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Dense Audio Adapt Reference Headphone Adapter Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Dense Audio Adapt Reference DAC and Headphone amplifier in a "dongle" configuration. It was kindly sent to me by the company to review last fall and I am only getting to test it now. :) The Adapt has a retail price of US $209.99 but I see it on sale for $169.99. That is up there as far as price although there are likes of Audioquest that charge as much and more. There is apparently a "Standard" version as well at lower cost.

The Adapt dongle is a little box with USB-C connection at one end and 3.5mm adapter at the other end:

Dense Audio Reference DAC and Headphone Amplifier smartphone adapter Audio Review.jpg

It is a metal (aluminum?) case and super light and small as you can tell from the picture.

It is plug-and-play with Windows and that is how I tested it.

DAC Audio Measurements
As usual, we start with our dashboard view to see how the device produces a pure 1 kHz tone into high impedance (as if it were a desktop DAC):

Dense Audio Reference DAC and Headphone Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


Happy to see full 2 volt output which makes it comparable to a desktop DAC and bodes well for output power into high impedance headphones. SINAD if nearly 110 dB is clearly desktop class and places the Dense Adapt into our highest tier of all DACs tested regardless of class and price:

Best USB-C DAC reviewed.png


Noise level is also quite low for a dongle:
Dense Audio Reference DAC and Headphone Amplifier Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


32-tone signal resembling "music" also shows very low levels of distortion:

Dense Audio Reference DAC and Headphone Amplifier Multitone Audio Measurements.png


Jitter test shows some unwanted signals but they are well below threshold of hearing:

Dense Audio Reference DAC and Headphone Amplifier Jitter Audio Measurements.png


Linearity is perfect and better than some desktop DACs:

Dense Audio Reference DAC and Headphone Amplifier Linearity Audio Measurements.png


IMD shows that classic "hump" due to use of ESS DAC chip but it is not extreme:

Dense Audio Reference DAC and Headphone IMD Amplifier Audio Measurements.png

Power Output Measurements
The most important measurement for any portable headphone amplifier is amount of power. These little devices usually lower power due to footprint and cost issues and that seriously hurts performance. You lose bass response and with some headphones you won't even be able to get enough volume for best dynamics. Let's start with 300 ohm load where this usually manifests:

Dense Audio Reference DAC and Headphone Amplifier Power into 300 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


That's decent amount of power with excellent, low level of distortion with zero clipping (i.e. you can enjoy the music to max volume with no distortion).

33 Ohm load is a bit harder on the device:

Dense Audio Reference DAC and Headphone Amplifier Power into 33 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


Still, power is readily available as we see in these summary charts:

Highest power dac headphone adapter dongle.png


Output impedance is very low making it a non-issue for any headphone:

Lowest output impedance headphone amplifier review measurements.png


Headphone Listening Tests
Performance with both Sennheiser HD-650 and Hifiman HE400i was very good. Plenty of bass and volume. With superb content, you get superb fidelity with these combinations.

I expected serious problems with my very inefficient, Ether CX headphones at just 25 ohms but that did not occur. Except for some extreme tracks where at max volume I could hear some distortion, the combination was quite usable. This is not so with vast majority of dongles and even desktop products.

Conclusions
The Dense Adapt Reference is part of a class of premium dongles which cost a lot but also provide excellent performance in the form of essential transparency with enough power for even difficult headphones. They are desktop headphone amp and DAC that are as small and lighter than a car remote key. With no battery to fuss with, they are a great way to take high fidelity with you on the road for both computer and phone/tablet use.

The Dense Adapt Reference is well designed and engineered. I am happy to put it on my recommended list.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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#3
Very nice measurements for such a small device but for the price I think I'd rather the FiiO BTR5 which uses the same ES9218P but 2 of them. Granted you need a 2.5mm balanced cable to take advantage of both. Hopefully you get sent one for review!
 

ZolaIII

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#5
They didn't stated anywhere which amplifier is used but I guess ist got to be Sabre. All do SABRE9601 is stated to achieve those output levels & intended to go with those DAC's we simply didn't had pleasure to see it in such implementation, what we did it's horrible implementation of it on DragonFly's. So I am more than curious to find this out.
 

Tks

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#6

Got that 50mv graph for me bossman? >_> (why did I think this had volume control?)
 
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Jimbob54

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#8
Anyone know how the "standard" version stacks up against the Meizu Pro, hidisz 8 etc?
 

ZolaIII

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#9
Anyone know how the "standard" version stacks up against the Meizu Pro, hidisz 8 etc?
It stands quiter to this version as it has less current and less power. Even this "reference" version performs worser than mentioned one's.
 

Jimbob54

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#10
It stands quiter to this version as it has less current and less power. Even this "reference" version performs worser than mentioned one's.
Then I shall remain happy. Thanks
 

sam

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#11
It looks like there's an additional $20 off for the new customers. That makes the standard version only cost $39.
 
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#12
They didn't stated anywhere which amplifier is used but I guess ist got to be Sabre. All do SABRE9601 is stated to achieve those output levels & intended to go with those DAC's we simply didn't had pleasure to see it in such implementation, what we did it's horrible implementation of it on DragonFly's. So I am more than curious to find this out.
the ES9218P is a SOC (system on a chip). It includes an amp and dac together. http://www.esstech.com/index.php/en...og-converters/sabre-hifi-mobile-dacs/es9218p/
 
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#13
These recent dongle/USB reviews have certainly shown how far they have come, another great option to the mix. Distortion levels in the 300 Ohm load in between DX3 Pro High/Low gain is very impressive and better than Hidizs S8/Meizu Hifi Pro who deliver similar amounts of power.
 
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#14
@amirm if you plug in a set of TRRS headphones with built-in mic, does the mic still work? I don't see anything obvious on the product page, but they use a TRRS jack in the pictures.
 

bobobo1618

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#15
From this review:

Performance with both Sennheiser HD-650 and Hifiman HE400i was very good. Plenty of bass and volume. With superb content, you get superb fidelity with these combinations.
From the Hidizs S8 review:

I started with Sennheiser HD-650. Here, there was just enough volume to be useful in my test tracks. The fidelity was there but not the huge bass impact you get with desktop products.
The Sennheiser HD-650 are 300Ω headphones and both DACs/amps showed a max output of 14mW of output at 300Ω, the S8 just had more distortion. Given this, I'm surprised the feedback from the listening test was so different.

I'm pretty new to these charts. Is there something I'm missing that explains what's going on? Is this the result of the differing distortion performance?
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #16
The Sennheiser HD-650 are 300Ω headphones and both DACs/amps showed a max output of 14mW of output at 300Ω, the S8 just had more distortion. Given this, I'm surprised the feedback from the listening test was so different.
The context is different in the two remarks. The second is making reference to desktop products which have enough power to literally cause your ear lobes to resonate. :)
 

dense

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#17
@amirm if you plug in a set of TRRS headphones with built-in mic, does the mic still work? I don't see anything obvious on the product page, but they use a TRRS jack in the pictures.
Hello Zedestructor,
Sorry for the confusion on the image, Adapt Reference is not compatible with mic included headset.
We will fix the image right away.
 

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