Disclaimer: Cypherlabs isn’t a site partner but they were so kind to send us a review sample as soon as the unit was available. Mike does sell Cypherlabs in his store.
Cypher Labs, for those who don’t know yet, makes devices that extract digital data from your (i)device so you can bypass the internal (limited) DAC part of your player. The original SOLO could only be used with iDevices and then later they launched the –R (refreshed, new DAC chip) and the -dB that could also be used with your pc. In the past Cypher Labs had a partnership with ALO Audio that made the amps to go with the units. For some reason both companies went their own way and so Cypher Labs decided to make a new unit, the Theorem 720 DAC.
The Unit In General
The new Theorem goes one step further. Not only is it a portable DAC but it also has an amplifier built in just like the competition from Sony PHA-1, Centrance Hifi-M8, Vmoda Vamp/Verza and Fostex HP-P1. But that’s not all: the Theorem can be used with iDevices, pc, Mac and Android devices: one unit to rule them all! The new unit uses the same DAC chip as the –R and –dB, the AKM 24 bit DAC model 4396. The built in amplifier, unlike the Centrance Hifi-M8, doesn’t have any sound toggles and only offers a Low-Medium and High gain setting.
The Theorem weighs 0.3 kg and measures 120 (136 with the volume knob) x 29 x 64 mm, making it the biggest Cypher Labs unit yet but overall you will be carrying a smaller stack as before because you won’t need an external amp anymore. One of the most eye catching features of the Theorem is its battery life. A full recharge takes 3.5 hours but it will last 18(!) hours when using an iDevice, because it charges them, and even more(!!) with Android, Mac and PC. You can use the unit whilst charging but the only downside is you will always need the Cypher Labs charger as the unit does not charge through USB. Oh, and the charger is US only, so you will need an adapter (something I feel should have been included for the price).
The Theorem has a balanced + Single Ended output for your headphones and has a Line-Out in case you want to use the DAC with an external (desktop) amp. The volume button/power switch is pretty big but it is smooth and has a great feel to it with lots of grip. Right next to it is the mini-usb connection which sometimes, depending on the cable you use, makes it not that comfortable to change the volume.
The Cypher Labs Theorem 720 comes with a full load of accessories: a low profile USB-mini-A sync cable with right angle connectors, a USB A to USB mini-B cable (for computer), an 8pin to USB mini-A cable, a small USB female A to USB male mini-A adapter and a USB micro to USB mini-B cable (for Android). You’ll have all the cables you need to get started immediately, no need to wait for your aftermarket cable! Next to that they also included the famous Cypher Labs straps to bundle devices for travel and an embossed leather pad to protect devices when bundled. Phew, that’s a lot!
Build quality, as usual, is top notch and it feels pretty solid. While charging the unit can get warm, especially when in use but it’s nothing to worry about at all.
The Unit’s Dac Part
Like I mentioned the DAC chip used is still the AKM 4396 and it sounds even better than the Wolfson one in the original CLAS. The AKM limits iDevices to 16/48 and delivers 24/192 from Pc, Mac and Android. The USB implementation is Asynchronous and to use it on your pc you will need to install a driver you can download from the Cypher Labs website. The DAC chip itself recognizes what source you’re using so no worries there.
I’m a big fan of the CL DAC sound and while I won’t go into too much detail again on how the DAC sounds (check the –dB & -R reviews linked above) I can only applaud it again. You get a whole lot of detail, a large sound stage and the clarity is enormous. Combined with the fact that it is revealing and always stays musical and not dry or analytical makes it a winning combination to my ears.
It’s so good in fact that I, besides on the go, have even been using the Theorem as a full sized DAC at home combined with my desktop amplifiers. Of course it isn’t at the level of say the Rein X3 or Violectric V800 but it is damn close. While the Fiio X3 is a good portable player I keep going back to the iPod + CLAS setup for on the go: the quality just is so good and hard to beat. (Check our portable player discussion as well)
The Unit’s Amp Part
I’m not really sure what internals have been used for the amplifier part and I haven’t opened up the box either to check that out, it looks to be some sort of secret for now I guess, just like the Wolfson DAC chip was a secret in the original CLAS SOLO.
The Theorem 720 offers you not two but three gain stages making it ideal for all kinds of headphones. Except for the LCD-2 and the HE-500 for which I used Medium gain (yes it drives them perfectly) I used Low gain for all my other headphones I’ve been using recently. Power wise the Theorem delivers 205mW@32Ω, 320mW@50Ω, 68mW@300Ω and 34mW@600Ω and so it doesn’t dethrone the Hifi-M8 but the Theorem has all the power you need. So how does the biggest new feature of the Theorem, the amp, sound?
The main characteristic of the amplifier is its neutrality from top to bottom. It doesn’t color the sound anywhere in anyway and it has a good sound stage, it is very spacious and airy. You get a very clear and detailed sound on a very black background. The Theorem doesn’t have warm sound but it is very musical. You don’t have any “sound settings” on this unit like the Hifi-M8 has and I can image some people finding it to lack a little bass. Bass is nicely detailed and tight but it doesn’t have the most body. Overall a very coherent sound that isn’t fatiguing and that lets you hear everything there is to hear.
A maybe negative point of the Theorem’s amplification part is that it was developed for over the ear, full size headphones and that in my case unfortunately results in hissing when using sensitive IEMs. It’s something you have to keep into mind when you’re looking for a HiFi DAC/Amp combo. Whenever I use it with my Cosmic Ears BA4F (review soon) I combine it with either the JDSLabs C421/C5 or the iBasso D-Zero. So yes, you’ll still be carrying around a 3-way stack if that’s the way you want to go. Mike’s unit doesn’t seem to make any noise with sensitive IEMs which is a good thing, maybe my unit is a pre-production unit although I have seen other mentions of the hiss.
The DAC part of the Theorem is absolutely wonderful and it has been completed with a very good sounding neutral amplifier and all that in one gorgeous looking unit made out of quality aluminum. Unless I’m not planning on using my IEMs, I’m only taking the Theorem with me, the combo is that good to leave the rest at home, but even at home I really love it with the Audez’e LCD-2.
Prices of these types of units are on the higher side and the Cypher Labs Theorem is no different. It costs $899 which is a lot of money but you get a great portable DAC/Amp combo that works with pc, Android, Mac and iDevices. It’s worth its price to me.
Mike’s Impression + pictures are on the next page