Headphone Amplifier/DAC Reviews

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Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 08, 2013
The Little Asus That Could
I was impressed with the Asus Xonar Essence One MUSES Edition that I reviewed back in November of last year (see review) finding it fun and engaging to listen to. The new Essence STU due to be released later this month is the Essence One's little brother offering much of the same functionality of its bigger brother minus the latter's XLR outputs. Inside the STU we've got the Texas Instruments (TI) PCM1792A DAC, the 32-bit/192kHz-capable Cmedia CM 6631A asynchronous USB receiver, the TI PCM9211 S/PDIF receiver, and the TI TPA6120A headphone amp. The STU wraps all of this tech into a slender iPad-sized dark gray chassis with an analog volume control for the RCA outs and a separate volume control for the heapdhone out. Add in a two-position Headphone Gain switch and you've got yourself one fulsome package for a hair under four hundred bucks. Nice!
Michael Lavorgna  |  Aug 27, 2013
The Director
The Director is Meridian's step up in terms of size and sound quality from their smaller and headphone output-endowed Explorer (see review). Meridian views the aptly named Explorer as a portable player whereas the Director is meant to sit and remain connected to your hi-fi. I've now had a chance to listen to the Director for a few weeks and compare it to its smaller sibling side-by-side. If you've already read my Director preview, feel free to skip ahead to the listening section.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Aug 05, 2013
The Director
The Director is Meridian's step up in terms of size and sound quality from their smaller and headphone output-endowed Explorer (see review). Meridian views the aptly named Explorer as a portable player whereas the Director is meant to sit and remain connected to your hi-fi. While I've been living with the DAC-only Director for about a week which is about enough time for first impressions, Meridian has asked us to keep the Director under wraps until 7am EST Monday August 5th. Not one to miss out on a premier, I thought I'd give the Director the red carpet treatment and offer up some basic facts, photos, and first takes.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jul 30, 2013
M2TECH’s Game Changer
When I learned that TEAC America now distributes M2TECH’s hiFace DAC, a palm-fitting, plug-and-play, Italian-made baby that, for $46 more than Audioquest’s 96kHz/24 bit Dragonfly, delivers up to 384kHz/32 bit performance, my curiosity was piqued. As someone with champagne tastes and a bargain outlet budget, I had to find out if the little baby with the preciously spelled name and the enticing slogan, “Sound quality better than you may expect,” amounted to anything more than an object of idle amusement.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Apr 18, 2013
DSD via DoP and SDHC
Before going to press with this review, I figured I'd give it one last lap around the 'net to see if I could locate some information regarding when (or if) the Fostex HP-A8C would be able to play back DSD over PCM/USB. I stumbled on a post by 'AnakChan' on HeadFi that pointed to the Fostex Japan website and lo and behold there was firmware version 2.01B with DoP (you can get it here). Once I downloaded and updated, all I had to do was navigate to the USB over PCM menu option, enable it, and I was streaming DSD over USB in no time. Lovely. Why this firmware revision from November 2012 is not yet available on the Fostex International (English) website is anyone's guess. The latest version to be found there is 1.31 which does not include the DSD over USB option so you are stuck playing back only DSF formatted DSD files through the HP-A8C's SD (or SDHC) card reader. And that's kind of a drag.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Feb 11, 2013
Meridian Enters the Fray
The USB bus-powered Meridian Explorer is a small, portable 24/192-capable asynchronous USB DAC, headphone amp, and it can also function as a 24/96 USB to S/PDIF converter. There's a mini USB input on one side of its oval tubular extruded aluminum body and two 3.5mm outputs on the other. One of those outputs is fixed and is meant to connect to your hi-fi while also doubling as a 24/96 mini Toslink output. The other 3.5mm output is variable and meant for driving headphones. Based on listening impressions, I'd say the Meridian Explorer is damn well capable of driving you to musical distraction. And it does so for $299.00. Welcome to the beautiful and competitive world of computer audio.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Aug 24, 2012
DragonFly Guts
What's a cable company like AudioQuest doing making a DAC? The easy answer is—because its here (Computer Audio audio that is). AudioQuest makes an extensive line of audio and video cables and in addition to the usual suspects there's a line of Ethernet cables which I'll be reviewing shortly. AudioQuest also has had a "Computer Audio" section on their website for some time now that includes two informative "How To" type PDFs, and they've been hosting Computer Audio seminars at most of the major Hi-Fi Shows. So I would say its safe to say that AudioQuest has embraced file-based playback with both arms and legs. The subject of today's musical travels is their new DragonFly USB DAC which adds a pair of wings to their computer audio-centric offerings.

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