A Bargain Portable amp/dac to upgrade your listening experience
Pros: - Natural tuning
- Low power consumption
- Enough power
- Good build quality
- Precise 0.5dB volume control
- Control buttons
Cons: - Bulkier and heavier than the competition
The A30 was kindly provided by SoundMAGIC for review and evaluation.
The SoundMAGIC A30 is a USB portable headphone dac/amp with an embedded cable.
It is a small barrel shaped USB dongle with a 3.5mm output jack and a cable extension input that ends with an L shaped USB C plug.
A USB A-C adapter is provided for use with regular USB ports.
It is compatible with Android and Windows OS devices.
The recommended price is $55.
The A30 is small and portable with a total length of 10cm including the cable and a weight of about 11gr.
SoundMAGIC opted to include three small buttons for better control of the playback and volume without the need to reach for the connected device.
While you can't call it big or heavy it is larger than some of the competition and for our personal preferences we would ditch the extra buttons for a more slim and lightweight body.
Build quality is very good with a sturdy aluminum body and plug while the button area is made from a water resistant rubber.
The cable exterior is rugged and extra rubber reinforcements are used in the two cable entries in order to secure and protect it from bending.
Inside the A30 we are going to find the Cirrus Logic CS43131 high end chip with a dynamic range of more than 120dB.
This chip provides PCM output of up to 32bit/384KHz and high-resolution audio format of DSD64/DSD128/DSD256 decoding.
It is a low power audio DAC with a high-fidelity headphone amplifier to provide a superior system-level audio performance without draining battery life.
The integrated Class H smart adaptive headphone amplifier can drive 2 VRMS of output into 600 Ω.
It is rated at 62.5mW/16ohm and at 31.2mW/32ohm per channel.
It provides precision volume control with 0.5 dB step size and the power consumption varies from 6.25 to 40.2 mW at maximum.
Unplugging the headphone it will enter standby mode.
How to use it
Operation is very simple as it is a plug and play device without the need to install drivers.
iOS is not supported.
With Android OS it will take control of the native system volume so it is compatible with all the sound applications without the need to download something special.
The device is not compatible with phone calls as it will not allow to control the volume level.
Before accepting calls you should unplug it because it will automatically set the volume to the highest level.
Sound tests were performed with various easy loads like the SoundMAGIC E80 , FiiO FH3 and FA9 , Final Audio B3 and the bigger Soundmagic HP1000.
The HP1000 was a great match with very satisfying results.
As it is a 66Ω load it will trigger the high impedance mode and with a sensitivity of 120dB it gets pretty loud without distortion.
We have even tested higher impedance headphones like the Sennheiser HD660S or more difficult low impedance loads like the Drop HE5XX.
While volume level was sufficient enough the A30 was stressed and clipped running out of headroom.
When stressed it will sound harsh and bright.
As such we suggest that it should be used with low to medium impedance earphones of regular sensitivity.
With the above mentioned earphones the noise floor was very low and couldn't be heard.
Unfortunately we don't own any super efficient earphones to perform further testing.
The A30 is fast , balanced and neutral with an easy going tuning to it.
Bass that extends quite low is full sounding and well controlled with excellent dynamics.
Mids are flat , clear and well rounded while highs are smooth and non fatiguing but not recessed.
Detail retrieval is more than enough and soundstage is open and spacey with sufficient depth layering.
The sound is a mix of technical performance and musical enjoyment.
Nothing stands out and nothing is missing in the long run and as a result our ears are treated with a well blended sound that favours an analog organic presentation suitable for long term listening.
Vs the Zoorlo Ztella MQA dac/amp
The form factor is the same but Ztella body is much smaller and lightweight due to the absence of physical buttons.
It is powered by an ESS 9281CPRO DAC chip that offers MQA support but it is more expensive at $99.99.
A non MQA version is available with the ESS 9270C dac chip that costs $65 but it is still $10 more expensive than the A30.
Power output is 2Vrms for both devices and the main difference except the form factor is in the sound presentation.
Ztella is more detailed and refined with a better clarity throughout.
Sound is faster and a bit more dynamic with added control but on the leaner and bright side of things.
The A30 is not that far behind in overall technicalities and it is a more relaxed experience with an easy going character to it.
Both are good so as they say it's different strokes for different folks.
At the end
The SoundMAGIC A30 is an excellent sounding entry level portable dac/amp that is going to greatly improve your everyday listening experience.
With an easy going yet reference tuning and enough power for all your easy to drive earphones is able to suit all kinds of music and tastes.
At just $55 is an absolute bargain and it earns our highest recommendation with a five star price to performance ratio.