Cheaper, Better: The Centrance DACport LX

centrance_dacport_LX_02

Despite the superb little system-in-a-stick that the original DACport is, some people don’t want simplicity as they happen to like big messy desktop amplifiers with garden hose power cords. So, why not offer the same product sans the amplifier? This is exactly what the Centrance Dacport LX is all about. A DACport minus the integrated amplifier inside. Now that the amplifier is gone (and so is the small potentiometer inside), certainly there would be more hifi to be heard from the DAC section. And indeed it is. The DACport LX is priced at $50 lower than the original version, and as you will see in a bit, I would go on and on how the LX sounds better than the original! I wish more manufacturers would follow suit. Cheaper products that sound better is just what our wallets want.

COMPARISONS

Loosing the amplifier section has improved the sound considerably, putting it ahead of the Fostex HP-A3 (the original DACport is less transparent than the Fostex) and roughly on par with the HRT Music Streamer II+. The Fostex HP-A3 and the DACport LX shares a very similar sound character, both very smooth and clean sounding, deep soundstage and roughly the same detail extraction level. The Fostex HP-A3 is leaner on the bass and is less punchy, and is also inferior in terms of instrument separation and instrument body.

Identical dimension and casing, only without the volume knob.

 

Both runs from USB power, at Class A, and is capable of handling 24/96 files.

 

Left to right: DACport, DACport LX, HRT MS2+, Fostex HP-A3.

 

24/96 setting through Apple’s Midi Dialog. Apple Users: Applications > Utilities > Audio MIDI Setup.

 

Compared to my favorite $300 USB DAC, the HRT Music Streamer II+, the DACport LX has a slightly different sound signature: the LX is cleaner sounding, blacker background, and separation of instruments being clearer, while the HRT has a more enveloping analog sound, two inches wider but less deep on the soundstage, though being 10% more grainy sounding. The HRT Music Streamer II+ is warmer and like ten percent darker, with more bass body, though less detail on the bass. The DACport LX lets an ounce more top treble out, resulting in an airier yet a tad more sibilant sound, and an extra bit of micro details extraction. Indeed a very close fight there, but put it simply, the HRT gives you a warmer and more analog sound, while the DACport a cleaner and clearer sound. Still confused on which is better? Well, the DACport is better looking.

RUNNING AMPLESS

So you no longer get the convenience of being able to plug headphones and IEMs straight into the DACport LX the way you do with the original DACport. But testing the unit reveals that things still sound good, even as I try plugging anything from a Hifiman RE-272 IEM to an Audez’e LCD-2 headphone (Yes! the big Orthodynamic!) to the LX’s output socket. Volume control is done on the digital domain via iTunes. No breaking up of sound, no distortions, no frequency rolls off, only a noticeably weaker bass punch compared to the DACport’s output jack since we’re running the headphone straight from the DAC’s analog stage. This is what Michael Goodman says about it:

“The output stage is buffered, but you may be maxing out the buffer that way. We recommend that LX is followed by amp with a higher input impedance. But it won’t get damaged the way you are using it, so it’s ok.”

I’m not suggesting that you run on that configuration, but you can get away with it as long as you can bear that bass punch is not as punchy as it’s supposed to be (though bass levels are not an issue with the LCD-2).

The point is that taking off the amplifier section has given the DACport a fresh boost in sound quality, and now you don’t have to feel bad for having that unwanted amplifier being stuck on your audio chain and fearing that you’re not getting every last bit of the sound quality you deserve from the DACport. The sound signature is actually very nice, deep and spacious with less of a focus in miss as in the original DACport, and also less dry than the DACmini. You can pair it with say a desktop amp like the Schiit Asgard, or even a portable amp like the JDSLabs Cmoy and you’re good to go.

OTHER DETAILS

On heat issues, the DACport LX still runs very hot like the original. I didn’t measure the temperatures, but I’m pretty sure that the LX, for practical purposes, runs just as hot as the original DACport. That’s significantly hotter than the HRT Music Streamer II+ or the Fostex HP-A3. But hey, it’s a desktop USB DAC and nobody is going to be carrying it around and so I really wouldn’t make too big of an issue of the heat, as long as it sounds good (which it is).

The choice of 1/4″ TRS jack for the output of the LX is objectionable, and it’s understandable why. I need to make my own 1/4″ to RCA interconnect cable to hook up the LX to a typical desktop amp. Hooking up the LX to a portable is less messy though, since portable amp more often uses 1/8″ TRS input jacks, and so all you need is a mini-to-mini (which you probably already have) and a 1/8″ to 1/4″ converter on top of that. Bottom line is that the 1/4″ TRS jack was not the best choice for this otherwise superb DAC, but it’s understandable given the need to preserve the same housing design. Now the good news is that CEntrance is already working into this and newer shipments of the LX should include a high quality 1/4″ to RCA interconnect cable, so you should have no issues when you decide to order one for yourself.

END WORDS

The DACport LX is such a great product all around and is really strong on becoming my favorite $300 DAC. Even considering to add it to the Recommendations page.

GEARS USED FOR REVIEW

Sennheiser HD800, Audez’e LCD-2, Apex Peak, Hifiman RE-272, Superlux HD661, ALO Continental, HRT Music Streamer II+, CEntrance DACport, Fostex HP-A3.

 

 

 

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  • http://hrav.org/ Hendy Ravenda

    Mike, do you know that the only diff between the two DACports is the exclusion of potentiometer in the LX?

    Both have the same amp section.

    http://www.head-fi.org/t/473473/review-more-to-come-centrance-dacport-24-96-usb-dac-amp/450#post_9667202

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Probably true. And the potentiometer is a device notorious for degrading signal quality. A necessary evil, they say.

  • STARSTERN

    my impression ;that the DACport LX is kind of your best portable dac ,while the Portaphile 627 is kind of your best portable amp ;now: for the price range of these both together’or lower ,are there any dac/amp combo which would meet their sound quality ?? and may be of more compact in size ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      CypherLabs Theorem. It does iOS DAC too.

  • stevej12

    Mike, thanks for the great site & for the review. I was wondering if you had any experience with the Alo Island – i remember a reviewer favorably comparing it to the Dacport. Which of these would you recommend for me: I listen mostly to classical, and have the DT 880 Pro – maybe it’s because of the genre, but I don’t find them hot.

    Thanks once again.

    • Dave Ulrich

      I would go with the Island myself, I guess, although I have not heard the Dt 880.

      • stevej12

        Thanks Dave! Any reason for your preference? The sense i got from the reviews was that the Island had great musicality, but no one ever spoke about it being very detailed, resolving. So i always wonder if it’s actually a good alternative to the Dacport.

        About the DT880, I feel it’s a very neutral headphone, but the impression most people carry is of a sharp / hot treble. I can see that may be am issue on pop / not so well done recordings, but since i listen to classical, which us mostly well-recorded, that’s never been am issue for me. So, don’t want the recommendations based on the amp trying to contain the top-end.

        • Dave Ulrich

          The Dacport is a few years old now, and I don’t feel it to be any more resolving than the Island, and the Island is more spacious with more kick in the bass. I don’t have the two here to A/B, but ALO does have a 30 day return policy, and the only way to know for sure is to listen yourself. Also, and this just my opinion obviously, but at this price level, musicality should be prized over technicality. If you are looking for the last word in micro detail and resolution in an all-in-one, you will need to look elsewhere.

          I should also make sure, you are referring to the Dacport, right? Not the Dacport LX, as you have posted this on the LX page. The Dacport is a DAC/amp combo, the LX is a standalone DAC.

          • stevej12

            Thanks so much Dave! That clarifies.

            Actually I was looking at the Dacport / LX interchangeably. It seems the LX is more resolving & transparent, and has enough power to drive my headphones (my DT880 are 250 ohms) so was thinking of using those with the iTunes volume control. Good idea, if one were to go for the LX?

            Incidentally have you had a chance to preview the Geekout? Any views about that one?

            • Dave Ulrich

              I have not heard it, no. I wouldn’t recommend hooting headphones straight up to the LX. It you go the LX route, you could pair it with something simple and cheap like a JDSlabs cMoy. They pair nicely together. That was my first setup actually. The nice thing is, should you ever want to upgrade, you will already have a very nice DAC. I should ask, are you just using your computer’s headphone out now? Also, favorite composer?

              • stevej12

                Dave, in fact the upgrade path argument was why I was excited about the LX :)

                I’m right now using the DT880 out of my MacBook Air (sacrilege, right? :)) Though some have commented the Air headphone out + DAC is decent, and apparently, since it runs SSD, associated computer noise is low. No clue really, since I don’t have a reference point. Although, seems the DT880 sound slightly cleaner out of my iPhone 5S. My tube amp is useless as a headphone amp because of the really high floor noise, so don’t use any amplification right now.

                Even though I had a decent hifi setup, after this introduction to headphones, more excited about music than I have ever been. In fact, rediscovering a lot of it.

                Favorite composer: if I had to name one, would be Beethoven. Though, my loves keep changing, my latest one is Sibelius. Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Britten, Bach, remain constant favorites. So really, all over the place.

                This is a complete aside now, but have you compared Mastered for iTunes with lossless formats? Either you’ll be pleasantly surprised or my ears have turned lead. :)

                Apologies for the long rant.

                • Dave Ulrich

                  I don’t use Itunes, but more than anything, it is the recording quality that makes the difference. Like I always say, Garbage in, Garbage out (I invented that saying). I love Sibelius, such a unique sound world. You know you are listening to Sibelius, and no one else. Got to hear an excellent live performance of his violin concerto the other year. It’s a classic for a reason. Beethoven is great, of course. I love Mahler as well. My favorite composer, all things considered, would have to be Shostakovich. I guess I like my music light and fuffy.

                  Anyway, as to the question of Island vs LX/cMoy, it really depends. If there is the thought that you might, at some point, upgrade, and you don’t mind two seperate components, I would go with the LX/cMoy. When you get an all-in-one unit, part of what you are paying for is convenience and simplicity. The rule of thumb is that seperate components will sound better than a single unit. Having said that, most of my listening as of late has been via the Island, because I can just plug it in and be done with it. It also sounds great with my Mad Dogs. I would go with the LX/cMoy though, in your case. The cMoy is great with high impedance headphones and is very musical.

                  • Marc

                    Hi Dave,

                    What would you suggest as an upgrade for the DACport LX? I’m looking for a good dedicated and portable DAC that would evidently be better than the LX and would pair well with my Duet. The most obvious would be to get the CLAS however I’m wondering if there are any other portable DACs that would better even the CLAS

                    • Dave Ulrich

                      The LX isn’t really portable. Mike or L will be able to give you a better answer on this one.

                    • Marc

                      I’m using a power bank, a dual power USB cable and an Apple CCK to be able to use the LX as a portable!! It’s currently paired with my Duet and I’m trying to find upgrades portable in size but can be USB powered like the LX so I’m not necessarily tied to DACs with their own batteries like the CLAS.

                  • stevej12

                    A few years back, I would have jumped at the LX + cMoy suggestion. But I agree with you: simpler solutions tend to be more usable: so a slightly lower quality Island may actually go further for me, simply because it’s more usable in a greater number of situations. I think I’ll go ahead with that. Let me see if I can find a way to audition these. The Island can’t be used as a stand alone DAC, right?

                    Yes, Sibelius is something else. In fact, I find most of the Sibelius era composers from eastern Europe to be incredible. Love Bartok, incidentally. And Dvorak. Somehow have missed Shostakovich – let me find some good recordings. I think a preference for a lighter musical signature is a factor of the artistic sensibilities of our times. Do try out Janine Jansen’s Four Seasons & Bach Concertos – you may quite enjoy it.

                    You’re right about garbage in, garbage out. What i meant was, we tend to write off compressed recordings – and usually, there is a good reason to do that – but Mastered for iTunes changes the game, I think. First time ever I’m buying from iTunes, just because of Mastered.

                    • Dave Ulrich

                      Ok, first: Shostakovich was a soviet era composer who composed some of the most intense and bleak music I have heard. I was making a joke by calling it light. It is anything but.

                      I have heard Janine Jansen’s Four Seasons. She is a talented violinist.

                      Garbage in, Garbage out was a thing long before me. I love my sarcasm a bit much…

                      Anyway, no, the Island can NOT be used as a stand alone DAC. That must be taken into account. ALO does have a good return policy, so that is an easy way to give it a try.

                    • stevej12

                      Lol, ok. By light I meant shorn of the over-ornamentation of the baroque era. Even Sibelius isn’t ‘light’ by any stretch of imagination :)

                      I run a mobile startup, so aware of GIGO – it started as a computer science concept. I thought you were referring to the quality of the base recordings that were then Mastered for iTunes, or otherwise :)

                      And will certainly try out the ALO – hopefully won’t have to take advantage of their return policy.

                      Thanks once again for all the inputs!

                    • Dave Ulrich

                      That is what I was referring to. And I hope you like it. I enjoy the hell out of the Island. I hope you find it pairs well with the DT 880. I am a HD650 man myself.

                    • stevej12

                      I quite like the HD650 myself, but they seemed just a tiny bit recessed & dark to me. The DT 880 on the other hand sounded refreshingly open. So went for these. Plus, while they once cost about the same, today these are $190, against the 650′s $500. So pretty much a no brainer, especially when you’re trying to run a startup :)

                    • stevej12

                      Dave, I need to thank you for pointing me towards Shostakovich. Absolutely in love with him :)

              • stevej12

                Sorry Dave, after the thousand word comment, forgot to ask the real question: JDS cMoy + Dacport LX vs. Alo Island? Qualitatively? Apologies for the million questions and thanks once so much for your patience!

  • Traveller2225

    So you would choose the DACport XL over the Fostex HP-A3 and the ODAC’s DAC? because I am up in the air, and have you ever listened to the Custom Cute, because I have read a couple of reviews comparing it to the ODAC

    • Dave Ulrich

      I have only heard the LX and the ODAC, but I would go with the Dacport LX of those two. I know Mike preferred the LX over the HP-A3, as said in this review. The more interesting question would be the Dacport LX or the Fostex HP-A4. I haven’t heard the Custom Cute.

      • Traveller2225

        Basically it was one of the better and or best DACs to come out of FIrestone Audio originally goes for 300$ but can be found for 200$ and I found an open box for 130$, a DACport xl for 125, and CDAC+ for 140$(ODAC separate power from usb and better isolation) Also I am using the DT 990s pro 250 ohm, so that is why I considered the Fostex with integrated amp for 185$ shipped.