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REVIEW (mini-review, more to come) - CEntrance DACport 24/96 USB DAC Amp

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
I've posted a little about my review sample DACport in my Nuforce HDP thread when comparing them as 24/96 USB DAC/amps, and I want to give DACport it's own thread since I have a mini-review ready. I am still doing some evaluation and comparison, but I've had a couple of weeks to play with it and I am impressed. I like it enough that I will probably try to buy the review sample rather than send it back.

It only took a little begging and pleading with Michael Goodman at CEntrance to convince them to have a sale, which they are calling their "10th Anniversary Special on DACport this week", and at $399 I highly recommend people pick one up before the sale is over. I'd really like to see the price stay at $399. I met Michael at RMAF and liked him, so I felt bad that they only had an inefficient DT-880 to pair with the DACport - I felt compelled to loan him my re-cabled RS-1 for the weekend, so people could hear just how good the DACport really was. I appreciate that he respected my opinions enough to try out a sale price. If they can sell enough quantity of these then maybe we can get the price to stay down.

Vs a Pico amp/DAC or Apogee Duet the original $500 price was somewhat reasonable considering the improved sound quality over them, except that you give up the Pico's analog input and battery power if you get the DACport. Likewise, the Duet was fairly equivalent to the Pico in side-by-side comparison even with 24/96 music, but you also get an nice analog>digital converter and line out that the DACport doesn't offer for the same price. So, I applaud them for trying out the $399 price. It came with a nice felt carry bag, a nice solid 1/4" to 1/8" adapter, a USB cable, and belt clip that I suppose is for walking around with a netbook while listening to music. Fortunately I'm just not that geeky.




Digital specs:

Sample Rate96kHz (Also: 44.1 kHz, 48kHz and 88.2kHz)
Resolution24-bit (Also supports 16-bit)
ConnectionUSB1.1 or 2.0, driverless
CommunicationAdaptiWave™ - our proprietary USB technology
Local clock10 ppm precision, 1 ps jitter
CompatibilityAny computer running Mac, PC, or Linux

Analog Specs:

Dynamic Range120 dB
Frequency Responce20Hz...40kHz +/-0.2dB
THD+N-97 dB (-0.5dBFS, 1kHz)
Audio OutputStereo 1/4" headphone jack
Heaphone AmpDirect Class A, no caps in the signal path
Maximum Output Level+9dBV @300 Ohm load (8.5V peak-to-peak)
Output Power1.5W (total)
Output Impedance10 Ohm

General Specs:

Input powerUSB bus (no external power supply needed)
Internal power supplies±9V, super-clean, dual analog rails; +3.3V, +5V.
Unit Dimensions:4.5" (11.4cm) L, 1" (2.5cm) W, 1" (2.5cm) H
Weight:2.4 ounces (68 grams)

Included Accessories:

Custom-designed belt clip
6' (1.83m) low-EMI USB cable
Carrying pouch made out of felt

Gear Used:

I have tried the DACport with Westone 2, Westone 3, Monster Turbine Pro Gold, Westone ES3X, UE11Pro, JH13Pro, Grado HF-2, HiFiMan HE-5, Sennheiser HD600 and HD800. I'm using my Macbook Pro with iTunes and 24/96 Hi-Res downloads from HDTracks.com, with the Audio MIDI setup set for 24/96. I also tried several Apple Lossless CODEC 16/44.1 CD rips, and some 128K AAC protected music from the old days. However, the majority of my listening was with 24/96 and 24/88 downloads.

My impressions: The DACport has no hiss with sensitive IEM, and it has very good extreme low volume channel balance with IEM. It's one of the few amps that sounds great with UE11Pro by giving them well controlled bass and full mids. However, good performance isn't limited to just IEM, and while the output power is a bit less than many desktop amps, it's voltage swing is decent and it still manages to work well with Grado HF-2 and HD600/800. Even the very demanding HiFiMan HE-5 can be enjoyed at normal volumes without maxing the volume knob. The DACport bass and treble extension are very good, while the mids are full and rich without becoming forward. Overall I find it to sound very balanced and refined. I liked it right out of the box and only felt it open up slightly and smooth out a little with a few hours. Extensive burn-in will not be required, but it doesn't hurt either.



The DACport (as a DAC/amp) beats ALL the portable DAC/amps that I have had come through here for review, but some by a larger margin than others. This includes the Pico amp w/ DAC, and opamp rolled D4/D10 which all have very resolving resolving DACs plus nice built-in headphone amps. The DACport's detail retrieval is excellent. The DACs in the Predator, 3MOVE and XM5 don't have nearly the micro-detail or refinement of the DACport, so I wont discuss them here and will focus on the ones with the most detailed DACs.

In comparisons to what some consider the benchmark, I found that the Pico was very detailed and spacious like the DACport; but with slightly recessed mids vs the DACport. And the DACport sounds slightly warmer and fuller, or more complete. I also felt that I could hear deeper into the music with the DACport, with better micro-detail on these 24/96 files. With the extra micro-detail I experienced a little extra ambience, space and air in the recordings. And, the DACport sounds a bit better with UE11Pro than Pico, which could sometimes allow the UE11Pro bass to become a little too much and also show sibilance more in some recordings. This is not to say the Pico was bad at all, just that I was more involved in the music and it was more believable with the DACport.

Vs the D4 with my "P-51 clone" opamps, the D4 is slightly more aggressive and also doesn't have quite the same micro-detail and depth of the DACport, although it does more closely match the warmth of the DACport. In my other reviews I've mentioned that the stock D4 sounds like a cross between the Pico and P-51; but I did not return it to stock opamps for this comparison since after multiple opamp swaps it was clear to me that it sounds better with the OPA1611A class-A biased opamps. With the stock opamps the gap between DACport and D4 would certainly change, and while it would become narrower in the area of upper midrange transparency, it would widen in the area of lower midrange warmth or bass and energy.

I felt that the differences between the DACport and Pico were bigger than the differences with the upgraded D4, but the DACport was still slightly more refined and fuller sounding than the upgraded D4, with less tendency toward sibilance with my UE11Pro. The upgraded D4 is very good, and up until the DACport the D4 was my favorite portable DAC/amp (I still enjoy it very much). But the D4 upper mids don't have quite the same degree of neutrality and transparency of the DACport. Having compared the Pico Slim to the P-51 last year, I would not be surprised if the Pico Slim comes closest to the sound signature of the DACport. When my Slim arrives I'll be able to compare the Pico DAC-only > Pico Slim vs the DACport, and I expect it to be a close race since the Pico DAC-only has had more detail and depth for me than my Pico amp w/ DAC.

Another nice USB/DAC amp out there that I have been enjoying a lot lately is the Nuforce uDAC, but it is less detailed and a bit more forward and warmer sounding than the D4 or DACport, being colored in a musical but less transparent way. While the DACport is not as warm sounding as the uDAC, it's still a little to the warm side of neutral and just the way I like it. The DACport's treble is also a bit more detailed and present than the uDAC's, falling between that of the Nuforce uDAC and HDP. It may not be fair to compare a $400-500 DAC/amp to a $99 model, but they should appeal to the same market - the portable laptop usb DAC/amp buyers who want to be "off the grid".

Desktop DAC/amps compared: The DACport also beats my non-portable Apogee mini-DAC's headphone-out (at 24/48 USB and 24/96 optical), as the DACport sounds more refined (less grainy) with a deeper soundstage. As a baseline, the Apogee mini-DAC headphone out is usually on the level of the Travagans Red with Sigma 11 PSU or Grahm Slee NOVO with Sigma 11. The DACport actually makes the Apogee headphone out sound a bit more 2D in comparison than it usually sounds. In previous comparisons the Apogee Duet was very close to the mini-DAC headphone-out and Pico headphone-out, except the Duet had some hiss with IEM which the others don't have. So, the DACport by extension should also beat the Duet, even though I don't have one here to compare anymore. I don't have a Style Audio CARAT-TOPAZ here anymore, but the DACport is a whole level of performance above the TOPAZ, of that I am sure, since the D10 and HR Micro DAC were better. I don't have a Zero to compare to, although I am constantly being asked about that one, sorry. I have not compared the Headroom Micro DAC/Amp combo because in previous reviews it was very similar to the Pico and Duet, although with more power from the 15v power bricks.

However, the DACport is surpassed by the Nuforce HDP 24/96 USB DAC/desktop amp headphone-out by a very small margin in sound quality, and a larger margin in power, but that's vs a desktop DAC/amp with a 15v power supply. The HDP is tied to the wall but DACport isn't, so the DACport is a better choice for mobile laptop use and traveling. At first there is the illusion of more detail in the HDP, but with more extended listening sessions the DACport stands right up there with it. The main difference in sound signature between DACport and HDP (other than power) is:

(1) the HDP has slightly better upper treble sparkle and presence without being too much,
(2) the HDP has a little bit more impact in the bass (especially with Westone 2), and
(3) The HDP has a little bigger and deeper soundstage, with the DACport being just slightly more forward sounding.

Power Output: Keeping in mind that this is a portable DAC/amp running off a 5v/500ma USB port, the DACport acquits itself well enough with full size phones. The DACport has slightly more power for HD600 than the Nuforce uDAC (or D4/D10 which also run at at 5v). The DACport also has more power for the low efficiency current demanding HE-5 than the uDAC or D4/D10 at 5v. However, the 3MOVE or D4 in 9v mode do have noticeably more power for HD600 and HE-5, but both are a little more aggressive sounding as well and don't often need to be played that loud. At normal listening levels the DACport is about 80% of the way to max with these full-size phones, but there is no clipping when turned up higher. The HDP is noticeably more powerful with the full size headphones, but the DACport will still play loud enough to become fatiguing after a short while at 100% volume.

DACport as a 24/96 DAC/preamp feeding a full-size amp: I have a nice short but high quality ALO Audio 1/4" to RCA cable, and I have briefly tried the DACport as a DAC/preamp feeding my Woo WA6, and in my limited and brief testing I find it to do a very nice job. This is something I plan to spend more time trying out, since I successfully used the Pico amp w/DAC for a year to feed my Woo GES with good results. People have complained about the DACport's lack of line-out but this may not be an issue after all. So, I plan to do more comparisons of the DACport as a DAC/preamp vs both the Apogee and HDP which are also serving as preamps since their volume knobs affect their output levels. I'll be feeding them into the WA6 driving HD800, and the SAC KH1000 driving K1000 headphones. I also need to compare it to my Pico DAC > ALO Amphora, which has been my best transportable computer rig. I'll add my thoughts here or in post #2 when I am done.

There is a definite step up in sound quality switching from DACport headphone out to feeding it into my maxed Woo WA6 with Sophia Princess 274B rectifier; but it's also a $1250 amp after upgrades so I'm not surprised. What is nice is that the DACport headphone-out in comparison does not sound like a toy, but more like a real musical instrument like the Woo.

Summary: Overall the DACport seems to be solid and well made 24/96 USB portable computer DAC, with excellent sound that matches or beats other $450-500 DAC/amps, although with fewer features or options. At $399 I would call it a must buy, especially for those who want to take it with them and their laptops and not have to worry about plugging it into the grid. It also makes the perfect "sit on the back deck and watch the sunset" music rig for me, once it gets warmer outside. Previously that rig has been my Pico DAC > ALO Amphora, but that is a lot of extra gear to haul outside.
post #2 of 18
Thread Starter 

UPDATES CONSOLIDATED HERE AFTER INITIAL POST

02/18/10:

I forgot to mention that CEntrance is the company that licenses their 24/96 USB technology to other DAC manufacturers like Benchmark and Bel Canto.

02/19/10:

Quote:
Originally Posted by bcwang View Post
Sounds like a good product. If I hadn't bought the HDP, or maybe I should say, if the HDP didn't exist, I'd probably be buying this right now, especially at this price.

Does it handle low volumes better with IEMs than the HDP? Like more fine tuned control and better channel matching while the volume remains low.

For driving the HD800/600 at normal listening volumes, is the lack of power compared to the HDP apparent?

And the dreaded question, does this really have absolutely no hiss with the most sensitive of IEMs. Pure darkness in silence compared to the uDAC and HDP....

Thanks Larry!
1. DACport does handle low volume IEM listening better than HDP, with no channel imbalance near zero. However, the caveat is that the HDP volume can be reduced by the system volume, so that you can keep the HDP out of the area of channel imbalance simply by lowering the system volume. At volumes that low, the reduction in bit depth will be inconsequential. So, in that sense they become equal. (the DACport and most USB DAC don't have their volume affected by the system volume)

2. At normal listening volumes the DACport does not seem to lack power with HD600 and HD800, but when you want to crank it up and rock out you will notice the lesser power more easily because you are already at 80% of max. Still, it's enough power that I would not tell people with HD600/800 to avoid it. It's slightly louder than many other 5v portable amps with them.

3. For my ears, the DACport has absolutely no hiss or noise with my most noisy IEM (Westone ES3X) when the unit is activated and music is paused or I am playing a digital silence track, whether the volume is at zero or max. With the DACport I cannot tell when the phones are plugged in ot not, because it is so quiet. With music playing and the volume knob at zero, there is a very tiny amount of music that leaks through that is so quiet that for me I cannot understand the words they are singing. With the HDP I can barely tell at all when the ES3X are plugged in, but I can tell. With the ALO Amphora it it quite obvious there is background hiss.

Casey at Nuforce told me regarding the HDP and background noise, "On the audio analyzer, I am picking up a signal level of 0.04mV (0.00004V) with the equipment's 100K internal load. If I translate that to a 12Ohm load, it will be much lower." Yet Casey said you are actually able to hear that level of white noise with your IEM, which is incredible! So, for all I know, you could also hear hiss with anything, including the DACport.
post #3 of 18
Interesting review. When I owned a Corda Move, I didn't like how poorly it seemed to drive headphones just using the USB input, but only when it was using a battery. I also remember the Apogee Duet, which runs of 12V from Firewire had an ok, but not great headphone out. Mind you in both cases I was using K701s at the time, so that could be a factor. I can't help wondering if one wouldn't make a good travelling rig, as I've had it in mind to buy a Pico or similar just for this purpose, so I hope the price stays at $399 for a while.
post #4 of 18
Sounds like a good product. If I hadn't bought the HDP, or maybe I should say, if the HDP didn't exist, I'd probably be buying this right now, especially at this price.

Does it handle low volumes better with IEMs than the HDP? Like more fine tuned control and better channel matching while the volume remains low.

For driving the HD800/600 at normal listening volumes, is the lack of power compared to the HDP apparent?

And the dreaded question, does this really have absolutely no hiss with the most sensitive of IEMs. Pure darkness in silence compared to the uDAC and HDP....

Thanks Larry!
post #5 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by bcwang View Post
Sounds like a good product. If I hadn't bought the HDP, or maybe I should say, if the HDP didn't exist, I'd probably be buying this right now, especially at this price.

Does it handle low volumes better with IEMs than the HDP? Like more fine tuned control and better channel matching while the volume remains low.

For driving the HD800/600 at normal listening volumes, is the lack of power compared to the HDP apparent?

And the dreaded question, does this really have absolutely no hiss with the most sensitive of IEMs. Pure darkness in silence compared to the uDAC and HDP....

Thanks Larry!
1. DACport does handle low volume IEM listening better than HDP, with no channel imbalance near zero. However, the caveat is that the HDP volume can be reduced by the system volume, so that you can keep the HDP out of the area of channel imbalance simply by lowering the system volume. At volumes that low, the reduction in bit depth will be inconsequential. So, in that sense they become equal. (the DACport and most USB DAC don't have their volume affected by the system volume)

2. At normal listening volumes the DACport does not seem to lack power with HD600 and HD800, but when you want to crank it up and rock out you will notice the lesser power more easily because you are already at 80% of max. Still, it's enough power that I would not tell people with HD600/800 to avoid it. It's slightly louder than many other 5v portable amps with them.

3. For my ears, the DACport has absolutely no hiss or noise with my most noisy IEM (Westone ES3X) when the unit is activated and music is paused or I am playing a digital silence track, whether the volume is at zero or max. With the DACport I cannot tell when the phones are plugged in ot not, because it is so quiet. With music playing and the volume knob at zero, there is a very tiny amount of music that leaks through that is so quiet that for me I cannot understand the words they are singing. With the HDP I can barely tell at all when the ES3X are plugged in, but I can tell. With the ALO Amphora it it quite obvious there is background hiss.

Casey at Nuforce told me regarding the HDP and background noise, "On the audio analyzer, I am picking up a signal level of 0.04mV (0.00004V) with the equipment's 100K internal load. If I translate that to a 12Ohm load, it will be much lower." Yet Casey said you are actually able to hear that level of white noise with your IEM, which is incredible! So, for all I know, you could also hear hiss with anything, including the DACport.
post #6 of 18
Thanks for all the input Larry. Can't wait for the full review to come out. I'll wait for then to ask about anything you may not have covered.

I wonder if this thread would get more exposure in the "dedicated sources" forum than here. The uDAC is essentially the same type of product as this (usb only dac/amp) but is getting a lot more views over in that other forum.
post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by bcwang View Post
Thanks for all the input Larry. Can't wait for the full review to come out. I'll wait for then to ask about anything you may not have covered.

I wonder if this thread would get more exposure in the "dedicated sources" forum than here. The uDAC is essentially the same type of product as this (usb only dac/amp) but is getting a lot more views over in that other forum.
I have 90% of what I have to say posted here, except more of my impressions as a preamp feeding a full size amp in comparison to the Apogee and HDP.

This is a computer audio source, so I wasn't sure if it should have been posted in the other forum. We'll have to see how it goes, maybe post something in the other forum if allowed...
post #8 of 18
Good job on convincing them to drop the price. I was intrigued about this product after reading Sasaki's account of it. I have a Mackie firewire mixer (U.420) that has a 24/96 dac and a powerful neutral sounding headphone out. The only thing is, it doesn't really provide for much of a soundstage. The uDAC is better in terms of soundstage. So I've been looking for a product with a soundstage equal to or larger to than the uDAC (more holographic and 3D hopefully) but slightly more neutral like my Mackie unit. I also considered the Duet and the HDP, but the price drop made for an easier choice. I should have mine by next Tuesday.
post #9 of 18
I find that the DACport is great in a bedside rig. I have my MacBook Pro running iTunes on the nightstand, the long USB cable makes placement easy. The volume knob on the DACport is really convenient.

I control iTunes wirelessly using the Remote app on my iPhone which can select songs from my NAS.

post #10 of 18
Thread Starter 
So far the DACport being used as a DAC/preamp to feed a bigger amp is working out very well, except that I really could use a 7-8 foot long USB cable since my ALO 1/4" > RCA cable is only about 10" long and my current USB is 6 foot long.

It sounds very slightly more forward and slightly less sparkly than my Apogee mini-DAC or Nuforce HDP when used as a preamp, but it has good synergy with my HD800/WA6 and HE60/Gamma Pros/HEV70. The sense of space, venue size and ambience is nice, and the warm refined tone smoothes out those headphones. But, it still works nicely as a preamp when feeding a bigger amp with darker phones like Stax O2 or HD600. The Apogee as a DAC/preamp is slightly better, but the Apogee headphone out is not as good as the DACport. Right now an Apogee with firewire is about $900, so it's not really a fair comparison (was $1085 about a year ago).

Most of the time I am using DACport with my custom IEM and Macbook, and I velcro it to the lid of my Macbook. I could listen to the DACport via JH13Pro all day long. The only problem is the round tube shape of the DACport makes it easier for it to "roll off" the velcro on the lid when the macbook is open. I am using some horizontal strips of velcro that I installed on the Macbook lid for my previous Predator DAC/amp, but I am going to mount the DACport more vertical as soon as I get some more velcro squares.

It was also nice to get a PM from Barbes confirming what I said about the DACport beating the iMod. The iMod is very nice with a Vcap dock, but it also falls a little behind the Apogee mini-DAC too (posted comparisons previously).

One more thing I didn't note in my review is that it does run just a little warm, more towards the back than the front, but it doesn't run hot. Being a class-A amp that is boosted up to 18v I assume that is normal.
post #11 of 18
I've had mine for a day and really, really like it. It's a substantial step up from the uDAC (my only other stand-alone DAC) and, as Headphoneaddict says, an iMod/portable amp (Rx and iQube in my case). Detailed, airy, spacious, and (to my ears) dead quiet. It's lovely to listen to. Very nice piece of kit.
post #12 of 18

Yes the DACport definitely gets pretty warm after 1+ hours of usage. I really loved the portability of this device and it's easy setup. I have an iBasso D10 with stock opamps and in comparison to the D10, I feel the DACport is better in terms of soundstage.. sorry I'm still new to this forums, so I can't describe exactly ^^;

 

I'm actually surprised there's not much of a hype about this product, it definitely is in the top-tier of DAC/AMPs if you look at it that way!

 

Edit: Oh btw, the hiss on this thing is absolutely non-existant when I turned the volume know to max using my W3s!! 


Edited by AudioDelite - 6/21/10 at 12:20am
post #13 of 18

It would be interesting to see how the dacport compares to the hrt musicstreamer ii+

post #14 of 18

Has anyone tried them with AKG K701/2?

post #15 of 18

AKG 702:

 

I have this exact combo. After weighing the cost of any good quality dac and amp the value proposition of the dacport appealed to me. I bought some 702's on this forum and have listened to the combo extensively. 

Its very good. Not quite great, but good. As the reviews say, the 702's have no bass. The smallness of the dacport does not help this much, but in reality it makes a good match. At first one might think the bass is thin due to the dacport, but in reality it is the quick, articulate but very light bass that characterizes the 702. The dacport has a warm sound to match its temp so it matches well to balance the detail oriented nature of the 702. I've enjoyed the combo very much and on the used market you can probably score both for around 500 bucks. Thats a great price of entry into lossless computer audio and even when you outgrow it the dacport always finds use because it is so portable. 

 

The short version: the dacport can handle the 702. if you like the 702 sound the dacport is a great way to hook your pair up to a PC or mac or lossless audio goodness. 

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