Tag: digital-to-analog converter

NuForce Cube Review: Ultra-Portable Media Center

Take it Just about Anywhere

They finally arrived. After careful negotiations and a few flattering words, we got our hands on a box full of NuForce goodies.  While we certainly are grateful for all the quality stuff we got and expect to create equally impressive videos for a number of the products we got such as the NuForce Air DAC iWireless system, one of the most impressive and visually striking items we received is NuForce Cube. The elegant lines, a clear box resembling the minimalism of Apple packaging, and rich solid colors stood in stark contrast to the dry brown of the cardboard shipping box. But what is most impressive, apart from the aesthetics of the Cube, is the range of technologies NuForce has integrated into this diminutive 2″ box.

How Many Features Can Be Packed Into a 2″ Cube?

Don't Let Size Fool You: the Cube is Loud, Detailed, and Packs a DAC and Headphone Amp

In an effort to beef-up your mobile rig, NuForce has equipped the Cube with a headphone amplifier, a 16-bit/48kHz Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC), and an 3.5mm (1/8″) AUX. In theory, the goal of fitting so many functions in one place is to offer users a central sound entertainment hub. To that end, the Cube definitely delivers the key terms that will ignite the interest of virtually any audiophile. Adding to the portability of the Cube, it has a built-in battery that can deliver roughly eight continuous hours of playback and can be recharged through USB connection.

While packing so many features seems like it may become unwieldy, switching between the USB DAC function of the Cube in speaker mode to headphone mode was as easy plugging the phones in. To test the claims power of the headphone amplifier, I linked it to headphones rated at 100 Ohms. By no means the highest ohm load available, but one where issues start to become apparent if the cans are being under-powered (beside, the Cube is intended as a portable system. If you consider headphones over 100 ohms “portable” maybe you should reconsider).

As a headphone amplifier and DAC, the Cube performed remarkably well and delivered the sound quality expected of NuForce: clean, true to the signal, and minimally colored. But, to prevent skirting the most important question of the speaker’s performance too long, I move on.

Pandora’s Box?

Unlike Hephaestus who according to ancient Greek myth unleashed evil on the world upon opening Pandora’s box against Zeus’ command, unlocking the power of the NuForce Cube will not be as chaotic nor as reprehensible.

Instead, your first impression  is likely to be pure awe at volume this 2″ box can achieve. The first notes flooded through the speaker with utmost authority sounding loud and shockingly clear. For the fact that the speaker is no larger than a Kennedy Half-Dollar, the speaker retained a respectable amount of detail in the high frequencies and just enough bass to round out the reproduction and give the music a sense of depth.

While the Cube performed impressively in at mid-volume levels, it began to loose its brilliance once we pushed it up to its limits. Of course, no one expects to blow down the house or set off alarms with this little thing, but distortion is never a good thing and there was a perceivable level of distortion once we reached the highest volume thresholds.

For what it is and what it is designed to do, the NuForce Cube performs at a high level. It is hard to imagine a speaker with so many features, let alone one that can match the quality of the Cube. Although its somewhat high price-tag may deter some buyers, those who know what they are looking for and understand the quality of NuForce products will not hesitate to rejoice over the NuForce Cube.

The Full Array of Cube Colors in Their Package

READ MORE +

Do I Need a DAC? When and How to Choose a DAC

A common question that arises among music lovers looking to improve the sound quality of their set-up is the question of whether a Digital to Analog Converter (DAC, for short) is necessary and at what point a DAC becomes a useful component of either a speaker system or headphone rig. Before addressing the question of the necessity of a DAC, it is important to understand precisely what DACs are designed to do.

Function

The essential function of a DAC is to convert the digital signals that computers or portable players use to store music into an analog current that can be used by headphone transducers or speakers to create physical sound. As a matter of pure functionality, no player that stores music digitally can interact with analog components without some type of on-board DAC. Of course, to keep the overall price of machines and devices capable of digital music storage down, many manufacturers equip devices such as mp3 players, laptops, and desktops with sub-par DAC systems. These systems generally do only enough to convert binary into a current and do not stress distortion reduction and general sound quality leaving the music without dimension or depth.

Do I Need a DAC? When to Get a DAC?

The statement I am about to make may surprise some and completely offend others: no one ever needs a DAC. A dedicated DAC should be the final step in achieving the finest audio quality for your stereo system or headphone rig. No amount of specialization, flashy specs,

NuForce Signature Gold; No amount of gold or diamonds will save a poor source

or carefully selected DAC components will improve the sound quality of a poor source. Painfully compressed digital audio files such as MP3 and internet radio streams will always leave out the nuances serious listeners crave. Before a DAC should ever come into consideration, it is of greater priority that the audio file is of the best quality available and of the lowest compression.

Even before considering new headphones or speaker components, until the music files have achieved the highest possible level of quality it is premature to begin considering external DACs or amplifier DAC combinations.

Choosing a DAC

Assuming you have all your lossless files in line, decent set of headphones or speakers, and (in necessary cases) an amplifier, a DAC is something to consider as final step in improving you system. Like adding the finishing touches to a carefully crafted work of art, adding a

FiiO-E17, described as having a "neutral" signature

DAC to you system should feel like polishing an already impressive composition. An effective way to select a suitable DAC is to test one with the music it will be used to play. Because DACs feed decoded information to other systems within the unit that eventually travel to the listening device in an analog form, all DACs will have a unique sound signature. The sound signature is basically the amount of coloration, or sound imposed on the analog signal not inherent to the mix or engineering. While the most neutral reproduction is the most desirable, some individuals may find that DACs with “warmer” coloration are more suited to their tastes. At this point in the process, it is just a mater of selecting a DAC with a sound signature that suits your individual tastes and that most heightens your musical enjoyment.

READ MORE +

Hear What You’re Missing With Infrasonic’s Blow4D Nearfield Reference Monitors

Apparently, Infrasonic owns a trademark on the phrase, “Hear What You’re Missing.” They’re certainly justifiably confident in holding that trademark. Infrasonic makes a variety of products, including reference monitors, FireWire/USB/PCI audio interfaces, MIDI controllers and microphones, and as far as this blogger can tell, they’re all top-notch. These monitors, the Blow 4D, are a fantastic example:

Infrasonic Blow4D

Bi-Amplified Nearfield Studio Monitor Speakers w/ Built-in 24-bit/192kHz DAC, Bass Reflex & Much More

The Infrasonic Blow 4Ds are a pair of 55-Watt, 4″ bi-amplified near-field studio monitors. They feature a two-way design, a bass reflex system and natural silk dome tweeters in order to reproduce the broad frequency response and overall stellar-quality sound that they do. Their high-strength MDF composite cabinet design also contributes to that.

Infrasonic Blow4D back

The Blow 4Ds have both analog AND digital inputs, with a stunning 24-bit/192 kHz DAC built right into it.

Don’t be fooled by the “BLOW4″ you see in the picture. It’s easy as pie to tell the difference. The difference (and, if I may, what a beautiful one it is) is that the Blow 4Ds come equipped with a DA-912 digital interface module, allowing users to utilize a number of digital inputs such as AEU/EBU(XLR), S/PDIF(RCA) and an RCA thru connector.

The DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) in the DA-912 has an astonishing 24-bit/192kHz resolution which translates to 123 dB of dynamic range. Keen observers will also notice the variety of filters above the DA-912 module that help control low and high frequencies in a wide variety of ways. Truly, the Infrasonic Blow 4Ds are some of the most outstanding near-field studio monitors on the market today. With speakers this accurate and powerful, you’ll surely “Hear What You’re Missing.™”

Make sure to click one of the images or this link to check out the Blow 4D product page for further information!

READ MORE +