I posted some DAPs impression/comparison which I did in the local stores where I lived on the Calyx M thread, so I thought it would be a good to link it here too.
Anyway here's my personal opinion of Calyx M:
DAPs used: AK120, AK240, Calyx M
microSDHC used: Samsung 64GB Pro microSDXC Extreme Speed (UHS-1) Class 10 Memory Card (I have 2 identical 64GB cards one loaded in AK120, the other in Calyx M and AK240 was using the internal 256GB storage)
IEMs used: Tralucent 1plus2, Sony EX-1000, Aurisonics ASG-2
Music genres used: Classical, Anime, Pop, Rock, Trance
I shall skip sonic comparison between AK120 and AK240 since that is not why we are on this thread and discuss directly about Calyx M vs AK120 and AK240.
My SD card has about 48GB of music on it. The initial scanning of my SD card by Calyx M took about 2-3 mins. I then initiate a poweroff shutdown and rebooted. The icon showing it is scanning my SD card also stays for around 2 mins after the reboot. However, I seem to be able to browse the album page with my SD card songs on it already while it is still scanning. It could just be scanning for changes. The UI seems laggy although it is still bearable much like the slightly laggy UI speed/fluidity of the AK120 compared to AK240. Definitely not as smooth as the AK240 or the Sony ZX1. Pressing commands and buttons on the UI may observe a 1 sec delay before M responds. I would say the AK120 responds faster than Calyx M when it comes to giving it commands. Hopefully the launch model will be much better than the demo unit. The thumbnails of the album arts load similarly to that of the AK240, i.e. thumbnail pictures loading about a split (half) second later after scrolling the page down. It is akin to browsing your Facebook app page with photos on LTE/4G.
The other serious issue I discovered I had when navigating my music collection on the Calyx M is that there is no folder view. Everything is classified and tagged into albums, so all the music on my SD card is completely mixed up with the bundled music on the internal storage of M. There is also a Jukebox page which has lots of album arts interspersed among the playlists and it looks more confusing than helpful to find the correct playlist. I am very much a folder guy coming from Cowon DAP series. Although I also have an iPod Nano which uses the iTunes style UI, I find the pure album navigation UI design on the M without any folder support very difficult to use, especially when I am not those who likes to spend time tagging my music files properly. My day-to-day usage DAP pattern is basically to put my favourite songs in the same folder and make folders for each CD album so I can just find all my music by folders. If I need to customize my listening tracks, I will just edit a playlist on-the-go to listen for a short while. I find that the AK240's UI which supports album, playlist as well as folder views much better (versatile) and utilitarian in this sense.
The first thing I tried immediately with the Calyx M is the magnetic volume slider since that seems to be such a hot topic. Suffice to say that I find the magnetic slider pretty robust in its build. The sliding is tight so it is not easy to move it with little strength accidentally. The slider does not seem to be easy to dislodge. I tried to see if I can pry it out of the sliding recess, it didn't come off but I don't want to try too hard in case the shop attenders think I am trying to break and spoil it. Next I try to look if there is a software volume control and after much messing around with the UI (the UI is not really intuitive to me ), I finally find it 2-3 tabs into the menu to change to On-Screen slider. When it is in software volume control mode, the magnetic volume slider is disabled so the volume will not change even if you slide it accidentally. However, the bad thing is that the On-Screen slider bar is embedded 2 tabs into the settings menu. If I want to adjust the volume, I will have to keep going into menu > settings > On-Screen slider. Not exactly very user-friendly. Quick changing of volume is impossible, especially when the physical magnetic volume slider is disabled. You will have to turn on the screen, click on the menu icon at the top left corner, click on settings and then you see the software volume control bar. I tried to find if there is another way to control the volume but saw none. Calyx should have just put the volume control bar on the current playing song screen instead of embedding it few levels down the menu (What is the use of the huge touch screen ) Maybe someone else who is more familiar with M knows of a better way to adjust the volume with the touch screen.
If you look at the above picture, the battery life left is at 74%. I started at 100% at around 13:10. So after 44 mins of messing around (at 13:54), battery life has already dropped by 26%... Also the battery life % indicator is slightly bugged. Before it hit 74% (at 13:54) when it was around 84% left (at about 13:30), I did a reboot and the indicator went back up to 91% after it rebooted but quickly drop back to 8x% after that.
I also tested the Gapless feature and it is not working. Hopefully this will get fixed in the launch units.
Next thing is sonic comparison. I went straight to load the highest quality music tracks that I have prepared on my SD card and played some DSD64, DSD128 and DXD (352.8 kHz) from 2L. Midway playing one of my DSD128 file, I tried fast-forwarding by dragging the music track position pointer on the bar and Calyx M crashed when I let go of my finger.
Nothing I pressed on the UI was responding and the error message came up after a while, so I had to reboot. Subsequent playing of DSD/DXD files seem fine except for that hiccup. At least M is capable of playing DXD at the full 352.8 kHz which the AK240 cannot (AK240 can play it natively but downscales it to 176.4 kHz).
The 1st thing I noticed about the Calyx M is that its HO is rather loud. The equivalent volume of 45 out of max 75 on AK240 is only about 1/3 on the volume bar of the Calyx M. Going anywhere above 1/3 of the volume bar on M gets really deafening. Next thing I noticed is that M's SQ sounded very thick, heavy and aggressive. The bass is much stronger and heavier than both my AK120 and AK240 and the mids are also much more forward. Even my X3 which I did not bring along does not sound so forward and warm. The highs are clear but the overall clarity lacks behind the AK240. I would say the clarity is roughly about the same level as AK120, but because of the thick SQ it makes M sound less expansive/clear, some would say it is more natural depending on individual's preference. However, the 3D soundstage seems much smaller than the AK120 and definitely does not come close to the expansive soundstage of the AK240. The Calyx M's SQ is definitely far from neutral at all. It is even less flat than FiiO X3 which most people would already consider X3 as having a warm signature. I would reckon it has a pretty big boost around the 200-400 Hz, making the M's SQ sounds thick. For a quick analogy, I would say M to AK120/240 is like Roxanne to JH13 pro. I tried swapping my 1plus2 IEM to my Sony EX-1000 on Calyx M. I get the same thick sound but less detailed because of the Sony IEM. In fact M > EX-1000 = AK240 > ASG-2. Calyx M's SQ kind of "EQ" the normally bright treble of EX-1000 down to the level of ASG-2 and the neutral mid/low of EX-1000 to the more forward/bassy mid/low of ASG-2. Then I plug my ASG-2 (bass notch at halfway between 0 and 1st marking) to Calyx M and I was totally shocked. It makes ASG-2 sound horribly thick and unclear. I wished I could reach for the EQ feature to EQ on the Calyx M but suddenly remembered Calyx being purist said that they do not believe in EQ and did not implement the feature on M. Tracks which are too bassy sounded too thick to be comfortable. I think light classical tracks sounded much better.
If you read between the lines, you can tell I am obviously disliking the Calyx M's SQ after the auditioning. I am not saying it is a bad DAP in terms of features, but its overly-warm SQ does not suit my taste. Those who have demo-ed M earlier with warm IEMs e.g. FitEars said that the SQ is warm and others have questioned their conclusions because the FitEars IEMs used are already warm themselves. But I brought my EX-1000 and 1plus2 which are definitely very analytical and not warm at all and I still find the sound too warm for my taste. Even X3's SQ is much less aggressive than M. Yes, aggressive is the one word I would give to M's SQ. If you share the same SQ taste as me, I think AK120 would suit you better at that price point. Maybe it is just me for being too used to the fairly analytical and neutral SQ from AK240 pairing with 1plus2/EX-1000 (I sometimes even find AK240 -> ASG-2 a little too warm but still manageable).
I have yet to audition the DX90 and will be checking it out soon once another local store brings a demo unit in this weekend. I can then give another quick comparison between M and DX90 when I get the chance. I may also go down to Jaben again to audition M again with cans in mind just to have a full picture of its SQ and HO power with cans. Maybe headwhacker will go down again before me with a properly formatted SD card to give us an A-B comparison with his DX90.
So to complete my DAP comparisons with the Calyx M, I went down to one of the local store that has a demo DX90 unit available for auditioning to get a feel of how DX90 "would" compare against Calyx M.
The 1st track I loaded to test is redbook CD quality 44/16 FLAC quality music - "Unite" by Misawa Sachika, 2nd ending song from the Accel World anime (may take a while to load the buffer for streaming). It has a very good mix of modern pop song style with strong female vocal as well as a multitude of instrument sounds in the background including a lot of cymbals to test out the entire audio frequency range.
DX90 vs AK240 (on 1plus2):
Obviously DX90 is not going to stand up to the AK240 toe-to-toe on SQ, so I would just give a brief comparison how DX90 fares. The soundstage is smaller than AK240, and the DX90's sound quality has a high level of digitized feel to it relative to AK240. Everything seems more closed up on the DX90 and flatter (less depth) than the AK240. This makes the vocal seem to be on the same plane/dimension as the other background instruments. Separation is there but just not that big of a 3D soundstage. The frequent cymbal sounds are also less natural and felt like it is forced out of the DX90 as compared to the AK240 which is buttery smooth/natural. On parts of the track which has more complex mix of instruments kicking in at the same time, the DX90 sounded less coherent (probably partly due to the weaker soundstage; everything sounded mashed up together and come at you all at once). I tested other high quality tracks and get the same feeling. I detected only one issue with the DX90 on one of my DXD 352.8 kHz track - Vivaldi: Recitative and Aria from Cantata RV 679, "Che giova il sospirar, povero core" Tone Wik & Barokkanerne (period instruments) from 2L. There is a very loud constant hissing background sound during playback which is not heard on my PC or on the AK240. It could be a bug. The good thing about the DX90 is that it is quite transparent and neutral and felt much more balanced to me than the SQ I heard from Calyx M. I cannot expect it to perform on par with a $2,400 AK240 at its price point but it really performs surprisingly well for a sub-$500 DAP. So just to satisfy my curiousity, I A-B the DX90 against my AK120 which I also brought along.
DX90 vs AK120 (on 1plus2):
This is going to be an interesting comparison. My short conclusion is that DX90 performs near to 80-90% of AK120. IMO it is still slightly behind the AK120 in terms of sound quality, but the gap is not huge. Considering the DX90 costs less than half of the AK120, I think it is a job well-done by iBasso (they just need to fix the software bugs, improve the UI and enable USB DAC feature). On most tracks DX90 sounds just as good and enjoyable as the AK120. The AK120 sounded slightly more forward/warm than the DX90, but not substantial enough to make too big a difference in their signatures. AK120 tends to have a more smooth feel to its SQ compared to the DX90 which is a little more analytical/cold (or digital to me). For e.g. 36-42 secs into Hotel California where the cymbals clash with the electric guitar sound reverberating around behind you, the DX90 reproduction sounded less musical and smooth compared to AK120/240. Both have roughly about the same level of black background and the UI on the DX90 feels more smooth and responsive than my AK120.
DX90 vs Calyx M (on 1plus2) "Extrapolated":
Since both demo units are from different local stores, I have to audition them separately against my AK DAPs and extrapolate to make a comparison. So take my feedback here lightly, but one thing I am very certain about the Calyx M is that its sound signature is much thicker than the DX90, AK120 and AK240. I do not get the same shock feeling when transiting from AK120/240 to DX90 as when transiting from AK120/240 to Calyx M. My conclusion here is that Calyx M sounds quite different from DX90 in terms of signature, but both are equally good on clarity using AK120 as a midway benchmark. DX90 is definitely more of a forward/closer soundstage and flatter/more neutral frequency response across the entire spectrum. Calyx M is more of a heavy bottom and unevenly aggressive frequency response. Soundstage for both is similar. Another side note which I forgot to mention previously is that both seem to cut off the front 1-2 sec of the first audio track I tried to play. Subsequent tracks did not have this issue. Seems like X5 also has a similar problem. No idea what is up with all these cut offs.
So here is my take on the Calyx M thus far. I will try to go back to listen to the Calyx M for a 2nd round to re-confirm what I have heard.
Edited by Bluebear - 5/8/14 at 3:43am