Category Archives: Tech News

iFi ZEN DAC Desktop DAC Review & Comparison

Welcome to my review of the iFi ZEN DAC which retails for £129. In my video review, I also compare the ZEN DAC to my ZEN Blue and ZEN Can combo,

Key Specs

– Input: USB3.0 B Socket (USB2.0 compatible)
– Formats: 44.1/48/88.2/96/176.4/192/384kHz PCM, 2.8/3.1/5.6/6.2/11.2/12.4MHz DSD, 353/384KHz DXD
– DAC: Bit-Perfect DSD & DXD DAC by Burr Brown
– Line section -Output: Audio RCA (UnBAL), 2.1V fixed, 1V / 3.3V max. (variable), 4.4mm Pentaconn (BAL) 4.2V fixed, 2V / 6.2V max. (variable) Zout: <= 100 Ohm (UnBAL), <= 200 Ohm (BAL)
– SNR: < -116dB(A) @ 0dBFS (UnBAL/BAL
– DNR: < 0.0015% @ 0dBFS (UnBAL/BAL) L)
– THD+N: 280mW @ 32R, > 36mW @ 300R, BAL: > 380mW @ 50R, > 70mW @ 600ROutput Impedance: < 1 Ω (UnBAL/BAL)
– Dimensions: 117(l) x 100(w) x 30(h)mm
– Weight: 491g (1.08 lbs)

The Review

So for this review, I used a number of headphones. These included the HiFiman Sundara and Ananda, Sony MDR-1AM2 in 4.4 balanced, Sennheiser HD599 and a selection of IEMs from Fiio and others. I also listenend to as many different genres as possible from jazz, blues, dance, rap, hip hop, classical, pop, rock, electronic and orchestral.

The ZEN DAC doesn’t need a power supply as it runs via the USB power from your PC or even smartphone. IMO I don’t think you need to spend more money on a stand-alone power supply either. Using just USB power from my laptop, there was surprisingly enough power for both my HiFiman Ananda and Sundara.

With IEMs, there was no floor noise or background hiss. Balanced output using my Sony MDR-1AM2s was fantastic. All my headphones sounded excellent with plenty of dynamics and detail. The mid range had a lovely bit of warmth with it, ideal for some of my favourite classical piano, orchestral and classical tracks. In fact, music genres including jazz, blues, dance, hip hop, rap, pop and rock came across really effortlessly. Good separation and soundstage too.

Compared to the ZEN Blue/ZEN Can Combo

The ZEN Blue/ZEN Can benefit from using external power supplies and therefore are able to add that extra dynamics and sparkle to my music. However as the ZEN Dac is a wired solution, this helps it compensate with some extra clarity. Personally I prefer the combo solution, but then it is twice the price too.

Video Review

Conclusion

I highly capable desktop DAC and headphone amp, in a stylish design that looks good in any room. Highly recommended. 9.5/10.

Useful Links

iFi ZEN DAC more info and latest pricing on Amazon Uk – Click HERE.

iFi ZEN Blue + iFi ZEN Can REVIEW – the ultimate combo!

Welcome to my review of the iFi ZEN Blue and ZEN Can. The iFi ZEN Blue retails for £129 and the ZEN Can for £169.

Key Features/Specs

ZEN Blue

– Power: DC 5V
– Input: Bluetooth 5.0TM with AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, HWA Codec
– Output: Optical/Coaxial, Audio RCA L/R, 4.4 Balanced Lineout
– Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz <+0/-0.5dB (44.1kHz)1Hz – 44khz = 88.2kHz)
– Output Voltage @ 0dBFS: 2.05V (+/-0.05V)
– Dynamic Range: 109dB (A)
-Signal/Noise ratio: 109dB (A) @ 0dBFS
– THD & N @ 0dBFS: < 0.0015% 10k Load
– Dimensions: 158 (l) x 100 (w) x 35 (h) mm
– Weight: 476g (1..05 lbs)

ZEN Can

– Inputs -4.4mm Pentacon BAL, RCA L/R Socket SE, 3.5mm Jack SE
– Balanced Output – 15.1V/385 mW (@ 600 Ohm), 11.0V/1890 mW (@ 64 Ohm)
– S-E Output – 7.6V/196 mW (@ 300 Ohm), 7.2V/1600 mW (@ 32 Ohm)
– Gain 0dB, 6dB, 12dB and 18dB
– Frequency Response – 20Hz – 20kHz (+0dB / -0.03dB)
– Input voltage – DC 5V/2.5A, AC 100 -240V, 50/60Hz
– Dimensions – 158 x 117 x 35 mm
– Net weight – 515g

The Review

So for this review, I used a number of headphones. These included the HiFiman Sundara and Ananda, Sony MDR-1AM2 in 4.4 balanced, Sennheiser HD599 and a selection of IEMs from Fiio and others. I also listenend to as many different genres as possible from jazz, blues, dance, rap, hip hop, classical, pop, rock, electronic and orchestral.

For starters, I really appreciated the 4 way gain switch for a more precise adjustment. The HiFiMan Planar Magnetic headphones benefited from a +6db gain. With IEMs the floor background noise was non existent on the IEMs that I used. The bass boost and 3D spatial options are nice options to have to as some of my headphones can sound too bass light.

However this combo is an incredible system, and as a consequence it powered every headphone I tried effortlessly. Apart from the sound, the design looks luxurious and would be at home in any room in the house. The freedom of using the ZEN Blue with portable devices like your smartphone, and in my case my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, meant I had LDAC quality music streaming to the ZEN Blue. The ZEN Can is full of dynamics and blew the cobwebs off some of the headphones I hadn’t used for a while. It also possessed good detail, wide sound staging. TBH the two components together make a cracking piece of kit.

Video Review

Conclusion

Freedom from wires with the iFi ZEN Blue with all the respective hi-res bluetooth codecs coupled with the iFi ZEN Can is a formidable combination and highly recommended. 9.8/10.

Useful Links

iFi Zen Can – more info and latest pricing on Amazon UK – Click HERE.
iFi ZEN Blue – more info and latest pricing on Amazon UK – Click HERE.

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless ANC Headphones REVIEW

Welcome to my review of the new Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless ANC headphones that retail for £349.

Key Features / Specs

– HEADPHONE TYPE – Closed, dynamic, 40mm driver, dome type (CCAW Voice coil)
– MAGNET Neodymium
– DIAPHRAGM Aluminum coated LCP
– FREQUENCY RESPONSE 4Hz-40,000Hz
– FREQUENCY RESPONSE (ACTIVE OPERATION) 4Hz-40,000Hz
– FREQUENCY RESPONSE(BLUETOOTH® COMMUNICATION) 20Hz – 20,000Hz (44.1kHz Sampling) / 20Hz – 40,000Hz (LDAC 96kHz Sampling, 990kbps)
– SENSITIVITIES (DB/MW) 105dB / mW (1kHz) (when connecting via the headphone cable with the unit turned on) , 101dB / mW (1kHz) (when connecting via the headphone cable with the unit turned off)
– CORD TYPE Single-sided (detachable)
– CORD LENGTH Headphone cable (approx. 1.2m, OFC strands, gold-plated stereo mini plug)
– PLUG – Gold-plated L-shaped stereo mini plug
– WEARING STYLE -Circumaural
– NFC – Yes
– DSEE EXTREME – Yes
– PASSIVE OPERATION – Yes
– BATTERY CHARGE TIME Approx. 3 Hours (Full charge)
– BATTERY CHARGE METHOD – USB
– BATTERY LIFE(CONTINUOUS MUSIC PLAYBACK TIME WITH INTERNAL MEMORY) – -Max. 30 hours(NC ON), Max. 38 hours(NC OFF)
– BATTERY LIFE(WAITING TIME) – Max. 30 hours(NC ON), Max. 200 hours(NC OFF)
– BLUETOOTH® VERSION – Version 5.0
– EFFECTIVE RANGE – Line of sight approx.30ft (10m)
– FREQUENCY RANGE – 2.4GHz band (2.4000GHz-2.4835GHz)
– PROFILE – A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP
– SUPPORTED AUDIO FORMAT(S) – SBC, AAC, LDAC
– SUPPORTED CONTENT PROTECTION – SCMS-T
– NOISE CANCELING ON/OFF SWITCH – Yes
– PERSONAL NC OPTIMIZER – Yes
– ATMOSPHERIC PRESSURE OPTIMIZING – Yes
– AMBIENT SOUND MODE – Yes
– QUICK ATTENTION – Yes
– What’s In The Box – Carrying Case, Plug Adaptor for In-flight Use, Headphone cable (approx. 1.2m), USB Cable: Type-CTM (approx. 20 cm)

Video Review

Conclusion

Sony have delivered again with their new flagship wireless headphones. Highly recommended. 9/10

Useful Links

Latest pricing & more info on Sony WH-1000XM4’s on Amazon – Click HERE.

T+A Solitaire P Headphones & HA 200 AMP review – The Rolls Royce Headphone System!

Welcome to my review of the T+A Solitaire P Headphones and HA 200 headphone amp which retail for £5,000 & £6,600 respectively.

First up I am going to explain more about the headphones and then the amp, and then discuss the sound quality is as much depth as possible.

T+A Solitaire P Headphones

Developed by T+A’s team of young engineers & experienced physicists who love music. The T+A Solitaire P Headphones are the Rolls Royce of headphones both from a design, practicality and technical innovation point of view.

Concept is a sophisticated planar-magnetostatic design philosophy, ultra-lightweight diaphragm and planar drive.

Everything about these headphones is top class. The ear and head pads are hand-made, manufactured for T+A by a specialist company in their home country Germany. They are allergen-free synthetic leather and Alcántara. They are designed to be comfortable to wear even after 10 hours of use.

Materials used are high-strength plastics and carbon, with an incredible fit and finish.

The Solitaire P’s diaphragm is applied by vapour deposition. Nineteen high-performance neodymium magnets drive the diaphragm through precisely calculated magnetic field lines. The precise design of the retaining rings and the magnet mount maintain the diaphragm’s position accurately in the linear part of the magnetic field, ensuring that it is able to generate high sound pressures without distortion. This is the key to the headphones’ enormous dynamic range and precision, which reaches the listener’s ears virtually devoid of inertia.

– Transducer principle – Planar-magnetostatic.
– Impedance – 80 Ohms.
– Frequency response – 5 Hz – 54 kHz.
– Distortion 130 dB.
– Sensitivity 101 dB @ 1 kHz, 1V.
– Type of construction open, over ear.
– Connectivity Wired transmission, unbalanced 6.35 mm, balanced 4.4 mm Pentaconn.
– Weight 530 g excl. cable.

The T+A HA 200 Headphone Amplifier

T+A Designed and built this from the ground up.

The 3 headphone outputs can be fine tuned for each headphone connected.

The HA 200 output stages operate in Class-A mode with a high idle current. Power is available for the most demanding of headphones. The high-quality mains sections – one digital, one analogue – feature two separate toroidal transformers and provide all the stamina. The HA 200 also features optimised and separate decoder architecture for DSD and PCM, ensuring that all digital formats are decoded to the highest standards.

All the digital signal processing of PCM data is carried out by a double differential quadruple converter, with a conversion rate of up to 768 kHz. The T+A True 1-Bit DSD converter is employed for DSD data; rather than converting the DSD data, it processes them in native Bitstream form. This means that DSD data up to DSD 1024, as they arrive from the USB input of the digital connecting board, can be reproduced in the very highest quality.

– D/A-Converter PCM: Double-Differential-Quadruple Converter up to 32 Bit/768 kHz.
– DSD: T+A True 1-Bit Converter, native Bitstream up to DSD 1024 (49,2 MHz).
– Digital Inputs – USB Audio Input, AES-EBU, BNC, Coax, TOS-Link, HDMI (optional).
– USB Receiver – UAC2 and UAC3 standards.
– Digital Section – Separate PCM und DSD signal paths and processing.
– Additional – Non Oversampling“ DAC mode (NOS-DAC).
– Amplifier – Double Mono „State of the Art“ discrete HV Amp technology.
– Pure Class A power stage.
– 3 separately switchable outputs (Pentaconn, XLR, 6.3 barrel socket).
– Adjustable output impedance.
– Frequency response + 0 / − 3 dB 0.1 Hz – 200 kHz.
– Special Features Complete galvanic isolation between digital and analogue sections.

Sound Quality

I spent hours and hours listening to as many genres of music. Every genre sounded truly magnificent. Below are some of my thoughts on some select tracks.
It is possible to turn loudness on, as well as adjust the bass and treble. With the T+A Solitaire P headphones, no adjustments were necessary. However, having these options does allow you to fine tune any other brand of headphone.

Lonesome Valley – The Fairfield Four – the vocals on this track are something to behold. Epic in every musical sense. The tone of the singers are phenomenal. If you purchase this headphone and amp system, I can’t stress enough that you need to listen to this song. My hairs were lifting on my arms. It felt as if all the singers were in the room around me. Each singer was clearly positioned within the soundstage. So detailed, so moving.

In My Secret Life – Leonard Cohen – a beautiful warmth of the background singers and then Leonard Cohen sings and it’s a masterclass of vocal reproduction. He feels as if he is in the room with your. His deep tones are wonderfully produced.

Unfinished Symphony – Massive Attack – details the instruments, with deep bass lines. The female vocal is clear as day. Excellent separation.

Ophelia – Natalie Merchant – The nuances of the female vocal are mesmerising. The soundstage is excellent. Everything is very detailed.

Brighter Lights Bigger City – Cee Lo Green – dynamic and punchy. The bass is deep and effortless. Cee Lo Green’s voice is so authentic sounding. Plenty of detail too in parts of the track I’ve not heard before.

Vivaldi – The New Four Seasons – Nigel Kennedy – background is dark, no floor noise. The violin is incredibly sounding. You can hear the strings when they are plucked. The track starts calmly and then suddenly the tempo takes off and so does the T+A dancing musically and with sheer brilliance. The whole music spectrum from bass, mid, treble, soundstage and timbre is off the charts incredible. So much detail is present too.

Mountains – Hans Zimmer – the mood within the track is rendered so realistically. I am on edge and the soundtrack builds up. The music scales up instantly as the track reaches its climax. Again tons of detail present, excellent separation.

Highway to Hell – AC/DC – changing the genre to rock, and it’s time to rock out with some AC/DC. Drums, guitars and vocals all knocked out of the park.

Symphony No. 8 Movement 1 – Philip Glass – this is a fast tempo track. The speed is excellent with a wide soundstage, superb positioning of the instruments. Huge sways of details.

Layla – Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton – finally a live piece of music featuring 2 legends. All the instruments, placement and the live atmosphere are beautifully reproduced. Eric Clapton’s voice is stunning.

Video Review

Conclusion

The ultimate audio listening experience. Top quality build, design and execution. Musically perfect. Gold award. Verdict 10/10.

Useful Links

T+A Website

HiFiMan Ananda (2020) vs HiFiMan Sundara (2020) vs HiFiMan Ananda-BT – The Ultimate Planar Magnetic Headphone Comparison

Welcome to my review of the HiFiMan Ananda Planar Magnetic Headphones that retail for £699. I have compared these to the HiFiMan Sundara that costs £299 and the bluetooth version of the Ananda, the Ananda-BT that costs £999.

If you want to read the full review of the Sundara (2020) and Ananda-BT these can be found on my website. Just go to the menu, audio and select the headphone of your choice.

The HiFiMan Ananda is the culmination of years of development, lightweight, ultra-fine planar drivers that deliver sound with unmatched agility and power sensitivity.

The Key Features of the HiFiMan Ananda

– High Sensitivity
– -Ultra-thin Diaphragm
– Unparalleled Portable Audio Performance
– Window Shade Grill Design
– Asymmetrical Ear Cups
– Frequency Response: 8 Hz – 55 kHz
– Sensitivity: 103 dB
– Impedance: 25 Ω
– Weight: 399g

Video Review

Conclusion

The HiFiMan Ananda are an astonishing sounding pair of headphones and highly recommended and are the top sounding pair of planar magnetic headphones out of all three. The bluetooth version, the Ananda-BT provides 95% of the sound quality of the Ananda but with the freedom of no wires, whereas the Sundara is an incredible value planar magnetic headphones, offering 80% of the more expensive Ananda.

Useful Links

HiFiMan Ananda on Amazon UK – Click HERE.
HiFiMan Ananda-BT on Amazon UK – Click HERE.
HiFiMan Sundara on Amazon UK – Click HERE.

Xiaomi Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 review vs AirPods

Welcome to my review of the latest Xiaomi Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 vs AirPods.

The Key Features of Mi True Wireless Earphones 2

– Automatic pop-up pairing – the earphones can be coupled to your smartphone quickly and easily through a pop-up window.
– AAC / LDHC support – audio codecs with superior sound quality
– Single-ear mode
– Double-tap control – simply tap the earphones twice to access control music, call, voice assistant
– Bluetooth 5.0
– Ergonomic Design – The mid-in-ear design offers and the best fit for extended use
– In-ear detection – Built-in optical sensors will help you pause music when one of the earphones is removed
– 4 hours battery on buds, 14 hours battery with case, fast charging too.

Video Review

Conclusion

The Xiaomi Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 have exceptional sound quality let down by voice lag in YouTube and other video applications. 7/10.

Useful Links

Xiaomi Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 on Amazon UK – Click HERE.
AirPods on Amazon UK – Click HERE.

Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Wireless ANC Headphones Review – £50 Budget Monsters!

Welcome to my review of the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Wireless ANC Headphones that retail for £51.99.

The Key Features

– Hi-Res Audio Certified with extended high frequencies that reach up to 40 kHz
– 40 mm dynamic drivers produce
– ANC reduces ambient noises By Up to 90%:
– 4 built-in ANC microphones for the digital active noise cancellation algorithm.
– 100% Stronger Bass with BassUp technology conducts real-time analysis of the low frequencies to instantly strengthen the bass output. Double press the play button when listening to bass-heavy genres like EDM and hip-hop for an amplified listening experience.
– 40-Hour Playtime*: Up to 40 hours of non-stop playtime in wireless active noise cancellation mode (at 60% volume) is extended to an enormous 60 hours in standard music mode.
– 5 minutes charge and get 4 hours of listening.
– AUX Cable: Use the included AUX cable for unlimited listening in wired mode.
– Impedance 16Ω
– Frequency Response 16 Hz – 40 kHz
– Range 15 m / 49.21 ft
– What’s In The Box – Micro-USB Cable, 3.5 mm AUX Cable, Travel Pouch, User Manual

Video Review

Conclusion

The Anker Soundcore Life Q20 provides exceptional value and are my recommended budget offering. 9.5/10.

Useful Links

Anker Soundcore Life Q20 on Amazon Click HERE.

HiFiMan Sundara (2020) Planar Magnetic Headphones REVIEW

Welcome to my review of the HiFiMan Sundara (2020) Planar Magnetic headphones which retail for £299.

Key Features

– Featuring a newly developed diaphragm that is 80% thinner than the HE400.
– New diaphragm produces a wider frequency response, faster and more detailed
– New 3.5mm Headphone connector for enhanced durability
– Frequency Response: 6Hz – 75kHz
– Impedance: 37 ohms
– Sensitivity: 94dB
– Weight: 372g

Video Review

Conclusion

An incredible sounding pair of headphones from HiFiMan. Now with minor revisions for 2020, including lower the price to £299, make these a must have headphones. 9.5/10.

Useful Links

HiFiMan Sundara on Amazon UK

Google Pixel Buds 2 review & comparison against the competition

Welcome to my review of the Google Pixel Buds 2 which retail at £179.

The Key Features and Specifications

– Earbud weight 5.3g
– Sweat- and water-resistant (IPX4)
– Bluetooth 5.0
– Custom-designed 12 mm dynamic speaker driver
– Passive noise reduction
– Spatial vent for in-ear pressure reduction and spatial awareness
– Dual beamforming microphones and Voice-detecting accelerometer
– Earbuds: Up to 5 hours of listening time and up to 2.5 hours of talk time
– Earbuds with wireless charging case: Up to 24 hours of listening time and up to 12 hours of talk time
– 10-minute charge of earbuds in the wireless charging case delivers up to 2 hours of listening time and up to 1 hour of talk time
– USB-C charging port
– Qi-certified

Video Review

Conclusion

If you are looking for a neutral sounding wireless earphone, with a small footprint, IPX4 and that is usable for the gym along with Google Assistant features, the Google Pixel Buds 2 will fit the bill.

Rating 7/10

Useful Links

Google Buds 2 Click HERE.
Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro Click HERE.
AirPods Click HERE.
NuraLoop Click HERE.

NuraLoop Wireless Earphones REVIEW – Personalised Epic Sound with ANC

Welcome to my review of the NuraLoop earphones. The NuraLoop retail for £199. Nura the company behind the NuraLoop have set out to re-invent the headphone by ensuring every user has their own personalised sound profile. To protect their I.P. Nura have a number of patents in force. Their first headphone was the over ear Nuraphone. To help with its funding, Nura started a Kickstarter, which became the biggest ever Kickstarter in Australia. In addition, the Nuraphone was worlds first headphone to have features added in July 2018 via a software update which includes automatic noise cancellation.

The special sauce is the personalised hearing test that occurs during setup. With its special mics , two on each earbud , these help carry out an otoacoustic hearing test. With passive sound isolation from the ear tips, the inner microphone on each bud monitors otoacoustic emissions, by detecting the activity in the cochlea inside the ear to learn how your ear hears sound and the respective frequencies. This takes a couple of minutes, which then creates your custom profile. To see this in action, please watch the video below.The end result is terrific sound quality, some of the best ANC and decent battery life. To learn more about these jump over to watching the video.

Key Specifications

– In box range of ear tips 10.5mm, 12mm, 13.5mm and & replacement filters, case, magnetic charge cable & 3.5mm cable,
– 16 hours battery life , 10 min quick charge for 2 hours,
– APT-X HD , APT-X, AAC , SBC
– Bluetooth 5
– IPX4 sweat resistance
– ANC
– Social Mode
– Immersive Control
– Customisable Touch Controls
– Personalised Sound

Video Review

Update 7th September 2020 – new firmware includes the following features based on Customer feedback:

– Manual On/Off mode – New setting to manually turn NuraLoop on/off. If you don’t want to use this method, the auto on/off is still the default method.
– Double Tap Button functionality – Further customise your TouchDials with double tap.
– Voice Calls – Improved reliability and enhanced clarity of voice calls.
– Plus – Additional bug fixes such as improved fit detection and reduced analog cable latency experienced by musicians.

This new firmware works extremely well in my testing and makes the nuraloop and even stronger recommendation.

Conclusion

Highly recommended 9.5/10.

Useful Links

nura on Amazon UK

nura website