Bass is extremely taut, well controlled, and offers exceptional pitch definition. There’s just no low-end looseness or murkiness to be found anywhere in this little amp/DAC, which is a good thing. Through the DACport, plucked instruments such as cellos and electric or acoustic basses have clear and distinctive sonic signatures, as they should, and on low percussion you can easily discern skin sounds as drums are struck. Even very low pedal notes on pipe organs maintain an almost crystalline purity and clarity. The only drawback I could find was that the DACport’s mid and low bass ranges sound just slightly lightly balanced relative to other good DACs or headphone amps you might audition. The problem isn’t that the DACport can’t go low, because in fact it can and does, nor is it that low frequencies are “rolled off,” because they aren’t. Rather the situation is that the DACport’s mid and low-bass sound as if they are—at least on some headphones—shelved downward by just a dB or two. This isn’t a damning flaw by any stretch of the imagination, and it is a characteristic that can work to your advantage on some headphones, but it is one way in which headphone amps with bigger, beefier power supplies may differentiate themselves from the DACport.
Amazingly, the DACport offers sufficient power and gain to drive almost any type of headphone you might throw at it, and to satisfying volume levels. Note, however, that to get adequate output with really difficult-to-drive ‘phones, you may need to run the DACport at close to its maximum gain settings, which—for the record—CEntrance advises is fine for you to do should the need arise. As a message on the CEntrance Web site states, “There is no danger in setting DACport’s volume level to maximum—the internal amplifier has plenty of headroom and is guaranteed to never overload, even during the loudest musical passages.”
During my tests I used the DACport to drive a very wide range of headphones including the Shure SRH840 (44 Ohms), the Beyerdynamic DT-990 Edition (600 Ohms), the Sennheiser HD800 (300 Ohms) and the notoriously difficult-to-drive HiFiMAN HE-5LE (37 Ohms). To my surprise and delight, the DACport drove them all without apparent distress, though the HiFiMAN ‘phones did require very high volume control settings in order to really “sing.”
To appreciate the cleanliness, purity and extension of the DACport's mid and low bass regions, listen to the descending organ pedal note progression in the “Pie Jesu” section of the John Rutter Requiem [Reference Recordings]. As the chorus floats high above, the organ drops lower and lower in pitch, eventually getting down into frequencies that most loudspeakers cannot adequately reproduce. Yet the DACport never flinched, tracking the descent of the pipe organ’s pitch until the sound hovered in that deepest of deep regions where pitch seems to morph into something akin to a physical sensation where you feel as if you are being shaken by huge, shuddering columns of air. Where some DACs or amps would make the pipe organ in the Rutter piece sound amorphous or ill-defined, the DACport maintained near-perfect pitch control even as it plumbed the depths of the lowest notes.
At the opposite end of the frequency spectrum, the DACport made veritable child’s play of the complex cornucopia of high-frequency percussion sounds presented in “Talking Wind”, from Marilyn Mazur and Jan Garbarek’s Elixir [ECM]. This particular track has become a favorite upper midrange and treble test of mine, in that it shows a very wide range of high-pitched percussion instruments—each with distinctive timbres and, especially, varying dynamic envelopes—all in play at once. It’s not easy to capture the character of each individual instrumental voice, given the diverse combination of gongs, cymbals, chimes and bells used in this track, and it is harder still to convey the realistic sound and elusive “feel” of actual metallic objects being struck and left to ring out in the open air. Yet the DACport did a more than creditable job with the track, effortlessly delineating the variegated voices of the instruments and capturing the penetrating yet also shimmering sound associated with metal percussion instruments at play.
Finally, the DACport does a beautiful job with voices, as in the title track from Mary-Chapin Carpenter’s Come On Come On [SBME Special Markets]. For me, one of the most appealing aspects of this track is the way that, on the chorus lines from which the song’s title is derived, the singer transitions from full voice to lines sung just barely above a whisper level. Thus, you hear Carpenter sing, “(full voice) Come on, Come on/(whispered) It’s getting late now/(full voice) Come on, Come on/(barely above a whisper) Take my hand…” The DACport handles these transitions with real polish and finesse, conveying not only the sound of Carpenter’s voice, but of reverb tails lingering on the air.