The DragonFly is a 96/24-capable, asynchronous USB DAC based on the very same ESS Sabre DAC chip found in many more costly disc players and other digital audio components. Moreover, it uses Streamlength Class 1 USB code licensed from none other than acknowledged USB audio guru Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio. The tiny device is entirely USB-powered and incorporates a quite respectable headphone amplifier (the AW team loaned me a sample at the show, and I’ve been listening to ‘phones through it ever since). But best of all, the DragonFly sounds both hearty and refined, is dirt simple to use, and sports numerous clever detail touches that I think users will come to love as they become familiar with the component.
One example: The DragonFly sports a small translucent dragonfly symbol that illuminates when the unit is powered up and that changes colors to denote the resolution levels of the digital audio files being played. Another example: The DragonFly includes a cool, 64-step digitally controlled built-in analog volume control that completely sidesteps problems with bit-truncation that typically arise with conventional digital volume controls. Thus, even though you control volume levels from the computer, you always get full resolution (i.e., no lost bits)—a very clever approach. We suspect AudioQuest will sell a gazillion of these things and for all the right reasons.
While Cambridge has won acclaim for its upscale 800-series components, it is important to remember that the company traditionally has been strong in the area of true entry-level components. A perfect case in point would be the firm’s new 351A stereo integrated amplifier ($599), which puts out 2 x 45-watts, sports a beefy power supply based on an oversized toroidal transformer, a low-noise ALPS volume control, and a built-in USB DAC based on a Burr Brown DAC. Complementing the 351A is a sister product, the 351C CD player ($599). The 351 C uses a Wolfson WM8728 DAC, provides what Cambridge terms “a highly accurate master clock oscillator and carefully designed impedance-matched clock buffering schemes, and—significantly—uses Cambridge’s signature S3 servo control for the disc drive. Both components should help to extend the firm’s reputation for building affordable sonic overachievers.
Cary Audio is one of the several high-end audio electronics manufacturers who have recently chosen to build serious, performance-oriented headphone amplifiers. Cary took this decision, as have several others, in recognition of the fact that high-performance headphones constitute a vibrant and growing segment within the broader high-end audio universe. To enter the market in a powerful way, Cary has created two products: its recently-released Audio Electronics by Cary Nighthawk headphone amp ($1195) and the new-for-CEDIA Cary Audio HH-1 headphone amp ($1595). (Click here to read my recent Playback review of the Audio Electronics Nighthawk.).
Where the Nighthawk is a pure solid-state design, Cary’s upscale HH-1 is a pure Class A hybrid tube/solid-state amp where a tube front end is used to drive, a single-ended MOSFET current sourced output stage. Although I only had a brief chance to listen the HH-1, I think I can say with confidence that it takes significant sonic steps forward vis-à-vis the already excellent Nighthawk.
Have you ever wished someone would build a serious, high-end oriented room EQ system that was easy to use and didn’t cost the proverbial arm and a leg? If so, then the Scandinavian firm DSPeaker has just what the doctor ordered in the form of its new Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual-Core room EQ system ($1099). The unit promises to be exceptionally versatile and easy to use, though the technology embedded within is frankly quite elaborate, as it provides a sophisticated implementation of the firm’s complex Anti-Mode 2.0 room EQ algorithm (click here for an in-depth discussion of the algorithm).