Portable AMP/DAC – AudioQuest DragonFly RED ($199)
The AudioQuest Dragonfly Red takes the title by a mile. It’s portable, works with both OS and Android devices and it produces an incredible sound quality for such a tiny device. All that for only $199. What’s not to love?
To me the DragonFly is an ideal DAC for at work or for when I’m on the go with just my laptop, phone or tablet. It gives you a desktop quality sound for a fraction of the price and I always have a DragonFly with me in my bag.
Desktop AMP/DAC – Woo Audio WA8 ($1799)
While they’re supposed to be portable is consider units such as the excellent ALO Audio CDM and Chord Hugo to be more suited for use on your desktop. There are several great DAC/Amp combos on the market but the one that impressed me most in 2016 is the Woo Audio WA8. I called it the new transportable king back in June so again, it’s not really a surprise to see it take the title in this category.
The WA8 looks and sounds great and you really get desktop quality in a small package. The WA8 is very easy to like with all types of headphones and the thing I like most is that it works best as a DAC/Amp combination. Yes you can still use the line-in if that’s what you want but the WA8 as a combo unit will be the end game for a lot of headphone fans out there.
Portable amp – Meier Audio Quickstep ($330)
Agreed, the Quickstep wasn’t developed in 2016 but it simply is the best sounding portable amplifier I reviewed in 2016. The Quickstep uses the concept of balanced ground and a discrete volume control. In addition it has an extensive RF-filter of the input-signal which makes it immune to RF-pollution.
The Corda Quickstep is small but the sound is huge. I wasn’t expecting the Corda Quickstep to sound this good but Jan has made one heck of an amplifier. The amp might seem a bit expensive in the beginning but once you know what’s inside and have listened to the amp, you’ll get out your wallet right away.
DAC – Stoner Acoustics EGD ($450)
I only reviewed a handful of desktop DACs but the one that impressed me most together with the Violectric V850 is the Stoner Acoustics End Game DAC. It’s cheap for the technology that’s inside and for how it sounds. The only minor downside is that the EGD only a fully balanced DAC but there are adapters to take care of that.
For only $450 you get a very detailed and neutral sounding DAC with a whole set of options. It might not be one of the most famous DAC brands and it only has a USB input but at this price, it’ll be hard to beat.
DAP – Astell&Kern AK70 ($599)
It’s a very tough choice this year for what DAPs are concerned but in the end I chose to name the Astell&Kern AK70 as winner. Runner up is the Cayin Audio i5 and it came very close to getting the title. The AK70 is small, sounds sublime, offers balanced, has a perfect user interface and it does TIDAL. The real Android based Cayin i5 allows you to install almost any app you want and using it for Tidal or Spotify is as easy as it gets. It’s a lot more modifiable than the AK but looking at design and pure sound quality, the AK70 gets the crown.
It’s small, pocketable, handles well, has a great UI and looks pretty. On top of that you get a very engaging smooth laid back sound signature combined with a good level of detail and clarity. It can be used a desktop DAC, has USB OUT OTG and coaxial out and has both a normal 3.5mm as a 2.5mm balanced output. I love it.
We’re only in the first week of 2017 but with there already are several products in the HQ that will certainly be considered as product of the year for 2017, such as the Auris HA2-SE, the AudioQuest NightOwl, the Radius hp-twf41 and so many more. 2017 is looking to be another exciting audio year.
Happy New Year!