In this review, we take a look at a collection of portable headphone DAC/Amps, compatible with iOS devices: the Apogee One, CEntrance Mini-M8, Oppo HA-2 and V-MODA Vamp Verza. Every one of these products sounds dramatically better than my iPhone 5S by itself.
Audio Player Reviews
We've been waiting for the PonoPlayer for a long, long time. Neil Young was first pitching this thing on Letterman in 2012. The kickstarter campaign, which raised nearly 15x the initial goal of $800,000 ended on Tax Day 2014 with delivery promised by October.
Tidal Music Streaming Service is the first CD quality (1411 kbps) music streaming service offered in the U.S. With over 25 million tracks in their catalog, they offer a wide variety of musical genres, in addition to curated Playlists and Music Editorials. For the video minded, they also include a catalog of 75,000 music videos, most of which are in HD resolution.
The Emotiva ERC-3 Reference CD Player is designed from the ground up to be the reference in which all the rest of your music playing should be compared. Superbly designed chassis, Analog Devices AD1955 joined with fully balanced analog circuitry deliver world-class audio performance.
Chris Eberle's most recent Technical Media Server review, he explained many of the options available today for media servers, streamers, and NAS systems, including the option to build your own "home-brew" media server. In the current article I'm going to go into the details of one such system – mine! In addition to being a full-blown media server, this system is also my HD-DVR, and it is pretty easy to set up and operate. Moreover, this system allows me to record most high definition shows from my cable subscription totally DRM-free. I've done all this without a single piece of hardware from my cable provider. Want to learn how I did it? Read on!
HiFiMAN is probably best known for their headphones and headphone amplifiers, some of which we have reviewed, but they also manufacture portable music players as an alternative to the ubiqutious iPod. The HM-802 is one of several models, including the HM-700, which is less expensive than the HM-802, and the HM-901, which is more expensive. You also have the option of having a balanced amplifier module in the player or the standard unbalanced one. In this review, I cover the model HM-802, with the standard unbalanced amplifier card, as well as with the optional balanced amp card. It plays PCM music tracks up to 24/192 and DSD64, as well as wav, flac, mp3, alac, aac, and aiff files.
I am probably in the minority now. I am still a dinosaur that watches almost all of their movies off of physical discs instead of streaming, downloads, or Pay-Per-View. I do watch plenty of streaming content, as it is convenient, but I can't bring myself to pay for an inferior quality product that I download compared to buying a disc at the store. Now after spending a month with the Kaleidescape Cinema One Media Server, I can see a future, one that is very close, where I won't buy a disc again. I see a reality where convenience and quality are not mutually exclusive. What does the Kaleidescape do that has managed to change my mind about this? A lot.
NAD introduced its own iPod dock, the VISO, last year at CEDIA. As one would expect from this high-end company, little expense was spared in its design as it sought to bridge the iPod, and other digital music players, with quality amplification and speakers while keeping it all in a compact package. With the proliferation of AirPlay streaming, it made sense that the second generation product should include this super-convenient feature. Hence, we have the VISO 1 AP, the subject of today's review. Where last year's VISO required you to chain your iPod to the unit, the AP lets you keep your iPod in your pocket so you can control your music from anywhere within reach of your WiFi network.
The Halo CD 1 is a flagship CD Player from the well regarded, San Francisco based, Parasound. CD Player? Surely I mean 'DAC with Transport'. Nope. CD player, put your CD in, music comes out. No, you mean it's part of a server system, the data is stored for later retrieval by a computer system. Well, only if you count the internal buffering and Intel ITX computer running Linux inside the CD 1. In implementation then the CD 1 is quite modern, it's a computer, dedicated to CD playback only. In practice, it's an old fashioned (and in this case, that's good) CD player.
Pioneer currently offers two network audio players in their Elite product line. Both models are best described as media streamers since they do not store music within the player's chassis but rather acquire music from external music servers or devices. The first model is the N-30, which offers the ability to stream high-resolution digital music via Apple's AirPlay or from DLNA-compatible servers. The second model and subject of this review is the N-50 that builds upon the functionality of the N-30 by adding an asynchronous USB DAC as well as optical and coaxial digital inputs so the N-50 can be used as an outboard D/A converter.
Marantz has a long history in Audio, dating back to the 1950's with Saul Marantz in New York, then with Phillips in the 80's and 90's and now under D&M Holdings along with Denon and McIntosh.
Emotiva continues to occupy an interesting space in the audiophile realm. It is now possible to get an entire two channel or five channel system consisting almost entirely of Emotiva products, CD player or DAC, a preamp, a variety of amplifiers from one to five channels, a pre-pro on the way and interconnects. The Emotiva ERC-2 is a two-channel CD player with balanced outputs for low noise transfer between the CD player and your preamplifier. At $449, this is a player to reckon with.
Like most people I have some pet peeves. When I shop for televisions, I am always hoping to find one without speakers. I have a dedicated theater with speakers and electronics that are leaps and bounds ahead of what I could possibly get in a TV. I don't need speakers; I'll never turn them on. I don't want them! Simply having them adds cost, complexity, and size to my TV. I don't want to pay for what I won't use!
Computer audio is quickly becoming the source of choice for high-resolution audio playback. A vast number of products focused on computer audio are available today, but most of the attention is paid to hardware: DACs and computer audio interfaces like the Bryston BDA-1 and Halide Design USB to SPDIF Bridge I reviewed last year. In all our reviews, we forget one key component of the playback chain: the software player. I have complained extensively about the difficulty of getting no-compromise audio playback from a computer.
I was in a bind. CD and product reviews were due at multiple publications, and my Theta Carmen II transport's drive mechanism had failed. I may have bought the used unit directly from Theta Digital's founder and former owner, Neil Sinclair, but that couldn't change the fact that the Carmen II's defective drive was long out of production. With no spare parts available in at Theta's Southern California headquarters, I was in trouble. Paul McGowan came to my rescue by sending a PS Audio PerfectWave Disc Transport. And, wow, does this thing transport.