Headphone Amp/DAC Reviews

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Mark Fleischmann  |  Nov 25, 2013  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Enhances computer audio
Sleek design
High-end build quality
Minus
No headphone jack
Ambiguous indicators

THE VERDICT
The Director is the best USB DAC we’ve heard yet.

I will never forget the moment when I first heard digital audio in 1985. It was a profound disappointment. I had just bought my first CD player and played my first Compact Disc. The sound was harsh and alienating. How could that be? CDs offered perfect sound forever. There must be something wrong with my ears, I thought. It took years to trust my senses and rethink my digital signal source.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 10, 2013  |  5 comments
Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $299 At a Glance: Computer-friendly USB DAC • Headphone amp • Clean and precise sound

Do you have a pack of cigarettes on your desk? If so, try this. Connect a USB cable between the pack and your computer. Then connect a line-level cable between the pack and your desktop-powered speakers or amplifier. Finally, replace the cigarette pack with a Meridian Explorer USB DAC. There: Your life just got a whole lot happier and healthier. And your music is smokin’.

Fred Manteghian  |  Dec 06, 2010  |  0 comments
Price: $1,595 At A Glance: CD quality, or better, in an easy-to-use iTunes wrapper • iPhone or iPod touch remote control not included

From Air to iTunity

I used to say, “Disk is cheap,” even back in the ’80s when, let’s be honest, it really wasn’t. A 40-megabyte disk drive—go ask your dad what a megabyte is—went for $400 and was about enough to store a 4-minute CD track. Today, I have a pair of 250-gigabyte external drives that ran me half that amount even a few years ago. Together with my laptop, I’ve got a system that easily fulfills my every iTunes fantasy—except one. I still have to rely on an iPod and iPod docking station to get music from the computer rig to my main system across the room. If that’s been bugging you too, check out the Micromega AirStream WM-10. It’s an 802.11n wireless router that your iTunes library can connect to, all for a price that—well, there’s the rub. This thing ain’t cheap.

Brent Butterworth  |  Dec 21, 2011  |  0 comments

Most headphone amps aren’t made for the way we use headphones. Even many small models are too big to slip comfortably into a pocket. And most require power from an AC wall wart or a USB port. What use is that when you’re stuck in seat 34B of a Boeing 757, miles above Enid, Oklahoma, struggling to get better sound from your smartphone?

Mark Fleischmann  |  May 03, 2016  |  1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
384/32 and DSD256
Eight-stage power supply
Doubles as stereo preamp
Minus
Black, boxy styling
Tricky sampling-rate LEDs

THE VERDICT
The Moon by Simaudio Neo 230HAD is a state-of-the-art headphone amplifier/DAC that has a healthy, and sometimes transformative, effect on whatever headphones you plug into it.

Like the rest of us, headphones have dreams and aspirations. They know they have to start out small with whatever phone, computer, or AVR comes to hand. But they dream of something better—of an amp and DAC tailored just for their needs. In short, they long for their dream home. If you’ve invested in a good pair of headphones, wouldn’t it be cruel to make your cans sleep on a sofabed in a basement when they deserve more headroom, more purity, the freedom to be the best they can be? The Moon by Simaudio Neo 230HAD just might be the dream home they’re hoping for.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 02, 2014  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Well-balanced sound
Space-saving footprint
XLR and RCA outputs
Minus
No data rate conversion
Incomplete sampling indicators

THE VERDICT
NAD’s D 1050 is a well-rounded DAC and headphone amp with outputs to feed a stereo preamp or receiver.

NAD’s D 1050 USB DAC, to use its official name, is one of a trio of products introduced at the same time. Like the D 7050 Direct Digital Network Amplifier ($999) and D 3020 Hybrid Digital Amplifier ($499), it includes a headphone amp and USB DAC. Unlike those two products, it doesn’t directly drive a pair of speakers—only your humble cans and the analog inputs of an audio system. However, its shape and design are similar to that of the other two products, building their digital-to-analog and preamp guts into a smaller package.

Daniel Kumin  |  Oct 08, 2013  |  1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Fine performance and sound
Elegant looks
Clear value
Minus
No mute control
Limited detail in volume readout

THE VERDICT
As an integrated amplifier/DAC combo for serious listeners, the D 3020’s audio quality and value are unmistakable.

Audio types old enough to have viewed Chevy Chase’s pratfalls live rather than on demand may remember an unprepossessing integrated amplifier from an unfamiliar brand. The NAD 3020, despite a power rating laughably modest even in 1978 (20 watts per channel) and next to no features, gained notice because, as the lore went, “it sounded great.” And it did—thanks to intelligent amplifier design, a conservative power rating, and the value—widely underappreciated, then and now—of dynamic headroom.

Daniel Kumin  |  Feb 27, 2019  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $749 (was $699 at time of review)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Impressive power and sonics from a sub-compact design
Dynamic enough to handle a wide range of speakers
Useful Bass EQ/subwoofer filter options
Minus
Digital conversion does not extend to 32-bit/384kHz

THE VERDICT
The D 3045 is a surprisingly powerful compact integrated amplifier with an eminently capable onboard DAC that's equally at home on the desktop or component rack.

Five years ago, when I examined NAD's $399 D 3020, the progenitor of the D 3045 before us here, I liked it—a lot. The D 3020 was among the first of what I've come to call DAC-lifiers: small-ish integrated amps with onboard digital-to-analog facilities intended for audio-streaming or computer sources and projecting at least some level of audiophile sophistication.

Michael Berk  |  Nov 13, 2012  |  0 comments

Futureproofing. It's a concept that appeals to consumers, but for various reasons most manufacturers have shied away from products that enable people to extend the useful lives of the gear they already own.

The brand-new Griffin Twenty ($99, out today) is a refreshing exception to the rule.

Peter Pachal  |  May 04, 2006  |  0 comments

COOL FACTOR Without a doubt, getting rid of your iPod's headphone cable would be a huge plus. Sure, you may not get as much street cred without the dangling white wires, but think of the freedom you'll have with TEN's naviPlay, which has volume and track-skipping controls right on the earcup.

Michael Berk  |  Aug 03, 2011  |  0 comments

In a sure sign that the low-cost DAC is finding its place as an object of mass consumer desire, NuForce has released a 24-karat gold plated version of their uDAC-2 converter-and-headphone-amp combo unit

Ken C. Pohlmann  |  Jun 06, 2012  |  0 comments

Aah, summertime. Lather on sunscreen, pump up the bike tires, and you’re almost set. What’s missing? Music! And we’re not talking about those antisocial earbuds that cocooned you through the dark winter. We’re talking about actual speakers that you can take along with you on outings.

Michael Berk  |  Aug 18, 2011  |  0 comments

Parasound has packed a few more features into their Zphono moving coil/moving magnet pre, adding to the Zphono·USB ($350) an A-D converter and (obviously) a USB port, making it even more handy as a general-purpose interface for those with older and esoteric turntables (or pretty much any other stereo gear) looking to digitize their collections.

Brent Butterworth  |  Mar 08, 2011  |  0 comments

DVD, say your prayers. Blu-ray Disc, better get your affairs in order. Judging from the new A/V receivers Pioneer introduced on Monday at the W Hotel in San Francisco, one could easily conclude that the old "hard" media formats have pretty much played out.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Sep 09, 2018  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $399

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dual mono DACs
DSD and MQA support
Can function as a preamp
Minus
Limited portability

THE VERDICT
Pro-Ject’s compact amp/DAC pairs especially well with modestly priced headphones, and it can also serve as a stereo preamp.

More people are listening to more diverse high-resolution audio formats through higher-quality headphones than ever before. But ideas about how to feed those headphones vary. The headphone amplifier/digital-to-analog converter, a popular hybrid product, is among the most tireless shape-shifters on the audio scene. I’ve reviewed Amp/DACs as compact as a USB stick and as big as a full-size rack component. At about 4 x 1.5 x 4 inches (WxHxD), Pro-Ject’s Pre Box S2 Digital falls somewhere in between. You wouldn’t carry it in a pocket, but it doesn’t take up much space on a busy desk.

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