The guys at VentureCraft know how to make a good looking portable audio gear. From the first iteration of the Go-DAP, we’ve been given nothing but first class product design and build quality (check out the new VentureCraft bracket for Iphone on my Tokyo Show article). While my impression of the Go-DAP 4.0 and Go-DAP X was quite disappointing (the 4.0 especially was disappointing from a sound quality perspective I scrapped my plans to write a review on it), I see some light on the current generation Dac-only Go-DAP DD Socket 1 models.
The DD Socket 1 comes with an AKM AK4353 chip but is available with several different output stage flavors. The stock model is equipped with a standard OP275 while the upgraded models (higher price than stock) are offered in the following flavors: OPA627, Muses01, and Muses02. I happen to have all three models with the upgraded op-amps, one belonging to a customer while the other two I bought while in my Japan trip.
Between the three, the Muses01 is definitely the most impressive of the bunch. The widest and the most spacious of the three by quite a margin. Character of the Muses signature, the tonal balance is quite flat and with a good amount of air that reminds me a lot of the sound signature of the Asus Xonar Essence Muses Edition. Aside from the strength of a large soundstage the Muses01 is the grainiest and the dryest sounding of the three however, and so it’s recommended that you pair it with warm sounding amps (there’s plenty to choose from: Portaphile 627, ALO International & Continental, Leckerton Audio, Ray Samuels, etc).
The Muses02 model has a blacker background and a cleaner sound than the Muses01 though it’s narrower in soundstage. Like the Muses01 the tonal balance is quite flat though with less air than the 01 but again with the benefit of having a blacker background.
The OPA627 model sounds like *surprise surprise* an OPA627 with its forward midrange-centric sound. Obviously the most colored of the three though the coloration is quite subtle and doesn’t quite sound as warm as a typical OPA627 amplifier (well this is an amplifier after all). Being the narrowest sounding of the three may sound bad but with the right amplifier and headphone combination you can get a fairly expansive soundstage out of it and so I wouldn’t really hesitate to recommend the OPA627.
Comparisons with other brands
The VentureCrafts do have their own sound signature and together with Fostex HP-P1 are the two flattest sounding offerings in the market. Furutech’s ADL X1 seem to also belong to this camp from my brief listening session in Tokyo, but I’d rather not say too much about the X1 as I don’t have the unit here to compare to. The other camp which is the darker, warmer sounding camp represented by CypherLabs Solo (-R, dB, and the first generation Solo) and Sony’s PHA-1.
Between the VentureCraft Go-Dap DD to the Fostex HP-P1, the HP-P1 is signficantly smoother, cleaner, and more refined. Other than the Muses01 possessing a wider soundstage than the P1 (the other DD models being roughly comparable in soundstage width), the P1 excels in having a superior depth and blacker background. The Muses01, while is extremely wide, does sound a bit flat and lacking in soundstage depth. The Muses02 has roughly the same soundstage width but again not the depth of the Fostex, slightly darker background on the Muses but a bit more grain and less clear. The OPA627 is the most colored bunch of this camp, mid-centric with a noticeably less accurate timbre and soundstage space.
Obviously everyone know that CypherLabs is a site sponsor but long time readers should know by know that my preference lies in a dark sound with weighty lows and that means I easily gravitate towards the CypherLabs & Sony camp. Perhaps most surprising is the Sony PHA-1 I got from Tokyo which is markedly improved from the last unit we listened to. Still the same warm signature but this PHA-1 is extremely spacious, possessing strong depths as well as width. The bass is a bit loose and the detail retrieval a bit lacking compared to the CypherLabs/VentureCraft/Fostex devices, but the Sony is extremely enjoyable with its spacious dark and warm signature.
It’s a good thing that we have more choices these days with i-Devices DACs compared to when we only had the CypherLabs Solo and Fostex HP-P1 some two years ago. Perhaps we should start an i-Devices vs Android USB OTG DAC comparison in the near future, but from experience pairing an OTG DAC with my Samsung S4 with the USB Recorder Pro software has been a fairly buggy ordeal and definitely less reliable than a typical i-Device DAC pairing. Maybe it’ll improve in the future.