Disclaimer: The HUD-MX2 sample unit is supplied by Audinst, site sponsor of Headfonia.
Arguably the most successful USB DAC I’ve seen now returns bigger and with more ammo, but this time in a world more packed with competition.
Even now, I still think that the HUD-MX1 is still incredibly competitive for the price bracket that it’s competing at. For a high $100 price, what other DAC can compete to it? I’ve seen it take on famous DACs during its time and come out superior. What is there left to improve?
The return of the HUD-MX1 as the Audinst HUD-MX2 brings a lot of new challenges as it’s priced quite higher than the original. At $248, it’s $70 more than the original. Not exactly bank breaking number, and if we were looking at a $1,000 DAC we won’t even consider that difference to be there. But at the entry level range, that $70 brings the Audinst well into the $200 bracket, and really close to the range of DACs from Centrance and Topping, for instance.
The addition of a toslink input is quite handy for those who needs them, but hardly a major enough point to push sales. It nicely adds support for 88.2kHz sampling rate, which for me is clearly the best all around sampling rate for music listening. High enough to beat a typical 44.1 and analog enough compared to 96 and up. I still lament, however, the missing gain toggle switch, though gain can be changed by opening the case (very inconvenient) and changing the jumpers inside.
One of the most worthy addition is the explicit ability to run from i-Devices and Androids. The older MX1 supposedly ran on i-Devices, but not on Androids. I haven’t been able to test it on those configurations, so I’m going to talk more about the sound quality and what that $249 means in today’s world of USB DACs rather than a feature review.
Though based on mostly a lot of different new chips (a VIA USB receiver, a PCM1796 DAC, an OPA2227 opamp and a TPA6120 headphone amp), the sound doesn’t stray very far from the Audinst DAC house sound I’ve heard on the HUD-MX1 and the HUD-Mini. A relatively spacious, warm dark sound with good bass, mids and unoffensive treble. There is some grain in the sound and that does bother me as a lot of the DACs I’ve been reviewing lately are relatively cleaner in this aspect. The Audinst sound however never fails to capture the musicality aspect, and though not tube based its warmth is always preferable for music listening compared to some other DACs that may be cleaner sounding but at the same time clinical.
The MX2 is still relatively laid back, but more forward than the MX1. Midrange is fuller on the MX2 and though that gives an impression that the sound is less spacious than the MX1, its generally better and more suited for general music listening. Pace is quite moderate, not going too fast or too laid back. I find it, for instance, better in pace than the ultra mellow Topping D20 but it’s not as forward nor as fast paced as say Centrance’s Dacport line up.
Bass is there and present, relatively good body and control, though not very detailed or articulate. Punch and impact is just decent and nothing to brag about.
Ultimately I find my overall impression somewhat similar to the JDSLabs C5 amplifier I reviewed recently. And though there are improvements in terms of features, in this case I personally like the HUD-MX1 sound better. It’s a good all rounder sound, but I really wasn’t able to really connect with it. The addition of the TPA6120 chip doesn’t really change a lot in terms of dynamics, and I’m mostly lukewarm when driving big full size headphones like the HD650. Though I like the simplicity of being able to run the DAC from a simple USB port, I find that plugging in the power adapter improves the dynamics even when listening from an IEM. I don’t find the MX2 to offer a substantial enough improvement to warrant the additional $70. Yes, extra features and the toslink input is welcome, but sound quality wise I don’t think it’s a clear upgrade from the MX1.