Pros: Zero noise floor, plenty of power, small size, transparency
Cons: No Line-Out, Outdated form factor
I have now been using the Pico Dac/Amp for well over 6 months now, mainly with my laptops, and I can genuinely say that the sound this little device pumps out is stellar.
There is no audible noise floor, irrespective of the music being played or not. Although, there is distortion when turning the volume knob. But when the music starts playing, there are no complaints.
The Midrange is where the magic happens. The vocals are lush yet crystal clear with a touch of transparency, but without sounding analytical. Both male and female voices sound exquisite.
The Lows are delivered accurately and are devoid of any artificial addition and/or bloat. There is plenty of power and thump in the bass notes, without overpowering other frequencies.
The Treble is coherent with other frequencies and neither drowned or overpowering. But, it is definitely not rolled off and poor recordings bear the brunt.
I have used the Pico with my IEMs as well as hard to drive headphones, and I can safely say that it has no problem driving any of them to deafening levels. The dynamics and impact may suffer a little, especially when using a planar magnetic, like LCD-2, but that is a different story altogether. Otherwise, the Pico is capable of driving everything you throw at it.
There are two major issues with this otherwise amazing device:
a) Form Factor: Although it very small in size and a great companion as a portable dac/amp for laptop while travelling, but it cannot be used conveniently with a portable DAP/source. What I mean is that the dimensions do not go well with a portable source, especially its height. Nowadays, all devices are getting elongated and thinner, and for a good reason.
b) Connectivity: I have never been able to simply plug and play the Pico dac/amp with either of my two laptops. I have to connect, disconnect, uninstall the driver from Device Manager, a couple of times before I can start listening to music.
In addition to the above two points, I sometimes feel that a dedicated Line-Out could have added to its functionality.
Despite all the issues, as soon as the music starts playing, you'll forget about everything else. This is without doubt an audiophile grade portable dac/amp, that you can take along everywhere you go and enjoy your music.
I've been using the Pico Amp/DAC (purchased used) in my office for the last few months as a DAC and also as a portable solution when I travel. It never ceases to amaze me just how well it does in both roles and just how flexible it is in general. It sounds great and I can't think of another piece of gear that I own or have owned that represents better value for the $$. It also says something that I, a tried and true DIYer, simply stopped trying to build something as good after several failed attempts.