DAC and headphone/power amplifiers separately.

Note: I used to work for Sony in early 1990s so I have a soft spot for the company. Keep that in mind as you read this review.

DAC Audio...

Review and Measurements of Rane PS1 Phono Amp

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Rane PS1 Phono stage/preamplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. It has been discontinued and seems to have come out circa 2002 (?). I can't find a price for it.

If you are not familiar with Rane, it is a company focused on pro audio and has written some of the best tutorials on audio. Needless to say, my expectations are quite high here with respect to the engineering of the PS1.

The PS-1 is an industrial looking thing:

Rane PS1 Phono Preamplifier Audio Review.jpg

The back panel makes you even less proud to put it on display:

Rane PS1 Phono Preamplifier Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

An external AC transformer with split tap powers the unit using a phone/RJ-11 style cable.

There are both unbalanced (RCA) and balanced (screw terminals) for output. I had to make a bare wire XLR cable to mate with the balanced output.

The shell of the balanced screw terminals was quite lose so I opened it to see what is going on...

Review and Measurements of Emotiva XPS-1 Phono Amp

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This is a review and measurements of the Emotiva XPS-1 Phono stage/pre-amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. The XPS-1 costs US $199 from Emotiva or Amazon.

The XPS-1 looks and feels fantastic despite its bargain price:
Emotiva XPS-1 Phono Pre-Amplifier Audio Reviews.jpg

It reminds me of a very high quality piece of instrumentation than home audio gear. Shame that the form factor will probably relegate it to somewhere behind your regular audio gear.

The XPS-1 is powered by a 12 volt/0.5 amp universal switching power supply that is barely bigger than a mobile phone charger.

As you see, the XPS-1 supports both moving coil (MC) and moving magnet (MM) cartridges. There are a set of dip switches which seem to set the input impedance of the XPS-1. To wit, setting it to the lowest value of 47 ohm, severely reduced the output from my analyzer which has an output impedance of 20 ohm.

All in all, the XPS-1 nails the industrial design of a budget phono amplifier.

Phono Stage...

Review and Measurements of BSS BLU-BIB & BLU-BOB1 DAC/ADC

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This is a review and detailed measurements of Harman/BSS BLU-BIB 8 channel analog to digital converter (ADC) and BLU-BOB1 8 channel digital to analog converter (DAC). They are on kind loan from a member. The BLU-BIB retails for I think US $930 and so does the BLU-BOB1 but I see the latter on Amazon for US $790 and free shipping.

This is how the pair look:
Harman BSS Soundweb BLU-BIB and BLU-BOB1 Audio Review.jpg

I suspect most of you are not familiar with these two products. BSS is a company that Harman acquired a few years back. Their speciality is audio signal processing/DSPs that are easily programmed using their interactive software. The BOB1 and BIB are expansion output/input modules should you run out of ports on their DSB units. All products communicate using physical Ethernet link but not logical. That is, you can't talk to them from a computer but they communicate with each other over this link and can handle up to 255 channels of digital audio with sample rate up to 96 kHz...

Measurements of RME ADI-2 DAC and Headphone Amp

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I reviewed and measured the RME ADI-2 DAC a year ago. That was just prior to getting my new Audio Precision APx555 so the measurements don't directly compare to what I publish now. So a local member kindly loaned me his ADI-2 DAC to get fresh measurements.

If you are not familiar with RME ADI-2 DAC, it is a DAC-only version of the RME ADI-2 Pro. The former costs US $1,099 and the latter, US $1,999. It is an all-in-one DAC, headphone amplifier plus remote control. It has better connectivity with all the jacks in the back rather than dongle in RME ADI-2 Pro. The menu system is world's easier to navigate than the RME ADI-2 Pro. It has built-in parametric EQ and pretty spectrum display.

For the measurements, I took an abbreviated set but I think it paints the picture quite well.

DAC Measurements
Dashboard view is with USB input...
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