Portable rigs are very convenient. A solid audiophile rig can be comprised of a Macbook Air, USB-powered DAC and a portable headphone amp and (most importantly) can be taken anywhere. God bless modern technology.
One of the most crucial pieces in the mobile audiophile rig is the DAC. Two very important factors help fit the DAC into its rightful place in the mobile chain. 1. USB power frees the unit from being stuck to the wall and 2. size helps keep the rig portable for transportation and saves precious desk space. The DACport LX by CEntrace ($300) is a cigar-sized, USB-powered DAC that fits the bill on both counts. Pack your bags, it’s time to go.
CEntrace is a company that has been bouncing around in the audiophile community for quite some time. They have been known to license their technologies to other companies within the space, which isn’t a bad sign if you ask me. More and more DAC options are popping up and many of them tout “asynchronous” clock management as a key feature to reduce jitter (the digital audio clarity usurper). I try to make an effort not to over-value popular marketing buzzwords in my search for quality sound. The DACPort LX utilizes its own “JitterGuard” clock management technology to deal with the situation, and by my measuring stick all is well here. The unit will pass through audio resolutions up to 24bit/96kHz and is completely plug-and-play through the USB connection without the need for an external driver. I did notice that the DACport LX ran a bit warm to the touch, so you may want to find an appropriate place to put it that doesn’t include sitting it on your leg or placing it in your pocket while you are out and about.
The CEntrance product line also includes the all-in-one headphone/DAC combo. The DACport (no LX) includes a “class A” headphone amplifier for an additional $100. This may be something to consider if your space is at a premium, but a standalone DAC arrangement does allow for a little more versatility in your setup. I think that amplifier selection has a significant impact when it comes to headphone pairing, and then DACs to a lesser degree. Mixing and matching components is part of the fun, and lets not forget that different headphone impedance ratings may merit varying headphone amplifiers to get the job done right.
The DACport LXs only input is a mini USB. The output is a little unique compared to some of its competitors in that it utilizes a standard ¼” jack instead of RCA outputs. CEntrance does offer a Reserve Series cable that extends the output to RCA male connectors. I found the build quality of the cable to be extremely solid and well built from end to end. The cable was so solid that flexibility (and the overall cable length) might be a slight concern in tight quarters. Not a problem if you are implementing the DACport LX into your home system however. The USB end of the unit of the unit displays a single LED light to let you know the unit is on.
I found the overall tonal signature to be very balanced, just like you would expect from a quality Digital to Analog Converter. The low end frequencies were accurately represented and were not bloated or otherwise colored. Mids felt natural and detailed. Highs did not carry any additional inconsistencies or audio unpleasantries. The DACport LX displayed a black background with superb clarity and soundstage for its price range. It even proved to be slightly more accurate than the DAC section of my Yulong U100 combo. In Memory of Elizabeth Reed from the 24/96 version of The Allman Brothers Live at the Filmore East sounded robust and textured throughout the band’s rhythm section without allowing Duane Allman’s lead guitar tone to feel too piercing.
The DACport LX paired quite nicely with the ALO Rx Mk3-b portable amplifier (full review here). If a laptop is your choice for a source, the DACport combined with the Mk3 is a lethal combination for a mobile setup.
If you call your computer or laptop “the place where music comes from” and are looking for a USB-powered one-stop shop for digital to analog conversion to apply to your favorite headphone amp, then you owe it to yourself to check out the DACport LX by CEntrance. It’s clarity and black backdrop make it a top performer in this price range.
On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005WKDZ5K