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Reviews by: project86

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

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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

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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

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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?

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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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A no-compromise all-in-one device that can easily become the centerpiece of a speaker-based system

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Pros: Each piece - DAC, HP amp, and preamp - is an exceptionally strong performer. Cumulatively almost as good as separate components, for a lot less money

Cons: "True DSD" playback somewhat limited in that it requires JRiver to use, design is not as clean looking as the other Questyle models

      Integrated amplifiers. We all know what they are, right? The classic definition involves having a power amplifier and a preamplifier integrated into the same chassis. Hence the name. It used to be very straight forward - you could walk into a brick and mortar store, or browse an audio catalog/website, and easily see the distinction between power amps, preamps, and other devices such as DACs. When grouped together each category had generally the same capabilities and features.   Nowadays things aren't so simple. Many "integrated" amps now feature one or more digital inputs, thus blurring the line between integrated amp and DAC. I see...
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Top level amp

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Pros: Extremely good measurements but more importantly, equally good sound.... amazing clarity makes other great amps sound dull and veiled.

Cons: Spiky feet can be dangerous!

This review is one of the most difficult I've had in quite some time. Not because the product had flaws, or because I couldn't make sense of what I was hearing (which sometimes happens), but because I struggled to understand the concept behind the design. I'm still not totally convinced that I have a handle on it, but I know some people are waiting to read this so it's time to move forward regardless. The product in question is the CMA800 headphone amplifier from Questyle, which is a new company hoping to take off in a big way. Based on what I've heard so far I think they have a good chance of succeeding.              Chinese firm ...
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Dedicated DAC with "True DSD" capability

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Pros: Excellent sound, neutral but not at all boring, high build quality and great looks, One of the best DACs I've heard with DSD,

Cons: "True DSD" playback sounds excellent but involves more setup than a typical DoP-capable DAC, no extras like onboard HP amp or volume control

        Questyle Audio Engineering has thus far received lots of attention for their CMA800R headphone amplifiers. And rightfully so - those amps are extremely nice, a veritable match made in heaven for the Sennheiser HD800. But Questyle doesn't limit themselves to just headphone amps. No, they are a diverse company with expertise in many other areas. For example - a lossless wireless amplifier system for speakers (available with ICEpower monoblock amplification). That device may not fit the HeadFi demographic but it sure looks unique.... I don't recall seeing much else like it on the market. Thus, I can see why "headphone amp" still jumps to mind when we hear...
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Head-Fi.org › project86 › Reviews by project86