CypherLabs Double: Solo -dB and Solo -R


Disclaimer: The units used for this review are in-store demo units from AnalogHead.


The pioneer of i-Device DACs is now back with new and updated Solo devices, and these updated models instantly replace the old Solo as my new favorite i-Device external DAC. Moving from the Wolfson based DAC of the first Solo to the new 24 bit AKM4396 based DAC of the new Solos, I find the sound of the new Solo to be much more analog and natural to my ears. You get a fuller midrange, a beefier low end, and a softer treble region with the new Solos. Soundstage width remains roughly the same size, but depth, coherence, center image are all much improved over the old Solo. It’s a better DAC section to be sure, and though it may not be a huge leap in overall technicalities, the change is significant enough that it’s hard for me to go back to the old Solo after getting a taste of the newer ones.


Briefly on the new Solos

You can now get the Solos as either the -R or the -dB model. The Solo -R sells for $499 and offers only single-ended output. The Solo -dB sells for $699 and offers fully balanced output as well as a USB DAC function for PC and Macs. As a USB DAC, the -dB supports up to 24/192, which is quite a step up from the commonplace 24/96 USB DACs. The new Solos are also compatible with lightning dock i-Devices.

I think CypherLabs did good in creating two different models at the two price points. Some people may not need the balanced output as a lot of amplifiers in the market only support single ended, and so it would’ve been too much to force them to go with the $699 -dB if single ended is only what they’re going to use. The -dB may be a little steep at $699, but by adding the USB DAC functionality (and we’re talking about a pretty upscale mid-level USB DAC here with the 24/192 capability), I think it gives people a better value for the money.

Another welcome feature is the ability of the Solos to charge the i-Devices simultaneously while playing music through it. Battery has been upgraded to a 5800mAh Lithium Polymer (that is HUGE), and for that reason I sort of understand if the Solo comes out to be a little bigger than what I would like it to be. Not unpractical, transportable big, but it would be nice to have a slimmer Solo device. Battery life is claimed to be as high as 14 hours, though I personally haven’t had the chance to check on real-world usage. Assuming a 10% margin of error from the claimed playtime that still gives the new Solos a very respectable playtime that’s higher than a lot of the other hi-quality DAPs in the market.



iDevice DAC comparisons

The competition is much fiercer now than when CypherLabs first released their 1st-generation Solo. You have the Fostex HP-P1 which is quite a solid device by itself. Sony also entered the market with their PHA-1 DAC for i-Devices. You also have the Go-Dap from Venturecraft which also looks like a serious contender. The Go-Dap is a more casual product that offers good sound in a fairly compact factor (especially the 4.0 when paired with an Iphone 4). The Sony PHA-1 had a lot of potential, and coming from a huge company like Sony, should easily be able to top the audio quality chain, but it turns out that the PHA-1 is quite a disappointment to me and a lot of my friends. So we’re left with only the Fostex HP-P1 as the only serious contender to the new Solos.

I think Fostex really knows how to build great DACs. The HP-P1 sounds very clean, smooth, and spacious. The HP-A3 which is a mid-entry level USB DAC is also one of the best in its class. The Japan only HP-A7 supposedly is also a very solid performing DAC for the price. And finally you have the HP-A8 which is currently my favorite desktop DAC. Throughout all these different models, Fostex has consistently kept the same smooth, clean and spacious sound trademark. Who doesn’t like a smooth, clean, and spacious sound? I know I do. The “problem” I have currently with the HP-P1 is that the Fostex sound is too relaxed for my taste. I need more low end weight, a stronger impact, a stronger PRaT. I don’t think that it’s necessarily a weakness on the HP-P1’s part, but rather a conscious house signature that the engineers at Fostex choose to have.

While the Solo is more grainy and less smooth than the Fostex, I enjoy its sound better as it gives me that bass body and impact that I need for almost all of my music. Another factor that also keeps me with the Solo camp is the necessity to add an external amp to the Fostex HP-P1, as I constantly find the built in amp to be too soft in impact for a lot of the headphones I use. Yes, you still need to add an amp to the Solo as well, but with the Solo at the end I got a slimmer stack than I do with the Fostex. I do think that these factors that make me go with the Solo are relatively subjective and ignoring those subjective preferences, I would rank the two devices as being equal in the sound quality department.


More DAP Comparisons on the next page…

Rate this review

  • L.

    Nice post Mike, easy read!

    • Thanks!

      Sent from my mobile device. Sorry for any mistype.

  • Great review as always. Thank you. By the way, does anyone know a place we can test some DACs and headphones in Stuttgart area (Germany)? I’m new to everything Hi-Fi and I currently just own dt990 pro headphones and a FiiO E10. I’m looking for some variety when buying gear and I really don’t know which way to go (save for an expensive headphones/dac pair or buy a bunch of budget headphones to use with e10…) so maybe it would really help if I get a chance to listen to the headphones before I buy them. What do you think?

    • Lieven, can you help Ege?

      Ege, violectric and rein are both Germany companies and they make good DACs. Lieven may be able to point you out to a local dealer.

      Sent from my mobile device. Sorry for any mistype.

      • Thank you very much for the suggestions. Your Q&A section is awesome =)

        • You’re welcome, Ege. 🙂

  • Laurencewayne

    Mike- Another great review but you didn’t mention pairing the Solo db with the Apex Glacier (which Todd at TTVJ has bundled at a special price). Since you have both was there a reason?

    • Thanks!

      Well as I’ve mentioned in the review it works great with a lot of amps and yes it includes the Glacier as well.

      Is just didn’t want to go into specifics with each amp I’ve used it cause its a very long list.

      Sent from my mobile device. Sorry for any mistype.

  • Big_Bad_Bill

    I was very disappointed with the previous Solo because of its graininess relative to the HM801 and the Fostex Hp-P1. No air, ambience, or soundstage. I note you also mention the new one has a “grainy” sound signature as well. At this price, and with the chips currently available, I don’t think grain should be part of the picture at all. Can’t they do better than this?

    I was also upset because I ordered online from an overseas location, and they gladly sent me an old Solo without any mention that the new ones were within about 1 week of release. Bad business on their part, since I won’t go back.

    • Sorry to hear that Bill. I think while a clean grain less sound is nice, grain is part of the sound signature.

      Talking about the old solo, I think it has very low, almost zero grain, and a very black background too.

      Sent from my mobile device. Sorry for any mistype.

      • Big_Bad_Bill

        The original Solo had its good points–a heftier bass and warmer midrange than the HP-P1. But it just lacked the resolution and detail necessary to capture hall ambience and define spatial relationships, and it couldn’t capture instrumental timbres as well either, for the same reason. I guess that’s what I mean by “grain.” The HP-P1 seems less fatiguing to me because it does those things better.

        I wonder if you could go into more detail about the difference in sound between the old and the new versions? Thanks.

  • so is it worth upgrading from “IPod LOD -> Continental V2” to “Ipod LOD -> SOLO -> Continental V2” ?
    I have the latest version of Ipod classic (crap DAC version)

    • Worth is always a subjective matter.

      If you ask me is there going to be an improvement, for sure it does.

    • GraveDancer

      Minh: I have that setup with the Solo and I’m happy with it. It drives my HE-500s effortlessly and my PS500s too.

      I did go on to and got a new old stock Thomson 6111 to roll into my V2 as that is the big compelling difference In the V3…I’ll let you know how it works. Cost was ~15$.

      • Remus

        Hi GraveDancer, how did you open up the continental v2? I can’t find suitable screwdrivers or Allen keys. I too want to try to roll tubes in the continental!

        • GraveDancer

          An engineering geek friend of mine had the appropriate metric(?) allen key for this. Looked like something he bought in a set from AutoZone or Kmart…
          Since my last posting, when i did open it, I saw it was epoxied and decided not to screw with it. Although the same aforementioned buddy who can do this stuff in his sleep offered to change it, I decided against it and actually bought the V3 being the impulsive nerd I am. Still breaking this in. I plan to use this with my JHAudio JH16s. But it drives my HE500’s gorgeously….

          • Remus

            Metric means the mm system used outside of the US right? So if I get a set of Allen keys I would be able to open the amp up right? Oh and I thought you rolled the Thomson tube into the v2?

            • GraveDancer

              I still have the tubes, but I did *not* roll them into the V2. I saw how well put together this was and I didn’t want to mess with it. I could have, but I chickened out. So I bought the V3 and have mothbolled the V2.

              • Remus

                Thanks for clarifying. So how does the v3 compare to the he v2?

                • So far all I can share is that the V3 has a fuller bass body than the V2 which is welcome in my opinion. Gain is a bit lower than on the V2.

      • wow, awesome info

  • Would you consider it worth the upgrade from regular CLAS to CLAS-dB
    1) soundwise as a iDevice-DAC running single-ended?
    2) soundwise as a iDevice-DAC running balanced?
    3) any difference as a transport via the DAC-out RCA/SPDIF
    4) Btw… What is the Vrms of the SE vs. Balanced Out from the CLAS-dB
    Thx Mike!

    • Hi Valentin,
      You mean the 1st gen CLAS to CLAS dB or the CLAS Solo to CLAS dB?

      Between the Clas Solo and dB, the sound is the same, except for the balanced out and USB DAC function. As a transport (S/PDIF out) I haven’t checked, sorry.

  • C.Wang

    Hi, Mike! I’m pairing the HD650 with the PAN AM, and thanks so much for you reviews,i enjoy them so much, just curious,Is it necessary to get SOLO as a DAC in my setting? BTW, Pan Am doesn’t have balance in/out put right? Thanks a lot!!

    • Trent_D

      Pan Am has a nice dac. I wouldn’t worry.

      • C.Wang

        Thanks : ) you save my wallet

        • Trent_D

          I should have asked first, what is your source?

          • C.Wang

            Well..macbook,but I’m always considering taking i-device as a portable source,but have never made up my mind..

            • Trent_D

              I was just making sure you were using a computer as a source, because I suddenly realized that if you were using an Ipod, the Ipod would be doing the D/A conversion, and a CLAS could be a benefit, but no, you are good with your setup.

              • C.Wang

                Appreciate you help! I can focus on tubes now lOL

    • The PanAm has a great USB DAC that you can use with your laptop.

      If you want to be playing music from your i-Device then the Solo would be necessary. Otherwise I would just use the DAC in the Pan Am.

  • Ehr33

    Hi Mike! I need DAC/Amp for my iDevice and notebook. Mostly I’ll be pairing it with IEM (UE 900). I don’t need balance setup. Would it be wiser to go with CLAS Solo -R + Apex Glacier or CLAS -dB + Fiio E12? I do own Fostex HP P1 but I need more PRAT ( tho I love the HP P1 + D5000 combo). Any advise would be great, thanks!

    • I’m running out of ideas. Anybody else care to chime in?

      • L.

        For iems you could also think of the -db + the new to be reviewed C5 maybe, we’ll know soon enough

        • Ehr33

          Looking forward to it!

      • dalethorn

        In what situation would you use the dB plus amp plus source, and not have a computer with you? That’s a lot of components and cables to be sitting in your lap on the bus.

        • Ehr33

          The plan is using the iDevice+Solo+amp at work or cafe. The notebook+Solo+amp will be my weekend at my parents house rig or vacation rig.

          • dalethorn

            Let me know how the cafe part works out. I’m curious about cables too – how long, what quality etc.

    • With the dB you get to use it for your notebook as well, so that’s the benefit of going for that instead of the Solo-R.
      The combination of the -dB + Fiio E12 was not that good, so I wouldn’t recommend going that route.

      • Ehr33

        Would it be far different in sound signature between using Solo -R+Glacier with iDevice and Glacier with notebook? Will it be better choosing Solo -dB + other than E12? Thanks!

        • Yes it’ll be different since you’ll be using the Solo DAC on one set up, and the Glacier DAC on the notebook set up.

          Perhaps you can wait for the JDSLabs C5 amplifier review that is coming soon.

          • Ehr33

            Yes waiting for your review!

          • Trent_D

            how soon?

            • Not soon enough, I still have a bunch of desktop stuff to finish.

  • fiasco1

    Hi Mike,

    Still debating a new Solo R vs original CLAS. Any comments on the sound signature comparison between the 2? Also, is the older version more versatile in that it will work with both older gen.(5th) and newer gen (7th) Classics? Still, like the idea of it recharging the iPod! Would use with SR71-A. Thanks for your input!


    • Hi, the sound of the Solo -R and the dB are the same except for the difference in features.

  • greymusic

    Hey Mike,

    I am almost ready to pull the trigger on the Algorhythm Solo -R. I was wondering if I could pair the Algorhythm Solo -R with the Fiio amps that I have? Would it degrade the sound quality if I paired it with an E11? I understand that it would be the Solo that would act as the DAC, but I am unsure if I would need to purchase the ALO Rx Mk3B to go with it rather than to use my Fiio amps. Thanks!

    • Grey,
      Think of it this way. Having a good DAC is like a good engine in your car. The amplifier like the tires. Without a good tire, the power of the engine won’t be degraded, but you won’t get everything the engine has to offer. But the car will still run, and a big horsepower engine will still make a difference.

      • greymusic

        Makes perfect sense. I also have IEMs to use on the go when I do not want to bring my full-size headphones. I see the sense of needing both DAC and AMP when using high-impedance phones, but I am not always willing to bring both the Solo and the ALO Rx Mk3B along all the time when only using my IEMs. Will the iPod Classic + Solo + IEM (Westones and such) still make an improvement in sound quality?

        • If you don’t want the bulk, then you may want to consider a good quality stand alone player. Driving an iem straight from the solo is not the intended design.

  • Dex7

    Hi Mike,

    How does the CLAS db compare with the Centrance Dacport LX in terms of overall sound quality? Read your review on the LX and you seemed to be quite impressed with it.

  • George Lai

    Hello Mike. Again. What would be a good amp to pair with the Solo -R instead of the ALO (too expensive)? Main headphones HD600/650, DT880, DT770LE, Fidelio X1, D2000, K550 and main genres of music rock, blues? Thanks.

    • Well the Cmoy should do

      • George Lai

        That’s a relief to hear so one doesn’t have to buy both at the same time. Thanks

        • Great!

          • George Lai

            What do you think about a Solo and Arrow 4G pairing, Mike? The slim form factor of the Arrow is an attraction. Thanks.

            • Should be decent, I’m not a big fan of the 4G though.

  • George Lai

    Hello Mike and Happy Labor Day. Thank you for answering my questions on the ALO National and Continental v3 yesterday. I think I would like to try my first tube amp to pair with my CLAS Solo-R. I’ve never had tubes before. Now other than the V3 which I am seriously considering, what others would you recommend for a portable tube and a desktop tube, maximum say USD500? The footprint to match the Solo is not a critical issue. To recap my main headphones are HD650, SR325, X1, D2000, DT770LE and main genres are rock, blues. Cheers.

    • For a portable tube, the options are limited I think.

      For a desktop tube, the Bottle head Crack has been my main recommendation for quite a while.

      • George Lai

        Wow that was a fast response! I knew you were going to say Crack. I’d better enrol in a soldering course. So for portability, I guess it will be the Continental v3. Would that suit my headphones and music genre?

        • Should be a pretty good all rounder amp, except for maybe some really hard rock

  • George Lai

    Hi Mike, I just wanted to say that of the many many headphones and amps I’ve bought in the past, the CLAS (I bought the Solo -R) is easily amongst the most satisfying purchase for my iDevice-based system. You recall you had given an analogy with cars as to how the DAC (car engine) is more important than the Amp (car tires)? A good car engine with so-so tires is still much better than a lousy car engine with racing tires so to speak. I couldn’t agree more as at the moment I’m listening to Los Lobos on lossless files with the Solo-R and a cMoyBB thru a HD650. The Solo is some 6 times more expensive than the cMoy but still, what a pairing. So thank you Mike for an excellent website. Cheers.

    • Never knock the cMoy/HD650 pairing. It is just flat out enjoyable.

    • Thank you George.

      True story, on my store we hooked up our demo nEar speakers (about $300) to an Ayon Skylla DAC (about $7.5K) and the sound is incredibly clean and clear and all those good things!

      Everyone laughs when I told them the secret that makes the $300 speaker so impressive.

      • George Lai

        If only Cypher Labs made a slightly scaled down version with a built-in amp for occasional use and more portability, like a PHA-1. Will you be reviewing the PHA-1, Mike?

        • The PHA-1 sounds really bad and I don’t plan on doing a review on it. Extremely bad, not one person who’s heard it that I know say one good thing about it

          • George Lai

            My wallet says thanks 😉

            • Yea, Sony totally blew that one up. What a pity cause otherwise I’d love telling you how good the Sony is

              • George Lai

                Anyway my National is arriving next week and for portability, I’ll use my Arrow 4G with the Solo. I know you’re not a fan of the 4G but I’m sure this combo would still be better than the Sony.

                • Awesome.

                  • George Lai

                    Got my National today and a good pairing with the Solo-R. Mike, a hopefully not frivolous question for you. Using this amp, or any other decent amp for that matter, and for the same set of headphones, say, an X1, would there be a bigger improvement, however measured, for 128 Kbps files versus 320 Kbps files versus Lossless files? Hope you can share your thoughts. Thanks.

                    • George Lai

                      Or put another way, would a Solo-R improve 128 Kbps fils more or would it improve Lossless more?

                    • dalethorn

                      I don’t think you can improve a 128k file – it just has missing information. If it has irritating highs, the 320k copy (if ripped from the same CD as the 128k) will also be irritating. If an amp makes a 128k file sound smoother, it’s probably removing even more information. The bass should show almost no difference. I’ve made 128k MP3’s from some high quality Sony classical reissues, and they sounded very good – just like the CD but a little softer with less detail and impact and soundstage. If I had 128k MP3s that I could not replace but sounded bad, I would archive them so as not to get lost, then I would play them in Foobar or iTunes on a very good soundcard, add some EQ to smooth out the sound, then use a good audio capture program to capture the analog sound and save it as a WAV or FLAC file. Also save the EQ settings you used so you can repeat the process later. You could do the same with a small digital recorder.

                      The reason I mention this is because I fix tracks sometimes so I can integrate them into my playlists, so when playing I don’t have to make any adjustments. But, to answer the original question, the more detail that is in the file, the more the amp can show that detail to you.

                    • George Lai

                      Thanks for the very detailed answer, Dale. A lot of facts to digest. This stemmed from my wondering whether using a good DAC was a waste of time on 128 Kbps files.

                    • dalethorn

                      I think a good DAC is a good investment regardless. Just make sure you have the flexibility to connect to whatever variety of devices you might need now and later.

                    • L.

                      The longer I’m in this hobby, the more I’m convinced the DAC is VERY important

                    • Super duper important

                    • Go lossless.

                      And don’t try to analyze the difference otherwise you’ll miss it.

                    • George Lai

                      So you are saying the Solo-R won’t make that much difference to 128 Kbps files? I’m just curious whether a good DAC like this makes more improvements to low Rez files versus higher Rez lossless files. Just curious.

                    • Okay that’s not easy to answer. I’ve never compared

          • George Lai

            Maybe ADL Furutech can price their X1 to match Sony’s

            • The ADL sounds good and promising. Listened to it today. Better than the Sony and the new venture craft.

              • George Lai

                How much is the ADL X1 selling for? For desktop use I use their GT40.

                • THE ADL, I don’t remember I’ll have to check my digital camera first I’ll probably have a photo of it with the price

                • @george_lai:disqus 41,970 Yen or ~$420USD but that’s Japan price.

                  • George Lai

                    Bring a few back! The Sony is USD480 here in Singapore.

                    • The Sony ugh I’m not so sure.

                      The ADL is still not for sale here, just out for the expo. Retail market still doesn’t have it

  • Hi Mike, what do you think about clas vs hifi m8? I’m owning an clas db along with rxmk3 now.

    • Well the M8 is bigger and can drive big headphones, come with balanced drive etc.

      Sound signature, it’s Cypher Labs vs Centrance.

      • I believe they used the amp section from the dacmini in the M8. Is it fair to say it has the same (or a very similar) sound? A little on the cold and dry side?

        • A bit different, darker, warmer, more grain than the mini.

          • That sounds nice, actually.

            • Yeah I can say that overall the sound is less dry

  • George Lai

    Just ordered the Fiio HS2 switcher so I can test the impact of with and without a CLAS. Same songs on 2 iPod Classics, same amps but one with a CLAS and one without.

    • L.

      HS2 looks awesome indeed. Mike and myself are both waiting for ours

      • George Lai

        Indeed. Unbelievable value at USD20.

  • Matthew

    Hi Mike, you mentioned the RSA Intruder in this review. Do you have any initial impressions on its sound signature? In comparison to the SR-71B? Thanks

    • Intruder is like the RSA sound signature squared. Like adding an RSA filter to the SR-71A.
      Extremely full and impactful lows with an awesome sub-low extension, full mids, treble just barely making it to the team roster. Dark, full, weighty and most importantly super-smooth. Fairly clean, minimal grain, spacious.
      The Intruder makes the ALO International and SR-71A, both awesome with bass, sound not so weighty anymore.
      If you’re into that kind of a sound, the Intruder won’t disappoint. If you want a livelier, trebly sound, this is definitely not for you. I think ignoring the fact that it comes with a DAC, this is the best fully balanced amp from RSA so far, definitely better than the 71B.

      Extremely expensive, but people are buying.

      • rich

        Hi Mike how does the Intruder differs from the plenty expensive Dark Star ? Besides being more refined, is the sound signature suitable for the Fostex 900 or Audio Technica W3000anv as portable devices.

        You mentioned that the Sony PHA-1 “sounds really bad”. In what ways is the Sony deficient ? Thank you for your opinion.

        • Dave Ulrich

          Mike has done a 180 on the sony. Apparently they tweaked the sound quite a bit.

        • Huge difference like comparing the ESW9 to the W3000.

      • Angga Yudhistira

        i have the intruder, is it really worth to buy clas db for dac?

  • Matthew

    OK, sounds dark. I’m new to high-quality portable amps, so I don’t have any good references yet. If I told you my home setup is a Schitt Lyr driving an Audeze LCD-2v2, and I love it, where would that sound fall in comparison. I looking to buy soon and its a little overwhelming@

    • LCD2, ALO International is a safe choice. Very popular combo.

      • Matthew

        Sorry, I wasn’t clear. The Lyr and LCD 2 is my home rig as a reference for the sound I enjoy, not sure where that combo falls on the dark continuum in comparison to RSA. I travel with UE-10 Pro IEMs. Was looking to pair those with the Intruder. Thoughts? Thanks again for all your help

  • BattousaiX26

    Good day sir! i just want to ask if the cypherlabs algorithm solo db DAC is better than the built in dac of alo audio pan am? Thanks in advance ^_^

    • Yes. Solo dB DAC is more resolving than PanAm.

      • BattousaiX26

        I see, so is it worth upgrading my pan am dac to solo db? I will only use it on my computer

        • Me, I wouldn’t bother. Simplicity rules.

          Unless you want to build a portable iPod RIG.

          Or, I probably would just trade the Pan Am for a Theorem so I can still have the CypherLabs DAC + headphone amp + USB DAC function.

          • BattousaiX26

            I see thanks Mike 🙂

  • George Lai

    For a matching amp, Cypher Labs has launched the Duet portable headphone amp.

  • Minh Hoang Nguyen

    Hi Mike, Do you think CLAS db pair well with ALO Continental V3? Can you compare : CLAS db + ALO continental V3 vs Centrance HiFi M8. I’m owning ALO continental v3 and HD600 now. Thanks.

    • Hi
      Yes for sure. I love the alo sound. Not so much a fan of the m8.

      • Minh Hoang Nguyen

        hm, so i will keep my ALO continental v3. And go for CLAS db .!

        • Yeah Id go for that as well. Esp with the Senns

  • Jagan

    how would u compare the CLAS db with the similar priced desktop DAC in terms of Sound Quality

    • It’s very competitive and comparable.

      Being battery powered gives huge advantages to DACs.

      • Jagan

        Thanks for ur fast reply.
        I bought sennheiser hd650 and looking for setup to feed it.
        i haven’t bother about portable or desktop.
        i like to buy CLAS db but many of my friends suggest to go for Desktop DAC as i can get superior DAC for the same price of CLAS db.
        may i know ur suggestion.

        • I don’t know of any desktop DAC on a similar price bracket that can handily beat the CLAS and I’ve tested a LOT of DACs.
          I think sub $1000 portable gear is getting really competitive with desktop gear. Unless you start going up to $2K desktop DACs then you’re talking something else entirely different.
          HD650, plug it to a Theorem and you’re done. Built in amp and all. Pairs well with the Senn.

      • Jagan

        how is the battery powered makes advantage ?
        what is the approx battery life of CLAS db in years

        • I have no idea of the battery life in years but the advantage is battery power supply = cleaner, more stable voltage. Whereas AC power is dirty and unstable.
          In audio power supply is very important.