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  1. You can view the page at http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content.php?r=688-Woo-Audio-WA7tp-Fireflies
  2. Brian

    Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies

    For those not familiar with Woo Audio’s offerings, the USA-based company has been making high performance loudspeaker and headphone amplifiers for several years out of New York. Owner Jack Woo has successfully piloted the company and built a substantial reputation for quality-made tube stage amplifiers. While the full product rundown includes loudspeaker implementations, most of Woo’s foothold in the marketplace comes directly from its large, perfectly incremental headphone amplifier product line. From their entry level single-ended OTL WA3 amp ($599) to the behemoth WA234 monoblocks ($15,900) Jack and the team have a little bit of something for everyone interested in analog listening. Keeping up with the times requires a bit more than just creating price touch points across a scale. The newest version of the WA7 Fireflies firmly addresses these changes in technology while also tapping into that elusive harmony which happens when the digital and analog realms collide. The two-part package starts at a cool $999 for the WA7 with a solid-state power supply by itself, with the WA7 tube power block costing an additional $749. Bundled together however, you will be able to save a little bit of scratch as the full tube package purchased at the same time will cost a mere $1,599.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] Both the solid state brick and matching tube cube attach themselves to the back of the main WA7 unit via a DC input port located on the back panel. A further inspection of this rear faceplate reveals why this new product is the interception of new and old. One of the first Woo products with an internal digital section, the new WA7 also receives USB input up to 24/384kHz. A pair of single ended RCAs can be found in close proximity to the digital port, and cleverly doubles as both an analog input and as an analog output for the USB connection. A three-way switch allows you to toggle between the USB/RCA inputs and analog outs. There is a two level low/high gain switch as well as a power toggle, however, if you purchase the WA7 the mirrored round knob on the front of the power supply also acts as an on/off switch when pressed in, but lacks a function for its rotational capabilities. When activated, the WA7 presents itself with a very satisfying glow from the four tubes that sit on top of the cubes. The main amplification of this desktop digital combo is pure tube class-A topology (with no semiconductors in the amplification path) and comes stock with a pair of matched Sovtek 6C45 glass for the main amp and RCA 5963 NOS for the tube power supply. Woo also sells additional tube upgrades direct from their site, and the amplifier is of course susceptible to all matter of tube rolling options that add an additional layer of customization to the hobby. The Sovtek 6C45 triode assumes both driver and power tube responsibilities. Perhaps one of the most eye-catching features of this combination amp/DAC is the solid block of glass that sits atop both boxes that allows the tubes to remain delightfully visible while providing a protective shell of sorts against random collisions for the tubes. The fully transparent block is striking and adds to the overall design in a very interesting way. It is important to note that the block does indeed rest on the unit and is not secured to the surface in any manner. It didn’t prove to be an issue during use, as general care is very much recommended whenever hot external tubes are employed in the design of an amplifier. The glass blocks did manage to do a significant job in dispersing the heat generated from the tubes. The lower section warms up a little as expected, but the top of the glass remains relatively cool to the touch. The WA7 comes together with an appearance that resembles a perfect cube, which proves to be a very pleasant design element to its overall cosmetic appeal. Its art-ish sensibilities do a great job of bringing something more visually to the desktop, without overdoing it. Like all things Woo, it is quite heavy for the size and feels durable against the elements of time. Even the little rubber feet on the bottom of each unit feel secure, while still responsive enough to absorb vibrations in proper form. There are two single ended headphone connections located on the lower right corner of the main amplifier unit. While the ¼” output may act like your typical full size audiophile headphone jack, the 3.5mm does not. Woo provided some more light on the subject: “The 3.5mm is designed for extremely sensitive IEMs, specifically made to deliver an ultra-low noise floor for these type of earphones. The 1/4” output is for all other headphones (8-600 Ohms).” In execution the 3.5mm did complement a pair of JH Audio Layla IEMs very well by allowing for a more even volume sweep with a reduced chance for low-level channel imbalance. The jump from no volume to ear bleeding can be frighteningly thin when it comes to sensitive IEMs plugged into full size amplifiers. The extra layer of security here was a welcome one in this scenario. So what makes this new version of the WA7 different than the previous iteration? According to Woo there have been several updates, including a new “high-resolution audiophile-grade DAC, improvements to the voltage regulator and the DAC is now powered by a linear PSU for better performance. There is also a new OP amp output stage, improved analog circuit, Teflon tube sockets, high-retention USB connector (orange color) and enhanced tube glow.” Specifics on the new choice of silicon boiled down to the SABRE ESS 9018M for digital signal management. “We tested many DAC chips, USB controllers and circuit designs. The ESS 9018M with XMOS controller sounded most musical. The new DAC supports Hi-Res up to 24/384kHz and is iOS/Android compatible with appropriate adapter, previously it was 32/192kHz.” The digital section indeed feels very 9018. While the chipset can vary quite a bit upon implementation, there is a mild consistency to the sound, if it is done correctly. Some high priced standalone DACs have been known to push the 9018 series even further, but its commonality in portable amp/DAC combinations as of late raises its frequency in the wild to near “everyday” values which help push the new benchmark for performance even higher than it was just a few years ago. The same holds true with the WA7, it is well executed and clean. No significant missteps in the transfer and no driver needed for connecting to my Macbook Air. Utilizing Audirvana Plus it was easy to select the DAC as the preferred audio device from the preferences menu. The digital connection showed up as “xCORE-AUDIO Hi-Res 2” and played succinctly without any further issue. The USB input comes off detailed and accurate with the tube section of amplifier rounding out the sound in an agreeable fashion. Comparisons to the more premium priced Auralic VEGA ($3,499) from the unbalanced inputs highlighted the organic and natural presentation the VEGA is known for, but put up a good fight in terms information retrieval and firmness. Overall the digital section feels accurate and on point for any 9018 in this price range. Given the output capabilities (which are surprisingly rare with these type of all-in-one units) additional value is piled on top of an already solid digital conversion story. The house sound of Woo has always managed to avoid a Goldilocks scenario with regards to “how much” tuby-ness it seeks to employ. The bed it chooses to lie in always supplies the right amount of warmth without leaving the mids too loose or allowing the low end to get destroyed in a grand wave of slushy softness. The “sweet” sound is there with the WA7, but it’s not in your face waving its hand wildly for attention. The subtlety of it all drives your music with a pleasant demeanor, one that can often counter-balance the directness of the room-less headphone listening experience. Listening to the 24/96 version of Jason Mraz’s Everything is Sound provided a very open representation of the fairly dynamic and varied track. The vocals to the introductory verse sounded robust and textured with a pleasing timbre. As the first signs of the backing band appear in the track, it was easy to pick out the left and right stereo location of the keyboard (right), organ (left), guitar and sax as they jumped around in the sound field. As the bass enters the scene the overall appeal leans to a more smooth presentation that is very easy to listen to. It is equal parts relaxed inspiration and dynamic stability that provide much of the allure to the analog-inspired sonic portrait of the WA7. Vocals arrive in a balanced contribution to the picture, falling neither back nor too far forward against the rest of the spectrum. Bass response is clear and never overcooked and the treble doesn’t take on any additional screech or sibilance during the amplification process. The extension upward feels natural and airy. Cymbals don’t sizzle or crackle at loud intersections but rather communicate a more buttery aggregation of high-end sonics during energetic passages. From end to end the 9018 provides a nice platform that complements the traditional Woo prowess of amplifier construction. In/out rights from the analog RCAs maximize the feature set while keeping real estate to a minimum. The external design of the WA7 looks like a thousand bucks, which is convenient considering the going rate for the solid state option falls closely in line with the sentiment. Its easy to say that any design elements that deviate from the norm cause the populace to pick sides, but in the case of this Woo unit most will likely agree that its break from the masses is one for the better. Talk piece combined with audiophile analog traits make the all-in-one unit a fine complement to any upscale desktop or the top shelf of your audio gear rack. If you are a fan of Woo gear already then trust this newest addition to the family puts a fine digital foundation behind the house sound of the company. It appears that a lot of thought has gone into implementing the proper combination of in/outs/features for Woo’s resurging everything-in-a-box. Certainly one of the highlights is the forward thinking dual headphone output, carefully prepared for the headphone that is most likely to utilize the jack size. The overall size of the WA7 is big enough to be taken seriously, but not so much that seriously takes up space. Tonality from the device is a reasonable extension of company’s origins but picks up the latest updates to stay current with market trends. Its packed with enough power to drive all the latest headphones to sufficient levels without a hint of strain, but yet is also capable of delivering music that is free of hard edges while remaining significantly true to the original source material. The WA7 Fireflies is a tight package on many fronts. Image Gallery [ATTACH=CONFIG]24906[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24913[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24910[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24907[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24911[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24912[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24909[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]24908[/ATTACH] Product Information: Product - Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies Price - $1,599 Product Page - Link Associated Equipment: Source: MacBook Air DAC: Auralic VEGA Amplifier: Questyle CMA 800R Headphones: Audeze LCD-4, HiFiMAN HE-560, JH Audio Layla (Custom), Beyerdynamic AK T5p Playback Software: Audirvana Plus Cables: Zu Mission RCA Mk.II-B About The Author Brian Hunter I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.
  3. You can view the page at http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content.php?r=660-Amarra-For-Tidal-Review
  4. To the computer audiophile, the convenience of having millions of tracks at your fingertips has always been hamstrung by quality issues. With the rise of Tidal and its lossless capabilities, streaming has really gotten a second look as a more legitimate source. Its appearance at audio shows is becoming more frequent (even if its use is often hidden from public view). So as with most intentions associated with the audiophile hobby, it should come no surprise that eventually steps to squeeze more fidelity out of this high-potential cloud-based service should come to market.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] Even in the early days of Spotify, it was subtly apparent to anyone who took the time to compare that the interface/device had great influence over the end game output of the service. As any seasoned audiophile might guess, headphone jacks from mobile devices didn’t rank very high on that top 10 list of listening options. Many may have perceived the wide array of upgraded pay-for-it bandwidth options from companies like Pandora and Spotify were plausible for casual listening but nothing so special to write home about in terms of critical listening. But even with these low ceilings it appeared that if mobile devices where the most quality challenged, computer sources were less so. And of the available options on that platform, a native player provided substantial improvements over the web-based browser in many instances. When Tidal launched, the company’s intent to be an “everywhere” product was obvious. Every platform and every device they could clear was optioned from the get go. Now filtering though those options to get the very best combination has just become a little more ambitious. While I would still contend that Airplay (to an Apple TV) from a mobile device with Tidal as a source produces notable improvements over other ATV app possibilities, the implied charge of the reviewer nags the question “how far down the rabbit hole can we go?” Controlling the 1s and 0s a little closer to the foundation couldn’t hurt, as could a direct lifeline to a high-end DAC. The current atmosphere surrounding digital playback appears a little more receptive towards software (in terms of incremental sound quality improvements) than say… upgrading your Ethernet cables. It seems to make logical sense in the mind of many audiophiles that something so close to the preparation of the digital files might offer the opportunity for some wiggle room for an uptick in fidelity. And so it has been with my experience. Software like Audirvana Plus and Sonic Studio’s Amarra can add a pinch of life, vibrancy and intimacy to digital files. They don’t really act as a miracle cure for flat lining, low-bitrate atrocities, but they can make a good recording just that much better. Sonic Studio has also released an all-purpose streamer-cleaner called the Amarra sQ a year ago that promised to improve any digital output via an outside application. Amarra for Tidal takes all of these elements and collects them together with its own interface in a one-stop shop for musical enjoyment. Installation for the application was easy enough, you simply have to plug in your Tidal login information into the settings tab to get things going. Like most audiophile playback software (and even the free Tidal player), you can select your output device directly from the application. Beyond a two tiered “buffer size” variable, the rest of setup options are kept quite straightforward. The overall layout of the main interface is similar to the current version of the vanilla Tidal player but also adds some welcome changes. The color scheme feels a little more “Adobe Lightroom” and the left hand column includes an easy to access settings link. The horizontal stacking of the layout does feel a little more intuitive by comparison. I did find that clicking into almost any new page or playlist requires a small wait while things download (both images and playlists). A helpful green download bar appears to show some your progress for any given action, however a little less drag time wouldn’t hurt the overall user experience. One of the biggest additions to the game here is the inclusion of EQ. Access to the straightforward interface is available from the main page and includes a visible reminder letting you know what (if any) options have been selected. The EQ presets allow for an interesting selection of pre programmed EQs for headphones as well as custom options, you can even save unlimited personalized curves to your hard drive to reload later. The cross section of headphones chosen for the presets left me scratching my head a bit (NuForce NE-700?) but the inclusion of “Mac Laptop” and “Apple Earpods” definitely peaked my curiosity. The laptop setting definitely leveled out the mid-centric and thin sounding speakers from my Macbook Air but occasionally the pre assigned boost around 200hz was too much for the little speakers to handle. It was really a problem however; the curves can easily be adjusted with an user-friendly graphical interface. The customization here is important and fun custom feature to have, however for critical listening I left the EQ setting off during my sessions. For some reason when I contemplate mid range tone, texture and detail I find myself inexplicably drawn to Diana Krall’s I Used to Love You But It’s All Over Now. The isolation of the of the intro’s vocals are accompanied by only a single guitar melody and allow for a serious look at the way Diana’s voice is sculpted by the gear. When comparing Tidal’s standard issue player loaded onto my MacBook Air to the Amarra player not only was it easy to pick out more detail, but also the sense of air around her voice seemed subtly more real. The husky bite of breath through windpipes range truer and felt intimately closer to the ear. In fact, in addition to this rich clarity, the entire sonic canvas felt closer. For a visual representation, imagine a highly intricate landscape image hanging on the wall. From a distance you could photoshop in more reds, blues, tweaking the saturation, contrast and the like. Well-executed amps, DACs, and speakers/headphones can all do this to a certain degree with appealing outcomes. Granted too much sonic fiddling will leave you with an unrealistic result, but a well-done presentation can mean the difference between lifelike vibrancy and the drab resonances of a foggy window. What Amarra for Tidal gives you is that “first row” presentation. It moves the canvas closer to your ear. No overdone semantics for the sake of grabbing your attention, just smooth, intimate listening that is so important to that last 10% of quality for systems that are capable of revealing it. Based on that position alone the software update appears to hold its own as an respectable upgrade for Tidal. A comparison to a 24/96 version of the same song on the server seemed to edge out the streaming service by just a hair. A little more definition, a little more relaxed presentation stretched the sonic appeal of the high res Flac file ahead, but not by much. Now whether to credit that edge to the player or the file’s resolution is more of wager than I would like to bet on, but needless to say I would love to hear the Amarra software plugged into a 24/96 stream however pie-in-the-sky that may be at our current juncture. The economic breakdown of the Amarra offering is surprisingly value driven when you consider the price of its immediate surroundings. The cost of a Tidal subscription is $19.99 month ($16.99 if you prepay 6 months) for the premium HD version. The cost of the playback software from Amarra is currently $39.99. For the price of two months of subscription you can afford the software. In those terms the Amarra upgrade appears immediately worth the cost, based on the upgrade is quality that I witnessed. The reality seems to be that if you are willing to invest in the premium cost of the service, this premium player should be set well in your sights to optimize that investment. This of course assumes you aren’t on a standard definition package, which if you frequently read this site and have already chosen Tidal over the other streaming services its fairly safe to say that you haven’t. That $39.99 will effectively marry you to the Tidal service however. If we push sound quality aside for just a moment and look elusively at the Tidal experience, it isn’t without its faults. I have heard some truly amazing playlists from Spotify, their music curation seems to be one of its most endearing qualities along with a solid UI. Tidal has playlists, but they often leave me with the feeling that an algorithm slapped them together rather than a real person (with good taste), although I seriously doubt this is the case for the featured “recommended playlists”. Search on Tidal can be a little tough and go but you will eventually find what you are looking for. I did experience a repeated issue where the wrong list of songs loaded for the Diana Krall album and I had to resort to searching for the song by name instead. Most of these examples can be worked out with a little debugging and amount to no more than minor complaints. At its core, the player satiates the needs of its intended consumer. The proposition for an easy-to-access, all-in-one Tidal & Amarra interface is fully realized with this new software. Aside from a few small bugs, the promise of Amarra sound quality injected into one of the best streaming services available continues to take the music source to a new level. With a revamped interface and special bonuses like custom EQs, it is easy to see the value to the digital audiophile in having a nearly limitless collection of music to listen to. While the allure of this convenience has always been subject to a major decline in quality, Amarra for Tidal quietly closes this gap from a chasm to a crack for a price that roughly equals two months of service. In short, if you care about quality and you are already a subscriber to Tidal, you most definitely need to download the free trail for a listen. For those of you contemplating taking the plunge into an all-you-can-eat arrangement for you music for the first time, Amarra + Tidal does not disappoint. Based on what I have heard it is the best option currently available on the market for this type of service. Highly recommended. Image Gallery [ATTACH=CONFIG]20376[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]20373[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]20374[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]20371[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]20375[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]20372[/ATTACH] Product Information: Product - Sonic Studio's Amarra For Tidal Price - $39.95 Product Page - Link Associated Equipment: Source: MacBook Air DAC: Auralic VEGA Headphones: Audeze LCD-3, HiFiMAN HE-560, JH Audio Layla (Universal), JH16 (Custom), Beyerdynamic AK T5p Cables: AudioQuest Victoria, Zu Mission RCA Mk.II-B, ALO SXC 24 2.5mm to 2.5mm balanced About The Author Brian Hunter I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.
  5. You can view the page at http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content.php?r=657-ALO-Audio-Continental-Dual-Mono-DAC-Amp
  6. There seems to be no end in sight for the significant gains portable audio has seen in the past few years in terms of both sound quality and feature sets. The last big hurdle seems to tackle the elusive integration of tubes. A few desktop units from Woo Audio and others have trickled out into the market but a more portable solution hasn’t really gained significant steam in the public consciousness. Portland-based ALO has introduced several variations on this theme with their original Continental and subsequent Pan Am models, but has since halted production to focus on their new portable flagship called the Continental Dual Mono ($1,495). The feature set is a hefty one, and appears to be an impressive collection based on learnings and observations from the company’s time in the field. [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] At first glance, the most obvious (and perhaps surprising) changes to the ins and outs is the inclusion of a 2.5mm balanced connection and the exclusion of the traditional 4-pin RSA port included previous generations. ALO’s amplifiers have always looked to complement the current lineup of portable players, so it may come as no surprise that the substitution has been initiated to correspond the current rise of Astell and Kern players. AK not only provides the source output, but also sells a two pairs of headphones for the receiving end of the chain; additional headphones may require an adapter. Other versatile niceties include a fixed 2Vrms analog output (3.5mm) for direct access to the included DAC section and both SE and balanced ins and outs on the front and back panels. The whole presentation is laid out extremely well and doesn’t skimp on the options. The previously mentioned DAC section can be tapped via a micro USB connection, charging capabilities are exclusive to the included 12.6V wall wart. ALO founder Ken Ball and his team pay careful attention to the current audiophile trends so it is no surprise that the CDM includes both DSD compatibility and an output impedance of less than 1 ohm on both the SE and the balanced headphone output. The front panel also includes 4 colored indicator lights to let you know what file resolution you are hearing as well as a 2-way gain switch for variable headphone output. As is the case with most amplifiers that feature both SE and balanced output, the balanced connection had more gain that its SE counterpart. As far as the SE headphone output is concerned, the total volume from the high gain stage might be a little light for loud listeners with extremely hard to drive headphones like the HiFiMAN HE-6. There was no issue driving my reference pair of Audeze LCD-3s or the HE-560s, but it was possible to drive the volume pot to its near maximum with quiet tracks (with the HE-560s). This gain appeared to be on par with the SE output from the AK240, but didn’t provide much additional muscle beyond that. This point is a small one, if even a null one when it comes to the overall appeal of the amplifier. Perhaps a subtle hint from the name, the intent of the Dual Mono seems very much wrapped up in the balanced connections and this becomes even more apparent in use. In broad strokes, the balanced connections are where the Continental really shines. In-ear monitors can be tricky to amplify in concert with full size headphones. They usually require separate amps to pull the best out of their corresponding partners. From the SE output the noise floor on low gain was relatively inaudible through sensitive IEMs (like the JH Audio Layla) and the volume sweep from low to high was extremely manageable. With the increased gain of the balanced output the 2.5mm connection of the Layla’s produced a very slight buzz. None of the amplifier’s outputs were plagued by any micro phonics or the dreaded “ting ting” sound (like a small pebble being throw against a glass jar) that can occasionally creep into tube amplification on this scale. The unit did warm up slightly during use, but kept surprisingly cool considering the encased tube design at play. There have been a few portable pieces that have entered the market that threw off incredibly high amounts of heat (most of which did not employed tubes) so considering the circumstances the outgoing temperature of the CDM seems very well done. Ken partnered with Vinnie Rossi of Vinnie Rossi Audio for the battery implementation and design. Power supply design is imperative to keeping amplification dynamic and clean, Vinnie elaborated on its application with the CDM: “The Continental uses a battery pack containing three of the Panasonic NCR18650 cells (same as used in the Tesla Model S) connected in series for a 11.1V nominal battery pack. These are known as the finest 18650 Li-ion cells on the market. The battery pack (and tubes) are user-changeable. What makes the CDM's implementation special is that we are not using a step-up transformers or DC-DC converters for the tube stages. We feed the clean power from the battery pack directly to the tubes' B+ (anode) and achieve remarkably low noise floor and microphonics for a tube-based amplifier. As far as I know, CDM is the only portable tube amp/dac that is all linear-voltage regulated. Therefore, we were able to meet our goals of getting a good taste of ALO's reference amplifier The Studio Six, in a portable package and at a much lower price point.” While some audio items don’t vary much with playback exposure, the CDM sample I received did change slightly with a burn in period. The mids opened up and leveled out and the overall presentation picked up quite a bit from the initial plug in after a few days of use. Once a balanced playing field was achieved, it became easy to visualize suitable applications for the new flagship. Partnering with an AK device became an interesting proposal. The AK240 ($2,499) isn’t the cheapest player on the market, but it comes packed with a real pretty sound. Through the player’s 2.5mm balanced output via ALO’s SXC 24 cable, the Dual Mono added just a hint of tube to the mix. The stock tubes that come with the amp are a pair of new, old stock Phillips military 6111s. The resulting sound is delightfully linear and refined from this glass. The mids round out just a hair and the bass stays tight and doesn’t get even slightly mushy. It’s a very interesting and appealing approach for those who are adverse to intense tuby-ness. For those who love an even fatter sound, tube rolling is an option. Ken has experimented quite a bit with different combinations and a significant range of alternatives is available directly from ALO’s site. According to Ken, the stock tubes lean on the light side of “Tube-ness” scale while many others take a deeper dive. To my ears the stock tubes hit the sweet spot perfectly. The CDM is even auto biasing to make the rolling process more user accessible. You can see Ken explain the process in more detail here: While the CDM’s single ended side is both transparent and linear, I found myself drawn to the balanced connection’s texture and range. If you are willing to put down the funds to get this amplifier, I highly suggest you invest just a little more in your headphones and take advantage of the balanced output. The dual mono configuration really shines in this implementation. Even IEMs appeared to take advantage of the situation. The JH Audio universal fit Laylas sounded exceptional when listening to the 24bit/192kHz version of Cat Steven’s Where Do The Children Play?. Vibrant and dynamic, the Continental did an amazing job of creating an organic sound while maintaining a clean window to see through. The Laylas do a top-tier job of creating an out-of-head experience for the restrictive in-ear driver technology. Through the CDM the organ sounds from the track sounded even more precise and natural, a very healthy acoustic combination. While the amplifier allows for SE and balanced crossover headphone to source, full size headphones appear to see a slight benefit from keeping with the same type of connection, and between the two a fully balanced setup end-to-end again appeared as a preference. An A/B between the AK240 source produced no frequency anomalies, although some tinkering can most likely be achieved with tube rolling. The CDM masked no detail. While still a great performer for the price, the $500 AK Jr, doesn’t quite have the resolving power of its bigger brother. Through its SE line out connection, the amplifier section of the Continental remained true to the source with no artificial sweeteners or preservatives, just a mild injection of the previously mentioned well-placed hint of tube. Compared to the AK Jr’s headphone output the advantage of CDM is even easier to pin point. Expanded soundstage, a more delicate dimensionality - the entire presentation feels enhanced with increased levels of energy and dynamics. The digital section of the unit is driven by a Wolfson 8741 chipset married to a latest-gen CMedia 6632A USB interface. The connection requires a driver install for DSD usage to a MAC, but all other Apple interactions are driver-free. This includes connectivity for lighting-based iDevices. Both an iPhone 6 Plus and iPad Air worked perfectly out of the gate via a lighting to USB camera adaptor with no additional fuss. From ALO’s site: “We selected this chip after extensive examination of all available reference DAC chips. The WM8741 has exceptional signal to noise ratio and extended dynamic range. It also provides low noise, low distortion and superior linearity. The Wolfson provides high-resolution DSD and PCM playback and offers musically compelling digital filters. WM8741’s minimal phase digital filter is more natural sounding because it has no ‘pre-ringing’ of its impulse response. Just as a piano doesn’t produce sound before a key is pressed, the minimal phase filter doesn’t ‘pre-ring’ its impulse response.” At the market matures around audio DAC chipsets, it seems manufacturers are looking beyond the ESS SABRE 9018 for more natural presentation and easy implementation/programing. The multi-platform compatibility here is a nice touch. The size and heft (not to mention the use of tubes) would probably prevent a consumer from strapping the CDM to an iPod and putting it in a pocket, but its Walkman tapedeck shape is wildly appropriate for any desktop solution. It is portable and can be easily moved, but I wouldn’t recommend just throwing it around like you would a phone due to the tubes. Comparing the digital section to Auralic VEGA ($3.5k) produced interesting results. The much higher price of the VEGA isn’t quite a fair cost comparison, but those extra dollars do an excellent job of manifesting themselves as natural, lived-in musical reproduction. The comparison here revealed much of the same. The VEGA was whimsical with a softer edge but made the already solid digital/analog pairing even more believable. The 8741 gets high marks for resolving power and musicality on its own. The overall feeling of the chipset seems to be in line, if not a step forward from most digital sections in amp/dac combinations that have made it to market in recent years. There were absolutely no aberrations in frequency response that could be pinned on the Wolfson and the level of detail was very impressive. Bonus points to ALO for including a line out to tap into a full stereo or another headphone amp, a feature that seems grossly overlooked in the portable sector. At $1,495 the Continental Dual Mono is the most expensive portable amp/dac combo I have ever reviewed. But with portable players beginning to hit the $3.5 mark the move seemed almost inevitable. It adds just the right amount of fun to the mix without ever being overbearing or colored. It is feature rich in all the right places and leaves very little else on the table. The included stock tubes feel right on the money but allow for tube rollers to fine tune the device to their heart’s content. If the CDM falls in your price range suit up, grab yourself a pair of respectable headphones and lose yourself in the music. The best is only going to continue to get better. Image Gallery [ATTACH=CONFIG]19905[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19914[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19903[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19910[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19904[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19911[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19907[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19912[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19906[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19913[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19908[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19909[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]19916[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19917[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19918[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]19915[/ATTACH] Product Information: Product - ALO Audio Continental Dual Mono DAC / Amp Price - $1,495 Product Page - Link Associated Equipment: Source: MacBook Air, Astell and Kern Jr., AK240, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air DAC: Auralic VEGA Headphones: Audeze LCD-3, HiFiMAN HE-560, JH Audio Layla (Universal), JH16 (Custom), Beyerdynamic AK T5p Playback Software: Audirvana Plus, iTunes Cables: AudioQuest Victoria, Zu Mission RCA Mk.II-B, ALO SXC 24 2.5mm to 2.5mm balanced Where To Buy: Addicted To Audio (Australia) About The Author Brian Hunter I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.
  7. You can view the page at http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content.php?r=627-High-Resolution-Technologies-dSP-Review
  8. The newest product from the long-standing High Resolution Technologies (HRT) is a small one, both in size and pricing. The dSP line consists of two products (estimated $69/each). i-dSP can handle an Apple Lighting connection while the regular dSP is intended for use with a computer (via USB) and Android devices. The i-dSP still requires the purchase of Apple’s Lighting to USB Camera adaptor to work properly, so add another $30 on to the price to get things going in that scenario. [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] Normally when I review a portable DAC there is quite a handful of options to compare it against within a similar price range. The new HRT dSP breaks away from the rest of the pack in that it is probably the least expensive portable converter I’ve come across that also includes a headphone amplifier option. The closest competitor I had at my disposal was probably the AudioQuest Dragonfly v1.0, which retailed for just under a $100 for a hot second when the replacement v1.2 first came out. Even so, the most current Dragonfly version retails for around $150, which is a far cry away from the $69.99 projected cost for the dSP. Probably the biggest competition to this new ultra budget range is Schiit Audio’s new Fulla ($79, still $10 more). Now granted, it may be possible to pick up a USB “sound card” made overseas for $5, but for the intent of this review we can keep the competitive analysis focused on products intended for higher sound quality over mere utility. The build of the dSP is light. The bright red outer shell of the unit is clearly made of plastic, capped with two grey bookends that feature a small headphone jack on one side and a micro-USB on the other. The entire production is just over 2 inches long, the package here is even smaller than a pack of old school Big Red gum. The weight feels nearly the same and in the hand is very slight, weighing in at a mere .2 ounces. It really feels like something that you could take with you on the go with no issue, more so than most of the heavier, higher priced aluminum competition. The early issue model I was given had a slight jiggle to the internals that was noticeable, but this could very well be due to the pre production distribution and not something that I would expect from a regular model. The dSP should ship with a short cable for full size USB connections. Connecting the device was a standard plug-and-play experience and operated as normal without a driver for my MacBook Air. A quick spec rundown from the company website reveals a 24/96 kHz resolution max and a .5 ohm output impedance to the small headphone jack. A quick spot check with a pair of sensitive JH16 IEMs provided a fairly black background for amplification. An insignificant hiss could be detected at very loud levels, but nothing that would be noticeable at normal playback listening and no background noise was detectable with full size headphones. Comparisons to products twice the price start to tread an unfair border, which is even more problematic given that it really doesn’t take much to double the cost in the already saturated audiophile market. So I thought it logical to start at free, and see what grows out from there. The headphone output from my computer is somewhat of a smeared mess when it comes to reproducing music. It is nearly lifeless and fuzzy in nature and serves fairly well as a baseline to gauge the bottom of unaltered sound quality available to the average consumer. With the dSP plugged in the first noticeable quality was volume. The relative volume was higher than the internal headphone jack on the Macbook Air even at the same volume setting. The dSP does not come with an external volume control, similar to AQ’s Dragonfly, but unlike the Schiit Fulla which features a small physical rotating knob. The digital volume adjustments worked well, no problems with either the iOS controls or even fine-tuning from dedicated software like Audrivana Plus. Those looking for a little more gain than your average computer jack will find it here. Aside from a little extra volume push, the little red DAC-that-could was able to extract a tic more acoustic information from playback files. Eric Clapton’s Lay Down Sally provides a nice even sound with a wide variety of instruments laid out in proper order across the stereo field. Compared to our baseline here, the dSP was able to provide a slightly more in-focus image for guitar, keys and vocals. After the first phrase the backup singers kick in on both sides, separated equally from the Eric’s main vocals in the middle. This fun little touch to the mix allows you to sense the relative space for each vocal with greater ease. Through the dSP, it was slightly easier to make out each back singers individual’s voice in terms of focus, detail retrieval and overall dimensionality. Using both a DSD file and Tidal streaming service, the jumpy guitars from the track felt even more dynamic via the little guy than through the Macbook Air’s default amplification. In relation to the jack, the dSP’s treble was a little less unwieldy even offered up a slight improvement in terms articulation. But there were a few shortcomings that kept the budget device from being a runaway hit. I was lucky enough to receive a review pair of the new Layla universal in-ears from Jerry Harvey Audio just days before I started critical listening. The new flagship (which is sold by DAP manufacturer Astell & Kern) is one of the most revealing IEMs I have heard to date. Amplification duties can sound very different as you make the leap over from a full-size driver to the balanced armature technology that handles reproduction duties for most in-ears. A great amp for IEMs does not always yield the same results for headphones and vice versa. In terms of playback through the uber transparent Laylas, the dSP felt a little rough around the edges in the treble region at times, something that wasn’t apparent from other sources. These abnormalities weren’t quite as present though a pair of Audeze LCD-3s, but still left me with a feeling of detail over grace on many tracks. While initially the dSP’s mid section felt quite tidy and immediate, sometimes that same immediacy felt a little to forward around the human voice. If vocals are your thing, than this subtly may not even peak your radar, but in my never-ending quest for balance, I found myself reverting back to pink noise tests to confirm that things weren’t being overcooked. The results were actually very reassuring; I couldn’t pick up any major spikes in frequency along the entire spectrum when compared to my reference rig. Still, the sum of a rig is made up of much more than just frequency response, and perhaps the dSP reflects that. All in all the new HRT effort does bring the music a few steps closer which is most welcome, but it often made me wonder if it was possible to squeeze out a few more, if only baby ones. $69 will hardly net you a decent portable player, and occasionally it seemed that through the dusty cellar of my memory, I had heard cellphones that produced decent sound (my old Galaxy S3 wasn’t half bad all by itself). A small step up to the AQ Dragonfly (original version on hand) will claim more gains for more money, the rule of diminishing returns almost seems less diluted on the more affordable side of audio in which these products call home. While an improvement over bare bones amplification, the lack of natural delivery from the dSP often made me long for my reference rig at times. Smooth, natural playback tied hand in hand with a high-end resolution makes for a very enjoyable listening session. Still, the gains over standard issue computer audio stand firm. More detail and more dimensionality push sonic rewards farther into view from the muddy, thin canvas of noisy computer vessels. Raw volume enhancements will undoubtedly complement less sensitive cans, and the portably factor is flushed out here at its maximum. Depending on your needs the <$100 wonder could still find its way into the appropriate rig. The “appropriate” window is unfortunately hamstrung by all of the tasty competition that floats just above the dSP’s price point in the $150+(and even the $300+) range. The small adjustment to your computer could come in handy for a quick improvement, but the serious audiophile perusing the market is probably already familiar with the alluring digital products upstream. The overall design effort against this market is very complementary, if not a necessary move for pricing in the grand scheme of things. What audiophile fare can be produced for the masses at a digestible cost? A leap up in quality at the cost of dinner and drinks is a good first effort, but can we squeeze a few more droplets of value out of the equation? The dSP gets the conversation moving the right direction and reminds us that it is still an exciting time to be involved in computer audio. Image Gallery [ATTACH=CONFIG]17516[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]17517[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]17518[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]17519[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]17520[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]17521[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]17522[/ATTACH] Product Information: Product - High Resolution Technologies dSP Price - $69 Product Page - Link Associated Equipment: Source: MacBook Air DAC: AudioQuest Dragonfly (original version) Headphones: Audeze LCD-3, Audeze LCD-XC, Sennheiser HD650, Sennheiser Momentum, JHAudio JH16 Amplifier: The Calyx Integrated Loudspeakers: Zu Soul MkII Playback Software: Audirvana Plus Cables: AudioQuest Victoria, Zu Mission RCA Mk.II-B About The Author Brian Hunter I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.
  9. You can view the page at http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content.php?r=614-Grace-Design-m920-Review
  10. The wild world of DACs continues to expand with a new update from the pro-leaning company Grace Design. The m903 was released just 3 years previous but already it seems like a (product) lifetime ago. The newest bible-sized, DAC/headphone amplifier is called the m920 “High Resolution Monitoring System” and still shares many of the same external design elements from its predecessor. The internals have had some renovating of course, and the price moved $100 north from $1,895 to $1,995. As of September of this year the m903 is permanently discontinued so older models aren’t kept around for purchase like the Benchmark DAC 1 series or a previous generation iPad.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] As with the pro friendly Benchmark company, the Grace maintains the same desktop-friendly size and dual headphone outputs design. The front panel even echoes some of the same led indicator lights. Small and sturdy, I really find myself enjoying this form factor. The shape fits very nicely on my desk next to the computer without taking up too much excess space. The back panel holds some curious choices as far as standard audiophile connections go. The balanced outputs are actually pair of ¼” TRS connectors instead of 3 pin XLR, which is especially unusual considering the unit offers XLR balanced inputs to the amplifier. Perhaps there wasn’t enough room to fit two pairs of XLRs and still have room for the coaxial/optical/AES3/USB digital inputs as well as the unbalanced in/out. I personally would have traded the XLR balanced inputs for an output of the same type and added another unbalanced output, but that’s just my preference. In application the all-in-one box still makes a strong case with a wide array of setup and rig options, both on the desk and the rack. I spent an unusually long time with the m920, delegating almost equal parts loudspeaker to headphone listening. Early integrations into my speaker rig included both USB and optical feeds to the amplifier. The results were steady. The Grace requires a bit more finessing than some during initial setup. The SE line out had to be manually changed to a fixed, otherwise full volume had to be manually adjusted, something that would have to be redone every time the unit was powered off. There was no “memory” of the previous power down level, however you can adjust the startup level to your preference if you program it into the units two digit display. The LED display complements the resolution indicator lights in communicating the various options for the DAC. While displays may seem like a very ancillary appendage for an audio device, their implementation varies quite a bit from product to product. DACs especially can range from full multi-pixel readouts to simply nothing at all. Both executions eventually get the job done just fine, but from my experience the guys that venture over from the pro side seem to let the user interface slide in priority just a little. With the indicator-light only interface of the Benchmark series, I found the experience a bit cumbersome. Holding down a button for an option as well as having to remember unmarked functions of buttons proved to be a bit of a nuisance at first, although would no doubt become easier with repeated use. So at first I was impressed to see the addition of the 2-digit screen. In the end however, the Grace did suffer from some of the drawbacks of so many options with only a binary on/off interface. The menu for the display consists of nearly 50 menus and sub menus that either have to be directly entered or passed over to correctly navigate. First time users will want to keep the included cheat sheet handy the first few times around. There is an option to control the m920 from a standard Apple remote; the menu even offers a pairing option. Out of the box the Grace picked up the signal intended for Apple TV and started changing parameters. This can be somewhat of a mixed blessing if it catches you off guard, many of the options can be switched around from the now random selections of your Apple product navigation. It’s a small thing really, but just one to keep in mind if your house happens to take part in the Apple ecosystem. A specific pairing of an Apple remote to the m920 should remedy most of these initial setup growing pains. The Grace is also compatible with the Logitech Harmony Hub for control via iOS or Android platforms. Feature-wise the M920 is up to spec. Updates from the m903 include 64x and 128x DSD playback and a new M-Series SABRE dac chipset called the ES9018-2M to carry out all the decoding responsibilities. The secret menu also houses a few extras including full mono mode and three PCM filters as well as a DSD digital response filter. Two headphone outputs are still a nice add as is the x-feed function. While some crossfeed effects can muddle up the fidelity, Grace’s take on it did a fine job of recreating a small virtual “speaker” effect. Listening to Cat Steven’s 24/96 Tea for Tillerman album the end result felt as though the soundstage altogether was pushed ever so slightly forward, with less hard panning left to right. Headphone output was substantial for most headphones including the Audeze LCD-3; another +9.5 dB can be added from the internal menu system. The sound through the line level outs was highly resolving and substantially articulate. Vocal recreations from audiophile tracks like Diana Krall’s Glad Rag Doll contained the all the information a listener would need to recreate a full sense of depth and realism. Likewise not much fault could be found in the overall frequency response and extension on both ends. Bass impact was well delegated at the proper portions and didn’t tread lightly when called upon. Overall the DAC section performs very well, and is pushing up against performance levels that cost much more just a few years ago. Comparisons to the more costly Auralic VEGA Dac ($3,499) though the unit’s analog inputs to the internal headphone amplifier revealed even more top end extension and breathable “air” around the upper mid range and treble regions from the VEGA, but at nearly twice the cost. Alone in a room the m920 still leans towards the analytical over a more organic approach. That’s not to say it isn’t musical, just a bit more tannins than the collective mean. Its delivery feels more bit for bit without the artificial sweeteners that can congregate around many audiophile oriented products. Isolating the headphone amplifier section for comparison via the analog outputs offered up a bit more insight to the overall sound of the aggregated combo. As with the digital section, no frequency abnormalities could be detected across the spectrum. Bass and vocals were proportionally represented with no additional veil or spike in the treble. The title track from Dire Straights Brothers in Arms lays a conglomeration of 70’s synth sounds as the backdrop for the song from which the vocal and guitar licks lay upon. While the full entity here can outpace many lower priced items, dedicated headphone amplifiers like the Questyle CMA 800R allowed for more separation between the two competing sonic associations. If we were rating the m920 four years ago, it could be plausible that it would earn a 9 out of 10 for the digital section and a 6 for the headphone amplifier. But digital products in this field are evolving quite fast, and for the better. Even with the use of a newer SABRE chip, the Grace we have here falls just short of the mark in terms of total summed output when directly compared to today’s extremely tight competition. Sub $1k DACs are really pushing the limits of their category and making it even harder for the $1,500+ grouping to justify its price range. For its part the m920 includes a vast array of inputs, outputs and adjustments from its pro roots that are very rare for the latter category. Its DAC section is highly refined, accurate and nearly surgical in its translation of a digital source. On its own the unit could make a lot of listeners very happy, but the tightly wound category in which it swims trips the well-intentioned unit into the “must audition” column with its competition. The Grace m920 could very well still be your favorite, or possibly even a bargain if you tend to browse in higher price points. Gallery [ATTACH=CONFIG]15818[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]15819[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]15820[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]15821[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]15822[/ATTACH] Product Information: Product - Grace Design m920 Price - $1,995 Product Page - Link Associated Equipment: Source: MacBook Air DAC: AudioQuest Dragonfly (original version) Headphones: Audeze LCD-3, Audeze LCD-XC, Sennheiser HD650, Sennheiser Momentum, JHAudio JH16 Amplifier: The Calyx Integrated Loudspeakers: Zu Soul MkII Playback Software: Audirvana Plus Cables: AudioQuest Victoria, Zu Mission RCA Mk.II-B About The Author Brian Hunter I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.
  11. You can view the page at http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content.php?r=603-Eclipse-TD-M1-Wireless-Speaker-System-Review
  12. Computer desktop audio and hifi converge in the form of several products each year. The newest submission by Eclipse is called the TD-M1 wireless speaker system. The bullet-shaped casing from each of the mounted speaker cabinets houses a single 8mm driver and is rated for 20W output from the built in amplification. Also included in the mix are an interesting selection of inputs that include Apple’s Airplay, your standard computer USB input and a USB input from a direct connection to an iDevice. The overall layout of the system screams for desktop and nearfield listening, although the setup can still be used in a pinch for a makeshift bookshelf or kitchen stereo. A satisfying gloss finish further complements the TD-M1’s external appearance. The review pair that was received was set in black but a white model is also available for purchase. The 8mm driver is slightly recessed into the front of the airplane engine shaped module and feels like a fairly tight little package overall. The 11-½ lbs. combined weight of the pair certainly contributes to the sturdy form factor. The adjustable tilt from the non-removable stands is a godsend for getting the sonic delivery adjusted to your liking and is fairly easy to use and setup. While the height of the speakers is locked in, this designated distance from the ground keeps the setup from becoming to intrusive against tight desk quarters. The protruding clip found hidden in the rear design allows for the tilt to be adjusted in much the same manner as a car steering wheel. The removable antennae in the back may allude to Bluetooth connectivity, but alas, the M1 is restricted to Wi-Fi usage on the wireless front. [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]On board controls located on the left speaker base include a power button that doubles as an input selector as well as a volume control. The limited interface took a little to get used to (the volume selector was a bit jumpy) but the M1 is also easily controlled from your source device via Airplay. There aren’t really any visible labels for the light up input selector, so users will end up having to memorize the pre-selected rotation of Airplay – USB B – USB A – AUX (3.5mm analog) if they want to accurately switch between the options. Both these items turned out to be really minor setup adjustment quibbles in the end. The Eclipse was designed with compactness in mind, and once the initial setup is over, users are sure to appreciate the efficiencies made by eliminating overextended indicators and controls. Volume control worked effortlessly from nearly every source that was connected including wire-connected iDevices, iTunes and even audiophile grade playback software like Audirvana Plus via Airplay. Airplay playback actually comes in two flavors, direct and “Wi-Fi” mode. The direct mode is the simplest, a computer or iDevice connects to the M1’s self-generated Wi-Fi network and then is selected from the Airplay dropdown. This quick and easy setup is all well and good, however it doesn’t allow your device to access its own internet connection, so streaming from a service like Spotify isn’t possible. However, with a little extra setup the “Wi-Fi” mode will leave you with a connection similar to what you expect from an Apple TV or Express experience. Using a computer’s browser to one-time log in the M1 to your local network allows it to be actively found and remotely controlled from any iDevice on the network. From this Wi-Fi mode both Spotify and Audirvana worked seamlessly. For the full fidelity rundown, hardcore users will most likely opt for the wired connections the M1 provides. Through the wired connection volume control through Audirvana Plus was restricted to the M1’s own internal control. The internal indicators from Audirvana did confirm a satisfying 24/192 resolution compatibility for the DAC for all file types sans DSD. Airplay playback was restricted to 16/44.1 as a result of the wireless protocol, even through Audirvana Plus. The big takeaway is the upgrade in sound quality from streaming to native file playback, which was immediately noticeable. While this observation may strike the hard-core audiophile as nothing more than a quick visit from Captain Obvious, the potential benefit to prospective buyers is nearly a prerequisite for a hifi system. The M1’s internals are up to snuff to allow this fidelity to pass though. The pokey guitars and piano parts from Brian Eno’s Complex Heaven snapped into focus from Spotify’s stream to the high-resolution playback. Both the initial attack and placement of these instruments scaled nicely and left with much more believable sense of space and location. Given this acute sense of delivery, the M1 has a nice base to build from in terms of fidelity. Of course the main drawback from any 8mm driver is going to be bass response, no matter what enclosure you seek to drive it from. Preliminary bass tests seemed to fall in line with the reported 70Hz cutoff spec from the manual. Given this knowledge, the M1 still did perform adequately within its given range. There was no soupy effort to inflate the bass signature, which could have resulted in a grotesque muddled mess at the low end. It was simply absent. Bass lovers might find a better fit elsewhere, for the connections in the back do not allow for a separate subwoofer to be added. But in reality, the M1 seems to be designed with a more near field, low-level office environment in mind. Max volume levels will fill a small room with sound, but it hardly seems like the products true destiny. Given the on board stand adjustments, the M1 could be the perfect companion for those looking to give their office a little hifi boost without sacrificing too much space. The 70Hz limitation feels very close to the threshold where a physical rumble would start to penetrate walls or floors. They won’t shake your morning cup of coffee off your desk, but they won’t shake off your cube-mate’s either. This cutoff is also close to the point where the visceral feeling of music can suffer the most, so a double edged sword of sorts within this type of application. Treble response from the egg-shaped duo was well balanced with the rest of the spectrum. There was no need to over emphasize the highs in order to simulate more transparency. Cat Steven’s Wild World in 24/192 from Tea for the Tillerman pushed enough information forward to hear the natural pick strokes across the guitar strings separated from Steven’s higher range vocals and the occasional high hat tap. The M1 is a very easy system to listen to, but maintains an engagement that is not overdone or fluffed up artificially. Again, the soundstaging here was a real highlight, listening to the Persuasion’s a cappella version of Angle of Harlem really felt enveloping from the tiny speakers, especially at close range. With the lack of strain on the bass, the M1 could really break out and hone in on its clean-cut presentation with style and finesse. The M1 is a feature-rich package. Airplay alone helps it stand out from the pack of traditional hifi contenders, just as high resolution USB makes it stand out from the barrage of Airplay speaker packages available. This hybrid/crossover approach may be the target that hits home for many consumers, the $1,300 asking price certainly implies as much. The Eclipse is a computer desktop complement at its core, performing a well-finessed balancing act along the murky-water border of the audiophile market. They provide just enough bite to them to draw in those looking for a little more definition from their desktop, just before you take the plunge into the more costly full size separates. When compared to the A2+ budget desktop loudspeakers by Audioengine, the M1 emerges as somewhat of a mixed bag. The two-way A2+ has more bass in terms of overall presentation and extension. The previously mentioned desk shaking was more prominent in the A2+, which can be drawback or a plus depending on the listener’s individual needs. While the M1 felt a little drier by comparison, its malleability for near field listening really stood out. The tilt adjustments and single point sound dispersion ultimately allowed for a very solid three-dimensional soundstage in close quarters. Its well-executed control and decisiveness really helped bring value to the presentation. The Eclipse TD-M1 is a solid contender within the computer audio desktop market. It’s feature list/bag of tricks includes a very useable Airplay protocol, but those wanting the get the absolute best out of their investment will still want to wire up with its 24/192 compatibility. The small size and big soundstage are a great combination for desktop use, as are the included adjustable tilt mounts the loudspeakers rest upon. While the lack of bass may prove to be a blessing for office situations, the remainder of the spectrum is balanced, neat and tidy. The on board streaming allows the M1 to have flexibility with placement, from the desk to a shelf or any household location in between. Those who opt for the desktop complement will even find an Apple friendly charging station for their phone with the iDevice USB connection among the multiple perks. Sonically the TD-M1 is a fine balance of enthusiasm without being obnoxious. A little on the laid back side, the tonal structure is easy going on the ears with plenty of contextual information readily available. If you were looking for a step up in performance from your computer audio desktop setup but didn’t want to clutter up your space with extra electronics, your ship may have well come in. The Eclipse TD-M1 has a solid array of bells and whistles for the modern day enthusiasts that pairs well with its no-nonsense approach to sonics. Land ho. Image Gallery [ATTACH=CONFIG]14789[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]14787[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]14788[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]14791[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]14792[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]14790[/ATTACH] Product Information: Product - Eclipse TD-M1 Wireless Speaker System Price - $1,300 Product Page - Link Associated Equipment: Source: MacBook Air DAC: AudioQuest Dragonfly (original version) Headphones: Audeze LCD-3, Audeze LCD-XC, Sennheiser HD650, Sennheiser Momentum, JHAudio JH16 Amplifier: The Calyx Integrated Loudspeakers: Zu Soul MkII Playback Software: Audirvana Plus Cables: AudioQuest Victoria, Zu Mission RCA Mk.II-B About The Author Brian Hunter I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.
  13. You can view the page at http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content.php?r=589-Oppo-HA-1-Headphone-Amp-DAC-Review
  14. The Oppo HA-1 is a harvester of many tricks, so many in fact that it is almost unfair to label it strictly a headphone amplifier as the acronym in the name suggests. It really stretches the boundaries of inputs, outputs and digital conversion all within a reasonable amount of desktop real estate. As with all things Oppo, attention to detail appears to be a top priority, even down to the packaging. In a market where the focus on sound quality can allow manufacturers to slip by with off-the-shelf interfaces and external design, the Oppo ship is watertight. In rare form for most HiFi equipment, the head amp includes a fully interactive graphical interface, complete with pretty icons for source selection. Connectivity is king with the HA-1. Nearly every single base is covered. In the rear you can find super DSD-friendly USB, single ended ins and outs, balanced XLR ins and outs, and one of each type of available digital input (including optical, coaxial and AES/EBU). To top it all off Oppo included both an in and out trigger and Bluetooth connectivity with aptX. An external remote is included, but in case you don’t want another one lying around the house, Oppo even has a remote app for your perusing pleasure that connects via Bluetooth. [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] The front panel has a standard ¼ inch headphone jack, 4 pin balanced XLR for headphone and USB input for iDevices. It’s practically a new gold standard for headphone amps that has yet to see an equal. In truth, Oppo could have likely gotten away without the head amp section and charged the same, if it weren’t for its highly regarded BDP-105 Blu-Ray player whose feature set and price overlap with the HA-1. If we were to look at the HA-1 through a lens of personal audio the only thing that is missing is a dedicated 3.5mm headphone jack for IEMs, like the one found on the new WA7d by Woo audio. While running the amp through the paces the ¼ inch jack did display just a very slight hum through the ultra sensitive JH Audio JH16s (the 16s do come in lower than the recommended impedance of 32-600 ohms for the amp). The upswing is that volume control was delightfully distributed, even for IEMs (allowing for a nice gradual increase that peaked around 11 o’clock) and the hum wasn’t really audible at all while music was playing. All in all the HA-1 still gets the check box approval for IEMs. Simply tapping into the USB Apple connection on the front panel with the JH16s noticeably cleaned up the sound when compared to the plugging directly into an "old" 6th gen iPod Nano’s headphone output. The rated output impedance for the class A amplifier is an impressive 0.5 Ohm and 0.7 Ohm for both the balanced and SE connections respectively. The 4.3 inch display screen features color, but is not touch sensitive. The menu is easily navigated via push-capable source selector knob. Simply rotating the knob brings up the previously mentioned "pretty" icons indicating the source, of which there is an applause-worthy eight in total. Pushing deeper into the menu allows you to pick from three pre selected home screen display setups, two of which animate while music is played through the device. The "VU meter" option pays a little homage to the McIntosh look, while the "Spectrum" home screen makes for a pretty fun, visual frequency representation. Like the BDP-105, the 13 lbs. HA-1 is very heavy for its size. Fit and finish is simply outstanding and puts many higher priced audio products to shame. The connectors in the back feel very secure against the back panel and do not wiggle or feel loose when applying cabling. The box itself has a nice shape to it and even though it is a bit deep, most users should be able to find enough space for it on a standard sized desktop. Some of that extra weight no doubt is a contribution from the toroidal power supply. From the Oppo website: "A toroidal power transformer offers superior power efficiency and much lower exterior magnetic fields over traditional laminated steel core transformers. The HA-1's toroidal linear power supply provides a very clean and robust power source to the audio components." Even though it may be inconsequential to some audiophiles, its worth mentioning that the power cable that comes with amp is one of the beefiest I’ve ever seen packaged with a piece of audio equipment, a fine testament to Oppo’s value proposition. The volume control knob offers up a fair resistance when turned and feels solid to the touch. While the on board screen suggests a digital volume control with another pretty animated graphic, Jason Liao from Oppo cleared the air with regards to the potentiometer. "The volume control in the HA-1 is purely analog. One of the design goals of the HA-1 is to keep the signal in analog domain once it leaves the DAC. Since the HA-1 is a fully balanced design, we use a 6-gang precision potentiometer part for the volume control. Each left and right channel is controlled by 2 gangs of the potentiometer. We use the fifth gang for sampling the position of the knob so we can display the approximate volume level on the LCD screen. The potentiometer has a motor-driven mechanism so it can be remotely controlled via IR remote or Bluetooth app. A nice feature of the motorized volume knob is that when you change the amplifier’s setting from NORMAL gain to HIGH gain, the HA-1 will mute the audio, turn the volume knob to reduce it to a safe level, and then un-mute. This can greatly reduce the surprise when someone changes to HIGH gain and gets a loud sound." Among the many inputs of the HA-1 lies another interesting add on for a head amp, Bluetooth. The tech requires the addition of included external antenna, but the small piece barely peeks out from behind the amp and extends the range to an admirable distance. The application is threefold. Pair with a computer or smartphone as a source, pair with a Bluetooth-capable headphone as an output and pair with a phone/tablet as a remote control. The HA-1’s Bluetooth is 2.1 +EDR and supports both the SBC and buzz worthy aptX audio transmission formats. Switching between the über resolution of the USB connection and Bluetooth revealed an unsurprising slight loss of dimensionality, but was still surprisingly adequate for a quick connection from a mobile source in a pinch. The coinciding "HA-1 Control" app for smartphones provided a pretty seamless extension onto the OS. Volume control, input selection, mute and up/down track selection all worked without a hitch, but the BT connection did suffer a small quirk. Bluetooth connectivity is powered off when the head amp is powered down so you can turn off the HA-1 from a phone, but not on. The app makes you aware of this by closing down completely after tapping the orange power button from within the software. You need to manually turn on the amp before restarting the application. Overall the user experience with the app is straightforward and practical. The volume control physically rotates the knob on the unit and even displays the current dB level remotely. The main silicone pushing conversion duty is the popular ESS SABRE 9018. The digital section of the HA-1 operates like a 9018 with proper implantation, which is to say it sounds pretty darn spectacular. The overall effect is pleasantly transparent, especially considering the going price for the amplifier. Plenty of top end air, excellent extension on both ends and a fine, crisp resolution mark just some excellent highlights of the "ESS patented 32-bit Hyperstream™ DAC architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator" ES9018 implementation in the Oppo. The included asynchronous USB connectivity is now becoming a bit of a standard feature for almost any up-to-date DAC, but DSD compliance isn’t quite there yet. The HA-1 does allow for playback of DSD64, DSD128 and even DSD256 if you happen to cross paths with a file that requires it. There is perhaps a slight edge to the sonic retrieval, favoring detail over organic delivery, which became more apparent when comparing to the higher priced Auralic VEGA. For nearly 3Xs the price and sans head amp, the VEGA was able to add a subtle layer of naturalness to the equation, but the much of same coveted ES9018 house sound could be found in the HA-1. As the Oppo DAC was put through the paces, it was increasingly impressive how well it scaled up to the occasion. Dedicated amplifiers like the Questyle CMA 800R and Auralic Taurus really swung out under the influence of both the SE and balanced output feeds. The soundstage from the DSD version of Norah Jones Turn Me On makes for a fairly impressive headphone demo. The organ sound through the HA-1’s balanced outputs was so spicy it almost felt like you could reach out and wave your fingers though the fluttering sonic tapestry it painted. The front and center vocals appear with plenty of virtual air and space to separate them from the rest of the well-placed instruments. The tonal sum here still nods in the direction of BDP-105’s composure but is housed in a much smaller suitcase. Most of the critical listening of the headphone amplifier section of the HA-1 was done through the 4 pin balanced headphone output on the low gain setting. The headphone sample used included both Oppo’s matching PM-1 planar magnetic headphone and the Audeze LCD-3 as a reference. Balanced output from end-to-end was definitely top of mind when the HA-1 was designed. "The internal analog audio signal path of the HA-1 is fully balanced. For digital audio, the signal runs in balanced mode all the way from the DAC to the output jacks. Balanced analog input is kept intact, and single-ended input is converted to balanced at the input buffer. All single-ended outputs are derived from the balanced signal as well. The balanced design provides better common-mode noise rejection and improves signal quality. The balanced headphone output provides twice the voltage and four times the power of the single-ended output, enabling the HA-1 to drive the most power hungry headphones. It also provides better channel separation by eliminating the common ground return path." There is a timbre richness to overarching sonic texture that accompanies the amplification stage. Samples cut from the balanced line outs confirms it existence, but also reaffirms that its impact is only slight. While this sonic affluence may be polarizing for some, those with a taste for texture will find the signature right at home. The response remains strongly linear, focused and very easy to listen to. Dynamic response, low-end impact/extension hit hard and fast like a well-oiled solid-state amp should. Oppo makes it easy to see why the HA-1 is so much more than just a simple headphone amplifier (although it can be easily isolated and utilized via the SE and balanced inputs). With both single ended and balanced outputs in addition to a wide cross section of source capabilities it is a virtual Swiss army knife of head amps. Perhaps one of the overlooked extensions of this metaphor sits quietly under the volume knob. The USB iDevice connection really brought out the best from iPods with a deliberate and discernible improvement. Jam packed with features, the HA-1 holds a nearly endless supply of applications to improve your desktop listening. Summary From a straightforward up-to-date techs-and-specs position the Oppo is currently unchallenged at its price point. It is a features-driven product with spectacular results. It is so much more than a headphone amplifier in the same fashion that an Oppo player is so much more than just a Blu Ray transport. Innovation, durability, flexibility and enough connectivity specs to make your head spin give this little contender both its charm and its value. Its on hand compatibility paired with a sleek digital side makes it one of the most complimentary components for desktop listening in the sub $2000 range. [ATTACH=CONFIG]13412[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]13413[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]13410[/ATTACH] [ATTACH=CONFIG]13411[/ATTACH] Product Information: Product - Oppo HA-1 Headphone Amp & DAC Price - $1,199 Product Page - Link Associated Equipment: Source: MacBook Air DAC: Auralic Vega Headphones: Audeze LCD-3, Audeze LCD-XC, JHAudio JH16, Oppo PM-1 Amplifier: The Calyx Integrated Loudspeakers: Zu Soul MkII Headphone Amplifier: Auralic Taurus MkII, Questyle CMA 800R Playback Software: Audirvana Plus, Decibel Cables: Zu Mission RCA Mk.II-B, Wywires Silver About The Author Brian Hunter I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.
  15. Hey Art, For the asking price the D3 performs very well. Higher price points will generally get you better overall resolution, dynamics and a heightened sense of air and space, but as with many things in high end audio, 2X, 4X the price rarely projects equal leaps in quality. There was no noticeable distortion from playback through the device. Re: #3, See the "associated gear" section after the review.
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