DACs

DAC Desktop review

DAC Desktop makes it much more convenient to sort through all of your open windows and select the one you want via a drop-down slider. Just drag your mouse across the screen to scroll sideways through the programs you have running until you get to the one you're looking for. Then open it with a single click, or check data and return to your main working screen.

When you install DAC Desktop, you can choose to have it start running, automatically. To access the app's interface, just move your mouse across the middle of the top of the … Read more

Audioengine's mighty midget digital converter/headphone amplifier does the job

Audioengine is one of those rare companies that gets it right every time. Its desktop speakers excel in a very crowded, highly competitive field, and its digital converters are also strong performers.

Audioengine's latest release, the tiny USB-powered D3 digital converter, continues that tradition. The aluminum body feels nice and solid, and its digital converter can accept 24-bit/192KHz audio. The headphone amplifier works with low- and high-impedance headphones. Alternatively, you can run a set of powered desktop speakers, such as Audioengine A2+s or A5+s, directly from the D3's headphone jack.

The D3 was designed to … Read more

You bought a pair of audiophile headphones -- now what?

If you've laid down serious cash for a great pair of headphones but they're plugged into your phone or computer, you're missing out on a lot of the sound quality you paid for. Don't get me wrong, phones and tablets can sound acceptable, but their designers didn't focus on sound quality -- that's the last thing they worry about. The cure for so-so sound is straightforward: invest in a high-performance digital converter/headphone amp, like the Cypher Labs Theorem 720. It can be used with iPhones, Android phones, or computers via USB connection with … Read more

Raising the performance bar: Centrance HiFi-M8 digital converter/headphone amplifier

The Centrance Hi-Fi M8 is a rather unusual product on a number of counts, starting with the fact that it's offered in eight different connectivity configurations that were proposed by potential buyers who responded to a crowdsourced thread on the Head-Fi Web site. I admire Centrance's willingness to accept consumer opinions, but as it turns out most consumers opt for the configuration I have for review, the HiFi-M8 XL4, which features 3.5mm, 6.3mm and four-pin XLR headphone output jacks on the front panel. Some of the other versions are directed to pro users with headphones that … Read more

Two gifts under $100 for the audio enthusiast

Forget Black Friday, the best deals can crop up at any time, and today we're looking at two great audio products recently reduced to just $99: the Audioquest Dragonfly and the Logitech UE Smart Radio.

Last year, the Audioquest scored raves with its Dragonfly USB DAC/headphone amp -- or soundcard to the rest of us. This is a compact USB key which includes an onboard amp and originally sold for $249. But now that a new 1.2 version is out, outlets like Amazon are selling off the old version at a bargain price-- just $99.

The Dragonfly … Read more

Supercharge your laptop's sound with the ALO Island headphone amplifier

The ALO Island is a USB-powered digital audio converter/headphone amplifier, and it's a honey! Functionally, it's not so different than many of the other USB digital converter/amps I've covered on this blog, but it's a bit bigger. The others are about the size of a thumbdrive; the Island is a 1.25x1.25x3.25-inch aluminum "brick," but it's still small enough to be considered a portable device. It handles low- and high-resolution files, up to 192kHz/24-bit. The Island sells for $299 in the US direct from the ALO Web site, … Read more

Upping the ante: The Schiit Asgard 2 headphone amplifier

Right, the name attracts a certain amount of attention, but Schiit is no joke. The California-based company made its name with the very first product, the little Asgard headphone amp, which I enthusiastically reviewed on this blog back in 2010. Since then more Schiit headphone amps and digital converters won raves from me. This time out we're back to the Asgard, in its revised Asgard 2 format. The price is still $249.

The Asgard 2 adds preamp output jacks, so it can drive a stereo power amplifier or self-powered desktop monitors, like my Adam Audio F5s. When you plug … Read more

Getting to know the Meridian Audio factory

The city of Huntingdon, home of high-end audio company Meridian, is about a quintessential British town as you could picture. It looks like a movie set. Meridian is perhaps best known for its trapezoidal digital speakers and associated preamps. The company has more recently gotten into portable DACs, music servers, car audio, and more.

On a recent trip to England, I got a chance to tour the facility. I took lots of pictures for you.… Read more

Honey, I shrunk the high-end digital audio converter

Meridian is a legendary British company; I think of it as the Mercedes-Benz of audio, and the gear is priced accordingly. Meridian's engineering was always ahead of the pack, and it was the very first to market a high-end CD player in 1985. The company developed the original high-resolution lossless compression technology, MLP, that debuted in DVD-Audio players, and is now used in Dolby TrueHD-encoded Blu-ray discs.

When Meridian released the $299 Explorer USB digital converter earlier this year I thought that's it, Meridian put out an enticing, affordable morsel, but now they're going back up in … Read more

ADL X1: This gizmo will pump up the sound of your iPhone

Over the past year or so we've seen a new product category emerge: the portable digital converter/headphone amplifier. Of course, no one "needs" such a device -- phones and iPods already have converters and amps built-in -- and sound perfectly fine with average headphones. The sound is good enough, but your phone's converter and amp share space and battery power with the phone's electronics. A separate converter and amp, about the size of a phone, has only one mission: improved sound quality. So if you upgraded to a high-end in-ear headphone, like the $399 … Read more