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

post #1 of 491
Thread Starter 
I posted a review in the Computer Audio forum and it was recommended that I should have put the review in the Source Components forum where it will get more attention. It's definitely a nice source worth investigating. I've updated this review with more information. I've previously 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 this mini-review ready. I am still doing some evaluation and comparison as a preamp feeding other full size amps, but I've had a couple of weeks to play with it driving IEM and full size phones and I am impressed so far. 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. This was one of the first things I noticed when I fired it up. With my most noisy IEM (Westone ES3X) when the DACport is activated and music is paused (or I am playing a digital silence track), whether the volume is at zero or max there is nothing heard. 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.

The DACport handles low volume IEM listening with no channel imbalance near zero volume, and in this area it is better than my Nuforce HDP which is my other 24/96 USB DAC on hand. And it's better than most of my portable DAC/amps in that area as well - if I recall correctly, only the Predator and HR Micro Amp have a volume control this precise, followed by the Pico and 3MOVE. However, the caveat is that the HDP volume can be reduced by the system volume, so that you can keep the HDP outside 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)

It's also 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, D4 or D10 running 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. 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 with little room to go higher. Still, it's enough power that I would not tell people with HD600/800 to avoid it as a portable solution, because few portables are optimal (maybe DACport feeding the 3MOVE).

However, the 3MOVE or D4 running on a 9v battery 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 with something like the HD800. Like I said, 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. Wall powered amps like Nuforce 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. It's works at least as well as any other $400-500 DAC driving a full-size amp, after one evening of listening.

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. So far that rig has been my Pico DAC > ALO Amphora, but that is a lot of extra gear to haul around. The fact that it does a respectable job feeding a full size amp as a DAC/preamp is just icing on the cake.
post #2 of 491
Thread Starter 

Reserved

UPDATE 02/23/10:

It's taking me longer than I wanted in my comparison of the DACport, HDP and mini-DAC used as DAC/preamps feeding a nicer amp like WA6. I still plan to post more in the coming days on how well it compares to the others in that job description; but just taken on it's own the DACport does a very good job with this - it's very transparent and detailed as a DAC feeding my Woo WA6.

Typically my mini-DAC has been my best DAC in the house for feeding another amp, whether via balanced XLR or single ended. The Apogee with firewire was about $900-$1000 last time I checked on one with the firewire option (USB like mine was discontinued). I didn't expect the DACport to pass this up, but the differences are not huge so far, even with using a Sigma 11 PSU upgrade for my Apogee. I'm still trying to qualify the differences I hear, but both have a nice refined and "analog" sounding presentation when used as a DAC only with 24/96 files. Although the mini-DAC is only doing 24/48 via USB vs 24/96 optical, you really can't hear much of a difference between USB and Optical. These are both good choices as sources to pair with my WA6 > HD800, HE-5 and HF-2 headphones.

The HDP RCA out > WA6 seems to fall in between these two so far, but I suspect that the HDP's tiny bit of extra treble presence will work even better with my Woo WES > O2 Mk1, to add a little more sparkle to the O2 which can often sound slightly dark. This is the area where my PS Audio Digital Link III helps more with the WES > O2 vs my mini-DAC.

 

Original DACport vs DACport LX compared as a source feeding another amp:  http://www.head-fi.org/t/473473/review-more-to-come-centrance-dacport-24-96-usb-dac-amp/300#post_8751722


Edited by HeadphoneAddict - 10/4/12 at 7:17pm
post #3 of 491
A nice review, any details on what chips are used in it.
post #4 of 491
Is there a reason you've posted the review twice? Shouldn't there just be one thread for this?
post #5 of 491
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post
Is there a reason you've posted the review twice? Shouldn't there just be one thread for this?
Read the first line.
post #6 of 491
Quote:
Originally Posted by kunalraiker View Post
A nice review, any details on what chips are used in it.
leeperry mentioned somewhere on headfi that it uses the AK4396 DAC and OPA1612 opamps. This was the only thing I ever read about anywhere on the web, so I don't know if it's accurate or not.

The website does mention the use of the TAS1020B usb controller, and that is the only chip officially mentioned.
post #7 of 491
I checked the website, very impressive right up, but no mention of the parts used,would prefer to get an internal photo as to support their claims.
post #8 of 491
Sounds like it fits into an interesting niche, between a portable and a desktop, looks almost like it is just made for netbooks. The belt clip gives it a geek props for looking like a light sabre.
post #9 of 491
Thread Starter 
OPA1612 sounds right, I believe I heard that somewhere. Don't know about the DAC it uses, but the AKM4396 mentioned is used in the Slim Devices Transporter, right?
post #10 of 491
Wow, you have been busy, in a good way
post #11 of 491
How does this out of a laptop compare to your iMod w/ portable amp? I run iMod/Rx/JH13 and am wondering about a netbook setup instead.

Thanks in advance.
post #12 of 491
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by barbes View Post
How does this out of a laptop compare to your iMod w/ portable amp? I run iMod/Rx/JH13 and am wondering about a netbook setup instead.

Thanks in advance.
I believe I have finally found a portable USB DAC/amp that I like better than my iMod portable Vcap dock into my best small portable amp. I do think the DACport is a better source than the iMod, while the DACport's amp beats most of my portable amps as well.

The Pico DAC only > ALO Amphora, or DACport > Amphora is a little better than iMod > Amphora (or DACport headphone out) because of the superior Amphora amp, even if the Pico DAC is only 16/44 then up-sampling. But my Amphora is bulky and really only transportable, plus it has a lot of hiss with ES3X although it's not bad with JH13Pro.

I have pretty much stopped using the iMod except when I travel without my Macbook. Well, occasionally I'll use iMod in my main rig or bedroom rig if I have the Macbook burning-in another piece of gear. Since the end of summer I haven't had a chance to take iMod/Amphora out to the back deck, and I might start that up again once it is warmer outside.
post #13 of 491
Cheers Larry. One quick question, how does it compare against D10's optical out? Cheers....
post #14 of 491
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by vkvedam View Post
Cheers Larry. One quick question, how does it compare against D10's optical out? Cheers....
The D10 optical at 24/96 seems to be on par with the DACport USB at 24/96, in terms of micro-detail, soundstage, ambience and air. But I think the amp in the DACport is a little better - it's a little clearer in the treble, and it's more refined and less aggressive sounding.

The D10 is very good, especially with the upgraded opamps, but the DACport is just a little better. The D10 line out is also a little soft sounding and not very loud, which is a problem if you are feeding it into a low gain amp to listen to full size phones (i.e. the Amphora where the DACport is much better at feeding it as a preamp than using the D10 line-out).
post #15 of 491
Quote:
Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict View Post
I believe I have finally found a portable USB DAC/amp that I like better than my iMod portable Vcap dock into my best small portable amp. I do think the DACport is a better source than the iMod, while the DACport's amp beats most of my portable amps as well.

The Pico DAC only > ALO Amphora, or DACport > Amphora is a little better than iMod > Amphora (or DACport headphone out) because of the superior Amphora amp, even if the Pico DAC is only 16/44 then up-sampling. But my Amphora is bulky and really only transportable, plus it has a lot of hiss with ES3X although it's not bad with JH13Pro.

I have pretty much stopped using the iMod except when I travel without my Macbook. Well, occasionally I'll use iMod in my main rig or bedroom rig if I have the Macbook burning-in another piece of gear. Since the end of summer I haven't had a chance to take iMod/Amphora out to the back deck, and I might start that up again once it is warmer outside.

Thank you - very helpful.
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