This is a review and detailed measurements of the Grace Design m900 DAC and headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member and was drop shipped to me. It costs USD $575 but I see it on sale for USD $545.
The unit has a substantial feel to it despite being small. Its design highlight is the metal rotary control for the volume control:
The rotary control feels a bit light to me but otherwise, it is one of the best controls in the business. Unlike similar looking ones from JDS Labs, this one has a metal knob giving it more of a luxurious feel. A couple of bright white LEDs show the current volume level as you see in the picture.
The unit comes with an optional external USB power supply which is beefier than the typical mobile phone one. The manual says it will work without it but it will sense the lack of sufficient current from the USB port and throttle the output. For my testing, I left the power supply plugged in...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Optoma NuForce DAC80 DAC. It is on kind loan from a member who has been patiently waiting for it from November of last year! This a rather older DAC (in "DAC years") having been introduced back in 2016 with a retail cost of USD $549. Massdrop put this up for sale in 2017 for USD $331 which is how the owner acquired it.
The box is decent enough from the outside:
To turn on the unit you have to push the volume control in. Doing the same while on selects the input. Turning off requires holding down the button. All standard methods but not the indicator of which input. As you see, there is some attempt at using an array of LEDs to indicate the input by a letter. Alas, these are pretty dim and hard to see in bright light. It is a bit of differentiation which I don't think is worth the cost.
The volume control is rather strange feeling. It has limits so it is an analog control...
As you may recall from my review of Tom's headphone amplifier, Neurochrome designs strive for very low distortion and good, objective performance. So I have been quite excited and anxious to measure one of Tom's power amplifiers.
From the outside, the Modulus-286 is rather small but very chunky look with massive heatsinks (for its size) on each side of the unit:
The heart of Modulus-286 and other solid state amplifiers Tom designs are the integrated LM3886 IC from Texas Instruments. I suspect this is from the National Semiconductor team though which was acquired by TI.
The LM3886 is a pretty powerful little IC capable of...
This is a review and detailed measurements of Schiit Jotunheim DAC and headphone amplifier with its AK4490 DAC module. It is on kind loan from a member and in this configuration costs $499 plus shipping from Schiit direct. I had previously reviewed Schiit Jotunheim but that was with its multibit DAC. Some rightly objected that perhaps the performance of the unit was limited by its low performing DAC as opposed to headphone amplifier/pre-amp. In this test we remedy that two ways: 1) the included DAC uses the AKM Ak4490 DAC chip instead of multibit DAC used in the other unit and 2) I also test the pre-amp independently of the DAC.
The unit has the same bland, cost optimized packaging of other Schiit products:
The unit is mains powered so is quite hefty and sits...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the KORG NuTube based, NuTekt HA-KIT headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from our friends at Gig Harbor Audio. It comes in kit form and retails for USD $249.
If you are not familiar with "NuTube" is miniaturized triode vacuum tube. Here is the marketing statements from the company:
The KIT comes in awfully cute configuration of the "CMOY" headphone amps:
When powered up, you see two pretty blue lights when the tubes light up:
As you see, it runs on just two AA batteries which is stated to last 9 hours. Don't try this with your normal tube amplifier!
The tubes can be microphonic (generate electrical output based on vibrations) so they are mounted on rubber foam of some sort. Banging on the modul with my finger created a high pitched "biiiiing"...
This is a review and detailed measurements of HoloAudio XEME2VE USB to SPDIF Converter. It allows you to connect a DAC that only has S/PDIF input to the USB jack of your computer. It is on kind loan from a member. Retail price appears to be USD $169 but the company has it on sale for USD $99.
As little boxes go, this feels unusually good and solid:
There is fair amount of heft to it which should stop most cables from tugging on it.
There are no external power supplies so all you have to do is connect the USB cable and S/PDIF to your DAC and you are in business. An indicator which shows it is powered on and happy would have been handy but is not critical in this application.
The XEME2VE is plug-and-play compatible with Windows 10 Creators Edition which means it is UAC2 compliant so should be driverless on Mac and Linux (or streamer of your choice).
This is a review and detailed measurements of Digital Amplifier Company's DAC DAC HS (high spec) DAC. Yes, it is actually called that! It is on kind loan from a member. Seems like this was a kickstarter project. The unit tested is their first generation product and retailed for USD $1,290 I think. so not cheap.
What is cheap is the box that it comes in. It is basically a DIY project box with hobbyist like LEDs and such:
No effort was put in labeling the LEDs or the rear panel.
Disappointing in this price range is lack of USB input. You are limited to a single digital input: S/PDIF.
Output is through balanced XLR connectors which I like. But then again RCA outputs are missing.
An external small and light switching power supply powers the unit.
The owner supplied a HoloAudio XEME2VE USB/SPDIF converter which I tested the DAC DAC with at the end of the review.
Let's get into measurements and see if there is premium performance here to go...
This is a review and measurements of the SoundBlaster X-FI HD DAC/ADC and headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member and it retails for USD $100 from Amazon with Prime shipping.
The box itself is plastic but doesn't look too bad:
The volume control is a rotary control of some sort with the worst feel positive. It is stiff with no notches and of course no indicators.
Connectivity is good though with headphone and microphone inputs in front and line out/in plus phono input in the back. We also have our usual set of USB, S/PDIF and Toslink inputs.
Plugging in the device into my Windows 10 did nothing so it is not UAC2 compliant. Went to get the driver and it is a 150 megabyte or so of what we used to call at Microsoft, "crapware." I used the custom install and disabled a bunch of stuff it wanted to install. Good news was that it also came with ASIO driver making it easier to test with my Audio Precision hardware...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the all-in-one Marantz HD-AMP1 DAC and integrated amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member and retails for USD $1,100 including free Prime shipping from Amazon.
The unit has a somewhat retro looking of other Marantz audio products with the round digital display and wood sides:
There are both digital inputs and analog allowing one to build a complete system around the HD-AMP1. I was surprised to not see RCA outputs though so no convenient way to use its internal DAC by itself.
Amplification is through class-D technology which allowed the unit to run cool. Without permission from its owner though, I did not put it through thermal stress.
In addition to speaker output, there is also a headphone jack so I tested the output through that too.
There is a lot of functionality in HD-AMP1. I chose to test a few of them in this feature and will test more based on requests...
This is a review, detailed measurements and comparison of two battery operated portable headphone amplifiers: then JDS Labs implementation of O2 and the Topping NX3s. The former is one that I own and it retails for USD which I purchased for about $140 including free Prime shipping. The Topping NX3s is on kind loan from a member and is a lot cheaper at just USD $59 on Amazon with free shipping. I believe it went on sale on Massdrop for $45???
Size wise, the Topping MX3s is much, much less chunky than the O2:
The NX3s is definitely pocketable and could I guess be strapped to the back of your mobile phone. No such prayer for the O2 amplifier. The NX3 feels quite slick while the O2 is like many DIY type products.
The NX3s uses any USB charge source which is very convenient. The O2 on the other hand uses a small but rather heavy AC mains transformer. AC can be converted to the positive and negative supplies easily for amplification...
This is a review, detailed measurements and comparison of Zorloo ZuperDAC-S and SMSL Idea DAC and headphone amplifiers. They are both on kind loan from a forum member with him stealing the ZorLoo from his poor son. The ZuperDAC-S was apparently an Indigogo project and retails for USD $89 from their site. The SMSL Idea was the one I kinged as the best portable DAC/Amp a while ago so this is a refresher with my new measurement gear. It retails for USD $86 from Amazon with free Prime shipping. Assuming Zoerloo charges shipping, it will be more expensive of the two.
I will be presenting comparison data to recently portable DAC/AMPs such as DACPort HD and Audioquest Dragonfly Red and Black.
Both of these units distinguish themselves with onboard volume control through up/down buttons:
The SMSL Idea is certainly the nicer looking of the two. It is thinner but a bit wider and longer as you can tell in the above pictures.
This is a review and detailed measurements of NuPrime uDSD DAC and headphone amplifier. I purchased this summer of last year from Amazon for USD $179 including Prime shipping.
This is a cute and very sturdy portable amp and dac:
It has really beefy RCA connectors in the back, the likes of which I have only seen in Khadas Tone Board. They would feel at home in gear retailing for a lot of money.
The enclosure is metal and while it is sturdy, cables can pull it around some.
Let's get into measurements and see if she is worth the extra premium over cheaper offerings.
As usual I start with Dashboard measurements and there, I was initially very unimpressed with the results:
Remembering that some devices deteriorate in performance when their volume control is at max -- even though I am testing RCA out -- I lowered the volume to min and the situation improved significantly...
This is a (performance) review and detailed measurements of the Linn Akurate DSM DAC and networked streamer. A local member kindly brought it over to our house to measure. It retails for .... get ready for it... USD $10,250. Yes, we are moving up in the world!
Linn is a Scottish company that has a long tradition/history among audiophiles although most of it earned through their legendary turntables than digital technology.
I had a lot of fun chatting with the owner of it so forgot to take a picture of it. Here is the stock photo from Linn's site:
The unit is quite substantial and with luxury feel.
Due to shortness of time, I did not have a chance to play much with its functionality. I was pleased that it supported Roon Endpoint and I could stream full 24-bit, high sample rate content to it with equal performance to its S/PDIF input which I used for testing.
Why S/PDIF input? Oddly there is no USB input on Linn Akurate DSM...
This is a review and detailed measurements of Accuphase E-270 Integrated Amplifier. It is on kind loan from our friends at Gig Harbor Audio. It is their demo unit so I have to return it on Tuesday. So if you need something else to be measured, ask right away! The E-270 was released in 2017 I think and retails for USD $5,000. This is not cheap by our normal standards but in high-end audio, this is a pretty reasonable price.
The industrial design of the unit seemingly has not changed from 1980s era with beautiful VU meters (with acceleration):
At 44 pounds, the unit is quite heavy for its capabilities. There is a massive transformer in the middle of the unit and the power amplifier modules with beefy heatsinks sit on either side. During my testing, I could not even get the unit to become warm let alone hot! It runs so comfortably that one thinks it is never going to stress out.
This is a review and detailed measurements of Onkyo M-282 Power (speaker) amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member who bought it a few years ago but had not used it. Seems like it was just discontinued as I checked the price yesterday and it was being sold for $300 or so from Amazon. The suggested replacement by Amazon is lower power (75 versus 100 watts for M-282) but is also cheaper at $210.
The box is quite large but other than the left side that is weighted down by a transformer, it feels rather light:
The front looks slick and high quality.
The back has two pairs of RCA connectors: one for input and one for output. There is a switch to select auto-on with audio, 12 volt trigger, or always on which is the mode i used.
There is trim potentiometer in the back to set the input sensitivity. At first I left this in the default middle setting but that showed fair amount of channel mistmatch. So I set it to max and the two...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the KORG DS-DAC-100 Balanced DAC and headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. It retails for USD $446 with free shipping from Amazon.
If you are not familiar with KORG, they are a Japanese company which has been producing professional audio products for years. They have a respectable reputation. Given that and high price of this unit, my expectations of fidelity was high.
Perhaps the most claim to fame of the KORG DS-DAC-100 is its very unusual industrial design, harkening to the science fiction modern style of 1960s:
In a word: it is adorable!
Note the spikes below that act as feet. With the bit of weight the unit has, you better careful in putting it on top of your precious wood desk or other surface that can scratch.
As I noted earlier, this DAC has balanced XLR outputs. But unusually at this price, it has no other inputs than USB. This is fine for me in...
This is a review and detailed measurements of SMSL M10 desktop DAC and headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. This is a "high-end" unit from SMSL and retails for USD $545 from Amazon including free Prime shipping.
As soon as you take out the M10 out of the box, you definitely get the feeling that this is one hefty unit. It is not as heavy as SMSL D-1 but it is up there with inclusion of a power supply and such. The display is also much larger than more budget oriented SMSL DACs and amps:
As you can see, the SMSL M10 sports both 1/4 inch headphone jack and XLR for "balanced" headphone output. You would need to select either one of these in the menu in addition to whether the headphone output is on or line out.
For output, we have both RCA and balanced XLR outputs which is really nice and expected in this price range.
Menus are pretty intuitive to follow with push of the power button and rotary knob. The...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Crown XLS 1502 "PA" Power Amplifier. It is on a kind loan from a member who bought it new and drop shipped it to me. It retails for USD $349 including free Prime shipping from Amazon. At that price, it seems like an incredible value.
I have to say, while the unit looks industrial/military, it does not at all feel cheap. As expected it comes in 19 inch rack mount configuration but very shallow:
Not only do you get a high power amplifier with front graphical display and such, but also a built-in DSP. It is not a fancy subsystem but allows you to dial in crossovers and such which is very handy in live sound. At may company (Madrona Digital) we use a ton of Crown amps not for hifi applications but for music distribution in the home. The built-in DSPs come in handy for limiting the frequency range, max output, etc..
Unlike home units, the XLS 1502 has a built-in fan with tons of...
This is a review and detailed measurements of Geshelli Labs ENOG2 Pro DAC. It is on kind loan from the company. It retails for USD $199 but right now they are on sale for $180 including free shipping to US and Canada.
The ENOG2 Pro DAC comes in different colors and semi-transparent case. I have the black:
The clear sides allows the myriad of colorful LEDs to shine through. If you are a fan of this kind of bling, you are in luck. If not, you may want to put a towel on it when operating.
The ENOG2 Pro distinguishes itself from other budget DACs by leaving out USB input and instead adding balanced output. As you see in the above picture the only inputs are TOSLINK optical and Coax S/PDIF. If the ENOG2 Pro performs and you don't need USB, it would be the cheapest way to get a balanced output DAC.
Back to functionality, the switch to the left of the inputs is dual function. Just pressing it momentarily will toggle from one input to the other. If...