1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.

    Dismiss Notice

Pro-Ject Audio - Head Box DS - D/A Converter and Headphone Amp - Silver

Rating:
4.5/5,
  1. BloodyPenguin
    A Compact DAC/Amp, with a Full Size Sound
    Written by BloodyPenguin
    Published Mar 17, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Compact Size, Solid Build, Nice Balance, Low Noise, Easy Use, Good Display, Great Playback Quality for the Price
    Cons - Tight Button Layout, Use of the Jack Plug Won’t Mute RCA Output, No Optical Audio Out, -36db Default Volume
    --
     
    The Pro-Ject Audio Head Box DS is a great compact DAC/Amp that can add space and quality sound to any desktop system.
     
    P1060699.jpg
     
                                 ~ All photos taken by me ~
     

    **Disclaimer, I would like to thank Pro-Ject for providing a sample unit of the Head Box DS in return for an unbiased review.**
     
    [Product Link]http://box-designs.com/main.php?prod=headboxds
     
    [Main Site]http://www.project-audio.com/main.php
     
     
     
    *About Pro-Ject*

    Pro-Ject has been around 25 years.   In that time, they have been a leading manufacturer of record players from their facilities in Litovel (east of Prague) and their Vienna location.  Pro-Ject has a wide range of players from the budget minded, to the high end audiophile.  Along with record players, Pro-Ject also product a vast collection of ever evolving devices aimed towards the audiophile community, including; Amplifiers, CD & Digital, Phono and Powersupplies.
     
     
     
    *Features*

    - Audiophile grade headphone amp & 24bit D/A conversion  
    - 3 digital inputs: Asynchronous USB 2.0, S/PDIF, Toslink  
    - Special USB-2.0 driver for 24/192 (24/96 with USB1.1)  
    - Ultra low-noise semiconductors  
    - SMD technology for short signal paths  
    - Analogue output (RCA) for use as D/A converter  
    - Analogue input (RCA)  
    - Headphone socket (6,3mm jack plug)  
    - DC power supply (< 1 watt standby power)  
    - Metal case shields the electronics from vibrational and electromagnetic interference  
    - Faceplate silver or black (Silver Shown in Review)
     
    P1060674.jpg
     
     
    *Specifications*
     
     
    Line-level input/output
    1 pair RCA/phono sockets each
    D/A-converter
    Cirrus Logic CS4344, 24Bit/192kHz Delta Sigma
    Supported audio format
    PCM (LPCM). No support for multi channel formats like Dolby® AC-3 or DTS™
    Sampling rates
     
    USB 2.0 (MiniB) input
    44,1kHz, 48kHz, 88,2kHz, 96kHz, 176,4kHz 192kHz
    Coaxial input
    44,1kHz, 48kHz, 88,2kHz, 96kHz, 176,4kHz 192kHz
    Optical input
    44,1kHz, 48kHz, 88,2kHz 96kHz
    Power output
    350mW/30 ohms, 60mW/300 ohms
    Headphone connection
    > 30 ohms
    Signal-to-noise
    112dB (A weighted) at full output
    Frequency response
    20Hz - 20kHz/-0,5dB
    THD
    0,0014%
    Gain
    9dB
    Headphone jack
    3-pole ¼" (6,3mm Ø)
    Outboard power supply
    18V/1.000mA DC suitable for your country's mains supply
    Power consumption
    500mA DC / < 1 watt standby
    Dimensions W x H x D
    103 x 72 x 144 (150) mm (D with sockets)
    Weight
    990g without power supply

     
    P1060706.jpg
     
     
     
    *Contents*
     
    - Head Box DS [DAC/Amp]
    - User Manual
    - Power Plug with Multiple Adapters
    - USB to USB A-B Cable
    - Install CD
     
    P1060665.jpg
     
     
     
    *Build/Design*
     
    The simplicity of the build, leads to a clean overall design.  With your choice of a Silver or Black front panel, the Head-Box DS is a handsome, compact DAC/Amp.
     
    The construction is solid throughout, with a good steady weight.  Once in use, there no movement of the Head-Box DS while adjusting the volume.  All buttons, inputs and outputs are all clearly marked.
     
    The only small design feature that could be tweaked is the layout or more the tightness of the button layout on the faceplate.  The input and volume buttons are awfully close to both one another and the jack plug.  While the buttons are still very much useable, it could benefit from a little distance put between controls and the jack plug.
     
    The compact construction is a quite nice for those (like me) who have a smaller desktop area and need the functionality that the Head Box DS can provide.  While I would not say the Head Box DS is made to be portable, it could be brought along if needed with a minimal footprint, though would add weight.
     
    P1060713.jpg
     
     
     
    *Use*
     
    The Head Box DS can provide multiple functions, with various input/outputs. 
     
    I used the Head Box DS directly through my Windows 7 computer via USB.  Before I connected the unit itself, I made sure to download all drivers and applications directly from Pro-Ject website first (I did not use the included CD).  After that, set up was straight forward and easy to complete.  The last step was to make sure the input was set to USB, which it was, because that is the default.  Within minutes, I had the Head Box DS running SACD and FLAC files through Foobar2000 (Asio).
     
    A small and possible [loud] concern I have is the default volume of -36db.  While for more demanding headphones, this is not a problem, but will need to be a little careful with headphones with lower power needs.  So depending on what a consumer is using, they might have to remember to put down the volume, right after turning it on, or suffer a loud playback.  Though Pro-Ject does warn of this in their user manual:  
     
     
    For volume control, the Head Box DS makes use of buttons instead of a physical control knob.  There are plenty of steps (87 to be exact) to tune the volume to your liking.  For small individual steps, one click will do.  For a quicker volume response, you can hold down the + or – to speed up the steps.  Personally, I like an actuated volume know for quicker control and it can be set at zero, but I’ve easily learned to adapt to the button process.
     
    A nice feature is the DAC only out via RCA (L/R).  I use this to send audio to my Orb Speaker system, which already has its own amp.  The two devices play together very nicely.  The only thing that could really make this compact DAC/Amp a little more versatile would be with an added Optical Out option.
     
    As you can see, I use the Head Box DS primarily for my Headphones and Orb Speakers.  Though, there is just one little problem about that.  If I am using my speakers at some point, leave both units on and then put in headphones into the jack plug, it will still play music through the speakers as well.  So, unknown to me, the first time, everyone in the house was sleeping and here I think I am just pushing music through my headphones, but in reality, I am pumping out that same music through the speakers at the same time for the rest of the family to hear.  Luckily I noticed the weird “Soundstage Echo” and quickly turned off the speaker amp.
     
    The LED screen is nice, crisp and bright.  It is easy to read the input and volume level at various angles.  The only slight issue is that there is no way to control the brightness, but I find the default setting to be good for viewing.
     
    P1060709.jpg
     
     
     
    *Sound*
     
    Without getting into the whole burn-in debate, I can easily state that this Head Box DS got a lot of use, long before I started my official testing.  I actually wanted to work on this review a week before this publishes, but life got in the way.  I know, how rude.  As it would have it, this was actually quite the good thing.  It gave the Head Box DS time to mature, time to grow, time to sound better than out of the box.
     
    My little family of four is moving soon and we have all been sick, so the house in a constant state of packing and medicine everywhere. My wife would always ask if I could play some music in the background while we were either cleaning up or packing.  Since the Head Box DS was hooked up to my Orb Speaker System, I was quite happy to start it up and play some sweet toons while we worked.
     
    During this time, I would also get a few minutes here and there to get a quick listen with headphone on, but not for much length of time.

    Though last night, that all changed.  I FINALLY got a chance to sit down with the Head Box DS and really give it a good testing.  Here are my findings:
     
    Lows – This is where I noticed the most defining trait of the Head Box DS.  It likes to tone down the bass a bit.  When I’ve used the Ultrasone Edition 8 Carbon in other devices, I found them to be a little on the bassy and warm side.  When I use the 8 Carbon with the Head Box DS, the bass is quickly calmed and controlled, giving them a more detailed and neutral sound signature.  My next thought was, why oh why did I sell my Sennheiser HD650?  They would have paired extremely will with the Head Box DS.  I must get myself a pair again now.  The toned down bass it by no means a negative, if anything it helps create a much cleaner overall sound to almost everything I threw at it.  The bass is still there, but it is much more focused and easier to hear it move around the lower frequencies.
     
    Mids – Vocal clarity and presentation is just fantastic.  I was really not expecting this in this price range.  I just thought it would be nice little desktop DAC/Amp.  With the ever so slight reduction in lows, the Head Box DS really thrives to bring out an almost analytical feel to most headphones you throw at it.  It is like you are hearing them for the first time, or in a new light.  This new found light will illuminate details that you might have missed in the past.
     
    Highs – The upper range stay true to itself and sonic reproduction.  I did not hear any colorization to inhibit proper and accurate playback in the highs, instead you are greeted with well executed clarity.  While the lows might be slightly tamed, the highs never suffer from any peaks or harshness; instead they seem to be the most neutral of the sound signature. 
     
    Noise – The Head Box DS does a fairly good job staying quiet, even at low frequencies with finicky CIEMs when pushing them to the floor.
     
    Balance – Not sure why, but I have ran into issues testing DAC/Amp combos with poor channel imbalance at lower volumes lately.  I’ve even had to send a few test units back for this very reason, but not with the Head Box DS.  It does a wonderful job keeping itself balanced, all the way down to zero.  Normally this would be just something I would leave out, but I just wanted to mention it because of recent products I have head to deal with, but will not mention at this time.
     
    Soundstage – I did not notice much of a change here.  The Head Box DS kept itself  right in the middle here and there is not much to report.
     
    P1060702.jpg
     
     
    *Comparison*
     
    Of the current DAC/Amps I currently own, the AudioTrak DR.DAC3 (full review coming soon) matches up quite nicely against the Head Box DS.
     
    P1060716.jpg
     
    Both are priced around $400 and share a compact form factor.  The Head Box DS does weight about twice as much with its heavier, thicker metal frame.
     
    The DR.DAC3 uses a typical volume knob, which I personally enjoy.  The Head Box DS does make smart use of the buttons, but control can become tedious at times and create a little clicking noise every time they are pressed.
     
    The DR.DAC3 also has dual headphone in design, which is great when trying to compare headphones side to side.  With the Head Box DS, you have to switch out the cables as fast as possible. 
     
    Yet one nice feature the DR.DAC implements is the optional Optical Audio Out.  While this can be done without, it is just nice to have, that the Head Box DS does not.
     
    As for software installation, the Head Box DS was a breeze, while I'm still fighting a little with the Dr.DAC3 to get it to work correctly, frankly it has been a PITA.  So glad the Head Box DS did not give me any trouble at all.
     
    The Head Box DS has a slight edge on clarity and over all presentation.  While the Dr.DAC3 is no slouch in its own playback, it does show a bit warmer signature.
     
     
     
    *Overall Thoughts*

    There is a lot to like about the Head Box DS.  It has a great detailed sound, even more so for this lower price range.  The build is solid, yet still compact.  The subtle drop in lows makes way for a more analytical and accurate playback of most devices.   The DAC only RCA out is great for use with Desktop speaker systems, helping to bring out their best.
     
    There are a few tweaks that could be made to improve the Head Box DS a little more.  Start off with a slightly lower –db volume as default.  Maybe squeeze in an Optical Out, if possible.  Spreading out the button lay out to give each a little more space with be a nice touch as well. 
     
    If could have my way and could build the perfect Head Box DS for me, I would change the buttons for knobs, add a second headphone jack plug and change the RCA out for Speaker out (so I could use my Orb units without the use of an added amp).  Then it would be the only desktop unit I would ever need.  Call it the Head Box DS-B (B for BloodyPenguin).  Fingers crossed!
     
    Overall, the Head Box DS is a VERY easy recommendation, because it does the one thing us audiophile want, it produces a great sound for its price point.  
     
    --
      WayneWoondirts and Spirulina780 like this.
    1. WayneWoondirts
      nice review!
      we'll see how the Head Box DS-B turns out :wink:
      WayneWoondirts, Mar 18, 2016