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Portable Amp / DAC Shootout: iFi Micro iDSD vs Resonessence Concero HP vs Chord Mojo vs iFi iDAC2 vs HRT Microstreamer

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Thread Starter 

Introduction and Purpose:

 

 

Throughout the forums, (esp. dedicated headphone threads) there’s a good amount of source/amp discussion regarding which gear matches well with whichever headphone in question.

Recently, I’ve seen a good amount of recommendations for a few popular products that are mentioned repetitively.

 

For the average budget-minded audiophile, the headphone is the most important part of their equipment. After investing heavily on the headphone of their dreams, most people don’t have the will to spend much more on their source components. Only the most hardcore users fine-tune their audio chain by meticulously matching and purchasing dedicated hardware (e.g Tube Amps, Femto-Clock DACs, USB Processors/Purifiers)

 

The rest of us just want a portable and reasonably priced all-in-one solution that’s able to drive most headphones, as well as providing a noticeable improvement in sonic quality.  

 

This is why I’m often asked this question: “Hey, I just purchased Headphone X. It sounds pretty good out of my DAP/Laptop/iPhone. But I’m wondering which DAC/Amp I should purchase next in order to get the optimal sound?”

 

I’ve taken the liberty of amassing a handful of these portable units in the interest of providing an impartial and helpful review along with comparisons.

Also, because not many people have owned these products in conjunction with one another at the same time.

 

The units in this review range from $189-$850 MSRP. Every single one can be utilized as a desktop solution, despite the size and form factor. The HRT Microstreamer is the smallest, not much bigger than a package of gum. The Concero HP is the largest in terms of width, although it’s just a subtle machined black box that looks tiny compared to most dedicated amps.

Technologies vary wide and far. Some are much more powerful than others. Others offer playback for file resolutions that most people don’t even own in their music collection.

 

For this review, I’ll focus more on the sonic aspect of the DAC/amp rather than the technicalities and design behind each unit.

Some of you might prefer a certain product because of its design and features; you can decide yourself which one(s) suit your particular needs.

 

Without further ado, let’s get into it!


 

Source/Headphone Utilized:

 

 

Every Amp/DAC is connected to my HP Spectre’s USB port. Where applicable (size permitting) I’ve utilized the iFi Mercury dedicated USB cable as my interconnect. This cable includes “silencers” that helps with shielding and a purported 1% impedance deviation from the 90 ohm USB differential impedance standard. Otherwise, I just utilized whichever stock cable came with the unit.

 

For headphones, I purposely left out the HIFIMAN HE-6 and the HIFIMAN HE-1000 I own due to the nature of driveability and lack of neutrality.

 

I’ll be utilizing the MrSpeakers Ether (DUM Cable 1/4th) as my primary reference headphone and the Sennheiser HD800 as a secondary headphone.

 

I consider the Ethers a highly resolving, detailed, and neutral headphone.

They’re fairly easy to drive and every unit in this review should be able to properly power them.

The HD800 is even more detailed, with arguably better imaging. They, however, have the infamous treble peaks and will subsequently be used sparingly.

 

 


 

Disclaimer/Note:

 

 

As a reviewer, I’m not being paid nor am I endorsed in any way, shape, or form.

All impressions are solely my own opinions.

All units utilized in this review are my own personal units, with the exception of the iFi products.

 

Here’s a shout-out to @iFi Audio for generously providing me with the Micro iDSD and the iDAC2 for this review. I’ve received nothing short of stupendous customer service from Kate (Abbingdon Music Research U.K.) and Tyler F. (iFi USA).

I did not receive the iFi products as a free sample, but simply to review.


 


Note: I did not have the Concero HP on hand when I took these pictures. 

 

 

 

 

 

Review:

 

 

 

 

 

Manufacturer: HRT

 

Model: microStreamer

 

Price: $169 at amazon.com

 

Volume Control: Digitally-activated analog attenuator, no volume control on unit itself.

Power Connector: USB, mini B

Battery Life: Plug-in-USB operation only.

Inputs: 1x USB Mini B

Outputs: 1x line-level 3.5mm stereo output

1x 3.5mm headphone jack

 

Specifications:

From (http://www.hirestech.com/product/?pid=107#prods)

-Asynchronous Mode Operation eliminates timing errors (jitter).
 
 
-24 Bit operation.
 
 

-Plug and play using standard audio class 1.0 Drivers.

-Supports 32k, 44k1, 48k, 88k2 & 96K sample rates.


 

Build and Finish: Tiny two-piece aluminum housing. Precision-machined and finished off with an anodized silver exterior. Should last forever.

 

Accessories: The Microstreamer is shipped with a tiny pop-out cardboard box. Inside is the unit itself, a black carrying pouch, and a generic white Mini USB to USB cable. Short and sweet.

 

Technology and Design: While ahead of its time upon release, the Microstreamer offers fairly standard features in today’s market. Asynch USB transfer mode, 24 bit/96k playback, line-level out, LED sample rate indicators, all come standard on the Microstreamer.




 

Sound / Comparisons:

 

The Microstreamer was one of my original forays into the portable amp/dac market.

It goes to show that I’ve enjoyed owning them--I’ve had them since 2013.

They represented one of the best values in terms of performance relative to size.

How do they stack up to the newer products?

 

When you utilize the Microstreamer for the first time, you’re in for a surprise.

It offers a surprisingly full-bodied response with above-average imaging and instrumental placement. While it lacks definition and details compared to the more pricier models, the Microstreamer makes up for it with its energy and engaging sound. While I wouldn’t call the Microstreamer superbly musical, it does the job for both analytical and casual listening.

 

Vocals are sweetly layered and textured, especially female vocals. Bass definition and micro-details can be easily heard on a headphone like the Ethers, which has excellent bass dynamics and extension.

 

Treble response is something lower-tier amp/dacs fail at.

The original AQ Dragonfly and Schiit Fulla both suffer from somewhat strident and sibilant treble.

The Microstreamer improves on these units, but it doesn’t stay completely clean when it comes to certain recordings. This gives certain songs an odd tonality that is a tad harsh to my ears.

 

Other than the minor treble issue and slight mid-range bleed, the Microstreamer is an outstanding purchase.

It offers so much for the price, is solidly built, and is tiny enough to fit anywhere.

I can definitely see why they’ve received so much positive reviews over the years.

 

If you want to take a step up from the Microstreamer, I highly recommend the Resonessence Herus. It’s not much bigger physically, but offers an even more enjoyable and robust sound.

The iDAC2 is also a solid choice. It provides a slight step up from the Microstreamer in terms of driveability with full-size cans and a larger step up for ultimate transparency and playback options..

 

Overall Score: 7.8

 

    -Bass: 8

    -Mids: 9

    -Treble: 7

    -Transparency: 8

    -Dynamics/Transients: 8

    -Resolution/Details: 7

    -Soundstage/Presentation: 8

 

 

 

 


 

Manufacturer: iFi Audio

Model: micro iDSD

Price: $499 at musicdirect.com

 

Volume Control: Precision analogue volume control knob (On/Off)

Power Connector: USB 3.0 Male, USB 3.0 Female

Battery Life: 4800 mAH battery, depending on which mode is selected, drains battery accordingly (Eco, Normal, Turbo). Estimated 12 hours playback on Eco mode.

Inputs: 1x USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket

1x SPDIF Coaxial

1x SPDIF Optical

Outputs: 1x RCA L+R

1x SPDIF Coaxial

 

Specifications:

Consult this page for detailed specifications. (http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd)

 

DAC

Dual-core DSD, DXD, PCM DAC by Burr Brown

2-DAC Chip; 4-Channel; 8-Signals, custom interleaving for maximum SNR

 

Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect PCM processing

 

 

 

 

Clock

Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock

RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds

 

 

 

Audio Formats

DSD 512/256/128/64

24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8

All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

 

DXD 2x/1x

768/705.6/384/352.8kHz

All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

 

PCM 768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/

48/44.1kHz

All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

 

 

 

Build and Finish: Surprisingly lengthy unit made out of machined aluminum. Decent weight with quality metal switches and knobs. The iDSD is well-finished, a quality product with no quality control issues. On the back of the unit, iFi Audio was thoughtful enough to place a detailed specs report for easy consultation.

 

Accessories: I’ve never seen a product come with this many accessories before. iFi Audio definitely wanted the consumer to have every single option available for the long haul.

The original packaging is also quite useful. It comes with a foam insert, that allows you to place the iDSD back in its original alignment. The box serves as a carrying case of sorts.

 

Comes with: 1x Velvet Pouch, 2x Detailed Instruction Cards, 1x 3.5mm Male to 3.5mm Male Adapter, 2x Silicone Bands, 1x 90° Male USB to Female USB Cable (Type A), 1x Female USB (Type A) to Female USB (Type B) Cable, 1x Purple RCA Cable, 4x Rubber Soles for Amp, 1x 3.5mm to 1/4th Adapter, 1x Jumper, 1x Short Female (Type A) to Female (Type B) Adapter, 1x Blue USB 3.0 Male (Type A) to Female (Type A) Cable

 

Technology and Design:

 

The Micro iDSD is easily the most technologically well-equipped product I’ve seen from a manufacturer. For the price, you’re getting so much to work with.

 

First off, supported playback includes just about everything under the sun. It’s definitely future-proof with Octa DSD 512, Double DXD 256, and PCM 768 playback.

 

Additionally, the iDSD can drive just about anything under the sun with 10V of power @ 16 ohm when “Turbo” mode is selected. This includes orthodynamic headphones such as the HIFIMAN HE-6.

The iDSD is designed around getting the cleanest signal from the amplifier/dac to your headphones. There’s a built-in iPurifier on the rear USB port, eliminating EMI interference on its way to the iDSD. For the DAC section, there’s an ultra-low jitter Femto clock--something I’ve never seen at this price range.


There are also three filter options (PCM, DSD, DXD), iEMatch for IEMs sensitivity matching, X-Bass, 3D Holographic Sound, and a power socket on the right side where you can utilized the iDSD to charge your portable devices. Yes, you can use the iDSD as a charger. iFi Audio has even included that as an option.

 

Included accessories are also a bonus. You have everything you could possibly need to get started.


 

Sound / Comparisons:

 

All listening was done on Eco or Normal Power Mode, - Polarity, Bit-Perfect Filter, iEMatch disabled, X-Bass and 3D Holographic disabled. I found this offered the most neutral and true flavor of the original recording. I won’t be commenting on the results of experimenting with these settings.

 

I found the iDSD a very interesting listen. Quite frankly, it’s as close as you can get to reference for the price of $499. However, I have a hard time giving it the ultimate nod for transparency and neutrality. Even with all its technology, at the heart of the iDSD is still the Burr-Brown DAC chip. This gives the iDSD a slightly warm tinge that’s most evident with neutral headphones like the Ether or the Audio Technica R70x. That’s not to say the iDSD is lacking in details. In fact, I would say the opposite is true. I had no trouble hearing all the subtle nuances in each track, and I didn’t hear any flaws smoothed over despite the warmer presentation.

 

For most people, the iDSD offers a clear improvement over lesser offerings and a window to musically accurate sound. Fundamentally speaking, the iDSD works well with just about every headphone on the market. It also always manages to sound just right; the soundstage is never too expansive and is often portrayed with a good sense of intimacy. But on tracks that require a medium to communicate an effective sense of space, the iDSD doesn’t disappoint either.

 

Bass is tight, well-rounded, with slightly above average dynamics and impact. On a headphone like the Ether, I looked to hear the sub-bass and excellent bass response. The iDSD did precisely that, without over-emphasizing and glossing over the bass details I’ve grown accustomed to.

 

Mids and vocals are fairly neutral, I didn’t feel as if the iDSD was particularly forward or distant. In my mind, the iDSD passed the realism test. Vocals sparkled when they should, crooned when called upon, and sounded pretty darn good overall.

 

The treble on the iDSD is slightly accentuated. Perhaps this has something to do with the house sound of iFi Audio, since the iDAC2 and other offerings I’ve tried have a similar presentation. The iDSD, fortunately, has the least coloration of all its brethren. The treble sounds quite lean juxtaposed against the full-bodied and warm bass thumping in the background. I’ll have to say I prefer this dry and slightly analytical treble personally. It makes Electronica and Rock music a pleasure to listen to, similar in the way Grados handle treble (but without the harshness).

 

The iDSD also excelled at imaging and transient speed. Fast and difficult recordings were played back without a hitch with perfect instrumental placement. It is this particular trait, coupled with an  “open” sound that allows the iDSD to be considered reference in my book.

 

While not as musical as the Mojo, or as dynamic as the Concero HP, the iDSD nonetheless holds its own as a contender for one of the better portable amps/dacs. It serves as an all-purpose and well-honed unit that offers so much possibilities in terms of playback and usage.

 

Clarity, cohesion, openness, and accuracy. The Micro iDSD has all of them in spades.

Conclusively, I highly recommend the iDSD for a long-term purchase that doesn’t disappoint.


 

Overall Score: 8.9

 

    -Bass: 9

    -Mids: 9

    -Treble: 8.5

    -Transparency: 9

    -Dynamics/Transients: 9

    -Resolution/Details: 9

    -Soundstage/Presentation: 9

 

 

 


 

Manufacturer: iFi Audio

Model: micro iDAC2

Price: $349 at amazon.com

 

Volume Control: Precision analogue volume control knob.

Power Connector: USB A, USB B

Battery Life: N/A

Inputs: 1x USB 3.0 (USB 2.0 Compatible)

Outputs: 1x SPDIF RCA

1x Audio RCA

1x 3.55mm Headphone Jack

 

Specifications:

Consult this page for detailed specifications. (http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idac2)

 

Formats:

44.1/48/88.2/96/176.4/192/384KHz PCM

 

2.8/3.1/5.6/6.2/11.2/12.4MHz DSD

 

353/384KHz DXD

DAC:

Bit-Perfect DSD & DXD DAC by Burr Brown (1-DAC Chip; 2-Channel; 4-Signals)

 

Build and Finish: Similar design to the Micro iDSD, which means quality build and the same exterior housing in metallic silver. Nothing much has changed, asides from the differences of features available on the unit.

 

Accessories: Same packaging as the iDSD. Opening up the iDAC2, I expected to find an interesting array of included components. However, the iDAC2 was nowhere close to the iDSD in terms of included accessories. It only came with two things. One was a RCA cable found in the iDSD and the other was a translucent ice-blue USB A to USB B cable. The latter was definitely a nice gesture.  

 

Technology and Design:

 

The iDAC2 is now updated with the Burr-Brown DAC, found in the Micro iDSD. For whichever reason, iFi Audio decided to utilize the BB chip over the previous ESS Sabre chip found in the original iDAC.

 

Despite the iDAC2 being priced much less than the iDSD, it still retains huge playback options of Quad DSD256, PCM 384, and DXD. The iDAC2 also has the three filters (PCM, DSD, DXD) for users to adjust.

 

Additionally, iFi Audio has updated the iDAC2 with their new “Zero Jitter Lite” technology with dedicated power supply for the unit.

 

According to their website:

AMR/iFi prides itself on the very best component quality: from Japan Elna Silmic II, TDK C0G capacitors to Vishay MELF resistors, the iDAC2 has them all.”

 

It seems that the iDAC2 is constructed with high quality components through and through.

Do all these technical details factor into how the iDAC 2 sounds?

Let’s see.

 

Sound / Comparisons:

 

Note: All listening done with the device in “BitPerfect Filter” setting.

 

The iDAC2 is one of iFi’s new products-- released as a successor to the original iDAC that utilized an ESS Sabre chip.

 

Coming from the iDSD, I was not expecting anything particularly impressive from the iDAC2.

It’s safe to say I was wrong. This just goes to show that you shouldn’t have preconceived notions, even when a manufacturer designates a product in a certain competing bracket.

 

The iDAC2 has the same overall tonality as the iDSD, however, it takes a whole different approach in its presentation. Right off the bat, it’s not nearly as revealing or detailed as its older brother. The Micro iDSD was clearly designed to be iFi Audio’s reference unit, while the iDAC2 was designed as a fun-sounding and engaging apparatus instead.  This is actually preferable for casual listening, as I found nearly all songs came across excellent sounding without harshness or sibilance.

 

While the iDSD is slightly more analytical and laid-back, the iDAC2 is smack-dab in your face. It retains the open and large soundstaging capabilities of the iDSD, with thumping bass and crystal clear treble. It almost seems like the iDAC2 has a slightly V-shaped signature. For the most part, this made the iDAC2 highly enjoyable with modern music and electronica. On the downside, there was slight bass smearing when listening at higher volumes. Additionally, the iDAC2 is also nowhere near the fastest for highly complex music, but this is just a small gripe.  

 

Bass is not as tight or detailed as the iDSD or Mojo, taking a step back in terms of overall refinement. Sub-bass is more prominent than the iDSD though.

 

Mids are relatively neutral compared to the rest of the spectrum. I would describe them as fluid and slightly liquid in its presentation. The iDAC2 does vocals effortlessly, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of micro-details and sophistication.

 

Treble is well-extended with an immediate sense of prominence. Everything just seems to sparkle and shine with the iDAC2. Personally, I didn’t find the treble fatiguing. But at times it was a tad hot with the signature iFi treble/upper mids accentuation.  

 

Overall, the iDAC2 is an enchantress. It’s highly musical, surprisingly with better dynamics and transients than the Micro iDSD. Every instrument and sound could be clearly distinguished in the background, with good tonality and timbre.

 

It offers a solid improvement over the HRT Microstreamer and the Schiit Magni/Modi stack I had around for comparison purposes, while managing to sound fantastically enjoyable. For all intent and purposes, the iDAC2 is a winner in my books-- a DAC/Amp that allows you to focus on the music, rather than nitpick on the details.


 

Overall Score: 8.4

 

    -Bass: 8

    -Mids: 8.5

    -Treble: 8

    -Transparency: 8

    -Dynamics/Transients: 9.5

    -Resolution/Details: 8

    -Soundstage/Presentation: 8.5

 
 

 


 

Manufacturer: Chord Electronics Limited U.K.

Model: Mojo

Price: $599 at moon-audio.com

 

Volume Control: One “+” and one “-” volume ball button.

Power Connector: USB, Micro B

Battery Life: 4 hours to fully charge, 8-10 hours of operation.

Inputs:

1x TOSLink optical capable of playing 44.1KHz to 192KHz PCM and DSD64 in DoP format.

1x 3.5mm COAX SPDIF capable of playing 44.1KHz to 384Khz PCM (768KHz special option) and DSD64, DSD128 in DoP format.

1x micro USB capable of 44KHz to 768KHz PCM and DSD64, DSD128 and DSD256 in DoP format. Driverless on Mac, Android, and Linux OS. However Windows Vista, 7, 8, and 10 will require a driver which can be found on our Mojo webpage.

Outputs:

2x 3.5mm stereo jacks for headphones capable of 8 ohm to 800 ohms playback.

1x 3V line-level output (Both volume buttons must be depressed while Mojo is turned on)

 

Specifications:

From (http://www.chordelectronics.co.uk/mojo)

  • -Output Power @ 1kHz

  • -600 ohms 35mW

  • -8 ohms 720mW

  • -Output Impedance: 0.075 ohms

  • -Dynamic Range: 125dB

  • -THD @ 3v - 0.00017%



 

Build and Finish: Machined aircraft-grade black aluminum, finished with a soft anodized finish. Built like a tank, with clean-cut corners. Phenomenal build quality, feels like a solid work of art.  

 

Accessories: Comes in a small box. Don’t throw this away! On one side, it displays what colors show up on the Mojo, pertaining to what sample rate is currently detected.

 

Comes with: 1x Micro USB Male (Type B) to USB Male (Type A), 1x Quick Start Guide.

 

Note: Mojo works with the Micro USB, not the commonly used Mini USB. In case you accidentally order the wrong aftermarket cable.

 

Technology and Design: A+ design and extensive interior technology behind a spartan exterior. Comes with Chord’s exclusive designed FPGA DAC that is engineered for USB playback of 32-kHz/768-kHz PCM and DSD 512. USB input is the preferred connection, offering the highest playback and quality. Volume control buttons light up different colors to reflect different sample rates, and the device includes an auto-sensing memory for the last utilized volume upon turning the unit off.


 

Sound / Comparisons:

 

The Chord Mojo. A tiny black-box that recently received widespread attention from audiophiles everywhere. Does it outperform other portables and set a standard of quality for what you can obtain nowadays for $599?

 

Upon first listening, I really didn’t want to analyze the sound characteristics of the Mojo.

It just sounded so comprehensive and involving that I didn’t feel any particular characteristic of the Mojo that stood out. Call it a clear and musical corridor to your music.

 

There’s a startlingly good sense of space with instruments and details suspended softly in the foreground. Don’t get me wrong. While musical and easy to listen to, the Mojo is extremely resolving and can be a razor-thin tool that reveals every tiny nuance in the recording.

I can definitely hear the influence of the Hugo’s sonic character. It’s this trademark Chord quality where the music is not only hyper-detailed/accurately portrayed, but it sounds darn good too.

 

But while the Hugo can tend to sound a tad sterile and lean, the Mojo somehow manages to provide ample enjoyment in a smoother signature.

I’m not sure if this is due to the changes of the amp section on the Mojo, but it somehow seems to seamlessly blend music together and inundate you with its energy and power.

The Mojo also brings out the best of the Ethers; the Mojo sounds so realistic and natural with classical and vocal tracks in an expansive landscape. I had hours of listening pleasure on highly technical songs where there’s a need to portray ambience and atmosphere.

 

The closest to the Mojo is the iDSD, both have excellent details and speed while maintaining a naturalness to the music that just can’t be achieved by the Microstreamer, ODAC, etc.

But in terms of space and dynamics, the Mojo is closest to the Concero HP. Both have impactful tight bass, and well-extended treble that is never sibilant or hot to the ears.

The standout feature of the Mojo, however, is the super sweet mid-range that just always sounds melodious and tonally right--without hints of odd coloration or artificialness.

 

The Mojo is a huge hit in my opinion, providing the dynamics and resolution of a full-size desktop setup in a bite-size package. It’s miles ahead ahead of lesser offerings, and this becomes immediately apparent when you listen to it extensively.

 

Pros: Musicality, Expansiveness, Detailed, Performance lives up to expectations!

Cons: Gets hot, Simple overlay (like it or not), Volume control lag, Stock USB cable hiss

 

Overall Score: 9.5

 

    -Bass: 9

    -Mids: 10

    -Treble: 9

    -Transparency: 9

    -Dynamics/Transients: 10

    -Resolution/Details: 9

    -Soundstage/Presentation: 10



 


 

Manufacturer: Resonessence Labs

Model: CONCERO HP

Price: $850 at resonessencelabs.com/products-page

 

Volume Control: Internal 32 bit volume control, Volume knob (Click to change filters)

Power Connector: USB A, USB B

Battery Life: N/A

Inputs: 1x USB Female (Type B)
1x SPDIF

Outputs: 1x 6.35mm Headphone Jack

 

Specifications:

From (http://www.resonessencelabs.com/product/concero-hp)

-CONCERO HP is the Headphone driver version of CONCERO.

-It supports DSD64 and DSD128, Sample rates up to 352.8kS/s and 24bits.

-Over 100dB (0.001%) THD+Noise performance into headphones above 300 Ohms (over 90dB performance into 32 Ohm headphones). S/PDIF and USB Audio 2.0 data sources.

-CONCERO HP Uses the ES9018-2M - the latest chip from ESS Technology.

-DSD64/128 support. Up to 352.8k 24 bit sample rate. 2.2 Ohm Output Impedance. 270mW into 32 Ohm @ 91dB THD+N; 206mW into 60 Ohm @ 94dB THD+N; 45mW into 300 Ohm @ 100dB (0.001%) THD+N; 22.75mW into 600 Ohm @ 100dB (0.001%) THD+N. Total Hum and Noise = 3.4uV A-weighted

 

Build and Finish: Hefty and heavy solid chunk of machined metal. The exterior is simplistic, with a nice volume knob. Do be careful not to scratch the surface of the amp/dac, since the finish is smooth paint.

 

Accessories: Resonessence Labs is also a fan of keeping things simple. A black cardboard box contains the Concero HP, a carrying pouch, an instruction manual, a 3.5mm to 1/4th adapter, and a standard USB A to B cable.

 

Technology and Design:

 

From (http://www.resonessencelabs.com/concero)

“CONCERO HP is three things in one: first, it is the Resonessence upgradable FPGA DSP core with all the proven filters and algorithms of the CONCERO family; second, it uses the 32bit ES9018-2M Sabre DAC in both PCM and DSD modes to provide high quality audio; and finally it provides a state-of-the-art headphone driver capability.”

 

Resonessence Labs is renowned for their work with the ESS Sabre DACs. In terms of experience with working with these chips, their engineers and developers are second to none. Each unit produced is carefully inspected, stamped, and built to last. They show clear quality in their products and design.

 

At the core of the Concero HP is a FPGA circuit that’s programmed in house by Resonessence and taken from the other Concero products. There’s also the updated 32bit ES9018 Sabre chip, which sounds phenomenal.

 

Concero HP comes with 3 filter options, extensive playback options (DSD64 and DXD128 playback, 24b/352.8kS/s), a blue LED logo light, and a solid volume knob.



 

Sound / Comparisons:

 

The Concero HP is the Amp/Dac version of the Concero HD stand-alone DAC.

Based off of the original Concero, it has some pretty big shoes to fill.

How much of an improvement does the DAC section of the Concero HP offer over the Concero?

 

All listening tests were done with the “no-upsampling” filter option. I did find the minimum phase IIR filter to offer a slightly more aggressive sound while the apodizing filter was more linear/flat- sounding. However, I preferred the default option with no filters selected.

 

Simply put, the Concero HP can be described with two words: balanced and immersive. The stereo image that the Concero HP presents is massive, the background is utterly black, and the music comes alive with dynamic ease. It shares technical capabilities with the iDSD, in terms of detail retrieval, dimensionality of voices and instruments, and an encompassing landscape that’s clean and free of grain. I did find the iDSD slightly more resolving and better for fast music, while the Concero HP is a tad closer to neutrality with better warmth.

 

Despite having the ESS chip, the Concero HP never comes off overly analytical or uncomfortably revealing. It offers a transparent window to your music, with perhaps the best bass weight and reproduction I’ve seen for such a small unit. The midrange is lush and romantic, with excellent details. The treble is almost perfect, sometimes showcasing the peaks and flaws of a recording a tiny bit harshly.

 

What’s amazing about the Concero HP is the immersiveness. This is coupled with its ability to integrate the listener into the music. While possessing great resolution and details, the Concero chooses to focus on the holistic presentation of the music, instead of each individual note.

This gives the Concero a smooth and balanced signature. However, the Concero is far from ethereal and weightless. Which might be said for the Mojo, and to a lesser extent the iDSD. Instead, the Concero dynamicism is among the best of portable DAC/amps I’ve ever heard. Everything is vivid, energetic, and powerful.

 

I can safely say that compared to the Resonessence Herus and original Concero, the Concero HP has made significant improvements and stepped closer to driving full-size headphones to their optimum efficacy. It’s taken the edge off of the ESS Sabre DAC, while offering a neutral and powerful amp section to boot as well. Of course, the iDSD blows it away in terms of headphone driveability. I wouldn’t recommend utilizing planar magnetic headphones with the Concero HP.



 

Overall Score: 9

 

    -Bass: 10

    -Mids: 9

    -Treble: 9

    -Transparency: 9

    -Dynamics/Transients: 9

    -Resolution/Details: 8.5

    -Soundstage/Presentation: 9


 

 

Thanks for reading!

I'll be happy to answer any questions down below or via PM.

As always, happy listening

:atsmile:

 

post #2 of 35

Great comparison review!

 

Been wondering about the Mojo and the Res. Labs stuff. Good to read such detailed impressions of how they compare to my iDSD Micro.

 

Sounds like I wouldn't hear much improvement getting a Mojo or Herus after all.
 

post #3 of 35
Great comparison - i second that!

And a huge help too. Was thinking about replacement for my Concero HP for a mobile use - now i know there is no need to.

Job well done.
post #4 of 35

Hi, Sil3nce. Thank a lot for your really useful review :). But could you do an extend comparison for iFi' products with new updated firmware version 5.1 (Gelato) for iDSD & iDAC2.

http://ifi-audio.com/micro-idsd-ifi-xmos-firmware

Because with the Gelato version, I feel my iDSD has a noticable sound-state and enjoyment improvement of SQ with my HD-700.

Thanks!

post #5 of 35

Great thread.

 

It seems like it's down to the iDSD and the Chord Mojo..?

 

Which would you recommend for planars and specifically if the genres are bass heavy like rock/hip hop?  What about mid-centric like acoustic and female vocals?

 

Thanks,

post #6 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by RMac View Post

Great thread.

It seems like it's down to the iDSD and the Chord Mojo..?

Which would you recommend for planars and specifically if the genres are bass heavy like rock/hip hop?  What about mid-centric like acoustic and female vocals?

Thanks,

Haven't heard the Mojo but the Micro can put out up to 4W.

I just got a small 12v desktop amp that can't match the Micro's power output. Desktop amp sounds a bit better but can't quite drive my Fostex mk3s high enough. Have to switch them back to the Micro.
post #7 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by gr8soundz View Post
 

Great comparison review!

 

Been wondering about the Mojo and the Res. Labs stuff. Good to read such detailed impressions of how they compare to my iDSD Micro.

 

Sounds like I wouldn't hear much improvement getting a Mojo or Herus after all.
 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by PioKra View Post

Great comparison - i second that!

And a huge help too. Was thinking about replacement for my Concero HP for a mobile use - now i know there is no need to.

Job well done.

 

I support the idea that swapping headphones would give you more of a noticeable upgrade, rather than changing out your Micro iDSD for a Mojo or Concero :)

post #8 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by EDM0611 View Post
 

Hi, Sil3nce. Thank a lot for your really useful review :). But could you do an extend comparison for iFi' products with new updated firmware version 5.1 (Gelato) for iDSD & iDAC2.

http://ifi-audio.com/micro-idsd-ifi-xmos-firmware

Because with the Gelato version, I feel my iDSD has a noticable sound-state and enjoyment improvement of SQ with my HD-700.

Thanks!

 

Seems like these are the changes they made to the firmware.

 

Major optimisations
• All-new XMOS ‘deep-core processes’ software for different behaviour of SPDIF (after XMOS previously modified the USB section).
• Enables DSD256 for 48kHz based sample rates up-conversion when using DSD256 in DoP mode.
• Fixed issues surrounding DoP standard; including ‘clicks’ when changing tracks and sonic differences to native DSD and other minor bug fixes.
• Minor updates/fixes

 

Now how much would that actually affect the sonic characteristics of the iFi products?

It seems like SPDIF was improved, a few minor adjustments to sample rate conversion, and just bug fixes. 

post #9 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by RMac View Post
 

Great thread.

 

It seems like it's down to the iDSD and the Chord Mojo..?

 

Which would you recommend for planars and specifically if the genres are bass heavy like rock/hip hop?  What about mid-centric like acoustic and female vocals?

 

Thanks,

 

For the sake of context, which planar headphones are you referring to?

 

In general terms, the iDSD is much more suited to driving planars over the Mojo.

Think of the Mojo as a refined portable unit, and the iDSD as a workhorse that works with just about anything. 

post #10 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sil3nce View Post
 

 

For the sake of context, which planar headphones are you referring to?

 

In general terms, the iDSD is much more suited to driving planars over the Mojo.

Think of the Mojo as a refined portable unit, and the iDSD as a workhorse that works with just about anything. 

We'll leave flagships out, so everything below Audeze's LCD-2.  This would include the Hifimans 400i, 560, Audeze EL-8, OPPO PM-1 and 2, all of the sub-flagships from ZMF and Mr. Speakers as well.  

 

I'm hearing around the web that the Mojo could certainly drive LCD-2 and above to comfortable volume, but just not drive them to full potential.  

post #11 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sil3nce View Post
 

 

Seems like these are the changes they made to the firmware.

 

Major optimisations
• All-new XMOS ‘deep-core processes’ software for different behaviour of SPDIF (after XMOS previously modified the USB section).
• Enables DSD256 for 48kHz based sample rates up-conversion when using DSD256 in DoP mode.
• Fixed issues surrounding DoP standard; including ‘clicks’ when changing tracks and sonic differences to native DSD and other minor bug fixes.
• Minor updates/fixes

 

Now how much would that actually affect the sonic characteristics of the iFi products?

It seems like SPDIF was improved, a few minor adjustments to sample rate conversion, and just bug fixes. 

 

The update improved the sound by a noticeable amount.

 

Here's what I wrote on the iDSD forum:

http://www.head-fi.org/t/728236/ifi-idsd-micro-dsd512-pcm768-dac-and-headphone-amp-impressions-reviews-and-comments/5340#post_12356035
 

post #12 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by gr8soundz View Post
 

 

The update improved the sound by a noticeable amount.

 

Here's what I wrote on the iDSD forum:

http://www.head-fi.org/t/728236/ifi-idsd-micro-dsd512-pcm768-dac-and-headphone-amp-impressions-reviews-and-comments/5340#post_12356035
 

 

I went and took a look at the original thread.

Seems like there's an equal amount of users reporting that 5.1 > 5.0 as well as users experiencing problem (mainly related to noises). 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by RMac View Post
 

We'll leave flagships out, so everything below Audeze's LCD-2.  This would include the Hifimans 400i, 560, Audeze EL-8, OPPO PM-1 and 2, all of the sub-flagships from ZMF and Mr. Speakers as well.  

 

I'm hearing around the web that the Mojo could certainly drive LCD-2 and above to comfortable volume, but just not drive them to full potential.  

 

On the subject of flagships, I just want to point out that you can indeed use the Micro iDSD in conjunction with planars such as the HE-6, HE-1000, Ethers, etc. The Mojo, however, isn't a great match.  

So keep that in mind, in case you decide to go that route.

 

I found the Mojo synergized well with the HE-400i, HE-560, and Oppo PM-1/2.

The iDSD worked well with the ZMF models, and Alpha Dogs/Prime. 

Not a big fan of the EL-8. So can't offer feedback on it.

post #13 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sil3nce View Post
 

 

Seems like these are the changes they made to the firmware.

 

Major optimisations
• All-new XMOS ‘deep-core processes’ software for different behaviour of SPDIF (after XMOS previously modified the USB section).
• Enables DSD256 for 48kHz based sample rates up-conversion when using DSD256 in DoP mode.
• Fixed issues surrounding DoP standard; including ‘clicks’ when changing tracks and sonic differences to native DSD and other minor bug fixes.
• Minor updates/fixes

 

Now how much would that actually affect the sonic characteristics of the iFi products?

It seems like SPDIF was improved, a few minor adjustments to sample rate conversion, and just bug fixes. 

Hi Sil3nce, thanks for your reply!

In the update announcement, iFi didn't mention about something releated to sound improvement but we can easy to found it when we listen to music after update new iDSD firmware. (something like renew version of iDSD)

So please don't guess, let try it and experience :). And I really expect to see comment and comparison from you after that!

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sil3nce View Post
 

 

I went and took a look at the original thread.

Seems like there's an equal amount of users reporting that 5.1 > 5.0 as well as users experiencing problem (mainly related to noises). 

Actually, at first I upgraded my iDSD to 5.1B (custom version) and it had some noise and lagging problem with the sound. After that I changed to 5.1 (original) version, reset the iDSD and problems's gone away.


Edited by EDM0611 - 2/28/16 at 7:45pm
post #14 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sil3nce View Post


I support the idea that swapping headphones would give you more of a noticeable upgrade, rather than changing out your Micro iDSD for a Mojo or Concero smily_headphones1.gif
That's exactly what I'm going to do - any suggestions from you Sil3nce for Concero HP pairing would be appreciated. Thank you.
post #15 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by EDM0611 View Post
 

Hi Sil3nce, thanks for your reply!

In the update announcement, iFi didn't mention about something releated to sound improvement but we can easy to found it when we listen to music after update new iDSD firmware. (something like renew version of iDSD)

So please don't guess, let try it and experience :). And I really expect to see comment and comparison from you after that!

 

Quote:

Actually, at first I upgraded my iDSD to 5.1B (custom version) and it had some noise and lagging problem with the sound. After that I changed to 5.1 (original) version, reset the iDSD and problems's gone away.

 

I'm in the process of testing it right now!

I was in correspondence with iFi regarding the new update, and I believe that there really might be some magic behind this.

 

I'll message you with any noticeable differences from the original firmware :)

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