Audinst is a name that will be familiar with many audiophiles but perhaps not so much with fledgling enthusiasts. They're a Korean company, launched in 2009 who found great success with the HUD-MX1 which at the time impressed many with its great sound and affordable price. Today I'll be looking at the HUD-MX2 which according to Audinst is "a product that realizes the best hi-fi sound quality, enhances user convenience, has diversified connectivity, and has most functionality relative to the price while not emphasizing on a fancy exterior and demanding specifications".
This product was sent to me for the purpose of this review. All opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product. I'm not affiliated with the company in any way. I'd like to thank Audinst for the opportunity to test the HUD-MX2.
Audinst website: http://audinst.com/en/
HUD-MX2 product page: http://audinst.com/en/index.php?mid=items&category=115&document_srl=186
Packaging and accessories:
The HUD-MX2 comes in a clean looking, white box with an image of the DAC on the front and on the back are listed some of the features
Upon opening you'll find the Amp/DAC and included accessories:
- Power Adapter
- USB Cable
- RCA Cable
- Rubber Feet
- Allen wrench
- Spare jumpers x2
- User Manual
The supplied cables are pretty good quality and should be enough to get you up and running fairly quickly. Overall the unboxing feels satisfactory and gives an impression of a good quality product that's designed more for function over form. This DAC means business.
Build and functionality:
Boasting the TPA6120A2 headphone amp the HUD-MX2 can be used with both low and high impedance headphones. The DAC is handled by the PCM1796 and OPA2227 op-amp. But enough of that. I'm all about testing with my fingers and ears so let's get to it.
Now, onto the HUD-MX2 itself. It has a black aluminium case and silver front panel. The case feels well machined with smooth edges and a nice finish. On the front panel are the dual headphone outputs, 1x 6.35 mm and 1x 3.5 mm - very practical and adds versatility. Next to these is the output select switch that enables you to choose outputting to headphone jacks or the variable RCA line out which can connect to an amplifier or powered speakers. Then there is the source select switch which has 3 settings (from top to bottom) Optical, Off, USB.
Next is a multicolored LED indicator which has three states:
- Red light: Unit is on but there is no source detected
- Amber light: Source detected but no incoming signal
- Green light: Incoming signal
Finally on the far right of the front panel is the volume knob. It's clearly marked with position indicators, has a textured surface for extra grip and moves nice and smoothly. Overall the front panel is functional and attractive and thankfully the text on the silver face-plate is black. There are far too many manufacturers who continue to use white text on their silver models which makes it near useless so thumbs up to Audinst for getting this simple but important design aspect right.
Moving around to the back of the unit we find from left to right:
- Optical IN
- Optical OUT
- USB IN
- DC 12-15V power IN
- RCA Variable Level OUT
So before I go onto the sound I'll talk a little about my experience using the HUD-MX2. For the most part I think it's a great product but there are a couple of things that I would like to see changed in future revisions.
First of all I'd prefer to have a Fixed Level RCA Output or a separate volume control for the line out. The reason for this is because if you're using line out to an amplifier you are likely to have the volume turned up pretty high. If that is the case and you have a low impedance headphone or earphone plugged in and flip the output switch without first adjusting the volume there's a good chance your headphones or your ears will explode. Well this could also work in the opposite if for instance you were driving some high impedance headphones with the volume up and then flipped the switch over to your powered speakers and BOOM! In my opinion it's a less than ideal implementation and that's why I loved the way it's done on the JDS Labs The Element. The second thing is not such a big deal for me personally but still frustrating - the fact that you need to open up the case and fiddle with jumpers to change the Low and High gain settings. I can't be all mad about that though because even though it's inconvenient, it is indeed an extra feature that many DACs don't have.
The MX2 is not what I would consider aggressive or particularly energetic. It has a rather relaxed sound with plenty of musicality which isn't as detailed as some but adds some warmth. So for pairing these might work better with brighter or more neutral phones rather than something that's already warm. For instance this seems to have a better synergy with the Ultrasone Performance 860 than it does with MSUR's N650. Dr Dre's "It's All On Me" from the Compton album can be sibilant on a lot of setups but with the MX2 remains tame enough without causing discomfort.
Soundstage is pretty good but not the best out there, probably due to the MX2 adding a bit of fullness to the sound. The treble is a little smoothed over too, taking away some of the airiness in its wake.
When the HUD-MX2 first lifted its head, I think it was around 2013 there were a lot fewer options in the entry level range. Nowadays it has a lot more competition to deal with and might be starting to show its age a little. That's not to say it isn't a good DAC because it definitely is still good. It has some conflicting points for me personally though. On one hand is the sensible layout of the front panel (bravo for the black text on silver). Little things like the black circles around the headphone jacks that at once make it easier to see exactly where they are and also add a sense of symmetrical balance with the black volume knob on the right side. There's also the 3 stage LED indicator which is brilliant. It seems like someone put a lot of thought into this front panel. But then there's the volume knob that handles the output of the RCA out and headphone out which is far from ideal and the hassle of changing the Low/Hi gain.
Regardless there's a certain charm to the MX2 both physically and sonically. It's smooth presentation is perfect for brighter headphones giving them that little extra body. The addition of an optical output is also something I haven't seen a lot but I think it's great, making it super easy to connect to my AV receiver. Currently retailing for $200 on Amazon UK the HUD-MX2 is still holding its own and for those looking for a DAC with a smooth, mature presentation this is still a good option.