Maktar Spectra X2 Review

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Design & Build Quality

Casing

“Simplicity at his best” 

Compared to the previous X1, the new Spectra X2 looks almost identical. Which is a good thing, as the brand totally nailed it the first time.

The tubular case, made of anodized aluminum, looks and feel amazing. Think of it as a premium version of Apple’s headphone jack dongle: longer, thicker, darker, and definitely sturdier. 

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On the main body, you’ll find a simplified waveform, the Spectra X2 logo, surrounding the power led indicator. Below, you have a braided cable, ending in a Lightning port, to connect your iPhone on the go.

My only complaint would be the lack of volume rockers. If not mandatory, I think it’s always best to get the choice.

Build Quality

Obviously, craftsmanship is exquisite. There are no visible screws, the body feels reasonably heavy (for a dongle), and the cable linking the 8-pin plug to the main body, seems able to withstand the test of time. And that’s not always the case with dongles…

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The case’s sleek design is delightful to look at, and everywhere you touch feels premium. A very nice surprise if you’re not too fond of glossy finishes, usually found in models like the Sparrow or the Eagle

It’s better than the iBasso DC01 (which I still love don’t worry) and a league above Apple’s dongle. 

Layout

This will be fast, as the Spectra X2 only sports a sole 3.5mm headphone output and a Lightning port. It’s pretty straightforward: you can connect it to your iPhone, a previous-gen iPad, and… that’s it. 

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Okay, I’m being a bit unfair here, some brands did produce 8-pin to USB/USB-C adapter. But, like every Apple certified product, you have no guarantee that’ll work: the MFi program being very, very, selective.

Again, no gain switch, no volume buttons, and no balanced outputs. So, if you need that kind of feature, you may have to look for NuPrime’s Hi-mDAC or the EarMen Sparrow.

Bundle

Inside the box

Compared to some competitors, NextDrive may seem like an audiophile Uncle’s Scrooge.

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In the box you get:

  • the Maktar Spectra X2
  • a very nice pouch
  • some documentation

And that’s it.

No additional adapters, no goodies, just your DAC and a velvet-like pouch. Thankfully, brands like ddHifi offer a wide range of accessories, like 4.4mm->3.5mm adapter, so you can plug your usual IEM.

UI & Usage

Computer connection (PC/MAC)

Unfortunately, none of my USB-C to Lightning adapter worked with the Spectra X2. So, if you want to try a Spectra, I’d strongly suggest that you get the Spectra X, with a more versatile USB-A plug.

DAP Connection

Same answer here, get a Spectra X!

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Smartphone connection (iPhone/iPad)

To nobody’s surprise, the Spectra X2 worked flawlessly with my iPhone 11, X and iPad Pro 10.5”. I mean, it was designed to work this way, so how embarrassing would it have been not to connect…

Pairing is instant, whatever the time and the app I used, whereas some of my DAC need to be plugged and unplugged twice before my phone recognizes them.

Pro-tip: check your volume, before you play any music. Like every modern device, the iPhone gets back to your last-state volume when you connect the Spectra X2. So, if like me, you tried the Sennheiser HD800 before, then go back to the FiiO FA9, you’ll simply blow your ears… 

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Battery Life and Charging

The Maktar Spectra X2 doesn’t have a battery and rely solely on the iPhone to power up. During my tests, I didn’t see a drastic change in terms of consumption. Maybe did the X2 drain the battery, but not enough for me to feel it in the long run. 

Everyday carry

If you want a small DAC to carry every day, the Spectra X2 will definitely fit that purpose. Even if my Eagle or Hi-mDAC remains supremely portable, nothing beats an integrated design like that.

No adapters, pen-sized body, I just hooked it to my IEM, and I was good to go. Obviously, if you have an Android device, you’d be more interested in devices like the iBasso DC01, but for iPhone users… it’s a no-brainer.

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Specifications 

For the nit-picker and nerdy one here, I’m giving the specs and technical sheets. For all the others, you can just go to the next page to see how the amp performs.

Sabre ES9118 + MFi 

The Spectra X2 uses a ES9118EQ provided by ESS Technology, more known as Sabre in the audiophile world. Unlike the usual DAC, this chip is an SOC, or System On Chip, meaning that everything is embedded, directly, onto the chip: Digital to Analog conversion and headphone amplification.

Of course, this 2 channel DAC enjoys all the usual features like :

  • 32bit Hyperstream, allowing the Spectra X2 to decode PCM streams up to 32bits / 384kHz
  • Patented Time Domain Jitter Eliminator, for maximum fidelity
  • a DNR rated at +120dB and SNR at +125dB
  • 64-bit accumulator & 32-bit processing

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And above all, Maktar’s DAC is “Made For iPhone”, which means that everything you’ll play on your phone, will be streamed to the Spectra X2, without any degradation. 

The only drawback I could spot is the limited power output: 15mW @ 32ohms. The brand especially suggests not to use any headphone/earphone, whose impedance is higher than 150ohms.

But, honestly, that’s more than enough for a small DAC like that.

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Full specs

  • Type : USB DAC/AMP
  • DAC : SABRE ES9118EQ
  • Sample rate : PCM : 8Hz – 384kHz (16/24/32bits) native – DSD64/128/256
  • Outputs : 3.5mm (single-ended) 
  • Input : Lightning (8-pin)
  • Frequency Response : 20Hz – 20kHz (+/- 0.5dB)
  • Output power : [email protected] 
  • THD : – 105dB
  • Size : 89mm x 10mm x 10mm
  • Weight: 15g

The review continues on Page Three, after the click HERE or by using the jump below.

4.4/5 - (194 votes)

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A nerdy guy with a passion for audio and gadgets, he likes to combine his DAC and his swiss knife. Even after more than 10 years of experience, Nanotechnos still collects all gear he gets, even his first MPMAN MP3 player. He likes spreadsheets, technical specs and all this amazing(ly boring) numbers. But most of all, he loves music: electro, classical, dubstep, Debussy : the daily playlist.

2 Comments

  • Reply March 16, 2021

    Franz

    Thank you for the review, Nanotechnos. Very helpful in my process of buying a tiny DAC for my iPhone.

    A note on output power. The Spectra X outputs 49mW at 32 Ohms. Why does the Spectra X2 output only 15mW? Could be the new Sabre chip, but that seems too large a difference to be the result of moving to a very similar chip. So I went to the Japanese Maktar site and, lo and behold, it says the X2 outputs 49mW at 32 Ohms. I’ve written to them and we’ll see if they reply. Meanwhile, mine is arriving in two days.

  • Reply March 23, 2021

    Franz

    Update: Maktar Japan got back to me. They have corrected their web page: the X2 outputs only 15mW. Why does it output less than 1/3 of the Spectra X? They didn’t say.

    I have had my unit now for almost a week and I can report that it definitely creates a better soundstage than an iPhone SE (1st generation). It is also a bit louder and definitely goes deeper into the bass (without smearing or booming). I do like it, but for $200 I really wanted more output, even though that would drain my phone battery faster. The Spectra X2 drives my Etymotic ER4SR IEMs adequately and my HifiMan Sundara headphones barely, but I am going to need a more powerful amp for the latter. Perhaps my old phone is unusually weak, but Nathan’s desire for a hardware attenuator bears no relationship to my experience. But again, this little DAC is still a lovely piece of kit.

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