The Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies is one of the most beautiful audio products I've ever used. For my money it approaches a level of design grace comparable to that of Apple products. The 5-inch cube headphone amplifier has two vacuum tubes protected by a thick glass cover. The WA7 also has a built-in 32-bit/192kHz USB digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and lots of custom-made parts, including dedicated nickel alloy output transformers. There's a 6.3mm jack for home-style headphones, and a 3.5mm jack for portable ones. That's noteworthy, as few headphone amps have both jack sizes. The … Read more
Schiit Audio's very first product, the Asgard headphone amplifier, left me shaken and stirred back in 2010. It sold for $249, looked and sounded amazing, and to top things off, it was made in the U.S. -- not just assembled here. Most of the Asgard's parts are sourced from U.S. companies.
The Asgard is still in company's product line, and it's still $249. But Schiit has grown since then, and now offers a full line of more expensive headphone amps and USB digital-to-analog converters (DACs) -- which is great. But the company's most recent offerings sell for just $99 each! The Magni headphone amp and the Modi DAC are also made in America, and they sound spectacular. … Read more
Rewind the clock back five years and Oppo was the "go-to" brand for DVD players, with the Oppo DV-981HD one of the best models available at the time. Then Blu-ray happened, and Oppo saw little initial competition for its first Blu-ray player. But since 2009, the Blu-ray player market has shrunk: titans like Sony and Panasonic no longer make premium players and instead opt for cookie-cutter "wedges" with plastic build quality, yet good performance and cheap prices.
Oppo has stuck to its design and philosophical guns, and has now released its third set of players, the … Read more
Late last year I raved about the ADL by Furutech Cruise USB digital-to-analog headphone amplifier, so when the company sent over the new Esprit desktop digital-to-analog converter, I was eager to see what it could do.
I had the 2.3-inch-by-5.8-inch-by-7.4-inch component on my desktop for a few months and I was a little concerned that I was starting to take it for granted. It sounded so utterly natural that I listened to it a lot longer than I needed to write a review, and that's always a good sign. I ran it with my Emotiva airmotiv … Read more
Some "portable" headphone amplifiers aren't all that small, but the Firestone Audio Fireye Mini is downright tiny.
It's just 1.5 inches by 1 inch by 0.5 inch, and the soft-rubber-shelled amp weighs almost nothing, so you can hang it off your iPod, iPad, iPhone or any device with a 3.5mm headphone output. Plugging in a headphone turns the Mini on and lights a bright blue LED, unplugging turns the amp off. Charge the Mini via the USB connection and it'll play for up to 24 hours. It's available in green, gray, purple, red, and white.
The AudioQuest DragonFly is a USB-powered (it doesn't use batteries or an external power supply) digital-to-analog converter. I usually need some time to get a handle on the sound of a component, but within minutes of plugging in the tiny $249 DAC I knew exactly what made it so special. It sounds clear and clean, so there's less standing between the music and my ears.
The DragonFly is a bona fide audio component, designed by Gordon Rankin, a man known in audiophile circles as a great tube electronics engineer, but Rankin is also a computer audio guy. He's one of the few DAC designers with equal depth of knowledge in analog and digital audio technology.… Read more
I was shaken and stirred by the Bowers & Wilkins P5 on-ear headphones back in 2010. It set a new standard for sumptuous sound and build quality for very small, on-ear headphones. Designed with portable music players and phones in mind, the P5 was definitely a step up from most ear buds, and the sound was easy to listen to over the long haul. The P5 ($300) is still around, but B & W recently introduced a similar, but less expensive model, the P3 ($200).
When I unboxed the new one I decided to first judge it without directly comparing … Read more
I've reviewed my share of portable headphone amplifiers, but ALO's new Rx-MK3B just might be the best on a number of counts. First, the amp is compact, just about the same size as an iPhone, but twice as thick. ALO invested two years of engineering and development time in the Rx-3B, and makes it in the U.S.
The Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo is a portable digital-to-analog converter designed only for use with iPhones, iPads, and iPods, but it won't work with computers (it's not a USB DAC). There are precious few portable DACs that can … Read more
British audiophile brand Arcam appears to be making a greater effort to go mainstream these days with products such as the Arcam rCube iPhone dock and now, an entry-level USB DAC/headphone amplifier (amp) combo.
Meant as a smaller (and cheaper) alternative to the rDac digital-to-analog converter, this model only has a single USB input, with an asynchronous DAC. Audiophiles tend to prefer asynchronous USB inputs on DACs for the more consistent audio quality they're supposed to provide as the device creates the clock signals and not the (sometimes ancient) USB controller.… Read more
I heard about the Wadia 151PowerDAC from my friends at Magnepan, who make some of my favorite flat-panel speakers. They loved the way the 151 brought their fourteen-inch tall Mini Maggie speakers to life. That's great news, because when I auditioned the Minis at the factory last year (before they tried the 151) the speakers were hooked up to a massive Threshold stereo power amp. The Threshold/Maggie system was, by a large margin, the best-sounding desktop system I ever heard. Using a monster amp like that wasn't a practical solution for most buyers, but now with the … Read more