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
I've frequently raved about Woo Audio's all-tube headphone amplifiers in this blog, so I was surprised to see that the company's new WDS-1 digital-to-analog converter (DAC) is a solid-state design. Woo still offers the full line of made-in-New-York-City headphone amplifiers, with prices starting at $495.
There's also a new matching WPT-1 CD transport. Build quality is superb; these components have the sort of detailing you see on high-end gear that sells for two or three times the price of Woo's products. Each unit is 9 inches wide and 13 inches deep so they can be … Read more
If you think a lot of audio has become far too complex, check out the Halide Design digital-to analog converters (DACs). They're plain black boxes, without even a single LED, display, control, button, or connector jack (the DACs come with permanently attached USB and RCA cables).
The elegant simplicity of the Halide Design DACs is a brilliant alternative to most of today's overly complex gear. They have just one function--zeros and ones go in at one end--and analog signals come out the other end. The little Halide black boxes are the best-sounding DACs I've heard on my … Read more
It seems like every time I write about a USB digital-to-analog converter or portable headphone amplifier I get a slew of reader e-mails requesting a review of one of Fiio's low-cost/high-performance audio components.
Pricing may be solidly in the affordable range, but don't for a second conclude Fiio's components aren't beautifully designed little gems.… Read more
Back in the day a hi-fi was simply a pair of speakers, an amplifier, a turntable, and maybe a radio or tape deck. Nowadays even the speakers are optional, and the rest of the system is an open question.
With "regular" speakers you have to think about getting an amplifier or maybe a receiver, and this is where it can get a little complicated. And what sources are you planning to play through the system: a turntable, CD player, iPod, radio, TV, games, or Internet radio?
You can eliminate the amp/receiver if you buy self-powered speakers (with … Read more
Audioengine is one of my favorite brands. For me it all started with their petite A2 speakers ($199/pair), and then I gushed over their P4 speakers ($249/pair). But Audioengine isn't the sort of company that reinvents its line every year or two. No, they invest a lot of time into designing great products, and then let them be. The A2 and P4 are still in the line, and are still stellar.
NuForce is a high-end company that makes an unusually wide range of products, from the tiny uDAC-2 portable headphone amp ($129) all the way up to the Reference 18 power amplifiers ($6,600 for a stereo pair). NuForce is based in Milpitas, Calif.
Today we'll be looking at the Icon iDo, a dedicated USB digital-to-analog converter/headphone amplifier designed to work with iPods, iPhones, and iPads, which cannot be used as a USB/DAC with computers. The iDo is awfully little, it's just 6 by 4.5 by 1 inches, and it shares its all-metal chassis with NuForce'… Read more
There's good sound, and there's high-end sound; the difference is in the details. Case in point: the little Cruise USB digital-to-analog headphone amplifier from Alpha Design Labs by Furutech.
The Cruise sounds clear, clean and remarkably transparent. Regarding the details, connectivity comes in two flavors, there's a 3.5 mm analog stereo line input and 24/96 USB digital input. The Cruise can run off its external AC power supply, internal rechargeable lithium ion battery, or USB power from your computer. Furutech claims the battery is good for 80 hours of playback time.
High-end gear has to look the part, and again the Cruise scores. It may be a little thing, but it feels solid. Mirror-polished, nonmagnetic stainless-steel end caps flank a curvy, high-gloss carbon fiber body. Resting on my desktop the Cruise absolutely looks the part; it's the real deal. … Read more
I wasn't expecting much from the Hifiman Express HM-101; it's just a $39 outboard USB digital-to-analog converter and headphone amplifier. Well, this tiny USB-powered (it doesn't need batteries or an AC power supply) device definitely pumped up the sound of my Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones! They sounded significantly better with the Express than they did plugged directly into my Mac Mini's headphone jack. Sure, the Mac's sound is perfectly acceptable--until you compare it to something better.
The Express is a lot better.
Before we go any further, the Express isn't just for headphones, it also has a line-out 3.5mm jack you can run to a set of desktop-powered speakers, like myAudioengine 2s. DAC resolution isn't specified, but it's probably 16-bit/48-kHz.
Switching over from the computer's headphone jack to the Express, the first thing I noticed was that the Express could play a lot louder. That's great, but when playing drummer Ginger Baker's "Going Back Home" CD at equal volume levels from the computer and the Express, the Express unleashed more of the drummer's hard-hitting dynamics. The computer squashed his sound, especially Baker's mighty bass drum. Wow, the little thing delivers. If anything, the Express errs on the side of too much bass fullness, which isn't such a bad thing.… Read more
A great headphone amplifier is one that makes headphones sound better than you thought they were. Judged by that standard, the Centrance DACport will be an awesome upgrade for buyers who have already invested in high-quality headphones.
This component, which was made in the U.S., is downright elegant in its simplicity. There's no power adapter or batteries; the Centrance DACport ($400) runs off your laptop or home computer's USB port, and it doesn't care if it's running Mac, PC, Linux, or iOS. The DACport has a 1/4-inch (6.3 mm) headphone jack at one … Read more