What’s the Draw? The DACmini CX—along with all other CEntrance products—benefits from the firm’s wealth of technical know-how in areas such as DAC performance optimization, USB (and other) digital audio interface designs, jitter reduction technologies, noise reduction technologies, and analog circuit designs. It helps to know that, before it ever began building components of its own, CEntrance served (and still serves) as a consultant to some of the most influential firms in both the high-end audio and pro-sound communities. Although the DACmini looks deceptively simple from the outside, there’s a wealth of deep and careful thought applied on the inside. To see what we mean by these comments, visit the CEntrance DACmini homepage (http://www.centrance.com/products/dacmini/) and—under “Features”—click on the link to the firm’s 12-page white paper on this product’s design.
But obviously there’s a world of difference between writing compelling white papers and building products that deliver the sonic goods. Happily, the CEntrance folks know how to do both.
As a DAC, the DACmini is very sophisticated and versatile, is about as future-proof as it can possibly be, and sounds ultra-refined, finding the neat balance point between a full-bodied sound and a sound that is full of subtlety and finesse. This is one of those components that sounds more and more “right” the longer that you listen to it.
The same goes for the DACmini’s amplifier section. It offers the expected clarity and underlying purity we expect of fine class A designs, with a richer and more full-bodied sound that CEntrance’s also very good DACport is able to produce.
One very cool aspect of the DACmini CX is that it is offered with a small but very useful range of available factory “mods,” including:
The key point is that the DACmini offer huge helpings of technical and sonic sophistication for its price.
What it is: A minimalist, two-chassis, hybrid tube/solid-state headphone amplifier from the Chinese high-end headphone specialist HiFiMAN. The latest (and now the only) “CE Approved” version of the amplifier now comes with an improved volume control and a Fullmusic 12AU7 vacuum tube. The amp features a single-ended stereo analog input and a single-ended, ¼-inch phone jack-type headphone output.
What’s the Draw? The little EF5 is an attractively styled but certainly not ostentatious two-chassis headphone amp, so that very little about its compact appearance prepares you for the amp’s robust yet refined sound. While it may not be quite the equal of the Burson HA-160 amplifier, above, in terms of resolution, the EF5 comes in a pretty close second and does so for even less money. What is more, it also offers the ineffable harmonic richness or “rightness” for which fine tube circuits are justly famous.
But perhaps the EF5’s “secret weapon” is its absolutely fearless ability to drive difficult and/or power-hungry headphones—a description that might fit any number of top-tier headphones, include HiFiMAN’s own excellent but admittedly difficult-to-drive planar magnetic phones. In practice, this means that you quickly learn that the EF5 can be trusted to drive just about anything, and to do so with grace and full-throttle dynamics aplenty (which is more than you can say for many otherwise excellent headphone amps that tend to “wilt” under pressure).
I recently let a hardcore high-end audiophile buddy listen to Playback's review sample of the EF5, and my guest kept asking me how much the amp cost, as if in disbelief. After concentrating on a few very demanding tracks played through what some might consider "problem" headphones, my friend said, "that little amp does so well for so little that anybody looking to build something better is going to face a bar that's already been set pretty high. It's amazing for the money."