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Reviews by: project86

A really great amp.... for other people.

Posted

Pros: Speaker-like presentation (if that's your style), killer (optional) DAC section, preamp capabilities, volume control implementation, build quality

Cons: Speaker-like presentation makes your headphones sound somewhat slow and dull sounding, high price, it may be too large for some people?

      Imagine yourself in charge of a traditional HiFi speaker company - a segment where sales are trending relatively flat (or worse) for the past decade or so. You look at the market and salivate at the rising sales figures of the "personal audio" category, pondering how you might get a piece of that action. Slowly, cautiously, you begin having your team translate their design prowess from speakers to headphones, under the assumption that they have a lot in common - it certainly makes more sense than designing turntables (the other hot category at the moment).    If this sounds too measured and reasonable, an alternate version has the boss...
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Media box not focused on audio

Posted

Pros: Fast, decent remote, lots of connectivity, comes preconfigured with Kodi

Cons: Remote doesn't always work the way you need, resamples audio to 48kHz for the Toslink output

      Have you tried Roon yet? I haven't written much about it thus far, but to be honest it's sort of a game-changer in my view. Now any company wanting to make a streaming audio device can avoid the massive headache of designing their own user interface - as long as they can work out the licensing details with Roon Labs of course. UI is a frequent challenge, with otherwise excellent devices only earning "cautiously recommended" status thanks to their cludgy controls. Even Aurender, with their very well thought out Conductor App, can't compare to the joy of Roon.    This isn't strictly a Roon review though. The idea here was to find a really affordable way...
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Reference USB Bridge

Posted

Pros: Impeccable sound quality, solid build, lots of outputs, amazing value

Cons: Availability is somewhat limited at the moment

    Not too long ago, USB audio was considered a joke by most "serious" audiophiles. And to some degree they were right - most early USB capable DACs had very poor implementations, which meant computer audio prioritized convenience over sound quality. Think Spotify which is great for music discovery or background entertainment but not really suitable for critical listening.   Fast forward a few years. The USB inputs on a lot of DACs began improving to the point of competing with, and sometimes managing to outperform, their SPDIF counterparts. Asynchronous chipsets became widespread and brought lower jitter along with 24/192 capabilities. Around this time we also saw...
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Brutally, Beautifully Neutral

Posted

Pros: Exceptional clarity from a highly neutral sound signature without an artificially bright sound, easy to drive, beats the original UERM

Cons: High frequency reproduction very good but can't compete with Stax, very focused sound equals limited soundstage size

Custom In-Ear monitors. I love 'em. There's nothing quite like the experience of a custom-molded, perfect-fitting IEM which practically melts into your ears. I can listen for hours without fatigue, and on the rare occasion where I use a universal model, I'm inevitably uncomfortable within a half hour or less. Then I switch back to a good CIEM and all is right with the world once more. I realize that aspect is different for everyone - some people get along just fine with universals, so it's definitely an individual preference.   I recall the early days of custom monitors. Back when they were primarily considered tools for musicians and their supporting staff of engineers etc. You...
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Another solid entry from Audinst

Posted

Pros: Bold, lively sound from the DAC portion, headphone amp powerful enough for planars, rock-solid stability over USB

Cons: Gain is too high for some headphones and especially IEMs, price isn't as low as I'd like

    There simply can't be too many affordable devices on the market. It's not possible. More choice is always a good thing. This assumes, of course, that at least some of these options will be solid performers. But if we think about it, the odds are in our favor when more and more devices hit the street. If we assume an arbitrary number of products - say 50% - will be terrible, with perhaps 30% being decent and the remaining 20% being good... a larger pool of designs to choose from will result in more "good" options standing out from the crowd. Makes sense right?   When people say "affordable", they don't always mean the same thing. In some circles...
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Arguably the best $400 headphone in existence

Posted

Pros: Deep, well controlled low end, rich mids, clean treble without peaks, beautiful cups, price

Cons: Pads could be small for some people, cable is long and not removable, initial run may sell out quickly

    Another day, another interesting Massdrop exclusive. It seems to be a trend by now. The first collaboration we saw was with AKG, resulting in the hugely popular K7XX. While based on the discontinued K702 65th Anniversary Edition, the K7XX has some customization in terms of colors, along with a major price drop compared to the original. That's always welcome. Next came the K553Pro - now a standard model in the AKG line and available elsewhere, it was nonetheless exclusive to Massdrop for several months upon release, and again had a lower price than elsewhere. See the trend?   Next, Massdrop collaborated with pro audio veterans Grace Design to come up with the Grace...
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Solid entry level DAC/amp for a very reasonable price

Posted

Pros: Warm, exciting sound, built like a tank, looks great, well done volume control scheme, powerful headphone output

Cons: Not the most resolving thing in the world, USB input is limited to 24/96, very transport dependent, can be sibilant with some female vocals, no 110V

Ever hear of Pure Piper? Neither had I until the company recently sought me out, asking if I'd be interested in trying their new A2 device. They found me at a good time when I happened to be (briefly) all caught up with reviews, and their pricing ($269) seemed very reasonable. So I agreed to give it a shot, making no promises as to what the result might be or if I'd even publish a write-up at all. This is actually pretty standard for me - I get a LOT of gear passing through that I don't end up writing about, for various reasons.    While the review unit was in transit, I did a little research on the brand and found this review from back in 2010. The A1 was the first DAC...
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Unbelievable sound for the size/price

Posted

Pros: Balanced, transparent sound without being clinical or dry, excellent build quality, highly intuitive controls, powerful headphone amp

Cons: Initially limited to 500 units so it might be hard to get once they sell out

Nowadays, there's more headphone-oriented gear on the market than you can shake a stick at. Headphones are abundant. Headphone amps come in a wide variety of styles, prices, and topographies. And plenty of DACs now feature quality onboard headphone amplification. It's a headphone lover's dream. Things were not always this way. Go back about 10 year, and there was far less of.... everything. In particular, if you wanted a quality all-in-one DAC/headamp solution, choices were rather limited. The major contenders came not from audiophile brands but rather the pro audio world. We had the Benchmark DAC 1, the Lavry DA10, the Grace Design Model 901, and - to a lesser extent - the Apogee...
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Evolution of a quality device

Posted

Pros: Takes the original and improves clarity, timing, and transparency

Cons: Review unit has printing error which inverts the labels for two (rarely used) buttons

      If you visit HeadFi on a semi-regular basis, you've likely encountered some reference to Yulong Audio and their high-value DAC and headphone amp products. They might not be a household name but they have grown substantially in the last few years, and to my mind they are an ideal representation for the quality of gear coming out of China these days. Many of the big name brands of audio gear have their stuff made in China anyway... perhaps more companies than would care to admit it. So there's really no reason why Yulong can't be just as good. I do recognize the dearth of no-name gear coming from the region - eBay DACs for $60, clone headphone amps using very...
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The most advanced custom IEM on the market?

Posted

Pros: Exceedingly clear, huge soundstage with precise imaging, superlative bass reproduction, very organic despite the complex hybrid design

Cons: Might be too incisive for some music/gear/tastes - poor recordings sound like trash, could use a better labeling system for bass adjustment matching,

        I love to see well-established audio companies with a solid lineup on offer. Someone like Parasound, Sennheiser, or PSB will almost always have their bases covered with budget, midrange, and fairly expensive models to choose from. That's great because it allows access for all sort of folks, regardless of budget. But you know what I love even more than that? Growth. Seeing a company, new or old, making continual improvements, is just great to see. Think RHA or Philips - neither is firmly established as a market leader at this point, yet both churn out some very competitive models.... and they just keep getting better each time. That's what I like...
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Head-Fi.org › project86 › Reviews by project86