In ways like these and many more, the DACport manages to sound like a much more expensive product than it actually is. If I had to pick one adjective with which to describe the DACport’s sound, the word I think fits best might be “sophisticated.” One hopes, of course, that a roughly four-hundred-dollar DAC/amp will sound “good for the money,” but the DACport does more than that. It sounds just plain good. Period. With no equivocal ifs, ands, or buts.
The only areas where the DACport’s minor limitations become apparent involve bass-oriented track where the material requires a degree of low frequency richness and weight that the DACport cannot quite deliver. One example might be Merlo Podlewski’s rubbery, full-bodied, reggae-inflected bass line in “Wasting Time” from Jack Johnson’s On and On [Universal]. The DACport does, as expected, a fine job with the almost elastic textures and overall “feel” of the bass line, but it just misses achieving the big, room-filling, reggae bass sound that the track demands.
As mentioned above, we know of few if any products that do precisely what the DACport does and of none that provide USB-fed power supplies. Nevertheless, we think readers may want to know how the DACport stacks up A) versus good—albeit non-portable—USB DAC/headphone amps we’ve heard, and B) versus comparably priced high-quality headphone amps we’ve tried. To this end, we’ll compare the DACport to the critically acclaimed Peachtree Audio iDecco USB DAC/headphone amp/integrated amp (click here to read the Playback review) and to HiFiMAN’s tube-powered EF5 headphone amp (Playback review pending).
DACport vs. Peachtree iDecco ($999)
• The DACport costs roughly 40% of what the Peachtree iDecco does, though in fairness the Peachtree incorporates both tube and solid-state output stages, features four digital audio and one analog input, a digital iPod dock, and a 40 Wpc power amp. In short, both products give a lot of versatility for the money.
• The DACport is portable, whereas the iDecco is a desktop unit.
• The DACport provides a true 24/96 DAC, while the Peachtree DAC upsamples to 24/96 levels.
• Comparing just the DAC/headphone sections of the two products (apples to apples, as they say), the Peachtree offer a slightly warmer, smoother, darker, sound and exhibits a slightly more softly focused character than the DACport. In contrast, the DACport exhibits marginally brighter upper mids and highs, a more fine-grained and sharply focused sound, and somewhat more lightly balanced mid and low bass (but bass that, while it may be shelved downward by a dB or two, is by no means rolled off). In general, the DACport offers a bit tighter, more precise control over timbres and textures.
• Both products do a great job of dispensing with potential USB upper midrange/treble edginess and glare.
DACport vs. HiFiMAN EF5 ($399)
• The products are the same price, but the DACport is both a DAC and a headphone amp, where the EF5 is a two-piece, tube-powered headphone amplifier only.
• The DACport and HiFiMAN EF5 are roughly comparable in overall levels of transparency, though the HiFiMAN provides the desirable qualities of harmonic richness and “bloom” that are part and parcel of its tube-powered circuit. The DACport, in contrast, offers the effortless delineation of details for which fine solid-state class A amplifiers are known.
• Both units are extremely quiet, but the HiFiMAN EF5 offers dramatically more gain, should the need arise. This characteristic comes to the foreground with either unit is asked to power a truly difficult to drive headphone such as HiFiMAN’s HE-5LE planar magnetic headphone. The tiny DACport can actually drive the HE-5LE ‘phones surprisingly well, but it requires near maximum gain settings to do so. In contrast, the EF5 drive the HE-5LE with ease, while still keeping plenty of additional gain in reserve.
• Both units offer very good levels of bass tautness, pitch definition and control, but the EF5 offers significantly more bass “slam” and more natural (and thus more powerful) bass weighting overall.
• The EF5 is arguably the superior headphone amplifier overall, offering greater versatility and a somewhat more compelling sound. Still, the DACport’s class A amp offers sonic refinement that is a gift that keeps on giving, delivering a precise, suave and sophisticated sound that will appeal to many listeners.
• Again, the DACport is portable and incorporates a very high performance DAC, while the like-priced EF5 is a tabletop headphone amplifier only.