Review: NextDrive Spectra X – Dynamic

The NextDrive Spectra X is the newest of Nextrive’s DAC modules and it will be available on the market soon!

 

Disclaimer: NextDrive sent me Spectra X units to review here. They aren’t quite on the market, but should go on sale in the next weeks for around 190$ USD. X uses the same ESS SABRE 9018Q2C DAC, adds a bit of noise dumbing magic called Xtra Sound, among other advanced features. You can find out all about it here: Spectra X: Unleash the power of your sound.

The original Spectra blew me away. It went for 129$, performed great, was plug-and-play easy with a lot of computers and phones, and it showed serious upgrade potential from on-board sound boards, even if those boards were high-quality. It sure as heck beat out a my iMac. Here’s how RMAA sees my iMac. And now here’s how RMAA sees Spectra X. 

Not sound

Spectra X one-ups Spectra, adds a bunch of invisible back-end features, and performs better still. It is a great device. One of the most impressive I’ve plugged into any computer or smartphone or iPad at any price. 

But…

Because I’ve inundated with some pretty impressive Bluetooth DACs, I really miss a few features delivered by the likes of FiiO, BlueWave, Radsone, and others. What I miss most is asynchronous software and hardware attenuation, which make it simple to independently raise and lower volumes precisely. Both today’s and yesterday’s Spectras wholly rely on your iPhone, computer, iPad, or other’s built-in software attenuation system. 

With an iPhone it means access to sixteen or so volume steps from the volume rockers. If you want to be precise, you have to somehow accurately thumb the software volume nib left and right for precise adjustments, which, unless your fingers are needle-narrow, is impossible. Because UI elements are larger, precisely adjusting volume on an iPad is a lot easier. Of course, on a computer, you have myriad options available.

Still, it would be great to have independent attenuation built into Spectra. That aside, I’m impressed. Spectra X is just as small and thin as Spectra, and comes clad in sturdy, and well-insulated aluminium- this time black rather than smoke. It shines less, and bears a bolder marque, but otherwise looks and acts the same. It also still hows up as Spectra from the USB output menu of your computer or phone. A more detail-oriented approach would have inserted an ‘X’ after it. It would also be nice if it came in USB-C, or even lightning, so that you’d not have to use a dongle to attach to an iPad or iPhone. 

Overall, it’s a great unit. 

NextDrive know this. They even pack in a protective case with a tiny tongue. It’s over-sized and I’ll never use it, but it’s there. The box is sturdy if a bit big. Marketing copy gems like “Unleashing the power of your sound” are good for a bit of roll-eye, as is ‘XtraSOUND’, NextDrive’s trademarked noise cancelling circuit. When does noise cancelling give you ‘extra’ sound? Maybe that was the point. Maybe NextDrive want pedants looking it up. Could be, could be.

The narrative I’ve come up with is that Spectra X, while pretty much performance gold, really could do with a few hardware additions and a new marketing department or copy writers. 

Sound and more after the jump:

Review: NextDrive Spectra X – Dynamic
4.6 (92%) 5 votes

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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.

9 Comments

  • Reply November 6, 2018

    Pierre Blasco

    Just one question, in the RMAA measurement, all category obtain “Excellent”. So why the summary “General performance” indicate “Very good” and not “Excellent” ?

    • Reply November 7, 2018

      Nathan

      I think it’s a bug in the software.

  • Reply November 7, 2018

    Carl Immanuel Manalo

    Out of curiosity, have you tried this with an HD800?

    • Reply November 7, 2018

      Nathan

      I haven’t, no. I top out at the HD650 for Sennheiser.

  • Reply November 7, 2018

    Jonathan

    Hi Nathan. Thanks for the great review! Do you know if the Older Spectra or the newer Spectra X can properly power the HD650? The problem with the HD650 is that it has impedance swings across the frequency spectrum. I think it needs more power for the low end.

    Thanks again!

    • Reply November 8, 2018

      Nathan

      I cover that a bit in my Fauxtaku Lounge video (with haphazard examples). I think it can, but it depends: is the AK240 able to power the HD650 according to your needs? If not, the X is a bit less powerful, but on the same plane. YMMV.

      • Reply November 8, 2018

        Jonathan

        Thanks Nathan! I didn’t know you had a video about the Spectra. Just watched it and it was great!

        One last question, do you know the output impedance of Spectra? I don’t think I saw it in your measurements nor on Spectra’s website. It won’t have a big impact on the hd650 but the output impedance can have a bigger impact on sensitive balanced iems like Andromeda.

        Thanks again!

    • Reply November 8, 2018

      Nathan

      I need to add that the HD650’s impedance swings should be easily handled by most non-receiver headphone amps.

  • Reply November 11, 2018

    Igor

    How good is it in comparison with the Cozoy Takt Pro? Are they relatively the same or one of them is noticeably better than another?

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