Audio: Listen to this article.
Just another value proposition or the perfect package below 1500$/€?
The Audiophonics DAW-S250NC streaming amplifier & the Q Acoustics Q3030i 2-way speakers review
This is the first of a two-part, combined review of the Audiophonics DAW-S250NC streaming amplifier and the Q-Acoustics 3030i 2-way stand-mount speaker. While the second part provides an in-depth interview with Audiophonics co-founder David Aubert, the sound bites with subjective impressions of and a bouquet of final thoughts about the components and the system as a whole, this first part introduces both – speaker and AIO-Amp – in detail and offers some insights about the manufacturer / distributor Audiophonics.fr from France.
When Audiophonics announced their latest “assembled-in-France” Hypex NCORE based All-In-One integrated amplifier last November I got in touch with David Aubert, asking for a DAW-S250NC as a review unit. Chris enabled his contact to the French importer of Q-Acoustics and when Springtime arrived, I had a complete system including the Q3030i bookshelf speakers connected with 3-meter (10 inch) copper OFC cables made by Dynavox (another budget proposition!) to the Audiophonics DAW-S250NC in my listening room.
The Q-Acoustics 3030i stand-mount loudspeaker
About Q Acoustics:
The Q Acoustics brand is owned - along with established specialist audio brands Goldring and QED cables amongst others - by the British audio manufacturer armourHOME, which in addition operates as distributor for GRADO and iFi Audio in the UK.
Q Acoustics had been inventive on the home cinema & small and affordable Hi-Fi speaker markets since 2006, impressing with innovative design decisions and a range that includes the lauded Concept series, the Q actives and since 2018 the 3000i series. It is designed as an everyday 5+1 component range, featuring top models (3030i, 3050i) with extraordinary low end - both dig deeper than 48hz - individually allowing some pure stereo pleasure. Since mid-April 2023 the brand new 5000er series is promoted and perhaps we’ll see an adventure into immersive audio soon.
As many of us could have read in the last years, this (cost)-engineering venture of Q acoustics allows them to sell their products for quite affordable prices, even their top models do not cross over into the 5-digit zone, yet.
The design language of Q Acoustics is deduced from the cabinet construction. In order to obtain a volume of 12.54 liters suitable for the desired low frequencies, the manufacturer effectively encloses 19.8 liters, i.e. more than 1/3 is used for the resonance limiting structure. Analog to the complete 3000i range, the 3030i features Q Acoustics' unique point-to-point bracing concept. This computer-aided process provides targeted and precise cabinet support, so the cabinet is supremely rigid and unwanted vibrations are banished. One of the basic principles of Q-Acoustics’ science is the low vibration of the cabinet, which is achieved through that namely technology, that was used first with the brand’s 500s series.
Alex Munro, the brand director from armourHOME has explained the circumstances in this Interview:
“So when we improved our 3000 series to 3000i, we incorporated point-to-point bracing in all of the models except the subwoofer, and we put the Helmholtz Pressure Equalizer in the floor standing 3050i. You get this trickle-down benefit if you can afford to do it within the budget, and we managed to do so in the 3000i which has been very helpful for that range!”
Considering the product details, it can be stated that the 3030i is a smaller version of the 3050i floorstander, but due to space limitations it has to do without the "HPE™ (Helmholtz Pressure Equalizer) technology designed to “convert pressure to velocity and reduce the overall pressure gradient within the speaker enclosure”.
Both drivers - the aramid-fiber bass-midrange drivers and the mechanical decoupled silk dome tweeter - have been carried over from the bigger sister with intentional adjustments for performance.
3030i – The design
Designed as a reflex speaker, the 3030i can be placed close to the wall, even though the 10-inch depth of the cabinet at first seems to suggest a free-standing installation on the manufacturer's purpose-designed stands. Still, the concept of backfiring bass ports allows us to use them in less space independent environments – and the minimal depth of the cable plugs show the proper intention to literally fight for very inch in order to qualify the 3030i for both use cases with a wider variety of consumers. However, it helps to have a support surface of at least 35 cm / 12 inch.
While the chassis radiates nice visually and the surface of the speakers feels quite valuable, you may notice by some small - less important - details such as the Q acoustics sticker or the magnet-held covers, which indicates we have not yet left the budget area. I would leave the grille in the box and eventually peel off the sticker with the Q emblem without leaving any residue ...
The 3030i consists of the low / midrange driver in the format of 6.5”and a 22mm (0.9”) dome tweeter that is decoupled from the rest of the cabinet to minimize stray vibrations. If you look at the drivers you’re left with the impression that they simply don’t leave lots of surface estate on the baffle.
Design wise, the 3030i shows quite amenable looks with an oversized mid bass chassis and the class-typical silk dome tweeter. I would assume most people looking at this front baffle may find themselves surprised by the subsequent dimension beind. Once you’re over this first visual idea of a slightly oversized cherub, listening to these rather allows you to emphasize them as a “bundle of joy“.
The maximum recommended amplifier power information is provided by the manufacturer with 75 watts for 6 ohms, but the laboratory reports of various tests indicate rather 4 ohms. In my book they could be well driven from both, the Hypex NCORE 122MP and the 252MP modules. This reasonably small speaker could handle the power without a blink, but I never got close to party line volumes - even I played them quite loud from time to time. Anyway, they weren’t rarely in need of the excess power available from the amplifier under review. In combination with the Hypex NCORE 252 MP module, I did not set the amplifier higher than -15db, while it could deliver up to 230 watts into 4 ohms at 0db.
The speakers were placed 4 feet from the back wall, 2 feet from the side wall and fitted with the available foam plug. In addition, dual subs (XTZ 10.17) were used at times, which to my delight had an extremely positive effect on the overall impression in my listening room, providing perceived depth and acoustic space for the presentation.
In reality, the Q3030 may already be perfectly suited for working with the smaller DAW-S125NC amplifier of Audiophonics - and you might be less afraid about your toddler or grandchild turning up the volume manually. Although - here we have put performance before safety!
I have provided a link to a review at Thenextweb, which provides a larger and more objective set of measurement data. I tried the speakers with several amplifiers in my small listening room (3 x 5.5 m), and think they are fairly easy to play with.
Here are the technical specifications and the manufacturer's link to the user manual (there is an English only document at the end of this article)
Note: The 6 Ohm nominal listed 2-ways have shown a demand of 3.9 Ohm under laboratory conditions and a fairly easy to drive with their 88db sensitivity.
What did I hear?
From what I gathered from both, my 2 month with the 3030i & a good range of published reviews and measurements, the drivers are well designed and these speakers show an excellent musicality for the budget, the unique selling point are particularly their almost resonance free design.
I appreciated very much their deep range without subwoofers and their wide soundstage (solo & especially with subs). The midrange is detailed and balanced. After all, the tweeter shows a charming performance – always related to the price range.
While the midrange sounded well executed for a sub-500$ speaker pair and the top end, too, was quite satisfying for my taste. Still, I found limits in certain situations - like orchestral music – when they might show some weaknesses in separating instruments which I don’t regard as untypical for that market segment.
Being a fan of horn loaded ribbon tweeters I was nonetheless quite excited about how good the drivers of the 3030i managed the crossover point and aired the upper range for most recorded music – again - relative to their price point.
A youtube experience
You’ll find on youtube a review from a young man who compared these speakers versus a pair of Airpulse A300 pro studio monitors - for a desktop speaker system. He added a subwoofer to the 3030i in order to match the price difference, and found that they performed more convincing on his desk then their active rivals.
Please – don’t do that! Never!
The 3030i, which has more than 10 inch of depth - the A300 pro even needs 11.3 inch – would simply over-populate most desktop areas and I personally would feel it’s a waste of resources to limit them (both) to the desktop nearfield (10-20 inches/30 – 60 cm) and neglect the design proposal of Q’s engineering. When I tried to discuss my doubts about the guy’s testing scenario (and his findings derived therefrom) under his video, I was firmly dismissed. No questions permitted – millennial style.
Having had the 3030i in my listening space for a couple of months I can only confirm that I would never consider these as desktop speakers like the Airpulse A80 or the Kanto TUK. You can put hem close to a wall if this is a requirement for the setup – with a certain distance to the listening position, although having them perform on speaker stands will provide the audibly best outcome. (Same for the A300 pro).
A last quote of relevance:
"… These speakers are amazing. Reproduction is spacious and roomy, with well-spaced voices and a form of ease with large formations that one would not expect from such a compact 2-way speaker. Bass is powerful and deep. The upper part of the spectrum is airy and fruity, nuanced and expressive. The whole is perfectly integrated, extroverted, but never overloaded or fatiguing. This character gives the speakers a well-tempered form of realism in their ability to express emotion. This lays the foundation for a system that is as elegant as it is musically mature."
Audiophonics, a unique French online retailer come assembler/manufacturer, was founded in 2005 and made its name in the audio community as a leading European source for DIY audio, cables and importer of a wide range of Chinese audio brands. In almost 20 years they have established a range of in-house brands and the shop is renowned for their French work floor producing OEM elite design amplifiers from Hypex to PuRiFi with no frills & excellent build quality.
The brand offers also Texas Instruments chip based amplifiers for 30 Euros, too. Here, I would have doubts that these have seen a French work floor for assembling before being packaged.
Audiophonics has been founded by 3 friends, David Aubert, Nicolas Ferhat and Nicolas Guérin in equal equity and with a capital of 1.8k Euros in September 2005, just a ballpark hit away from the Gironde river in Bordeaux.
Word has it, to reach this impressive capital amount, they had to bring some computer hardware like a PC, keyboard, flat screen and a printer to the party. Their business purpose was specified as (Google translation of the founding document): ”The purchase or sale, directly or indirectly, by mail order, of any product directly or indirectly related to HIFI equipment”
As the setting up of the business was longer and harder than what was initially and naively planned, David and N. Guerin had to go their own way, but Nicolas Ferhat slowly continued with the development of Audiophonics and related brands. Almost 2 decades later, the company is owned and directed by Nicolas Ferhat alone since 2015, and David - a friendly and easy going audio enthusiast – has returned covering the international contacts for the company.
Albeit, their growth had been exceptional since 2016 and finances seem to be strong & pretty exciting.
Covering a product from a Hi-Fi distribution operating from France for an American website / forum with international audience may request some reasonable background info for our reader - thus we will cover specifically the North American market service situation in the 2nd part - as I was kind of lucky and David Aubert, one of the co-founders of Audiophonics, confirmed my interview request.
The complete Q&A can be found in part two of the review. David gave answers to a couple of questions, which allowed us to dig a bit deeper into the company’s terms for the US shipping policy, a point that might be of special interest as long as the US Dollar continues a strong relationship towards the Euro.
Currency, pricing & reality check:
The ensemble could be shipped for 1257,22 Euro / 1,331.14 US$ to US mainland, or to continental
Europe, for example to the Netherlands (with 21% VAT), for 1.470 Euros. (all data of August, 14th 2023):
To put this into relation with other shades of our audiophile hobby, you could spend that same amount of money easily as well on 5 feet of SR Atmosphere Alive SX Level 1 power cable (here), or perhaps adding a pair of solid subwoofers into the equation – which could be the case if you’d opt for SR’s Level 2 design. Always good to have options in life.
Obviously, “just a low budget solution” is one opinion about that combo, which might be all too fair, depending on perspective. Another one could be: “Performance & value for money”, that’s would be the one straight into my yard. Nevertheless - I need to admit - love and respect needs to be earned, and diligence is due on that combo. Let’s find out if this pairing will earn full respect and laudation or if you are better off with some natural sounding power cables … ;-)
The Audiophonics DAW-S250NC integrated AIO amplifier:
In November 2022 Audiophonics introduced 3 DA(W)-S models, which integrate either one or two OEM modules with Hypex NCORE amplification, inside a timeless AIO amplifier design that makes some light use of the Matrix Mini design language. The casework is solid and from good scratch resistant quality. The big display falls asleep after 40 second, the emote is functional and the rotary volume control works precise.
Their range of integrates AIO amplifier includes:
- The Hypex NC122MP module based DA-S125NC for 545 US$/599 € as the baseline for their integrated digital amplifiers.
- Equipped identically with a ESS9038q2m module populated, but more powerful - a version called DA-S250NC is available at roundabout 635 US$/699 €
- The top of the line model is the DAW-S250NC with supplementary Linkplay A98 module, costing 817 US$/899 € - which is the device under review. (all exchange rates as of 14th of August 2023)
The DAW-S250NC sports three different types of audio components, which will be under investigation here:
- a Hypex NCORE 252 MP Class D amplifier module with integrated SMPS,
- an ESS9038q2m DAC board with Bluetooth and
- an OEM streaming platform A98 designed by Linkplay and produced by Cloudecho, a Shenzhen based OEM integrator and DIY parts manufacturer. This streaming module is a low powered version of the WIIM Pro’s A98 board and controlled by the original WIIM companion app on Android or IOS.
The ailing US-Dollar isn’t really helpful for the French company at the moment, however their European competitors may face the same problems, and even more worst when they happen to produce their devices on an independent island sporting an almost United Kingdom. Thus, North Acoustic, another OEM integrator from the UK has announced comparable models in April 2023, which seems to be additional bad news for established Hi-Fi manufacturers like Cambridge Audio or NAD, that use the same Hypex amplifier modules / technology in an advanced software environment coupled some more features – at more elevated prices.
The EVO 150, i.e., saw already a constant price reduction about 10% to 2,699 Euros in 2023. A quick research provided the same trend for the USA and other manufacturers.
The Hypex MP252 OEM module
You might have already noticed, the amplifier module in question, based on Hypex NCORE technology, is often called the sweet spot of Class D amplification – likewise for manufacturers, assemblers and DIY-audio hobbyists in regards of the economy vs. performance ratio. In short: At that price you can provide audio excellence for at least 95 percent of the audience.
Just don’t focus on the last 5 percent and their perception of perfection.
Let’s find out why some leading audio companies love NCORE and what these main competitors of the device have to say about the qualities of their Hypex modules:
Cambridge EVO 150 (8 Ohm it is!):
“NCORE module – what made it stand out?”
“Hypex have developed their own way to further improve Class D, working mainly on the feedback loop. That's what distinguishes Hypex from other manufacturers, because it's their proprietary technology. This means that they achieved very low output impedance, no resonance at high frequencies, like many other Class D amps – this means there are no artifacts in the high frequency range. It also achieves extremely low distortion comparable to the best Class AB amps. The listening sessions confirmed that we prefer this solution to others.”
“Highly efficient and remarkably powerful, the Hybrid Digital nCore amplifier can produce musical transients effortlessly. The design is renowned for its wide bandwidth, flat frequency response, clean clipping behavior with instant recovery, high current capability, and stability into demanding low-impedance speaker loads. Noise and distortion are vanishingly low under all operating conditions. The minute levels of harmonic distortion are dominated by sonically benign second and third harmonics”
“NCore® is the first Class-D amplifier not just to nudge the best linear amplifiers, but to surpass them in every aspect relevant to sound quality. If you want the ultimate in clarity, resolution and musicality, there is no longer a reason to trade efficiency or compactness. NCore® technology combines the stability of UcD with improved load-independence, lower distortion and lower output impedance."
The TEAC Reference series also make use of Hypex NCORE designs for the 500 and the 700 series. And these have VU-meters! Design and quality may come at a price.
Audiophonics has outlined a voluntarily engineered limitation of power output in order to avoid overdriving (clipping) the unit with the incoming signal from the DAC. “The DAC level was intentionally limited because as a digital amplifier, we felt it was comfortable knowing that with maximum signal (0dB), and maximum volume, you reach the max power (or almost), without distortion.” (Audiophonics)
Consequently, the output voltage for the variable line-out is quite low at 0,8Vrms.
From the measurements side, the unit doesn’t approach state-of-the-art-performance-level, though it measures very well for an AIO in the sub-1k category. Its implementation keeps the customer on a safer side. Together with a fully functional remote control and a volume knob, your risk to overpower the amplification is “almost zero”.
The Hypex Class D power promise gives you enough headroom for
- Larger distances for listening position
- Inefficient speakers
- Highly dynamic performances, i.e. music with high Dynamic Range (DR) ratios like classical music or music recorded before the loudness wars
The combo achieved some astonishingly excellent separation, a voluminous soundstage, a very natural sound and doesn’t cut short on low end performance. Never congested but dreamy upper midst in combination with the 3030i and my old B&W 805s that were longing for the available power. I felt that the amplification – in relation to the price point – was almost faultless.
It needs to be underlined that you are always required to use both, the remote control and a controlling software on your phone/tablet/PC/MAC for the (best) listening experience.
Here are the manufacturer’s specifications:
The ESS938q2m module:
I have seen a couple of AIO devices in my listening rooms during the last 5 years, from which the MOON ACE at 3500 US$ and the Lyngdorf TDAI-3400 at almost 6k € were the notable frontrunners.
But even with the Moon ACE (in 2019) you would have got only an older DAC module (ESS9010k2m) which the company engineers knew very well to implement, although a design which would not live up to the engineering emphasis you perhaps would expect at the price point.
Cambridge’s Evo series – for example - uses the evolved ESS9018k2m series, whereas NAD with C399 converts through the well regarded & upmarket ESS9028 (not PRO) chip.
Other streaming integrated offers, like Rotel or Leema won’t disclose more than chip mfr’s name and some the chip’s core specs. My best bet would be that recent DAC technology is primarily for their more advanced component series.
Even I would have loved to see a module sporting the ESS9038pro DAC chip in this Audiophonics integrated, they deliver the conversion “only” through the well-established ESS Sabre 9038q2m. I would think that the chipset’s implementation and all its limitations are well exposed since its introduction in 2014.
If the implantation is done correctly, you may even have no need to take visual notice of the so called “ESS-Dump”, and enjoy a very clear and musical performance. Although as a streamer a letdown, the 9038q2m based Arylic HD-DAC sounded (2my ears) much better when using the DAC function only - while its overall performance was less than impressive in general. (edit: that device received an update!)
If you prefer a dual mono design with ESS pro type DAC chips, you either up your budget vigorously or refrain from integrated devices and select your DAC as additional component with better chips. Audiophonics obviously chose this DAC chip on a pre-designed platform because they have a proven record of its performance and some experience with the board.
Consequently, the DAC offers a complete digital bouquet supported by the XMOS208 chip and a Qualcomm QCC 5125 Bluetooth adapter for its digital inputs:
- Toslink up to 24-bit/192hz (tested via WIIM mini)
- Coax up to 24-bit/192kHz (tested via COAX output of iFi iDSD Micro Black Label)
- USB up to 24-bit DXD 352,8kHz (tested via USB from PC w/Foobar and RPI4 /w Volumio 3)
- best performance with 24-bit/192kHz
- USB up to DSD256 (tested with RPI4 with Volumio 3) – best with DSD128
- BT: LDAC up to 24-bit 96kHz (tested with Samsung S20FE / USB-APP / Android 12)
- BT: AptX HD (not tested)
There is only PCM over I2S, COAX and Toslink announced, and the DAC manages with multiples of 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz over USB/COAX, while Toslink was limited by WIIM mini to multiples of 48kHz. I refrained from testing DOP, simply because I never use it.
While DXD and DSD256 files are technically possible – the DAC chip accepts even up to 768kHz double DXD – in my view it’s not recommended.
My experience using USB Audio Class 2.0 Audio driver without distinctive XMOS over ASIO driver (typically from Thesycon) - using WASAPI or ALSA instead - have shown simply too many artefacts left in the presen-tation of DXD and DSD256. You could read in the manufacturer interview in the 2nd part why this is by design.
This device obviously doesn’t aim on the computer audio connoisseur with HQP player as a source, but serves the much bigger crowd of music enthusiast who want to generate the next step up from their Spotify account. Thus, I would personally probably tend to use a more capable DAC and perhaps a dedicated headphone amp.
At the other hand, I know a lot more people who would enjoy the DAW-S250 NC in real life than people pointing fingers at a lack of totl streaming performance or DXD capabilities.
To serve people already owning a DAC of their personal choice, Audiophonics has a couple of NCORE 25x module based power amplifiers available, i.e. another integrated amplifier called HPA-S250NC in dual mono design and with two selectable analog inputs (RCA/XLR) for 100 Euro (incl. TAX) less on offer - at 799 Euros / 727 US$.
The Linkplay A98 module:
The DAW-S250 NC uses the 2021 Linkplay A98 M-22 V02 OEM module from Shenzhen Cloudecho, which according to this document has 256MB RAM and 256MB FLASH capacity. Even this doubles the WIIM mini configuration; it merely provides only half of the recent WIIM pro’s capacity.
From another angle, the main task for that streaming module is to keep the cables away from the system.
Although the BT 5.0 connectivity may simply serves as backup for the Qualcomm QCC5125 LDAC / AptX-HD chip, which already sits on the DAC module, the Wi-Fi proposition of UPnP / DLNA and firmware/companion app by Linkplay - using either 2.4 or 5 GHz bands - just sounds very promising.
Unfortunately, I feel that we have seen the WIIM product update cycle slowing down in recent month for several reasons. The Mini platform just got a bit overcrowded by demands for rather marginal services and then the crowd left the party and went forward to the Pro / Pro Plus design.
I had noticed that they worked eagerly on MQA - pushed by them loudmouth supporters – even Steven and I warned them about the financial situation of both MQA and Tidal weeks before MQA went south.
From what I’ve read the Pro device performs quite well on the digital side, but doesn’t live up to the splendid experience with the Mini last summer in terms of price/performance. The reasons seem to lie within QC problems and the lack of software experience for the additional modules.
En plus, they did not change the DAC chip, which many Mini users had hoped for. Update August 2023 - They did that finally with the WIIM Pro device.
The use of the excellent WIIM companion app may allow you to catch up with all the services that are available right now, however, the firmware for the hardware client was still as of December 2021. That’s the caveat of dependencies you can’t control.
The streaming device and the app work basically faultless, when you use it with Qobuz, local storage from your cell phone or via UPnP. However, I would raise doubts that you can cast Chromecast (confirmed, you can’t), Alexa, Amazon Ultra HD or participate on the ROON readiness when it will be finally certified. Ergo, we’ll rectify developments after the next firmware upgrade. Until then – and if this software feature is indispensable – it looks like a strong case for looking towards the DA-250 combined with the WIIM Pro/Plus module under a constant upgrade stream as an alternative.
There is, although, the route to ROON, when using the device as Airplay-endpoint. Here as well, the number of ROON user interested in this type of device might be limited.
As such, it seems to be a bit difficult for seasoned audiophiles to accept the DAW-version with integrated streamer – but it could be possible if one would need the cable-less integration with the special AIO comfort as a premise. Which means, this is rather a nice to have feature - in my personal opinion – perhaps it’s not the most unique selling point for the advanced audiophile clientele?
The Wi-Fi experience:
The technical performance of the device raises some additional questions, as the CL-99-WB module - imo - doesn’t live up to the audiophile family members it shares its housing with. You can see it already at the fact sheet and I could recognize it by ear in my listening room, at times.
The worst moment was when the Wi-Fi saturated under the 5GHz network, which can happen after a while (10-14 days) without a complete restart through the (then backlight) Wi-Fi button. Hand measured I got a 10db lower performance which made me really wondering what I did wrong.
Obviously, it’s the better choice to use 2.4GHz with the DAW, and if you ever feel some degradation in sound, press the reset button on the back side just for 5 seconds. The short cut back to performance.
Let me underline, that this problem occurred only twice, and my biggest issue was to troubleshoot the source of the problem - because at first - I even didn’t know that I could press the button beside the antenna for that! Hence, the manual was still in need to be updated. These are minor quirks which happen if you deal with brand new products – but your beta testing helps your manufacturer of choice to stay upfront in the game.
The hardware supports as well the use of BubbleUPnP app in conjunction with your local audio apps and available DLNA libraries inside the network. Given its Linkplay provenance you’ll find most options that made the WIIM famous as a streaming service puck.
Here are the specs for the Cloudecho CL-99 WB device (from the Audiophonics website, bold my emphasis)
USP, options and alternatives
Looking at the device from a Joe Sixpack perspective, I can see several unique selling points (USPs):
+ Design + Build quality
+ Sound quality
+ Price, Price, Price
+ Optional ideas (vinyl, multiroom, Subwoofer)
Although this AIO is less equipped than most of its competitors which start at 3x the price, it’s a serious & dedicated budget proposition. The manual could be found here or at the end of this article.
Voilà, if money is more important than nice to have features, the DAW-S250NC is the one to beat.
For completeness, here’s a list of additional features I could love to see - accepting to pay up to 500$ more:
- Analog Inputs
- High pass filter for subwoofer out
- Software updates on the firmware
- Double mono DAC design – we can already find it on the Audiophonics homepage.
- Asio drivers for the DAC
- Input for USB drives
- Wi-Fi reset through remote control
- + finally: Headphone output and phono input
We would then arrive at more features than the Peachtree Carina that has hit the market at 2.5 grand in January and speaks a related design language. Think again, if you or the person you would advise would need all of these additional (nice to have) features, when streaming is the basic form of music consumption.
From a different angle
If funds in general or priorities in particular would be more limited/different:
- The cheapo solution: Assuming I would look straight into an affordable integrated amplifier, I’d take the DA-S250NC / 3030i (tested here this week) combo without hesitation & within a heartbeat, pair them with an RPI4 on USB or another streamer of my/your choice. Even the WIIM mini could do if budget is primary and the RPI4 situation still doesn’t serve market demands.
- A solution for advanced economics: There are 2 devices that come to mind as an more advanced streaming solution, the WIIM mini upgrade WIIM Pro. A unit that offers additional digital and analog inputs (not providing RIAA eq – you would need a Phono Pre within the signal chain) or its “Swedish distributed - China produced” Audio Pro Link 2 sibling, which uses a slightly better DAC (TI PCM1798 vs ESS9023), but a less performant Linkplay A98 module, showing the exact same limitations on the analog inputs. However, it looks a bit more solid and – in my eyes – just a tiny bit nicer.
- The streamer question: It seems to be a safe bet that the coming 24 months will see a new streaming champion in the segment below 400 Euros, perhaps even below 200 USD. So why bother now and buy technology that has already peaked last year? Pls. see below.
- An alternative from the Audiophonics storefront: As I did a re-design of this review in August, the WIIM Pro Plus has just arrived, using a serious DAC chipset from AKM (AKM 4493SEQ). Combining it with the standard packaged version of NC252 amplifier, the MPA-S250 NC for 499 Euro would leave you with a financial advantage of 135 USD/ 150 € incl. tax (899€ vs. 749€) – however! – and dealing with the sometimes overlooked risk of a digital volume control through your mobile phone only.
That’s why I regard the DA/DAW series the better solution - for beginners and risk averse connoisseurs!
Three enhancements to consider:
- CD/SACD transport: think about making best use of the (to my ears) clean sounding COAX input.
- Active Subwoofer(s): the 2nd consideration would be the use of subwoofers through the RCA outputs, I found it worked quite well in combination with the Q Acoustic 3030i, once the subs were properly adjusted. Low pass filter recommended.
- Vinyl If you have a Wi-Fi or a BT vinyl deck with BT 5.x (Apt-X HD, LDAC) then you may be already part of the targeted audience. Allowing some additional analog-digital conversion for your black gold could be the perfect rationale for this budget friendly solution.
If you have a 1k$ vinyl device waiting for a phono pre amp, you may look elsewhere ;-)
Part 2 of this review offers you an in-depth interview with Audiophonics, a thoroughly selected list of listening impressions from my Qobuz playlist and plus some final thoughts.