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The Portable USB DAC/Amp All-In-One Thread!

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
So I'm sure I'm not the only person who had noticed that the market for portable DAC/amp combo units has basically been invented and simultaneously exploded over the course of the last year or so. Personally I think they are basically the greatest thing since sliced bread and am a huge fan of my HRT Microstreamer, but I've noticed that more and more similar units seem to be coming out, like the Geek, and a new unit Mike Mercer has from Audioengine, so I wanted to create some kind of hub for comparing these awesome little units, because personally, having seen how good my HRT is, I won't be buying any more desktop gear, because think this type of unit is the future of computer audio.

So, whether you have a uStreamer, Explorer, Dragonfly, Geek...whatever! Come here, leave your impressions, and I hope we can get some good comparisons going to help people find the right unit for them :-)
post #2 of 26
Thread Starter 

Well ok, I'll go first :P

 

 

Really enjoying my HRT Microstreamer. At this very moment I'm listening to my HD439 straight from the uS hp-out, some Infected Mushroom in FLAC, yummm...I'll post a real review later :)

 

Really hoping to hear from some Dragonfly and Explorer owners, especially if you've owned more than one of these guys!

post #3 of 26
post #4 of 26
Thread Starter 

Very interesting, 5x7 or so isn't quite as impressive as the tiny size of this new breed, but those prices are really good, and size-wise I guess I could probably still use my fasteners to fix them on the back of my laptop.

 

Are these kinds of devices really comparable SQ-wise? Have you heard any of these yourself? The Traktor lists a Cirrus Logic chip, which sounds promising; I remember the Cirrus chip in the iPhone 4 was really good.

 

Quote:


Edited by Gilly87 - 10/21/13 at 8:08am
post #5 of 26

I own personally the Native Instruments Audio 2 (very small for portable use) and the MOTU Ultralite (exceptionally flexible and stunning EQ and effects suite).  Also a very old M-Audio Fast Track Pro.

 

I'm also familiar with RME,  Focusrite and Roland. Mates have their stuff. If I was to buy again from scratch I'd get RME. Not a lot of money for the best really but it looked at  me at the time.

 

SQ is not a problem. I tested the MOTU when I first got it by comparing output direct from my phono pre-amp with a signal sent into the box (A/D) and out again (D/A). Neither I nor anyone I know could tell which was which. Very surprising. So I looped the output from one set of outputs backs into the inputs a total of 4 times. (The MOTU has 8 analogue ins and outs). Surely after 4 iterations of D/A > A/D I could hear a difference from the original? Nope. It's totally transparent, clean and flat. So is the very inexpensive NI. Same AK chip family as RME Fireface.

 

If you think about this it makes perfect sense. All the above companies businesses revolve around selling expensive DAW or similar software. Why would NI risk making Traktor sound bad? MOTU with Digital Performer? RME is genuine top of the range pro gear. Broadcast quality. They want customers to buy their software and sell hardware to make that easy and inexpensive. Annual s/w updates provides the jam.

It also has to be reliable and well supported. If your gear lets you down at a live recording session or something that's not good for bizz. At all.

 

The huge price and extra facilities pro gear provides is awesome. That's why I take the trouble to let others into the secret. It's too good to keep to myself.

 

That's not to say the more traditional hi fi grade suppliers are necessarily rip off merchants. It's more like the pro guys have been in the market longer (particularly the all important s/w side). Even the most expensive audiophile manufacturers are desperately playing catch up. Get it while you can.

post #6 of 26
Thread Starter 

Very interesting. Can you compare them to an audiophile DAC that I might be familiar with? Do they have enough power to drive, say, an HD650? I'm using an Asgard now and I'm holding my breath until something really nice and small comes out that can do the same job.

post #7 of 26

How transparent does a DAC have to be to be audibly more transparent than transparent? You've bought music and listened to broadcast TV made on the top end units I mentioned.

 

Dunno for certain I'm afraid. Even the most expensive open back headphones became instantly redundant the day I first got a pair of active desktop monitors. My best cans now are closed back Sennheiser HD 25 1-11 (80 Ohms). Longtime studio tracking and live performance monitoring standards. Never taken the gain beyond 25% without making my ears hurt. Makes sense. The gear I mentioned is designed to be capable of monitoring in a live performance environment.  So it goes loud when required.  Very loud.

 

Can they cope with 250 Ohms cans? Most authorities think so. Check out pro reviews, e.g SoundonSound or pro forums like gearslutz for a definitive answer.

post #8 of 26

I missed the whole nuforce drama on this forum a while back but I've got my eye on their new udac-3:

 

https://www.nuforce.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=687&Itemid=2746

 

 

The thing is tiny, has line out and coax digital out and supports async.  But the best part is the price at $125.  I'm not in the market for a $600+ DAC/Amp yet and I'm not sure I ever will be.

post #9 of 26

The NI Audio 2 costs less than the nuForce, specs better, is USB 2.0 rather than USB 1.1, is almost as tiny and comes with excellent software(Traktor.)

 

Best of all it offers double the outputs. 4 channel, dual stereo out. Same or different sources, To speakers or 'phones, or speakers and sub or two sets of cans/speakers.

post #10 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by RonaldDumsfeld View Post
 

The NI Audio 2 costs less than the nuForce, specs better, is USB 2.0 rather than USB 1.1, is almost as tiny and comes with excellent software(Traktor.)

 

Best of all it offers double the outputs. 4 channel, dual stereo out. Same or different sources, To speakers or 'phones, or speakers and sub or two sets of cans/speakers.

I guess for my purposes I need the spdif out.  I don't think the NI can do that but I'm still reading up on it.

 

Does the NI use standard usb audio?  Can I hook it up to my iphone?  Linux?


Edited by shaocaholica - 10/21/13 at 1:45pm
post #11 of 26

Never found a need for S/PDIF myself despite having the option on MOTU Ultralite and Fast Track Pro.

Seems this is general as the newest models don't offer it much anymore. Beginning to look obsolete I guess.

 

This does what you want. Costs a bit more. Maybe as much as $200. 

 

http://www.creative.com/emu/products/product.aspx?pid=15185

 

It's another plus for the semi pro market. The units are usually class compliant plus they also come with propriety drivers if you want to use them. You usually do.

 

If you want more inputs the Focusrite 2i4 I already linked might be better. $200 again and no S/PDIF.

 

I'm not trying to sell you this stuff. Lt alone define your requirements. Just letting people know this stuff exists and they might be interested.

post #12 of 26

Its all cool.  I think its good to have a discussion about portable dacs.  Just put everything on the table.  Pros, cons, etc.

post #13 of 26

I have the NI Traktor 2. Fantastic piece of kit that I use for DJ'ing all the time. The sound feeding into other amps or PA gear is good. The headphone performance itself isn't the best I've heard, but for dual outputs in a small form factor at $100... I've got no complaints.

 

Soundwise, I think Focusrite is better with their dac implementation, but not necessarily with the amp section.

post #14 of 26
Quote:
Does the NI use standard usb audio?  Can I hook it up to my iphone?  Linux?

 

Not sure if I understand the first question. What do you mean by "standard"? It's uses async mode rather than bulk (i.e. data) mode for sure.

 

There used to be a product called the AUDIO 2 DJ which worked with iStuff. You might still find one but it's been discontinued and replaced with a complete interface, mixer and controller all in one. More pricy at around $250 but it does come with a complete version of Traktor for iOS. So you can use your iPad or iPhone to DJ.

 

You can get drivers for most popular interfaces that cater for LINUX versions. Bit of a specialised market. Look on rarewares for software and specialised forums for help/advice. Not my field.

 

btw for the reader who insisted on S/PDIF out and also sophisticated input choices. The NO Audio 6 would be a perfect solution for very little more than the 2i4.

post #15 of 26
By standard I mean works without custom drivers. Aka USB audio class 1.0
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