This wrap up report will end with the tale of three little DACs that are going to market. The first is a successor to one of the more popular decoders that came along with the first big wave of portable DACs a few years ago. The original Meridian Explorer is one of the most requested units for our [portable DAC review series] on YouTube, and the latest update adds even more goodies to the game. The “2” retails for a competitive $299. The main features for this product are a unique “Meridian Apodising Filter” for reducing pre-ringing and Master Quality Authenticated (MQA). While the former is something somewhat common for modern DACs, the latter is something new altogether for products in this category.
MQA breaks down like this:
“Sourced from the original studio master recording as approved by the creative team, MQA combines an advanced new digital sampling technology that captures extremely high frequency timing and detail in an audio signal with an equally novel system to “encapsulate” that data into a form for delivery using any lossless file format or streaming. The listener’s decoder reconstructs the entire original signal, bringing up an indicator confirming that what they are hearing is exactly the same as the original master. Without the decoder, the listener enjoys CD quality reproduction. Its most advanced form, “MQA Studio”, uses the technology in the studio to generate an even higher quality master recording as the source.”
In simple terms, the little LED at the end of the device lights up when the file has been verified to be the same as the original source. Good stuff, for not only making sure you are getting your moneys worth from sites like HD Tracks, but also a great opportunity to confirm your fidelity from streaming sources like Tidal. If everything pans out like it does in theory, there is a lot of potential here for some solid moves in the right direction for digital audiophilia.
HRT has always had a wide variety of DACs that played around on the outskirts of town. They decided to expand the line into the “budget” arena with the launch of the MicroStreamer a few years ago. Now the company wants to expand their products to even more less costly endeavors. The new dSP line is a bare-bones approach to DAC/Headphone listening on-the-go, with mobile phone sources in mind. The dSP and idSP will retail for a meager $69.99 when they are released next month. The closest competitor to a device like this would be [Schiit Audio’s new Fula] ($79) but even then the dSP has it beat by a solid $10. Compatibility between android and iOS platforms segment the DAC into two separate products, with the idSP still requiring an apple dongle to operate properly. The dSP line decodes up to 24/96 kHz files and has an output impedance of .5 ohms.
A new effort from Calyx Audio puts them right along side both the Fulla and dSP in the budget DAC playground. The PaT ($99) was very much still in a prototype form at CES, the demo unit on hand in the room in the Venetian didn’t even include finalized casing.
The design above will not be the finalized shape, but the team from Calyx brought it along for show and tell anyways. The player tops out at 16/48 kHz but will be able to draw all its power directly from your mobile device.