I was rather surprised how heavy the Concero HP is. It doesn’t look like much in pictures, but it has some heft to it. . It is about the size of a hand and weighs a good pound. One pound may not sound like much, but next to the Island’s 4 ounces, it feels heavy. If in a pinch, it could double as a fairly effective throwing star. I also greatly enjoy its simple, elegant look. The front of the unit contains the ¼ inch headphone jack and the volume control knob. The back has a USB input and a spdif hookup that can be used as both an input and an output should you want to use the HP as a USB to spdif converter. Just fyi if you plan on using the HP as a spdif DAC, it only runs off USB power, so you will still need to have it plugged into a USB port.
When connected to a computer, the Concero HP takes over your music player’s volume control. This allows you to use the player’s volume slider to adjust the volume of the amp, or you could just use the knob on the HP. Also worth taking a look at is the “R” logo on the front of the unit. If the HP is connected to a USB port, but no signal is going through it, the logo lights up red. If it is taking a signal, it lights up blue. If you push in the volume knob, you can switch through two different up-sampling filters. They upsample 44.1k and 48k to 176.4k and 192k respectively. The first mode applies an Infinate Impulse Response (IIR) filter and the second applies an apodizing filter. If you are looking for a world of difference here, you aren’t going to find it. At least my ears didn’t. I might detect the apodizing giving me a slightly larger sound stage with classical, but if it is there, it is a small change. The truth is, every time I sat down to try and really nitpick between the modes, I would get swept up in the Tchaikovsky, the Mahler, the Garbage, the Lady Gaga (I’m sorry. A guilty pleasure). Maybe that is a terrible thing for a critic to admit, but I refuse to feel guilty for enjoying my music. When the filters are active, the logo will glow magenta. The Resonessence Concero HP also supports USB PCM data rates up to 352.8kS/s. It also does DSD and DXD decoding, if that’s your bag. It isn’t mine.
The Resonessence products are technically advanced and very well developed, you can check out all the specs here.
Now, to end at the beginning, Resonessence Labs is a Canadian company. Its founder is Mark Mallinson, who is the former Operations Director of ESS Technology. So, if anyone could get the most out of an ESS Sabre DAC, it’s this guy, and Judas Rockin’ Priest has he succeeded. If you are in need of a DAC/AMP unit and $850 is a doable price, for the love of all that is holy, give the Concero HP a spin. This is a wonderfully balanced, wonderful sounding unit. It plays great with a wide variety of headphones (and IEMs as well). It is easy to use (and yes PC uses do have to download a driver), and I found the customer service at Resonessence Labs to be first rate. You can buy through their website here: http://resonessencelabs.com/ or use their list of retailers. Anyway you go about it; you owe it to yourself to hear this unit. Now if I could just get to review the standalone DAC…