Articles, Reviews and Measurements of Audio Products

Review and Measurements of Schiit Mani Phono Stage

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Schiit Mani Phono stage/pre-amplifier. I was prompted to purchase it a while back due to its popularity. The Mani costs US $129 plus shipping.

Naturally, the Schiit Mani adopts the look and feel of other Schiit desktop products:

Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier Audio Review.jpg

I was expecting gain and MM/MC switch but there is none. Instead, dip switches under the unit perform these functions.

A 16 volt, 500 milliamp AC external transformer powers the unit.

The back panel as you would expect:

Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

There is a stout grounding terminals which I did have to use. Lowest noise/hum was achieved with my Audio Precision analyzer with its unbalanced inputs and outputs fully floating.

Back to the dip switches, there are two stages, each with a High Low setting. So overall, you have a choice of four gain settings. By experimentation, I used High on Gain 1 state and low on Gain 2 for Moving Magnet...

Review and Measurements of SONOS Connect Streamer

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the SONOS Connect Audio/Multi-room streamer. It is on kind loan from a member and costs $349 on Amazon including Prime shipping.

The Connect has the look of earlier SONOS products which is attractive:

Sonos connect streamer Audio Review.jpg

Functionality takes a backseat to looks though as you get to decode blinking LED that can change its color. Better have the manual handy to know what it is saying.

The back panel better shows the capabilities of the unit:

Sonos connect streamer back panel Audio Review.jpg

The only inputs are Ethernet/Wifi and analog in. There is both Toslink and Coax and they are output only. This made my testing quite difficult as my Audio Precision analyzer cannot control such a device.

Initially I fired up Roon and was pleasantly surprised that it saw the Connect and happily streamed my test signal to it. But all of a sudden it started to get errors talking to the box and I could not get it to work no...

Review and Measurements of FX Audio DAC-X7 DAC & Amp

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This is a review and Measurements of the FX Audio DAC-X7 DAC and headphone amplifier. An overseas member was interested in it and donated the shipping cost for me to buy it locally. The cost on Amazon is US $189 with free shipping in US. DAC-X7 uses the same AKM 4490 as Topping DX3 Pro so makes for a good comparison as you will see later. DX3 Pro costs more though but includes Bluetooth.

While typical of this class of products, the DAC-X7 adds a touch of class with a blue display:

FX Audio DAC-X7 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Audio Review.jpg

The display while very small, is more legible than likes of SMSL for example.

The back panel is more or less what you expect:

FX Audio DAC-X7 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

There is however an Aux in which I did not have a chance to measure as all of my testing is with USB input.

The external power supply is a...

Review and Measurements of Purifi 1ET400A Amplifier

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Purifi 1ET400A Class-D amplifier module. Company was kind enough to send me a complete, assembled kit consisting of two modules, power supply and case, ready to go. They have not disclosed the cost of the unit. Modules will be available to DIY channel in Q4 of 2019.

As cases go, the prototype unit came in an attractive one:

Purifi 1ET400A Class-d Amplifier Module Audio Review.jpg

A touch of color on the lid goes a long way to break the monotony of DIY aluminum cases. Someone should take this case, put two giant VU meters in the front and make me happy! :)

Here is a quick teardown:

Purifi 1ET400A Class-d Amplifier Module Teardown.jpg

A single Hypex SMPS1200 is used to power both channels. That feeds two 1ET400A amplifier modules.

A single "Amp Connector Board" feeds both channels using balanced input through an optional gain stage of 13 dB. Here is more detail from documentation on the features of this EVM board...

Review and Measurements of Yamaha WXA-50 Streaming Amp

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Yamaha WXA-50, multi-function DAC, pre-amp, power amp, streaming and multi-room unit. It is on kind loan from a member. Even though it came out a few years ago (2016?), it is widely available. Amazon shows it costs US $478.

Success of SONOS as a multi-room audio solution has been the envy of many traditional audio companies. Many have tried to chase them with Yamaha being one of the earlier ones.

The WXA-50 is a surprisingly heavy unit although looks somewhat unremarkable:

Yamaha WXA-50 Streaming DAC and Amplifier Audio Review.jpg

The case is metal as best as I can tell which is good as the unit generates good bit of heat. Strangely the heat is concentrated on the left side yet the vents are on the right!
There is an IR hole on the left which confused me to no end, constantly wanting to push it to turn on the unit.

I am not a fan of a single light indicating input and overload condition of the amplifier. Worst part of the interface...

Great Interview with a Music Producer/Engineer

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This is a great interview about the technical ins and outs of studio work. It is with Alex Sterling, owner of Precision Sound studio. He has a very nice, pragmatic, down-to-earth way of explaining things that I like. Very informative and not too long so give it a watch. It covers everything from use of studio monitors and headphones to preference for mixes and such.

Review and Measurements of Denon PMA-50 Amplifier

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Denon PMA-50 Audio (speaker) amplifier with included DAC and Bluetooth. It is on kind loan from a member. It seems to be discontinued but when available, it cost US $599. I see it on ebay and such from $370 to $450.

The enclosure is more stout and nicer looking/feeling than a lot of products in this category:

Denon PMA-50 Digital Amplifier Audio Review.jpg

The volume control is large and nice feeling. It works a bit odd though in that when you first turn it, it switches the display to volume level but doesn't do anything with respect to changing the level. You need to keep turning it to have it take effect.

There is a headphone amp which I did not test yet. May do that later.

Back panel shows a nice suite of digital and analog inputs but no line out for the DAC:

Denon PMA-50 Digital Amplifier Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

I performed all of my testing with USB and a bit with analog Aux input.

Included mains power supply gets rid of the...

Review and Measurements of New Topping D50s DAC

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the brand new, Topping D50s. Yes, this is a new revision of one of our favorite DACs, the D50. The new version brings Bluetooth, remote control and better performance (see measurements below). It was kindly sent to me by Topping. I don't see an announcement on it but Topping has shared with me that it will cost US $250. The unit I have is production version but lacks manual, stickers and such.

From the outside, the D50s looks pretty much the same as D50:

Topping D50s DAC Audio Review.jpg

You can see the antenna in the back for Bluetooth. The remote control is the same as recently Topping offerings. Indeed I used the one from Topping DX3 Pro to control it. It uses two AAA batteries so there should not be any issue with coin cells.

The back panel is what you expect:
Topping D50s DAC Rear Panel Audio Review.jpg

For my testing, I just used the round 5 volt cable to USB that Topping provided. I simply plugged that into one of...

Great Talk on Design of Benchmark AHB2 and THX Technology

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Someone post this jewel of a video where John Siau of Benchmark and Laurie Fincham of THX talk not only about design of the Benchmark AHB2 amplifier but many concepts in general from dynamic range to content production and speakers. Definitely worth a watch. It is less than an hour so put aside some quality time and listen.

Review and Measurements of Little Dot MK III Tube Headphone Amplifier

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Little Dot MK III Tube Headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. It costs US $289 including Prime shipping. The unit has been sitting for a while (my apologies to its owner) so please excuse a bit of dust in the pictures below. I tried to dust them off while the unit was on and the right rear tube burned my finger and burned it good!

A few touches in the industrial design sets this amplifier apart, giving it an elegant, higher-end look:

Little Dot MK III Headphone Amplifier Audio Review.jpg

The volume control has a nice feel -- not too lose, not too tight. And large enough to fit in the hand well. And the unit is heavy enough to stay put and not get dragged around by any wires.

The Little Dot MK III is mains powered which further gets rid of clutter on your desk:

Little Dot MK III Headphone Amplifier Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

The stickers likely don't mean anything as far as safety certification.

I was surprised to see US made tubes in...

Canjam SoCal Headphone and Audio Show 2019 Part 2

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As you may have noticed from my comments on day 1 at SoCoal CanJam, the first day was busy so I could not talk to many industry people. For some reason I thought today would be worse but it was the exact opposite. There were maybe 30% of the number of people on day one. This made the day hugely more fruitful for me in networking, chatting with companies, etc. Some will be reflected in the trip report. Others will reveal themselves in the future. :)

Anyway, my initial mission was to hit the suites that were too busy the first day. And that started with Woo Audio's table, starting with this GES Electrostatic tube amplifier:



It sounded good but like my Stax tube headphone amp, can't play super loud.

The next product was the WA11 Topaz which is a portable DAC and headphone amplifier...

Canjam SoCal Headphone and Audio Show 2019

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So I finished my first day at the Canjam southern california show. I attended three talks and spent the rest of the day mingling among the vendors and visitors.

It is a relaxing show for me compared to the massive ones I usually attend. There was one hall and a few small rooms around it and that was it. Here is the major hall:

I was disappointed to just get a wrist-band for admission. No name badge so no one could tell who you were. I had to keep introducing myself and handing out business cards. Manufactures couldn't tell if I was a customer or not without such a name tag. Exhibitors all name tags. Don't know why could not give visitors some, even if it were hand written.

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...
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