Outboard DACs

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Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 04, 2023
hfnoutstandingArguably the 'sweet spot' in Lumin's range of network-attached players, the new T3 retains the core features of its costlier models, including full use of the super-slick app

The product catalogue of Hong Kong's Lumin, neatly divided between four network players, three network transports, and one-off power amp and streaming amp options, deserves the description 'small but perfectly formed'. That would also be an apt way of looking at its T3, a network player/DAC possessing a neat, easy-to-accommodate design and a feature roster designed to satisfy the needs of the performance-hungry streaming audio enthusiast. In essence, it takes much of what's offered by Lumin's flagship one-box P1 [HFN Jul '22], but trims the spec. (and size) down to a price point of £4195, almost half that of its bigger brother.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 26, 2023
hfnoutstandingBuilt into the same chassis as the NEO iDSD, with the same DAC onboard, this new version loses the headphone amp in favour of a bespoke, app-driven streaming platform

To say iFi Audio is an industrious producer of compact hi-fi solutions would be an understatement. More recently the brand has been on a steep upward path of technical evolution, employing designers as accomplished as the marketing department is imaginative. The result? IFi Audio is successful because it has identified new hi-fi hotspots that appeal to both younger and older music lovers alike.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 28, 2023
hfncommendedKorea's Citech group continues apace with yet another 'full colour widescreen' offering from its HiFi Rose brand – this time with an updated network-attached media hub

ARose by any other name? As has happened in the past, Korean manufacturer HiFi Rose has launched a new version of an existing model – in this case its RS250 network player – with worthy specification changes and a suffix to set the two apart. But there's a mild inconsistency here, for when the company upgraded the RS150 [HFN Jun '21] to the current version, due to a DAC chip change forced upon the company by the 2020 fire at AKM's semiconductor plant in Japan, it became the RS150(B), selling for £3899, but the revised RS250 is now the £2349 RS250A, available in either silver or black finishes.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 26, 2023
hfnoutstandingNow benefitting from the latest updates to Auralic's Lightning streaming platform, the 'starter' Altair DAC also features a raft of mechanical and detailed design improvements

Although Auralic (promoted as AURALiC) only launched the Altair G1 in 2020, the Chinese brand already has its G1.1 update available. It appears together with the Aries G1.1 as the new and more affordable options within their respective tiers, with the Altair and Aries G2.1 [HFN Oct '21 & Feb '21] being the more expensive models. However, as all Auralic products share a very similar chassis design and carry names that aren't very descriptive, it's sometimes difficult to discern which box does what.

Martin Colloms  |  Dec 16, 2022  |  First Published: May 01, 1997
hfnvintageThe no-compromise 2010 preamp and 2020 DAC are part of the US manufacturer's ongoing 2000 series project. Martin Colloms listens

Boulder's founder and chief engineer Jeff Nelson gained his first audio engineering experience with studio mixing desks and the design of a professional cartridge tape unit. This led to a constructive interchange with the late Deane Jensen, the audio transformer wizard and the originator of a classic 'operational amplifier'. This was not an integrated circuit but one implemented at good power and wide bandwidth via the use of discrete devices.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 05, 2022
hfnoutstandingThis Slovakian-built DAC retains the brand's signature triode-tube analogue stage from the companion CD 2.10 disc player, but its digital engine beats to a very different tune

Many manufacturers building tube-based products seem to prefer retro-nostalgic designs but Slovakia's Canor is one of the few that favours a more modern, progressive aesthetic. It not only produces tube amplifiers but also integrates line-level tube stages into source products, such as the CD 2.10 CD player [HFN Apr '21]. The partnering DAC 2.10 also marries an output stage containing four Electro-Harmonix 6922EH triode tubes with a digital mainboard, the latter equipped with a pair of ESS9038Q2M DACs. Otherwise this is a dyed-in-the wool 'legacy' DAC with no network or wireless functions and a fixed rather than variable output. So that large rotary is not a volume control…

Review: Andrew Everard, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 02, 2022
hfnoutstandingAimed at very high-end headphone users, dCS's Lina Network DAC, Master Clock and Headphone Amplifier might also be the ideal compact system front-end for audiophiles

Headphone use has changed in recent years, from something to be endured through necessity to its own subset of hi-fi listening, with no shortage of ambitious and upmarket hardware currently available. Now dCS is on that bandwagon, for while it's been busy launching its APEX DAC technology for its 'full-size' offerings [HFN Jun '22] it's also developed the Lina, which is not so much a headphone amp as a complete playback system.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 17, 2022
hfnoutstandingMatrix Audio's Element X2 introduces design, control and input upgrades to the X's network DAC/headphone amp and preamp. All this and a colour touchscreen to boot

At first glance, one might wonder why Matrix Audio felt any need to update its Element X network DAC [HFN Jan '21], the latter receiving our 'Outstanding Product' tag at £2795. However, look at this new X2 model and – while it's still conceptually the same, with a broad retention of technology from the ESS ES9038PRO DAC to the Crystek clock – it's clear much has also changed.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 14, 2022
hfnoutstandingA Serbian brand based in Chicago packs a streamer, DAC and headphone amplifier into three bijou cases, topped off with a bespoke outboard PSU. We lend an ear, man

Although UK readers might not recognise the EarMen moniker, it's certainly not a newcomer to the world of hi-fi. Its back story is quite convoluted, for although EarMen is based in Chicago, it's funded by the owner of Serbia's Auris Audio, Milomir Trosic, and most products are produced in the same Serbian factory. Auris is aimed at the premium market, with products including the Euterpe and the Nirvana – both headphone amplifiers lavishly adorned in wood and even leather – plus a neat line of luxurious-looking tube amps and even some turntables on offer.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 07, 2022
hfnoutstandingAuralic's latest streamer/DAC combines with its upsampling processor, and at first glance there seems to be some duplication of effort. So how do they work together?

The trouble with many modern hi-fi ranges is trying to work out what each of the boxes does. I've recounted before the tale of the tower of identical-looking Linn components stacked up in the premium lounge of a well-known airline, and the amusement there was in watching 'elite' passengers trying to work out where to insert their Dire Straits CD. Similarly, Auralic also has a wide range of digital devices, and given that they all look alike, it's sometimes hard to work out what does what.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 17, 2022
hfncommendedJust as Marantz's 40n integrated takes its design cues from models of yesteryear, the partnering CD 60 player confirms the brand's commitment to the 'legacy' silver disc

Is there really a CD revival on the horizon? Rolling Stone magazine kicked off the year bristling with optimism about the return of the Compact Disc but, behind the hype, there's little dispute that this physical format offers great lossless fidelity and costs next to nothing secondhand. Until audio hipsters cotton on to the trend, of course... Sound United, owner of the Marantz and Denon brands among others, concurs, which is why it's launching not one but two CD spinners in 2022. We're not going to talk about the entry-level Denon DCD-900NE here, but about the still very affordable £749 Marantz CD 60.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 29, 2022
hfncommendedReplacing both the xCAN and xDSD, iFi Audio describes the xDSD Gryphon as its most ambitious portable headphone amplifier yet. Is this another boost to the success story?

Since launching in 2012, iFi Audio has established a reputation for delivering affordable, compact, often portable audio products. And at some pace too – looking back over the past decade, it's hard not to feel overwhelmed by the number of devices the company has released. Not all are entirely 'new', because iFi Audio likes to 'tweak' its products, which is why the xDSD Gryphon tested here follows the EISA Award-winning xDSD DAC [HFN Jul '18], and also serves as a successor to the xCAN [HFN Feb '19].

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 31, 2022
hfnoutstandingThirty-two years after the Digilog set the scene for aftermarket add-on converters, the M6x – the M6 series traceable over a decade – is a no-nonsense DAC for legacy sources

Coming from Musical Fidelity's upper-tier M6 series, the M6x is the Austrian company's priciest DAC, and the latest evolution of a product that originated around a decade ago. Of course, there has been plenty of progression through the M6 [HFN Mar '13], M6s [HFN Jan '18] and M6sR models to where we are now, both outside and in, but a few things haven't changed, including the size of the hardware, and the absence of any network streaming.

Review: Andrew Everard, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 07, 2022
hfnoutstandingLockdown afforded dCS's engineers the time and space to look at the implementation of its iconic Ring DAC afresh. The APEX upgrade is tested here in its flagship Vivaldi DAC

You know that old saying about the devil making work for idle hands? While the periods of lockdown over the past couple of years left a lot of hands idle in the hi-fi industry, the wisest turned this fallow period to good use, regrouping and rethinking. That's certainly the case with the engineers at Cambridgeshire-based Data Conversion Systems, better-known as dCS.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 23, 2022
hfnoutstandingThis Polish hotshot brand broke onto the audiophile scene with its programmable DC PSU, followed by the OOR headphone amp. Now, with DAC onboard, comes the ERCO

The name of this new product from Polish company HEM, selling under its Ferrum brand, is spelt ERCO, but pronounced 'ertso'. Apparently it's Esperanto for 'ore', and so follows on from the mineral-based brand-identity – Ferrum, OOR – you get the idea. What's also not immediately apparent, given that all the Ferrum products basically look the same, is that the £2395 ERCO is perhaps the most comprehensively equipped model the company has made to date.

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