The ALO Island is a USB-powered digital audio converter/headphone amplifier, and it's a honey! Functionally, it's not so different than many of the other USB digital converter/amps I've covered on this blog, but it's a bit bigger. The others are about the size of a thumbdrive; the Island is a 1.25x1.25x3.25-inch aluminum "brick," but it's still small enough to be considered a portable device. It handles low- and high-resolution files, up to 192kHz/24-bit. The Island sells for $299 in the US direct from the ALO Web site, … Read more
Right, the name attracts a certain amount of attention, but Schiit is no joke. The California-based company made its name with the very first product, the little Asgard headphone amp, which I enthusiastically reviewed on this blog back in 2010. Since then more Schiit headphone amps and digital converters won raves from me. This time out we're back to the Asgard, in its revised Asgard 2 format. The price is still $249.
The city of Huntingdon, home of high-end audio company Meridian, is about a quintessential British town as you could picture. It looks like a movie set. Meridian is perhaps best known for its trapezoidal digital speakers and associated preamps. The company has more recently gotten into portable DACs, music servers, car audio, and more.
On a recent trip to England, I got a chance to tour the facility. I took lots of pictures for you.… Read more
Meridian is a legendary British company; I think of it as the Mercedes-Benz of audio, and the gear is priced accordingly. Meridian's engineering was always ahead of the pack, and it was the very first to market a high-end CD player in 1985. The company developed the original high-resolution lossless compression technology, MLP, that debuted in DVD-Audio players, and is now used in Dolby TrueHD-encoded Blu-ray discs.
Over the past year or so we've seen a new product category emerge: the portable digital converter/headphone amplifier. Of course, no one "needs" such a device -- phones and iPods already have converters and amps built-in -- and sound perfectly fine with average headphones. The sound is good enough, but your phone's converter and amp share space and battery power with the phone's electronics. A separate converter and amp, about the size of a phone, has only one mission: improved sound quality. So if you upgraded to a high-end in-ear headphone, like the $399 … Read more
I've reviewed a number of portable headphone amps over the years, but they just took the analog output of a phone or MP3 player and made it sound better. Ideally, you want to totally bypass the player's digital converters, but up until recently that was a very expensive proposition. The V-Moda Vamp Verza cuts the price to less than half, and works with iPhones, iPads, and iPods, as well as Androids and computers. I'm really impressed with the little Vamp Verza's sound.
The look and concept were designed by V-Moda's Val Kolton in Milan, Italy, … Read more
The Micromega MyZic is the first headphone amp I've tested that's made in France. The amp shares its chassis and design with the Micromega My Series of components: a phono preamp, wireless streamer, and an integrated amplifier that will come out later this year. The MyZic's street price runs $269.
MyZic sounds like a bona-fide high-end component, but some buyers may quibble with the ABS plastic construction. It seems rugged enough, and it's certainly lightweight. Connectivity is limited to just the basics: a high quality Neutrik 6.3mm headphone jack on the front panel, and stereo … Read more
Regular readers of this blog know we're living in the golden age of desktop audio. The speakers just keep getting better and better, and digital converters from the likes of Schiit Audio, AudioQuest, Hifiman, FiiO, and HRT have all made computers sound better than ever.
Now along comes the Meridian Explorer, a sleek, extruded aluminum converter with line- and headphone-level 3.5mm output jacks and a USB input. The line-level output internally bypasses the headphone amp and volume control. Meridian is best known for its ultra-high-end digital converters that sell for thousands of dollars -- the Explorer is their … Read more
Desktop digital-to-analog converters keep getting better and better, and the Micromega MyDac is a fine example of the breed. The 24-bit/192-kHz MyDac has three digital inputs: coaxial, optical, and USB, all selectable via the thumb wheel control on the front panel. The stereo RCA analog outputs can feed either your powered speakers or power amp. I was pleased to see the MyDac has a built-in power supply, so it doesn't use a wall wart. Micromega will soon release a matching headphone amp, which I hope to review here with the MyDac. Available in black or white finishes, its … Read more
High Resolution Technologies makes some of the very best and most affordable digital-to-analog converters on the market. The company's newest model, the MicroStreamer, is a tiny thing, just 2.5 inches by 1.2 inches by 0.4 inch, and since it's USB-powered it doesn't have a power supply or require batteries. It works as an external sound card for computers, tablets, and some smartphones. It's also a high-quality headphone amplifier. It was designed in the U.S., and the little guy's circuitboard's components are mounted in Southern California. The aluminum case is made … Read more