CEntrance may not yet be a household word among audiophiles, but behind the scenes it is known as a key mover and shaker in the world of USB audio. Among other things, the firm’s custom AdaptiWave code, which helps pave the way for 24/96 USB solutions, has been licensed by some of the most serious players in the USB audio universe, including Bel Canto Design, Benchmark Media, Empirical Audio, Lavry and others. But now CEntrance has brought out a range of direct-marketed products of its own, one of the most impressive of which is the DACport ($399.95)—a product I encountered firsthand when I visited the CEntrance booth at Can Jam Chicago-2010 earlier this summer.
Exactly what is the DACport? In simple terms, it is the combination of a self-proclaimed “reference quality” 24-bit/96kHz USB DAC plus a class A solid-state headphone amplifier, but with two very significant twists. First, the DACport is portable (as in, well and truly pocket-sized), and second, it is entirely USB-powered (meaning it requires no batteries whatsoever). If you’re skeptical, as I am, you might expect that USB power limitations would surely limit the DACport’s output capabilities, but the clever CEntrance have found a way to step up normal USB voltages to provide the DACport with an 18 Volt (± 9V) power supply, so that in fact it can gracefully drive quite difficult headphone loads to satisfying levels.
Importantly, CEntrance has worked hard to make the DACport a so-called “class-compliant” USB device (supporting 24/96 resolution levels via both USB 1.1 and 2.0), meaning that it requires no device drivers at all and is a true plug’n’play audio component for Mac, Windows, and Linux systems. Installation doesn’t get much simpler than this.
The result is a tiny little cigar-shaped component that is beautifully made and that offers extremely high sound quality, yet that is portable and that allows you to take top-tier, full-size headphones along with you wherever you want to go. Whether you’re off for a trip to the coffee shop or across the country, the DACport puts true high-end sound at your fingertips as long as you have access to digital audio files via USB.
Consider this DAC/Amp if: you like the idea of getting an extremely high quality, high-resolution USB DAC developed by a firm whose core USB audio technologies have been embraced by some of the top players in the industry. Also consider the DACport for its class A, USB-powered headphone amp that offers the terrific combination excellent of top-to-bottom detail, smooth and very fine-grained highs, and awesome bass pitch definition and control. Above all, understand that the DACport’s is incredibly convenient and offers exceptional value for money. So far as we are aware, there is nothing else quite like it on today’s market.
Look further if: you require a headphone amp that offers excellent bass “slam” or that provides very high levels of gain. From a texture and control standpoint, the DACport’s bass is superb, but in terms of bass weight and impact the DACport can (at least on some headphones) sound just slightly lightly balanced. Also, while the DACport can drive even problematic headphone loads to satisfying levels, it cannot always enable them to play loudly (which I personally wouldn’t recommend, though to each his own).
You can find headphones amps (e.g., the HiFiMAN EF5) at about the same price as the DACport that will deliver both bass slam and all the gain you might wish for, but the tradeoff is that they typically aren’t portable products, aren’t USB-powered, don’t incorporate high-end 24/96 DACs, and (in most cases) aren’t made in the U.S.—which the DACport is.
• Design & Features: 10
• Tonal Balance: 9.5
• Timbral Purity: 10
• Detail & Resolution: 10
• Imaging/Soundstaging: 10
• Dynamics: 9
• Value: 10
• Supported sample sates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96kHz.
• Supported resolution levels: 16- and 24-bit. CEntrance emphasizes that, “Because DACport is a 24-bit device, Windows sends it audio with no changes, ‘bit-for-bit’, at all supported sample rates.”
• Input connections: USB 1.1 or USB 2.0, driverless. CEntrance explains that that “the real challenge was to fit two channels of 24/96 audio into the ‘thin’ USB1.1 pipe, where very little bandwidth is available,” adding that the firm, “employed advanced code optimization techniques to push a lot of digital traffic through a very small data pipe.”
• Communication: Proprietary CEntrance AdaptiWave USB technology.
• Local clock: Uses CEntrance JitterGuard technology—a proprietary two-stage clock management system” to control a “Mil spec clock oscillator with 10 ppm precision.”
• Jitter: A very low 1 ps.
• OS Compatibility: The DACport is a plug’n’play audio device with any Mac, PC or Linux computer.