VE Odyssey HD Who are they? Venture Electronics is best known for the Monk and Monk Plus, 5 dollar earbuds that astounded audiophiles the world over. In addition, they have a star studded line up comprised of Earbuds, In ear monitors and headphone accessories as well as amplifiers spanning from entry level to TOTL. Their official website can be found HERE Introduction What can you actually buy with 10 dollars in this addictive but wonderful hobby of ours? A few years ago the answer would have been “not much.” But thanks to Venture Electronics that answer now has changed with the release of crowd favorites like Monk Plus and Odyssey. VE is adding to that list once again with the Odyssey HD - an all in one portable solution that promises to play nice with most devices and has enough power to run most headphones in your collection. The original Odyssey was a game changer - not only because it sounded great, but it sounded great while sporting a very small footprint and compatibility with a wide range of devices. And all of this was accomplished at a price point that was attainable for the average audiophile, putting good audio within the reach of the masses. My phone is my main music player for commuting and the original Odyssey was the perfect companion in this regard. It is small and portable while providing enough juice for all my on the go headphone needs. To my ears, it sounded better than the onboard phone audio output. For as much power it has while running off of something like a cellphone, it is capable of much more when plugged into a computer. All of this and more was available at a measly price of $10. Needless to say it has been received well by the community. The folks over at Venture Electronics have released the Odyssey HD, building on the excellent platform and value proposition of the original Odyssey. Not content to rest on their laurels, they have been diligently listening to feedback from the community and appears to have incorporated the most requested features, while at the same time addressing bugs. Why you should care The Odyssey HD (as well as the original) was designed with some specific goals in mind. For one thing, the Odyssey HD is not being billed (hehe I made a punny) as a replacement for dedicated desktop setups or TOTL hardware. It is not the end all or be all of portable devices either. The idea is to provide an easy to access platform that provides an audio upgrade over most onboard audio chips, be it phones or laptops. Aside from a few exceptions (LG V20, V30 etc), most manufacturers tend to go with cost saving audio chips that honestly doesn’t cut the mustard. Here is the thing, Venture Electronics could have just stopped at besting most onboard audio chips - but they didn’t. The Odyssey HD goes one step further - it provides a clean boost for headphones. In addition to a very good sounding dac, it couples in a clean and powerful amplifier that can drive the average headphone well. Again, all of this is being done at $10. I can’t stress this enough but the value proposition here is just nuts. This really could be the start of something special. The odyssey HD serves to provide a baseline performance that people can be confident with when trying new gears, or even upgrading. When I was starting out in this hobby there were no all in one compact units that would work seamlessly out of the box. The Odyssey HD has a familiar design that feels sturdy and premium. As with before, it will be bundled with a USB to USB-C adapter so it can work with computers out of the box. It is capable of driving all the high Ohm earbuds in the Venture Electronics line up and quite a few hard to drive over ear cans (for example AKG K7XX and Sennheiser HD600/HD650). From what I understand, the hardware specifications on the VE website (veclan.com) haven’t been updated yet, so don’t go by those figures as they pertain to the original Odyssey. It will pack more power running out of a laptop versus a phone and you shouldn't have much trouble using it with most headphones in your collection (within reason). Might want to be careful when using sensitive BA iems however. It will sound its best running out of something like a laptop or digital transport like the shanling M0. But wait, there is more thing - this time around, it has brought along a friend! Like I mentioned earlier, the Odyssey HD works with most devices but some of these will require the use of adapters - sometimes more than one (I am looking at you apple lol). Adapting to change But now iPhone owners can rejoice as a lighting to USB-C adapter will be available this time around, cutting down on cable clutter. This allows for a cleaner set up overall. For me this was a standout feature and I am glad that VE will be offering this. It was a pain to be carrying around multiple adapters before. Rumors are that this year’s iPhones will be switching over to USB-C so that’s even better as the Odyssey HD will be running straight into the phone (like with the iPad pro). Operation simplicity It just works! It was plug and play for me when it came to iPhones, Mac and Windows 10. The Odyssey HD was always recognized right away and is very easy to operate and I can see that VE had K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple Stupid) in mind when designing this thing. Sometimes less is more and this is one of those situations. All your bitrates are belong to us Though Venture Electronics has kept mum about hardware specifics, it appears that they have upgraded the DAC this time around with support for higher bitrate formats than before. I will be honest that I am perfectly fine with using 16/44 flac files but I know some people prefer 32 bit high resolution audio files so they would be pleased to know that the Odyssey HD is capable of decoding these files natively. Flashing is good for you! This next feature pertains only to Windows users - you can flash different firmwares on to the Odyssey HD. Please do note that you have to be on the latest windows update of windows 10 (1803 and beyond) otherwise your pc won’t recognize the Odyssey HD after the flashing process. So what good is flashing? For one thing, a new firmware can tweak the sound signature for a different flavor. More importantly, it can improve file compatibility over time. For example, one of the firmwares will allow native compatibility with 32 bit files (this particular firmware won’t be compatible for Mac or iPhone users so they should pass on this one). All in all, if you like to tinker and get the most out of your devices, I think the Odyssey HD will float your boat and then some. If you are worried about something going wrong and being stuck - Fret not, the process is entirely reversible and so if you don’t like the new firmware, you don’t have to be stuck with it. Microphone Input Interestingly, the Odyssey HD supports microphone input from headsets. This has been tested and confirmed to be working on Windows, as well as Mac computers so far. This means that in addition to better audio, owners of the Odyssey HD can still enjoy the inline microphone features of their favourite headphones. The more the merrier As like before, the Odyssey HD works with a wide variety of devices, including PC, Android Mac, iPads, iPhones, and Macs. It is even compatible with the Nintendo Switch and the PS4 pro, the latter of which will be limited to 24 bit. Give me powaaaaa WHAT THE HELL HOW MUCH POWER DOES THIS THING HAVE?? When running from my macbook pro, the Odyssey HD has enough power to run my HD600. Not even joking. It made my VE Zen LL and VE ZOE just sound like SEX. So full and musical, while also detailed. Going back to my HD600 - it not only provides volume but provides decent performance. While it doesn't run as well as my Aune S6 Pro + S7 pro combo (<3 my fav combo at the moment), it is respectable and convincing. I never felt like I was missing out on anything sonically. There was one glaring issue that annoyed me about the original odyssey. When it was plugged into a mac, plugging and unplugging headphones automatically would trigger itunes or the play function. This is of course not ideal since you don’t want to suddenly be blasted by audio when using sensitive iems. This is no longer an issue with the Odyssey HD Sound The Odyssey HD sounds noticeably better than the headphone out on my phone and is more pleasing to my ears than the headphone port on my macbook pro. After listening to the Odyssey HD with my favourite headphones, I found it to sound ever so slightly warm with great detail presentation. Compared to the last outing, the tuning feels more balanced and even this time around. I never felt anything was lacking when trying out my gears. I found it to sound especially well with the Monk plus and Zen Omega Edition. These two combinations have me listening to my spotify playlists late into the night. I am genuinely enjoying the listening experiencing and not worrying about the technical side of things like how detailed is the sound, dynamics etc. When comparing the Odyssey HD against the original Odyssey, there wasn’t a night and day difference. I was able to plug them both into my PC simultaneously (with the included USB adapters) and easily switch between them (after volume matching the two devices). I used a diverse range of songs to test the two devices (I have a very eclectic taste) and each time I preferred the sound signature of the Odyssey HD. Truth be told, it’s hard to comment on sound signature when it comes to DACs/Sources as it is highly dependant on the chain. What I can tell you is that they did tweak the sound and to my ears the newer Odyssey HD sounds more transparent, natural and overall more balanced. I found the older one to be warmer and more v-shaped. The newer one is more to my taste but as with most things in audio, YMMV as audio impressions are quite subjective. My experience The combination of the Odyssey HD, Monk Plus and Bonus IEM (+ iOS adapter) make up what I affectionately like to refer to as the Holy Trinity (or the wholesome foursome if you count the new iOS adapter) - the ultimate gateway drug. But don’t let that moniker fool you, there is enough performance here to please most people, and all of this is AGAIN at a cost that honestly boggles my mind. The Dream Team aka Wholesome Foursome Monk Plus, BIE, Odyssey HD, iOS Adapter The new Odyssey HD has been tuned in tandem with the Monk Plus (and the Bonus IEM). My thoughts on how the Monk Plus and Odyssey HD match up will closely mirror my previous thoughts on the original release, albeit with some minor changes. To call it a match made in heaven would be an understatement. I have heard the monk out of some seriously good gear but the way the Monk Plus was singing out of the odyssey HD was just something else - Synergy. This time around, it has been further refined. The Monk Plus sounds more even top to bottom and the bass sounds tighter than before. Just like before, the monk plus sounded so natural and balanced that it had me digging out my music collection on spotify and portable hard drive, just so I can experience it through this pair. The Odyssey HD pairs wonderfully with the Bonus IEM, their new IEM offering. This rambunctious duo provides a sonic soundscape that will have you bobbing your head and tapping your feet whether you are at home or outside. This pair sounds energetic, detailed and fun. Detailed without being fatiguing and fantastic separation and layering. After some tip rolling I found the bass to be controlled and tight while remaining impactful. The Bonus IEM + Odyssey HD has quickly become a favorite companion on my long commutes to work. What it all means When the original Odyssey was released, I was excited because it reminded me of the time when the monk was released and how it went on to take the audiophile world by storm. This device excites me in the same way - it will change how things are done and at a price point that is within the average listener's reach. The Odyssey HD + Monk Plus combo + Bonus IE will whet most people's appetite and serve as a delightfully dangerous gateway drug into the world of audiophilia.