I shoot audiophile and photography gadgets for a living. And since many of my cameras use SD cards, I’ve got like 400 GB to play with. SD cards are great for anyone that’s older than six years of age, or isn’t a pygmy. I am 184cm tall. I weigh 67 kilograms. While that’s not lightweight by any imagining, it is thin. My fingers look like baby leeks tendrils. Thomas Tsai worries for my health. And still, I can’t jam in a bloody micro SD card to save my wife. Guess what? Neither can she (who is also thin) without breaking a nail. Still, if you have a baby on board, or just happen to hate your fingernails, Calyx have included a micro SD card slot, too.
Calyx go even one further: the SD card slot sits behind a finger divot, which makes sliding the card in, and pushing it out, simple, secure, and oh-so-comfortable.
I didn’t plan for this section of the review to take up more than two paragraphs. I was going to start something like this:
After Mezzo Hifi’s MSAK100, the Calyx M boasts the blackest background I’ve heard from any portable audio device, ever. That means: even through Noble Audio’s K10, background hiss is just barely audible, and that, only while music is paused. Crazy-ultra-sensitive earphones such as the Ultrasone IQ reveal hiss, but at much lower levels than when strapped to other top-flight players.
That means less hiss than the Sony NWZ1, than the AK240, than iRiver’s newer AK devices. Noise has practically been beat. It wasn’t so when first I listened to the M back in May. Calyx have come a long, long way in making the M a player that is eminently to playing the best earphones and headphones on the planet.
I tested a dozen sensitive dynamic and balanced-armature earphones with it, and not a one got it to budge by more than 2dB of stereo separation. By comparison, the best portable amp you can get will lose at least 6 when slaved to the Earsonics SM2 or similar high-current low-impedance earphone.
Despite spitting surprisingly little of that effluvium, the M is powerful, energetic, and dynamic. It trends warm, and fatigue-free despite being one of like two devices I’ve tested that can almost post redbook CD performance numbers when under load. What that means is that unless you really want to listen to crazy volumes through crazy headphones, it has no need at all of an amp. If you are the proud owner of a Vision Ears VE6, or Noble Audio K10, or FitEar MH335DW, an amp will only get in your way. If you’re keen on your DT880 or HD800, you’ll likely be using a desktop amp anyway. But, given mean sound pressures of up to 90dB, the M performs admirably with both headphones.
Where it sort of goes wonk is one area I almost hope it doesn’t improve upon. That is, it spits out a higher than average amount of THD, which may account for some of its warmth. I suggest reading it this way: that warmth is gloriously similar what you’d get from the awesome Fostex HP-V1, an amp that is worth its weight in gold. Of course, as good as the Fostex is, it won’t otherwise post performance numbers the M is capable of. The M is gloriously extended to the east and west, presenting wide, but not too contrasty stereo images. If and when your ears adapt, you will notice space like you’ve never before experienced it. But you will need time.
I was going to write a perfunctory paragraph with the tagline: everything’s awesome, and leave it at that. But the M deserves more. At least, I think it does. I would suggest that Calyx may not have all the kinks ironed out in the latest firmware. Instability does exist. But if what I hear (and measure) is what they intend the M to sound like, it is the most remarkable-sounding player I’ve heard to date. Melding smooth gaping, and sumptuous is hard work. But Calyx have done it.
If only they could manage it in a smaller, better box.
Calyx M plays DSD files natively (as well as most every file type under the sun), takes both SD and micro SD cards, sports a highly customised version of Android, a robust body, high-quality screen, and amazing sound quality. In many ways it is the most-capable DAP on the market. In other ways, its simplicity sells it better than any feature could.
If 9 hours of battery life (tops) and a big box is your thing, the M is king. This side of expensive mods, it is the best-sounding, best-perfoming DAP on the market. But, exactly to whom does 8-9 hours of battery life in a box that could house 10 LR6 batteries appeal? And why is it so hard to see the play button? Or keep a track paused? Or simply go back to the album, or genre? And ‘gapless playback’? It works nowhere near properly for all files. And even playing back redbook files, it gets too hot.
My simple rule of thumb is this: if an audio player doesn’t work as well as a CD player, then it’s got to be made by an audiophile company. If it does work as well as a CD player, it’s made for the mass market: you know, people that really care HOW a device works.
But I’m a curmudgeon. If I weren’t, I’d probably recommend the Shozy Alien. Really, the M is the best-sounding, best-performing, most interesting stock platform available to portable audiophiles, the world over. Calyx, let’s make it smaller, get it better battery life, and fix those little things bugging me.