all dacport

Published on July 25th, 2012 | by Greg


CEntrance DACport: World-Class Headphone Amp

A lot of work has gone in­to mak­ing the dig­i­tal world work cheap­ly and ef­fi­cient­ly, ef­fec­tive­ly and co-op­er­a­tive­ly. For the most part, com­po­nents are made in great bulk, as­sem­bled abroad by ma­chines, and tuned to a gen­er­al­ly-pleas­ing mid­dle ground, bal­anced for dura­bil­i­ty. This is why lis­ten­ing to mu­sic through reg­u­lar com­put­er speak­ers, us­ing com­pressed MP3 files, can some­times seem like eat­ing a hot­house toma­to- it can look and feel pret­ty good but can of­ten taste or sound a bit emp­ty.

Ana­log is touchy. Sound is sub­jec­tive. Hand-as­sem­bling units in the Unit­ed States means that each is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent, and more ex­pen­sive. But if you re­al­ly want to ap­pre­ci­ate your mu­sic, and still ex­ist in the mod­ern world of dig­i­tal record­ings, you’ll need a DAC. LPs are not very easy to trav­el with, sad­ly, and we do en­joy hav­ing ac­cess to the vast bulk of mu­sic on hard drives and through high­ly ad­justable and cus­tomiz­able lap­tops and desk­tops. We’ve talked about DACs in the past, and re­cent­ly checked out a won­der­ful set of gear from CEn­trance, their speak­er and amp com­bi­na­tion that is one of the best pieces of au­dio gear that we’ve seen, from pack­ag­ing to out­put.

To­day’s kit is the CEn­trance DAC­port, a Class A head­phone amp and 24-bit 96 kHz USB dig­i­tal-to-ana­log con­vert­er. No ex­ter­nal pow­er or bat­ter­ies are need­ed, and it works equal­ly well in Mac, Win­dows, and Lin­ux en­vi­ron­ments. This is a dense, love­ly, to­tal­ly portable unit that doesn’t need drivers and works equal­ly well at home or on the go. In fact, if price were tak­en out of the equa­tion, this would be our top choice for portable DACs. Of course, while at home, and es­pe­cial­ly if you have larg­er cans or want deep­er and more pow­er­ful bass, you may want to check out a larg­er unit with a ded­i­cat­ed pow­er sup­ply, like those from Mu­sic Hall. And if you’re look­ing for the rich­est sound and a lit­tle more warmth, tube amps of­fer a lot of op­tions and clas­sic feel, but aren’t portable in the least.

For ev­ery­one else, this is a dead-sim­ple op­tion, with­out any com­pli­cat­ed fea­tures. There’s on­ly a pair of jacks- one for USB and one for your 1/4″ head­phones, and the list­ed specs of­fer 120 dB of dy­nam­ic range, 1.5W of pow­er, and 10 ohm of out­put impedance, all in a pack­age weigh­ing quite a bit less than three ounces. We con­nect­ed the DAC­port to a few of our head­phones for com­par­i­son lis­ten­ing tests from our Mac­book Air run­ning the lat­est ver­sion iTunes and pri­mar­i­ly us­ing FLAC files and MP3s en­cod­ed at sev­er­al bi­trates to sim­u­late an av­er­age col­lec­tion.

As with ev­ery DAC, there is a def­i­nite and im­me­di­ate­ly no­tice­able dif­fer­ence, with al­most any set of de­cent head­phones. You won’t no­tice it much with ear­buds, for ex­am­ple, which is why we al­ways sug­gest spend­ing mon­ey on head­phones first and a DAC or amp sec­ond. Once you’ve got­ten a pair of head­phones over $300, you’ll be amazed at the dif­fer­ence. For tracks like Flo­rence + The Ma­chine’s cov­er of ‘Ad­dict­ed to Love’, you’ll hear the echoes and very sub­tle pro­duc­tion sur­round you, with­out the sibi­lance and edge that comes with­out a good DAC. There’s no jit­ter to an­noy or ir­ri­tate you over time, and the de­tails are im­pec­ca­ble- like in Glo­ria Jones’ ‘Taint­ed Love’, where it’s easy for the old ana­log sound to feel a bit hol­low or sharp, but was soft­er and rounder here, and far more ex­pan­sive. The sound­stage from the DAC­port is ex­cel­lent, and our on­ly mild is­sue with sound was an oc­ca­sion­al lack of oomph from heavy bass hits when com­pared to oth­er, beefi­er units, large­ly when lis­ten­ing to hip-hop or dance mu­sic.

The sound boost is sig­nif­i­cant, and re­al- it works for oth­er au­dio sources as well, such as movies and TV, which can be nice when throw­ing on videos dur­ing plane rides, for ex­am­ple. Ev­ery­thing is clean, noise free (even at low or no vol­umes, a sign of qual­i­ty com­po­nents and re­al care in the cre­ation of au­dio gear). Mids are bal­anced, rich, and for­ward. One note: the unit does get a bit warm, even hot. Not enough to be wor­ri­some, but cer­tain­ly no­tice­able over time. Al­so, we did burn ours in over about forty hours of play­back, but didn’t no­tice any sig­nif­i­cant changes- but you might want to let it set­tle with a few hours of play­back be­fore re­al­ly mak­ing up your mind.

Our mind is made up: we’re lis­ten­ing through the DAC­port. At $400, it’s not in­ex­pen­sive, and there are cheap­er op­tions out there that will do the job if you need to save a bit for oth­er parts of your au­dio ecosys­tem. But none will do the job as ef­fec­tive­ly, and the dif­fer­ence in price is clear- the pric­ing is fair, es­pe­cial­ly when con­sid­er­ing the de­sign and lo­cal as­sem­bly. Avail­able now, on­line and in stores.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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