Head Gear Reviews by DarKu
  1. Balanced & Unbalanced Burson Conductor 3XR/3R

    5.00 star(s)
    My Video Review: At the end of 2019 I was given the honors for a world-premiere Burson Conductor 3 Reference review, which changed the way I am looking at ESS Sabre-based DACs/Preamps and headphone amp combos. From linear, lean sounding and straight as a line in terms of frequency response, Conductor 3 was seriously breaking those rules as it was highly engaging and natural sounding. It performed more like an advanced R2R design with a powerful Class-A output stage than like a typical ESS Sabre based all-in-one device. I have quite a history of...
  2. FiiO M15

    5.00 star(s)
    Who would thought that at their flagship year from its inception, FiiO would announce at their Winter Launch Event in an One More Thing stunt, their highest performance and highly anticipated M15 DAP. What was quite unusual even for FiiO is that instead of just showing it to the world and telling everyone you will need to wait for another 6 months before you can buy it, it was available right away with preorders starting the next day. I still remember that I waited for more than 6 months for a M11 PRO after its announcement and I’m glad that didn’t...
  3. Shanling Q1 - Portable Hi-Res music player

    4.50 star(s)
    Shanling is known to be making portable digital audio players for quite some time now. M3 digital audio player that debuted in 2014 came like a storm, even at that time it had DSD playback capabilities, it had a big capacity battery, an interesting Cirrus Logic chipset, lots of power under its belt and a very unique design with a huge volume knob that resembled big integrated amplifiers. Next year they launched a smaller M2 DAP that had big advancements in terms of user interface, then they launched their flagship M5 and since then, they never really...
  4. FiiO M11 Pro

    5.00 star(s)
    Without too much fanfare on 30 July of this year (2019), FiiO dropped the bomb and announced their latest and greatest M11 PRO DAP in a Facebook post. To this day, that one was the most commented post in FiiOs history and a clear message that people were genuinely excited about that one. Besides dual AK4497EQ flagship DAC chips, M11 PRO promised to be the world’s first DAP with dual THX-AAA-78 headphone amplifier modules. If you checked my latest reviews around here you probably know how much I love THX designs for their accuracy and honesty in...
  5. S.M.S.L SP200 THX 888 Amp

    5.00 star(s)
    Probably the biggest hype I ever encountered in the headphone kingdom was the announcement of THX AAA 789 headphone amp by Massdrop. People called it as the Holy Grail of headphone amplification, as an End-Game, shift+delete your head-fi account type of amp. Everybody dreamed about it and everybody wanted one. That is not because it was expensive, not at all, at only $400 it was among the cheapest balanced and powerful desktop headphone amp I knew about. Everyone dreamed about it because of the availability of that particular amp, the first batch was...
  6. Burson Conductor 3 Reference

    5.00 star(s)
    My unboxing video: My video Review: It all started about 2 years ago when I sent an email to Burson Audio asking when Conductor 3 would make an appearance and I sent them a longer wish-list of what I would like to see implemented in it. All I got back was a wink, a smiley face and a “please hold the door” response – a clear sign that Conductor 3 is undergoing heavy development. Before telling you more about Conductor 3, you first should know about its roots and where it is coming from. When I’ve heard about Burson Audio more than 10 years ago...
  7. Sennheiser Momentum 3

    4.50 star(s)
    Sennheiser Momentum 3 debuted at IFA Berlin 2019 and since then everybody is talking about them. Are they better than the 4-year old Momentum 2, will they dethrone the ANC kings Sony WH-1000XM3, the futuristic looking Bose 700 or the all metal Master&Dynamic MW65? When Sennheiser debuted first generation of Momentum over-ear wired headphones in 2012 it felt like a fresh start for the company, it entered a new era in terms of portables. Up until that time, the all-plastic and industrial looking HD-25 were their best portable headphones. Fast forward...
  8. SMSL M500

    4.00 star(s)
    This is my first contact with SMSL but it doesn’t mean I didn’t know about them. What is kind of amazing is that SMLS Audio just hit 10 years on the market but their presence on the West market is quite fresh, they seen a boom and a high interest once they started working with Drop (formerly Massdrop) and released affordable but good sounding equipment. SMSL Audio is mostly specialized in the desktop-fi area (portable and desktop DACs, headphone amps and combos) but they offer few integrated and power amps for loudspeaker aficionados. Meet the...
  9. Topping DX7 PRO

    4.50 star(s)
    In January 2019 Topping announced that they are almost finishing their flagship DX7 PRO DAC and everybody prepared their wallets and some romantic stories for their wives, fast forward in April it was revealed that they are still tuning the DX7 PRO and are assuring a polished device with good specs and impressive measurements will come out of their labs. In September we are assured no other delays will happen and that it entered final production stage. At long last, after a long 9-month wait time of adjustments and tuning DX7 Pro sees the light of...
  10. Topping D70

    4.50 star(s)
    If I would ask you few years ago about Topping you would raise your shoulders, however nowadays it is a different picture as this brand also rhymes with good sound quality at very affordable prices. Topping took by storm the affordable audio market by releasing interesting desktop and portable units, their DX and D line are still very popular among audio enthusiasts. When Topping released their highest performance D70 DAC not too long ago, it sent shock-waves in the audiophile community, it again raised the bar of what can achieved with a modest sum...
  11. SMSL M500 MQA DAC&AMP

    4.50 star(s)
    Apos Audio kindly provided the review sample to me and introduced to the SMSL family of products. This is our first contact with SMSL but it doesn’t mean we didn’t know about them. What is kind of amazing is that SMLS Audio just hit 10 years on the market but their presence on the West market is quite fresh, they seen a boom and a high interest once they started working with Drop (formerly Massdrop) and released affordable but good sounding equipment. SMSL Audio is mostly specialized in the desktop-fi area (portable and desktop DACs, headphone amps...
  12. Ollo Audio s4

    4.50 star(s)
    Researching headphone manufacturers from Europe I stumbled upon OLLO Audio, a fresh Slovenian company that is making hand-made headphones. As of right now they have only two dynamic driver models: HPA S4 (S4 from now on) – the open back one and HPA S4R (S4R from now on) - the same headphone but with a closed-back design and if you would like to have a one-of-a-kind S4R, OLLO can put a custom laser-engraved logo on them. My curiosity levels, as usual skyrocketed, I told myself I need to hear those. One month later and I had the open-back S4 on my...
  13. Keces S3 DAC / Headphone Amplifier

    4.50 star(s)
    KECES Audio is proudly making Digital to Analog Converters for more than 10 years already. I still remember researching for affordable DACs at that time and KECES DA-131 and DA-151 would always pop into that list. They were always very serious about power filtering and sonics as they used only high-quality toroidal transformers and musical performing Burr-Brown PCM chips. Time have passed, lessons were learned, technology evolved and that is how KECES S3 came to be. Today I will write about their latest 3-in-1 device that KECES proudly designed and...
  14. HIFIMAN Arya

    5.00 star(s)
    Doing reviews for good sounding headphones is easy-peasy they said, just hype them as much as you can and all will be good they said, roses are red violets are blue they said. What a bunch on non-sense! Actually, doing reviews for expensive and top-notch headphones is much, much harder to do since you need to carefully pick your words, not to mention excessive amounts of listening tests, comparisons, measurements and leaving plain subjective opinions. The moment Hifiman Arya arrived at my door my mood was really low, spirits were not kind to me this...
  15. QUAD ERA-1

    5.00 star(s)
    What speaker brand comes to mind first when I say electrostatic speakers? For us Europeans it’s most probably Quad and for Yankees it is most probably Martin Logan. I still remember searching for a nice floor-stander that works with rock music and Quad ESL will always pop into that list. Since the headphone market grown exponentially in the past years, Quad decided to have a small slice of that huge pie. The weird thing is that Quad decided to go with a planar-magnetic design and not with an electrostatic one. I’m however very glad they chose this...
  16. Benchmark HPA4

    5.00 star(s)
    Before starting my actual review, I just want to remind you that headphone listening at the Hi-Fi level is a big part of my life. I purchased my first headphone amplifier back in 2006 when just mentioning “a headphone amplifier” in the audiophile circles would rise both eyebrows and suspicion of sanity, today having one is a must have if you care about headphones in general. Since then, I am swapping headphone amps quite often, since all of them had small or big flaws. I was a solid-state guy, then I moved to tube-based designs, then I moved back to...
  17. Matrix Audio Element X

    5.00 star(s)
    In the fall of 2018 Matrix Audio shown the world the face of their newest Element series of products. Being an early adopter and later on an owner of their much-regarded Matrix X-Sabre Pro my curiosity level skyrocketed! Back in 2017, Matrix Audio actually pioneered the ESS9038 PRO DAC chips as they were first to implement it in a commercial product. Of course, years have passed and it’s time to show growth an innovation and this is basically how newest Element series came to be. Matrix Audio along the years received few reviews from us and I think...
  18. Aune S7 Pro

    5.00 star(s)
    At München High-End Show 2019 Aune Audio unveiled a bunch of interesting products such X1s PRO DAC/Headphone amp combo, X7s stand-alone headphone amp, X8 Magic dedicated DAC, X5s desktop digital music player, but to us the most interesting ones were their flagship series: S6 PRO DAC and S7 PRO balanced headphone amp. S6 PRO was covered by us about one month ago, I recommended checking the detailed review right here. So, today is the big day for the S7 PRO dedicated headphone amp that will be put through its paces. S7 PRO is an updated version of...
  19. Burson Swing

    5.00 star(s)
    2019 seems quite busy for Burson Audio, first release of the year was the extraordinary Playmate and now they offer a much-needed dedicated DAC and digital preamp called Swing. I still remember listening to the Burson Fun and Bang and thinking that what they really need is a dedicated DAC for those units and this is how Swing came to be. As good as DAC+Amp combos are they can’t quite match separate units, Burson Play and Playmate were really good, outstanding even if you take into consideration their price points, but if you want a higher performing...
  20. Burson Audio Playmate

    4.50 star(s)
    Burson forges are running hot these past days. The fire just settled down around the Play, Fun and Bang, all released not too long ago, that I still consider them fresh products. In my opinion Play was an amazing all-in-one DAC and headphone amp punching way above its league. However, nothing is perfect and Play had its quirks that I mentioned in my Play review. Play never really shined with sensitive IEMs, background noise and hum plagued it for all multi-BA IEM users, lack of a gain switch was a real pain and made it almost unusable with IEMs. Not...
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