back to article THX Onyx: A do-it-all DAC for the travelling audiophile

Apple introduced hi-res lossless audio to its music service last month, but third-party hardware is required to enjoy it – if indeed the difference is audible. We took a look at the THX Onyx, a portable DAC and headphone amplifier that claims to be just the thing. There is a strange cocktail of ingredients that flavours the …

  1. Sparkus Bronze badge

    Still like my US $90 FIIO btr3k.......

  2. devin3782

    I'd like a chance to listen to one of these DAC's blindfolded (obviously) up against my Cyrus soundkey and see if there's a difference, if there's not then my ears clearly aren't worth the extra 130quid.

    Glad to see they've adopted the Adobe pricing scheme (cross out the $ and replace with a £)

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Boffin

      $ tends to be before tax (which varies by state) whereas the £ price includes VAT.

      VAT is very similar to the exchange rate, so the pricing looks like a direct translation.

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Unhappy

        $199 is £143.44. Add VAT to that, and you get £172.13. So they are still overcharging.

        What you say was true last year, but the exchange rate has improved since then.

      2. NoneSuch Silver badge
        Pint

        It really is moot.

        There's been little decent music created since 1998.

        There has been a surplus of autotuned lyrics, generated by committee, which are pure noise in modern times. Lots of N, B, and MF words, but little of substance overall. There was a recent diddy about a milkshake bringing boys into a yard on the radio, but I must have misheard as that makes no sense.

        Kids today have such short attention spans that a three minute track is beyond them. Watching a six second TikTok video is taxing. Let's hope they never discover the Grateful Dead 12 minute Truckin' track. It'll kill them.

        Sucks to be them I suppose. All I have to console myself is Fleetwood Mac - Rumours, Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatles - Red and Blue albums. However will I console myself with only Genesis, Rolling Stones, The Eurythmics, David Bowie, Queen and the epic Led Zeppelin to sooth my brow.

        Poor me, having to live with that limited selection.

        1. IGotOut Silver badge

          Guess what, your parents / grandparents probably said the same about your taste in music.

          Most people tend to say music around their teenage years was the "best ever made".

          1. Nifty Silver badge

            How long did a 78 play for?

            1. Mage Silver badge
              Coat

              How long did a 78 play for?

              Examples from the 1890s will still work. A diamond stylus for 78 and pitch control is recommended as a range of speeds where used then. So the answer is 130 years or a typically a bit less than 3 minutes per side.

              300 Ohms headphones will work fine on any headphone socket labelled 8 Ohms to 100 Ohms.

              Some vintage headsets are 600 Ohms. The level may be a bit lower.

              Very vintage moving iron headphones are 1000 to 4000 Ohms. They will work too, though level may be low. What you can't do is plug 8 Ohm to 300 Ohm headphones into a connection meant for 1000 to 4000 Ohms and that might even be between a 45V to 250V HT and a valve anode.

              This article reads like most HiFi Magazines since the late 1980s. Even a 48 KHz 16 bit DAC is good enough and better than bluetooth.

              Disclaimer, I'm a retired electronics design engineer and programmer, I've also worked in the BBC and also installed studios as well has having done sound recording and learning the theory.

          2. FIA Silver badge

            Also, time acts as a filter.... only the good stuff survives.

            The 80s was a god awful era in music having just lived through it. Now, it's fine, as all the crap has largly been forgotten. (The 80s synth sound that's so distinctive... yeah... not everyone got that right.... :D )

            I remember watching the Beatles anthology as a kid, they had a section showing a pan up the top 40 the week they had the top 5, I think I'd heard of 1 other song on there.

          3. the Jim bloke Silver badge

            the vast majority of popular music - of every era - is pretty crap. Time acts to abrade away the ordinary and forgettable, leaving the gems to be compared to the current generation of wannabees.

            Admittedly, when there was a significant expense in producing music, or literature, the publishing companies had a reason not to promote rubbish, but this became irrelevant when youth gained purchasing power, and their lack of judgement made them easy to exploit.

            The benefit of the information age is we have easy access to niche and non-popular music, and only ignorant losers have to listen to whatever crap is currently best selling for the RIAA.

        2. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Speaking as another 60+ year old codger, there is actually some good stuff today... but it's hard as hell to find. The last good stuff I found was background music to a Kerbal Space Program video, for god's sake.

          1. David 132 Silver badge
            Windows

            I must admit to membership of the Old Crusty club too, because looking at my carefully-curated music collection there's a LOT from the 60s/70s, plenty from the 80s and 90s, then the quantity tapers off as we hit the aughts, 10s and this decade.

            Having said that, there's been a few tracks in recent years that have appealed to me. I'm going to be massively self-indulgent now and inflict a short list on you all. In the hope that it'll lead you to pleasant discoveries... ah, who am I kidding, I'm just going to get sarcastic comments and aspersions about my musical taste. Bite me.

            Tom Petty - Big Weekend [2006]

            Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues [2010]

            Groove Armada - History/Shameless [2010]

            Plan B - She Said [2010]

            Of Monsters and Men - Little Talks [2012]

            Thea Gilmore - This Is How You Find The Way[2013]

            Saint Motel - My Type [2013]

            Nathaniel Rateliff - S.O.B. [2015]

            Stone Roses - Beautiful Thing / One For All [2016]

            Blondie - Long Time [2017]

            Jack Johnson - My Mind is For Sale [2017]

            The Decemberists - Severed [2018]

            Chris Stapleton - Starting Over [2020]

        3. Chris G Silver badge

          @NoneSuch You really meed to get out more.

          The earlest music I remember paying any level of attention to was 'Whistle while you work' on the beeb, my mum usrd to listen to it.

          I can honestly say that the seven decades of music I have direct experience of, and a few I have the recorded evidence of, alll have examples of utter tripe as well as those of absolute genius, plus everything in between.

          I thought the 80s were a bit of a wasteland but if you look around a lot of good stuff was produced them.

          Now I am thoroughly eclectic in my tastes, in my workshop, I have 400W of potential volume in the system and I listen to everything from medieval to the currebt hits of today on Spanish radio.

          Quite keen on Reggaeton at the moment as well as Mongolian rock ( The Hu).

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Well yes. You (and I) remember the good tracks from the sixties, seventies, eighties - because they're (a) good and (b) they still get needletime - and forget all the dross that was there as well.

        4. Detective Emil

          Newly released consolation

          However will I console myself with only Genesis […]

          Ah. You might well like Big Big Train. And, should a high-bitrate, lossless download of their newly-released codger-style waxing, Common Ground, appeal, it's available at Bandcamp.

          1. Youngone Silver badge

            Re: Newly released consolation

            Big Big Train are amazing.

            I am unsure how much I'm enjoying Common Ground though. The Underfall Yard however, is epic.

        5. sabroni Silver badge

          re: There's been little decent music created since 1998.

          Ok Boomer.

        6. Captain Obvious

          I thought the same thing

          Until I discovered Symphonic Metal cross the pond. Too bad the US and UK is hyping crap with no soul whereas you get both with Symphonic Metal and even Progressive Metal, etc. The songs are peppy and not pathetic - I mean The Voice the music is so slow I can watch paint dry faster.

          Listen to Within Temptation, Epica, Tarja, Beast in Black, Visions of Atlantis and many more bands!

          Even their official videos are going back to stories instead of twerking.

        7. D@v3
          Coat

          65DaysOfStatic

          Mines the one with the algorithmically generated soundtrack to No Mans Sky in the pocket

    2. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

      If you listen carefully, you'll be able to hear the conductor's asthma.

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        "If you listen carefully, you'll be able to hear the conductor's asthma."

        That's on the lossless [of breath] version.

    3. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      RE: Glad to see they've adopted the Adobe pricing scheme (cross out the $ and replace with a £)

      While there is a lot you can blame Adobe for (and supporting their products professionally, I can vouch for that), they aren't the only people who charge the same in pounds as they do dollars. They aren't even the first, merely a large player in a crowd of companies who do it.

      Still sucks though.

  3. Martin an gof Silver badge

    MQA

    Regarding MQA, this delightfully simple webpage by someone who actually does know what he's talking about might go some way to confirming it's largely hype. Jim has written several articles on the subject.

    M.

    1. devin3782

      Re: MQA

      Its the same as the argument that's been raging over coax vs optical which sounds better (pointlessly), the digital bit-stream will be the same regardless of what you send it over that's the point of digital signals.

      1. MrBanana Silver badge

        Re: MQA

        Same with $1,000 HDMI cables - a fool and their money...

        1. devin3782

          Re: MQA

          But using an oscilloscope makes them look like the shit! (that they are)

        2. Timbo Bronze badge

          Re: MQA

          "Same with $1,000 HDMI cables - a fool and their money..."

          The change in HDMI specifications (over the years) from v1.0, through 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 and subsequently 2.0 and 2.1 has meant that some of the latest hardware is processing a lot of data and some early HDMI cables are simply not up to the job.

          The basic spec for HDMI started at 720p and 1080i video, but has gradually increased to Ultra HD (4k) and soon this will be 8k. Add to that newer specs call for various new functions, such as "audio-return" channel, ethernet connectivity, and various different audio codecs, on top of the original Dolby Digital standard. And many cheap cables cannot do this - and that;'s why some cheap cables are simply not available in longer lengths (as they would never pass the "testing house" test procedure so as to be properly certified.

          And likewise, it is very difficult to transfer the high bandwidth signals over longer distances - so over a one/two metre length, most cables will work OK, but once you get to 5 metre, 10 metre even 15 metre lengths, then some cables have too much internal resistance (due to using cheaper materials) and the signal voltage at the "sink" end (ie usually the display) is not high enough to get over the threshold voltage that the receiving equipment needs to "see".

          So, while I agree that $1,000 HDMI cables are quite overpriced, there are some pretty good improvements that can be seen/heard comparing say an el-cheapo unbranded Chinese cable with a well designed, low internal resistance, certified to the latest spec "quality" brand.

          1. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Re: MQA

            A higher-rated cable will be able to transfer the newer protocols because it can handle the higher data rates, but that doesn't meant that like-for-like you will see any difference at all. 1080p24 with 5 or 7.1 channel audio (typical movie BluRay) will look and sound the same on a 2m cable costing £5 as on a 2m cable costing £500, because it's digital. If the bits come out of the end in the same order they went in, that's all that is required for "perfect" reproduction. There is - as with all things digital - a very small edge area where there are data errors which might be error-corrected or might not but this will usually be obvious as "burbling" on sound, or "glitches" in the picture. Before that point, perfect. After that point, nothing. This isn't like analogue formats which degrade as resistances, capacitances, noise, crosstalk, interference increase.

            Very few people will need more than 3m of HDMI between their player and their display and frankly up to about 5m in typical domestic environments the "quality" of the cable as measured by price (so long as it's not made from horsehair or something) makes (in my experience) absolutely no difference at all. Avoid £1 cables from the market which might say they are HDMI1.2 compliant (or whatever) but probably do contain horsehair.

            HDMI was never meant to cover long distances - it isn't designed (from an electrical point of view) to do that. 15m seems to be about as far as a "passive" HDMI cable - of any quality - can manage at 4k30 (HDMI 1.4), and you'll need a decent quality cable for that distance, however you probably still don't need to be spending more than £30 or £40 for such a cable. "Active" HDMI cables can cover longer distances, but can cost much more, especially the fibre optic types designed for 100m or more, though perhaps not as much as you think - CPC currently lists a 100m fibre-based HDMI2.0 cable capable of 4k60 (18Gbps) for under £150 inc. VAT.

            M.

            1. Timbo Bronze badge

              Re: MQA

              "Very few people will need more than 3m of HDMI between their player and their display and frankly up to about 5m in typical domestic environments the "quality" of the cable as measured by price (so long as it's not made from horsehair or something) makes (in my experience) absolutely no difference at all. Avoid £1 cables from the market which might say they are HDMI1.2 compliant (or whatever) but probably do contain horsehair."

              I happen to sell quite a few 5m, 8m, 10m, even 15m HDMI cables, as some people either use ceilning mounted projectors, so their AV kit is positioned down the side of the room and their display is at the end of the room - so, longer cables are required...and being longer they do need to have lower internal resistance, otherwise they won't work as the voltage at the display end of the cable won't be higher than the receiving equipments voltage threshold.

              And many cheaper cables purport to work but the equipment has to downscale the received image when the two products "do their initial "hand-shaking to determine what video resolution is "common" to both products.

              "HDMI was never meant to cover long distances - it isn't designed (from an electrical point of view) to do that. 15m seems to be about as far as a "passive" HDMI cable - of any quality - can manage at 4k30 (HDMI 1.4), and you'll need a decent quality cable for that distance, however you probably still don't need to be spending more than £30 or £40 for such a cable. "Active" HDMI cables can cover longer distances, but can cost much more, especially the fibre optic types designed for 100m or more, though perhaps not as much as you think - CPC currently lists a 100m fibre-based HDMI2.0 cable capable of 4k60 (18Gbps) for under £150 inc. VAT."

              Actually it was, as various cable brands could produce higher quality, lower resistance cables that easily met the shorter length requirements, first envisaged by Molex and HDMI inc. And they showed that longer cables would not disadvantage the customer. And the tough "Approvals" system ensured customers could buy better cables that would work over these longer lengths.

              And over time, with more data being pushed down the cable (v2.1 HDMI is now rated at 48 Gbps) so many copper based cables are not capable of carrying this amount of signal over longer lengths and some will "break up" the picture with noticeable "video artefacts" when the limits are reached - you can even get "sparkles" on screen - short bursts of light appearing randomly across the screen under certain conditions.

              There is also now a move towards "self-powered" (using the DC voltage from the HDMI socket) optical HDMI cables which can run HDMI 2.1 at 8K, at 60 Hz, 4:4:4 and HDR10 at said 48 Gbps !!

              1. Martin an gof Silver badge

                Re: MQA

                I happen to run quite a lot of projectors at work and I use an awful lot of "long" HDMI (and DVI) cables, so I do know that it can / can't be done, but I can quite literally count on the thumbs of one had people I know who have a projector at home. With modern TVs being (in general) cheaper, brighter, higher resolution and longer-lived than projectors while coming in a range of sizes capable of giving "cinema-like" image size in typical living spaces, most people have very little incentive to install a projector. I realise that might just be indicative of my circle of acquaintances and the part of the world I live in, but I will stick with my assertion that "very few people will need more than 3m" in a domestic environment as a general statement.

                I'll take what you said about downscaling at face value, but I can honestly say that I have never seen it on a short cable (and on longer cables my experience is that they either work or they don't, and downscaling has to be manually selected - see below), and I can't remember ever paying more than £10 for a 3m cable, and often a lot less, though I wouldn't go so far as to specify a £1 cable :-)

                When I said "HDMI was never meant to cover long distances" I was referring to the single-ended nature of some of the signals on the cable. I remember being slightly flummoxed when I realised that the video data itself is sent down electrically well thought-through differential pairs, but that the control signals which are vital to make the thing actually work are all single-ended and share a common ground. If the DDC signal - which is based on the I²C protocol intended to run over very short distances - fails, the display and source can't negotiate, and the result is blank. I have even had long cables which work fine with one laptop, but don't work at all with a different model to the same projector, even at exactly the same display settings. I can only assume this is down to some feature of the driving circuitry.

                That said, I have also had the case where there was obviously a problem with the video signal rather than the control signal - a 15m cable refused to work at 1920x1200 (feeding a projector), was unreliable at 1920x1080 but rock solid at resolutions lower than that.

                HDMI really has moved on, and I'm jealous in some ways that my eyesight ain't what it used to be, and is likely to be worse by the time I can afford an 8k 4:4:4 HDR display and the source to run it! On the other hand I still don't understand why bandwidth is being "wasted" on 8k, when 100 / 120Hz (especially when combined with HDR) would make 4k and 1080p pictures so much more "natural", remove all vestiges of flicker without having to resort to interpolation of "in between" frames on high frame-rate displays, and the "temporal resolution" would probably end up giving a visually equivalent picture.

                M.

          2. gnasher729 Silver badge

            Re: MQA

            I think with HDMI your signal is either perfect, or complete rubbish, and there is a very small range in between. If you need to pay for better cables, you would know.

      2. Timbo Bronze badge

        Re: MQA

        "the digital bit-stream will be the same regardless of what you send it over that's the point of digital signals."

        Not quite true.

        Firstly, the electrical to optical and optical to electrical transducers vary in quality and ability - so the signal going into the former can be affected and no amount of "parity checking" at the other end can restore what was never converted (to optical) in the first place.

        Secondly, some low quality coaxial cables can introduce errors in the transmitted signal, due to poor shielding of the data carrying conductor, (and hence leaking RFI into the signal carrying core) leading to additional buffering/resending of previously sent packets of data...with standard data this isn't a problem, but streaming audio (which is time sensitive, if being replayed via your headphones or audio system) can result in the audio signal being interrupted.

        This can be an inconvenience to the casual listener, even if the signal isn't actually changed, but it can prove to be irksome to someone who wants to hear the music play correctly and without interruptions / timing issues.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: MQA

          Optical transmitters and receivers are designed and manufactured to a standard, whose maximum bit rate is higher than the maximum bit rate used by 24bit 192kHz sound. The maximum bit rate is 9.216Mbit/s, and the opto-couplers perform up to 15MBit/s.

          For coaxial cables used for SPDIF or AES, they have to be of extremely poor quality to cause the effects you have mentioned. A standard £5 cable will suffice.

          For SPDIF or AES, there is no data retransmission, as the entire chain is asynchronous, relying upon the embedded coding to extract the clock. Again, the quality of the transmitters and receivers is such that the error rate is minimal, if at all over the distances used by cables.

          Of course, faults occur, but this is rare. Check the hifi forums and you will that people on worry about coaxial cables or optical cables, when they are fooled by the expensive marketing text.

          1. Timbo Bronze badge

            Re: MQA

            SP/DIF was designed for 20bit uncompressed audio* (akin to AES3), although it can carry 24-bit, if both send and receive devices use capable encode/decode circuits (and they are of relatively recent vintage).

            (* = and compressed 5.1/7.1 audio too in AV systems)

            But the standard was set many years ago and early CD players and DAT recorders (for instance) had quite a noticeable difference in sound quality, based on the early designs of the RX/TX circuits, which initially were expensive - though some cheaper chipsets became available as they tried to gain a competitive advantage, usually by cutting corners.

            40 years on and RX/TX devices are indeed better, but they can still be of variable quality (and as a consumer you won't know what is used inside the equipment, unless you dig deep in the service manual) and some can exhibit "bit slip" due to inaccuracies in data clocks and of course jitter can also be introduced which doesn't help.

            With TOSLink cables there is also the issue of refraction, if the fibre optic cables are not cut cleanly, during cable termination in production....again, not an easy thing to check.

            And co-axial cables can introduce issues if the shielding is insufficient for the environment in which they are used, which can allow RFI to be introduced.

            So "cheap £5" cables will not always suffice...and some hardware designers do take much greater care to ensure that higher quality parts are used, while some firms will find the cheapest part and specify it, even though in most cases, customers will not use the digital output or input facility.

            1. Martin an gof Silver badge

              Re: MQA

              early CD players and DAT recorders (for instance) had quite a noticeable difference in sound quality, based on the early designs of the RX/TX circuits

              Some early CD players - notably from Philips - used 14-bit DACs and had no digital outputs. I believe that the adapters used to record digital audio onto video tape for CD mastering often only recorded 14 bits*.

              CD was launched in 1982 or so, there was no such thing as a CD recorder, DAT wasn't launched until 1987 and external DACs were almost unheard of, AES3 upon which both the coaxial (SP/DIF) and optical (TOSLINK) formats were based was not standardised until 1985 so there was no need - and in fact no standard connection format - to fit digital outputs to domestic CD players until long after the format was well-established.

              I'd still contend that any differences you hear are far, far more likely to be down to the DAC than to the digital part of the signal path. Of course, you could probably prove this by copying a CD to a DAT (or whatever) and then extracting the digital data from both. Any problems with the transmission would show up quite clearly in a byte-by-byte file comparison.

              Your comment about RFI - I assume what you mean is that high levels of RFI could result in errors in the digital signal? If RF from an input lead finds its way to the analogue circuitry of your DAC then you have other problems to deal with!

              M.

              1. Martin an gof Silver badge

                Re: MQA

                Because I hate loose ends, I meant to add:

                I believe that the adapters used to record digital audio onto video tape for CD mastering often only recorded 14 bits*.

                *We had such an adapter at the radio station I worked at in the 1990s. If I remember correctly (and I quite likely don't) it could either do 16 bits at 32kHz or 14 bits at 44.1kHz or 16 bits at 44.1kHz but without the error correction, meaning that dropouts would cause problems.

                M.

    2. MrBanana Silver badge

      Re: MQA

      "delightfully simple" ? It made my head hurt. A chunk of diamond rattling around on a piece of vinyl is all I need. Hmmm, but it does say travelling audiophile - back to the shellac on a wind up gramophone then. Still awkward on the bus however.

      1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

        Re: MQA

        Travelling audiophile is like a moving home.

        Possible, but likely happens during a landslide or other event going horribly wrong.

    3. Vulture@C64

      Re: MQA

      MQA is a con and is lossy - it loses data in its fold and unfold process. It's an attempt at DRM via the backdoor.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: MQA

        "It's an attempt at DRM via the backdoor."

        Maybe...but if it improves the sound quality AND pays the labels and artists for their time and effort, then I cannot see a problem.

    4. Snar

      Re: MQA

      Goldensound did quite an interesting analysis of MQA here -

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRjsu9-Vznc

      The audio market has always been a playground for snake oil salesmen. My current favourite is "Audiophile Ethernet Switches" - they are a real thing.....

  4. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    HiFi?

    Where's the gold-plated USB and OFC cable?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: HiFi?

      Hopefully the cabling is oxygen free with a patented spiral braid pattern which aids the bits to propagate more easily.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: HiFi?

      You're a Monster! :)

      Let's not forget DBX as well!

      1. Snar

        Re: HiFi?

        I quite liked dbx back in the day - seemed to be a much better system than crappy Dolby C. It was a PITA that you couldn't play back dbx tapes on a non-dbx casette deck but apart from that I quite liked it.

        I've still got my circa 1984 Akai HXA3x tape deck and it's still running after all of these years. But I did succumb to a Revox B77 half track high speed which delights to this day :)

      2. Timbo Bronze badge

        Re: HiFi?

        "Let's not forget DBX as well!"

        dbx (as it was styled) was awful - only a few brands supported it AND you had to playback any recording using the dbx decode function...and even then at bass frequencies you could hear it "pumping".

        At least with Dolby (with both B and C versions), the "HF boost" you got on recording was almost equivalent to the HF losses (due to low quality tape, badly aligned tape heads, or too much road noise when in a car) on playback - so you could play Dobly (sic) tapes and still hear the music without too many issues.

        dbx even brought out a phono adaptor, (connected via the tape monitor loop of an amplifier) so you could playback dbx encoded LPs...but few record labels followed this path (fortunately).

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: HiFi?

      If cost no object, gold is still a good material for electrical contacts, even on digital cables. The advantages of gold are corrosion resistance, high conductivity even over a small contact area, and low friction. A cable that has corroded contacts may damage a socket's contact surfaces.

      A gold plated usb cable won't sound better, but your kit *might* last a little bit longer (though all the USB sockets on my ancient laptop still work, so whatever)

      How thickly to plate the contacts depends upon the use environment, insertion cycles, etc.

      https://advancedplatingtech.com/blog/gold-plating-thickness-connectors/

  5. bofh1961

    Same old story...

    All these fancy acronyms just describe sophisticated digital signal processing.The more of which is done, the lower the sound quality. Even the resampling done in the source device to give audio mixing, volume and tone controls causes audible degradation of the sound. Given a reasonably good sampling rate it's the analogue circuitry that makes the most difference, especially the headphones themselves.

    1. 502 bad gateway

      Re: Same old story...

      Audio review

      Seems others have been checking for degradation, and indeed you are correct

  6. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Money grab

    MQA is a nasty money grab.

    MQA is bad for music here is why

    Also you can't possibly fit a good sounding DAC in such a small format.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Money grab

      I would normally put MQA in the "mostly harmless" category, however, Niel Young throw a hissy fit when Tidal announced MQA support and withdrew his entire catalog from the service.

      Might not bother most but his early albums and Buffalo Springfield in particular are the only 60s/70s music I listen to.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Money grab

      MQA is a con. It is designed to turn the entire music chain into a proprietary system,. If you examine the investors into MQA, there are many major labels. Although denied, MQA has the capability for DRM.

      The paper presented to the AES on MQA has serious mistakes. Reversing any "blur" (dispersion) without the known characteristics of the system is impossible. Again, this is an MQA con.

      MQA had to change their claim that MQA was lossless - it is not lossless, and the ASA forced them to retract this statement.

      From a sound aspect, the best analysis was completed by a contributor on what was computeraudiophile.com, now audiophilestyle.com - specifically the posts by "mansr" was key to the analysis.

      https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/topic/30381-mqa-is-vaporware/#comments

      The above link has some very good information on the reverse engineering of MQA.

    3. AdamWill

      Re: Money grab

      "Also you can't possibly fit a good sounding DAC in such a small format."

      Have to disagree with you, there.

      DAC performance can be measured objectively, and there certainly are very small DACs that perform extremely well. Remember that as portable ones run off DC they don't have to do as much space-consuming fiddling with AC input as desktop DACs do.

      https://www.audiosciencereview.com is a good source for consistent objective testing of DACs and amps. Look specifically for posts by amirm, the site owner. He's measured several small DACs with very good performance. In fact, partly as a result of the reviews on that site, I stopped using complicated desktop DAC/amp setups, ditched the iBasso DX200 portable DAC/amp I got...and switched to just using an LG V20 smartphone as my source. All the phones with LG's "quad DAC" have very good measured DAC and amp performance and provide up to 2V of power, which is enough to drive almost all headphones to painful levels.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    hmm really

    Considering the audio frequency range human ears are capable of registering (assuming you're under 40 years of age) and the long history of ridiculous claims from various 'hi-fi' vendors to justify mortgage scale pricing of pointless tatt... I'll pass on this, being somewhat north of 40 it's not likely to make much difference to my listening experience.

    1. Brian Miller

      Re: hmm really

      To put it simply, my hearing has fallen off. 15K seems to be my upper limit now. So when I see things like, "to 40KHz", I know that #1 a young human can't hear that high, and #2 the source signal never had that information.

      Top quality microphones are rolling off at 20KHz. A Neumann is not a slouch microphone. If the audio information isn't there in the recording, then it definitely shouldn't be there during the reproduction.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: hmm really

        Yes indeed, unless your pet dog or cat, or even bat enjoys your music ;)

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: hmm really

          All the highest notes neither sharp nor flat

          The ear can't hear as high as that

          But I ought to please any passing bat

          With my high fidelity!

          Flanders and Swann

      2. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: hmm really

        As far as I'm aware, recording studios have largely shifted to 24-bit, but are still routinely using 44.1/48k sampling rates. In my limited personal experience, 24-bit resolution is helpful at the recording stage as it gives a bit more leeway in setting levels, but 16-bits are usually adequate for the final mix.

        I'd be surprised if there was ever much in the way of material that would light up the LEDs on this DAC. I'm old enough to remember when quadraphonic LPs were going to be the norm.

        The industry has a long history of hype.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: hmm really

      All of the above. The snake oil being sold by audio companies is ridiculous.

    3. Vulture@C64

      Re: hmm really

      I am 55 and I have some top end hearing roll off as is usual in older people but the benefits of a good DAC and headphone amplifier really do increase music enjoyment despite the ear issues.

      I use a Chord Mojo DAC which has a built in headphone amplifier and Sennheiser HD650 and that pairing, playing HD (so called) streamed music or in most cases my own rips to FLAC files is still very enjoyable and I can still hear a surprising amount of detail, compared to more modest setups. The difference is well worth the additional cost, especially for us older people who's ears need all the help they can get !

      1. Sudosu

        Re: hmm really

        Talking about the loss of hearing as we get older always reminds me of Grandpa Simpson;

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nu0R96OZy6w

  8. Dave Pickles

    "The closest approach to the original sound"

    Many years ago I saw a demonstration by Quad of their valve amplifiers. One amplifier was fed with audio in the normal way and was connected to a dummy load, the second was bridged between the input and output of the first and fed a loudspeaker. Even with the gain of the second amp wound up there was complete silence from the speaker - until the first amp began to overload then the result was deafening.

    Probably not possible due to coding delays, but it would be interesting to try a similar end-to-end test with modern audio kit.

    1. Timbo Bronze badge

      Re: "The closest approach to the original sound"

      ah - that might have been Peter Walker (founder of Quad) and his reasoning that all amplifiers sound the same, even his or his competitors, when fed with the same input signal (fed into directly equivalent sensitivity inputs and without overloading them) and when feeding the same load (a speaker).

      As such the dummy load and the "real" loudspeaker load cannot be "equivalents" so there would be a difference in their respective outputs.

      Of course, the demo you saw was (most likely) "fixed" in that a dummy load is usually a purely resistive load for an amplifier and yet a passive loudspeaker presents a varying impedance (wrt frequency). It would be interesting to have a look at the loudspeaker "internals" to see what load balancing components were used to make the speaker "electrically resistive" - which of course would not be present in normal domestic speakers.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Loudspeakers

    Mostly it’s the quality of your loudspeakers that is important. You’ll have to get seriously expensive before good old mp3 quality isn’t good enough…

    1. 502 bad gateway

      Re: Loudspeakers

      My ears being somewhat elderly, I find 320 kbps CBR mp3 files are virtually indistinguishable from 16 bit 44.1 khz CD. Rick Beato did an episode where he blind tested a young studio engineer with perfect pitch and she couldn't reliably distinguish these either

      I found the episode:

      Michelle does the test

      1. DougMac

        Re: Loudspeakers

        I can tell on certain tracks.

        (besides the rips that introduce horrible noise into the stream, which does happen 2-3% of the time).

        But I've found that the thing that really differentiates it for me aren't necessarily the raw single sound, but things such as the size of stereo separation, real low bass, or if different sounds are coming out L vs. R (such as Sonic Youth's Cotton Crown, there's a VU song that is similar, can't remember the name now).

        If its a straight up centered single vocal, yeah, its near impossible to tell. Thats all that website shown is doing. So, even when they put that together, they already introduced some bias towards ones that aren't easily differentiated. Where there are others that are.

        Another thing probably could be that many of the CDs mastered in the last 20 years were mastered like crap (turn the knobs _all_ the way up up up), and when they go and remix it down to a new hirez format, they actually put some effort into the mix. So you end up with a better mix overall than what the MP3 was probably mastered from.

        1. Timbo Bronze badge

          Re: Loudspeakers

          There's actually a bit of a furore going on at present as some so-called "HiRes" audiophile standard recordings (24 bit/48 kHz and higher) have actually been released that have been made from standard 16 bit 44.1 kHz masters....with little or no remixing/remastering carried out.

          Certain audio analyser equipment has been brought to bear on these "HiRes" digital recordings and found there to be no output above 22.05 kHz !

          So, it seems that some "labels" might be trying to "cash in" on the buzz for HiRes audio and labelling some recordings as such when they are no different to the original CD version. :-(

          1. gnasher729 Silver badge

            Re: Loudspeakers

            Years ago there were “wide screen” movies created for old 4:3 by making the image wider and cut roof top and bottom. So you actually paid mor for less. At least you get exactly the same here.

  10. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    Are they using a DAC of their own design, or have they incoporated someone else's? Listening to anything at all with Sennheiser HD600 headphones is always a revelation.

  11. jvf

    where's the music?

    For good music, CD ‘quality’ is a minimum recording standard. A few years ago when I was lamenting the infestation of poor quality mp3s into the music scene in a discussion with my stepson he remarked “true, but today’s music is crap anyway so it doesn’t matter”. Sadly, this holds even truer these days.

    1. idiot taxpayer here again

      Re: where's the music?

      @jvf

      Ah, so the reason people pay to hear me mixing is because they like to listen to and dance to crap.

      For anyone who might be even vaguely interested a typical playlist is mainly industrial and aggrotech

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Topping

    I got a Topping NX2 about 5 years ago for £40.

    It's been good for boosting audio on long flights but hasn't seen much these these last 18 months.

  13. Danny 2 Silver badge

    I do love a great digital to analogue decoder

    Audio is wasted on me though, I blew my ears standing in front of speakers at punk concerts because I enjoyed the vibrations. My favourite ever comp. tape was Bob Dylan, and the guy that made it did a terrible job, It was hissy and scratchy, but the songs were well chosen.

    I had one of the first MP3 players in the UK, so I showed it off to an audiophile. He said that's crap quality. No, that's CD quality. Yes, but CDs are crap. He had shelf loads of CDS, audiophiles are rank.

    I bought my parents a state of the art TV, well, a state of the affordable art TV, and I beamed at them, "Look, this is normal TV - and this is 4K TV - see the difference? "

    No.

    1. NXM

      Re: I do love a great digital to analogue decoder

      Have you got your glasses on? HAVE YOU GOT YOUR GLASSES ON?? HAVE YOU oh never mind.

  14. Sparkus Bronze badge

    As my hearing fails....

    I'm on the edge of needing sophisticated/tuned hearing aids, first on my right side, then in a few years on my left.

    My FIIO dac can certainly be tuned to compensate without the hearing aids, but that 'tune' is specific to the FIIO and can't really be reused elsewhere.

    I wish that there was a standardized testing protocol and a file/format for tuning hearing aids and headphone/IEM DACs so that we could share correction tunes/profiles......

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: As my hearing fails....

      I suspect that hearing aids will become better integrated with consumer technology over time, not least because wealthy and tech savvy baby boomers and Gen X in USA and Europe getting older. As the market gets bigger, one would expect the price of hearing aids to come down.

      The first 'made for iPhone' hearing aids were in 2014, and iOS would automatically switch between the user's custom profiles depending location, if desired.

      https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/apple-collaborates-on-worlds-smartest-hearing-aid/

  15. Bogbody

    Well it hasn't changed ....

    Reading the comments tells me that there is as much utter clueless bollocks being avidly discussed as fact now as there was in the late '70.

    One capacitor brand producing a better sound than the other ....

    Silver plated PTFE insulated speaker cables better than 10A orange 2 core mains cable in a normal domestic setup (100(real)W/channel ......

    Arg! Thought such utter twadle got left in the 70's

  16. NXM

    " the sample rate determines the highest reproducible frequency"

    Technically true, but if you send a sine wave into a sampler and observe the sampled wave compint out of the other end, you see the wave gets increasingly inaccurate above about 1/10 the sample rate. You can get a decent rendition of the original wave at half the sample rate, but only if you happen to sample at the peaks - ie it only works for certain frequencies.

    So the higher the sample rate the better the result, depending on where your hearing tops out.

    Following being at many very loud gigs in my youth I can no longer hear bats, but even crumblies like me benefit from higher sample rates than that offered by CD's.

    1. dinsdale54

      Nah, that's bollocks.

      As has been proven, you get perfect recreation of the input signal for all frequencies up to the Nyquist frequency - which is basically half the sample rate. This is why digital audio works.

      For a decent demo of this from somebody who knows what they are talking about - see here (particularly video 2)

      https://xiph.org/video/

      1. NXM

        I feel I do know what I'm talking about, because I build these things and am telling you what I see whenever I try it.

        You get a gain rolloff and worse rendition as you increase the input frequency.

        If you don't believe me, make yourself an adc circuit and feed the results to a dac, ensure the gains match, then put both into a scope set to subtract one from t'other. You'll see.

        1. dinsdale54

          That is literally what Monty does in the video!

          1. NXM

            Nyquist rates again

            Yep, I saw. Very good video, particularly the advice about old equipment and analogue scopes - they're not digital, so they can't lie to you.

            But his assertion that you don't get a stepped output from a DAC isn't totally right. The DAC takes the input value and converts it to a voltage which stays the same until the next update, which makes the stepped effect. All DAC's do this. Ways of overcoming it is by oversampling and filtering the output at the Nyquist frequency, which removes the steps and takes high-frequency step-change artefacts out. I find the idea that the samples represent a lollipop graph isn't true in the real world.

            My experience is indeed with cheap DAC's, and oversampling the output really does help. More expensive DAC's can do this without any external circuitry. When I designed an audio player years ago when triggerable players were really expensive I did used 16-bit data, oversampled on the fly, with 11KHz sample rate to get decent quality voice output. 8KHz didn't work very well at all.

            Most of my experience is with ADC's, and I still don't get the result that sampling near they Nyquist rate results in a good rendition of the original wave. If your input is slightly less than half the sample rate for example, you get a gradual increase then decay of the amplitude all the time. I've found that you can feed it up to 1/5 of the sample rate if you want a decent result, and even then it's ragged. I find the Nyquist rate tells you more about aliasing filters than input frequency limits.

            He's right about the bit depth though.

            Thanks for the comments though, other peoples views are always informative.

  17. Pantagoon

    Wow! (and flutter)

    Nice review. I must upgrade my Grundig TK35 with a USB C socket, I love 32 bit hiss.

    1. Snar

      Re: Wow! (and flutter)

      When I was a sprog my dad had a Grundig reel-to-reel - I can't remember which one it was. The machine died 40+ years ago but the tape made it and now have a digital copy of it.

  18. fpx
    Facepalm

    Not your Parents' THX

    THX has come a long way from being a seal of approval for state of the art cinemas to maginally-better-than-the-rest consumer equipment.

    THX is a label certifying that a piece of equipment meets certain minimum standards. Technology has made their high standards in audio and video reproduction easier to achieve apparently to the point were hardware manufacturers do not have to try very hard to meet their minimums and basically only have to send in a spec sheet and licensing fees to qualify.

    Still it feels like a race to the bottom.

  19. batfink Silver badge

    "Travelling" is the problem

    I'm all for better sound reproduction, but there's a basic problem here: the listening conditions. I quite enjoy my sound setup in my nice quiet home. However, if I'm travelling then those nice listening conditions are going to disappear, and the levels of background noise are going to start to counterbalance any improved sound quality from a better DAC/Amp, even with my nice Sennies.

    Obviously ok if you manage to find a nice quiet hotel room.

    So, spending £200 on the off chance that you might find the right conditions while you're on the road? Nup.

  20. Vulture@C64

    The Cyrus Soundkey is probably the reference at this price point, although it's now about US$100. Cheap but very effective and a great, small addition to a phone or tablet.

    Above Cyrus is the Chord Mojo battery powered DAC which is an utterly brilliant UK designed and manufactured DAC and headphone amplifier in one. It can drive difficult headphones very well, which a USB powered DAC will always struggle with. The design is stunning, both mechanically and how it achieves what it does. I know it's more expensive but when you hear it you'll understand. https://chordelectronics.co.uk/product/mojo

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