- Apr 8, 2009
Late last year I decided I needed to have a clear out and sold a number of items allowing me to put aside some funds to replace my Audio Technica ATH-ESW10 Japan closed-back headphones. I had the hinges on these replaced three times and when the hinges began cracking again, I was told it would not be possible to replace the hinges again.
So, when I came across a Black Friday deal on a pair of Ultrasone Edition 8s at an almost 70% discount, I knew what had to be done having admired the Edition series prior to purchasing the more affordable ATH-ESW10s.
It didn’t take me long to realise these headphones were just not performing at their best and I’d need to get myself a portable DAC/amp. After much research and review reading, I’d decided that the XDuoo XD-05 Plus what was I was after, a smallish, powered DAC/amp that could work with my iPhone 6 Plus (apparently).
I’m not going to bore you with the unboxing as there is plenty to be found on this but what I will raise is the subject of the missing Lightning to USB-C cable. No big deal I thought to myself, I’ll get one of these from Amazon… only to discover it wasn’t that simple. This an Apple Lightning cable that was specially designed by Apple not to deliver digital audio, that's right, you need a special decoder chip in the cable for this ‘feature’ to work. So after purchasing a clunky overpriced Apple Camera Connection Kit, AKA Lightning to USB-A cable we were up and running. The cable was really bugging me though – it was horrible and I had to find a digital audio cable that worked.
This is when Penon Audio came to the rescue with their “Type-C to Lightning 8 Cores OCC Silver-plated Decoding Cable”, best of all, not only does this look awesome and is a tidy length with right angled connectors, it actually works.
I’m not going to beat XDuoo up over this as I suspect there are some licensing issues here as this decoding chip I imagine could have also been integrated into the DAC/amp itself. The purchasing experiencing from Ali Express was surprisingly good, fast shipping, a great Black Friday discount plus I got a screwdriver and an additional pair of Opamps to try out.
The only other change I made to my setup was to add some small silicone feet vs. the huge ones that come with the DAC/amp and to add a small amount of silicone jointing compound to the font bezel lip that covers the top of the chassis that makes a slight resonating sound when you place the DAC/amp on a hard surface.
Now we’re getting somewhere – plugging this in and getting sound out of my headphones for the first time was a huge improvement over the straight connection to my iPhone allowing me the option, based on my situation to kick it up a notch or two but how about one more? So, I discovered a couple of things with iTunes and my iPhone settings. The first was a feature called ‘Sound Check’. This feature allows you to make all of your songs play at the same volume. Sounds great and hasn’t really been a problem until now – maybe it's due to how this works through the DAC. Either way the volume isn’t really reduced but clipped producing the occasional fuzz at certain frequencies. I use an app iVolume to make these adjustments so it doesn’t add any value and suggest you disable this feature if you have a similar experience.
Another feature of the iPhone is that it can only output at 44.3Khz vs. 192.0Khz that I get using my Amazon Music. Apparently, the human ear can’t really tell the difference and it's the sampling rate that's important here. Comparing tracks I’ve sampled at 320kbps and Amazon Music, the overall sound appeared smoother, clearer and without artefacts or perhaps it my iTunes AAC recordings – jury is out on that one currently.
Plugging this into my 2009 Mac Pro worked like a charm. The XDuoo is picked up immediately, no software required, just a device selection change from the volume menu.
Now I’ve figured out a number of the limitations of my setup and some of the workarounds, can I get this setup to sound any better? Let’s see.
I decided to get my hands on a Burson V5i-D opamp to complement my XDuoo XD-05 Plus portable DAC/amp setup as I’d read a number of positive reviews on overall sound improvement and wanted to experience this for myself first-hand. When I had the opportunity to pick one of these up for the right price, that was when I decided to pull the trigger on my first Opamp upgrade.
Having had the V5i-D since Christmas I’ve had some time to run it in and see how it fairs against the standard Opamp that comes with the XD-05 Plus which I though was pretty good already.
So, what were my initial impressions? The sound stage on my newly acquired Ultrasone Edition 8s is a huge improvement over my Audio Technica ATH-ESW10 Japan headphones so wasn’t sure where we could go from here.
The first thing I noticed tuning on my DAC/amp and listening for the first time with the Burson V5i-D was the sound stage had clearly improved over the standard Opamp which really hits you. The dynamic range is quite noticeable adding what seems like more space between the mids, highs and lows improving the overall sound clarity. I think its these improvements that bring out the overall staging effect to the point where you can almost locate the instruments on some tracks.
Bass is not overpowering and significantly smoother and rarely do I need to boost this. The mids tend not to fade as they did somewhat previously with the sound separation, I described earlier that really helps bring out the highs.
While there are a few quirks like it takes a while to recharge the XD-05 Plus it does hold significantly more than its predecessor. And while I’ll have to give the XDuoo folks a break on the Lightning cable it would have saved me a lot of time and hassle if this was made clearer at the time though actually finding a cable turned out to be harder to figure out.
Overall this is a great little, well portable, DAC/amp with the added plus of upgrading the Opamp. As several others have observed, the ¼” jack isn’t such a big deal as you’d expect though having a balanced jack would have been nice except, I’d have to get my Edition 8’s re-cabled which I’m not ready to do just yet. I’m very pleased with the sound quality and with the Burson V5i-D installed it’s just got a whole lot better.
If you are looking for an affordable upgrade or its your first time looking for a portable headphone amp you can use at home or at work, this little gem should find its way somewhere towards the top of your list.