Review: nextDrive Spectra – Vector! Spectre!

Disclaimer: nextDrive sent me the nextDrive Spectra for the purposes of this review. I paid nothing for it. It goes for 129$ USD. You can find out all about it here: nextDrive Spectra.

Note: this review, which was stuck on my office iMac through a 24-hour flight delay thanks engine failure, was supposed to be out yesterday. [Unfortunately], my wife and I and our little daughter had to spend an extra night in beautiful Okinawa. Many thanks Lieven and nextDrive for your patience. A special note to nextDrive: I’m sorry for slagging off your logo.

At this point, I feel it useless to get into the nitty gritty. Spectra is a 129$ product that fixes your onboard audio. It’s not a hard-sided dongle. It’s a USB-plugging tail with a fat head. In that head is a single-ended 3,5 stereo jack. Way below that jack is one of the prides and joys of Canadian audiophilia, the ESS 9018Q2C DAC. It’s a low-powered piece in a range of high-powered desktop and portable DACs. Despite its size, Spectra decodes DSD up to 11,2MHz and 32-bit audio up to 384kHz. Not only that, it pumps out volume roughly just south of an Astell & Kern AK380 (RMAA: AK380 24-bit).

Not sound

Again, Spectra goes for 129$.

It’s 129$ dressed in finely anodised aluminium, which goes end end to end. At one end is a USB-A plug. At the other end is the thin, ladies-cigar amp/DAC. Between the two ends winds tight, protective nylon. Spectra comes pretty much naked in a cheap cardboard box. Rather than Spectra, nextDrive’s mixed-weight logo is the only typographical thingy found on Spectra. At the USB end is the USB legend. Why’s Nathan making a point of this? Simply put, Spectra is impressive where it counts. But it’s got a ridiculously easy-to-forget, diddy of a name. In the course of writing this review, I’ve called it Vectra, Spector, Spectre, and Vactor, almost interchangeably.

It’s called Spectra. It’s called Spectra. It’s called nextDrive Spectra.

And as far as I’m concerned, its biggest selling point is a point I hate to labour about: its 129 bones- a diddy of a price if I’ve ever seen one. 129$ and finely anodised. 129$ with beefy stress reliefs. 120$ with a hard-weaved, bendable nylon cable sheath. 129$ and all aluminium. 129$ and packing the ESS 9018Q2C DAC. 129$ and about as powerful as a mid to high-end DAP.

It’s called Spectra and it’s a beast. A beast finely scrawled with one of the most forgettable, low-end-1990s-IBM-compatible-grey-box-esque logos in the industry.

Sound and more after the jump:

2.9/5 - (69 votes)

Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.


  • Reply May 10, 2017


    How would you compare it to the Encore MDSD?

  • Reply May 11, 2017


    So, how does it compare to the Dragonflies?

  • Reply May 12, 2017

    ohm image

    I don’t have Dragonflies so I can’t compare.

  • Reply May 12, 2017


    You presented it on Facebook: “Nathan tests out the NextDrive Spectra and is impressed with its result. Move over Dragonfly?”
    So I obviously expected that question to be answered in the review and I am slightly disappointed that it isn’t.

    • Reply May 12, 2017

      ohm image

      Hello Wouter

      Lieven posted the correlation on FB. It appears to be misleading. I’m sorry for that. I mentioned Dragonfly only as reference to how bendable Spectra’s cable is and how much more friendly it is for hard-to-reach USB ports.

  • Reply May 15, 2017


    Does the indicator light change colour for pcm/dsd or different sample rates?

  • Reply May 16, 2017


    Does it have enough power and volume to control Beyerdynamic DT880 600 ohm edition and AKG 712 Pro ? Please give a note from 1 to 10.

    • Reply May 16, 2017

      ohm image

      It depends on the software. Through iTunes, output volume is reduced by about 8dB, and therefore, the output volume is limited to slightly more powerful than an iPhone 6. If you use other software, it gets loud, but not loud like using a high-powered desktop amp.

      My DT880 is the 600 and through Spectra I get volume louder than HILO Lynx and similar desktop DACs but there are a lot of dedicated headphone amps that get louder. I find it good enough, but even at max though governed software, I find it usable at max volume.

      Through software that isn’t governed, I find the volume loud.

    • Reply May 18, 2017


      Hi Sorin,

      This is Elliot from NextDrive.

      We gave a sample to sound engineer Filippo Barbieri, and he has been enjoying Spectra with his DT 880 Pros.

      • Reply May 18, 2017

        ohm image


        Thanks for the advice. Like I said, through ungoverned software, headphones, even the likes of 600Ω DT880 and insensitive planars get pretty loud, sometimes louder than dedicated DACs.

  • Reply May 17, 2017


    thanks for the review! is it android compatible? how power hungry it is, would it drain an average smartphone too fast?

  • Reply May 19, 2017


    what are those headphone on the thumbnails? Myst Orthophones? never heard this brand before

  • Reply June 27, 2017


    It goes for $149, actually, and the dollar sign is supposed to go in front. 😛

  • Reply October 26, 2017


    So you aren’t able to compare this product to other similarly priced and sized options?

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