Today, we’ll see how well my 3 optical IDE slim drives handles the PlexDisc 700MB CD-R discs. The units we’ll be testing against this disc are the Optiarc AD-7561A, Teach DW-224E-C, and the Toshiba SD-R6252.
Let’s start with the Toshiba SD-R6252. You may recall this drive failed to burn successfully the Verbatim CD-RW some time ago.
The drive detects the disc just fine and gives us a burning speed of up to 16x:
Starting to burn the disc in “Test Mode” appears to be fine:
But ultimately gives errors when burning it for real:
Interestingly, the drive either thinks the disc is blank afterwards or can’t recover the Table of Content (TOC):
Because the disc is reported as “Empty” on the Toshiba drive, I’ll give it another go. There’s 2 things that can happen here: The first one is that it actually writes the data, and the second one is that it overwrites already written data, making a junk disc. This disc, however, visually looked like there was no data written in it, therefore, I assume the Toshiba laser is worn out and does not have the required power to actually write any data.
ImgBurn is unable to report writing speeds on the Teac drive, for some reason:
However, it can be written at up to 24x in this drive. Test mode was successful in it:
And so was the real burn, but it never actually went up to 24x. Instead, it stayed at around 17x:
ImgBurn reports a maximum burning speed of up to 24x:
Test mode was successful:
And again, so was the real burn:
Next, we’ll scan the discs on a variety of drives to verify how well they were burned.
Disc burned in the TEAC DW-224E-C drive
Scanned on the LG WH16NS58:
Scanned on the LiteOn iHAS524 A:
Scanned on the LiteOn iHBS112 2:
Scanned on the Optiarc AD-7561A:
Scanned on the Pioneer BDR-2212. This drive has issues scanning CD-Rs:
Scanned on the Samsung SN-208AB. This drive always reports 0 C1 and C2 errors. It seems it can’t scan CD-Rs:
Disc burned in the Optiarc AD-7561A drive
Scanned on the LG WH16NS58:
Scanned on the LiteOn iHAS524 A:
Scanned on the LiteOn iHBS112 2:
Scanned on the Optiarc AD-7561A:
Scanned on the Pioneer BDR-2212. This drive has issues scanning CD-Rs:
Scanned on the Samsung SN-208AB. This drive always reports 0 C1 and C2 errors. It seems it can’t scan CD-Rs:
Unfortunately, my Toshiba drive could not write them. However, the TEAC and Optiarc drives can successfully burn these discs flawlessly and provides good quality burns. I’d recommend this media for your data and music storage needs. It is very cheap and proved to work well on these old drives.
You can get these discs on Amazon at the following link:
Today, I got the KZ DQ6. This IEM contains 3 dynamic drivers per side, which is a bit different than the usual BA and dynamic drivers combination they usually make. It is made of a single 10mm “Xun” unit that handles the bass and 2x 6mm drivers that handles the mids and treble. KZ is well known to experiment with different driver configurations and this is no exception. We’ll see how they perform below.
The box is the usual we get with KZ IEMs. It’s small and practical.
In the inside, we can see both units. The form factor is similar to their previous KZ ZSX “Terminator”.
We get the usual offering with these IEMs: A silver 0.75mm 2-pin cable, which is what KZ is now packaging, the tips, and the usual instruction manual.
The headphone tips are no longer the “star” tips. Rather, they decided to change them to a soft white tip. Unfortunately, these tips are way too soft and they make the DQ6 not fit the ear properly. This is no problem, as most would use third-party tip, but there is actually another problem: The nozzle diameter is smaller than the previous KZ IEMs, making some of the tips not compatible with them.
I tried the SednaEarFit Light to replace the stock tips, but the nozzle diameter of them are bigger than the KZ DQ6 and therefore, they would get out and not seal properly. Fortunately, the SednaEatFit Xelastec fits as well as the Spinfit CP100:
This IEM has a great tuning and I consider it an improvement over their latest hybrid IEMs. In the bass region, there is more presence without being overblown or being too fast. The mids are less recessed. Vocals are clearer, not metallic and warmer. The treble sounds extended without being sharp and fatiguing, something I had issues with their hybrids. The instruments are very well separated and well coordinated. None of the frequencies dominate the audio and seem to work together to produce a beautiful, musical, detailed, warmer sound.
I also own the KZ ZS7, ZS10 Pro, AS16, ZSX and ZAX, and I feel these DQ6, while being cheaper and having less drivers, do sound better than all of the previous mentioned models. I can also listen to these for more time without having ear fatigue. For me, these are the most balanced KZ IEMs I have ever tried.
It’s interesting to see KZ try something different than their usual hybrids. They nailed it with the tuning on these, really! Just be sure to change those stock tips to something better like the SpinFit CP100 or the SednaEarFit Xelastec. You’ll note how comfortable they will be and the sound will not disappoint you.
You can get these on Amazon at the following link:
Burning a Verbatim CD-RW on some old Slim IDE drives
In this post, We’ll be looking at some Slim IDE drives and how well they work with a Verbatim CD-RW disc. The drives we will be seeing are the Optiarc AD-7561A, Teach DW-224E-C, and the Toshiba SD-R6252.
I started first with the Toshiba SD-R6252 which is the drive with the oldest manufacturing date:
This drive was manufactured on July 2004. In my tests, it seems to read DVDs fine, but it fails to read CD-Rs, often with an “Unable to Recover TOC” message in ImgBurn. This drive supports CD and DVD writing.
The drive detects the disc and gives us burning speeds of 4x and 10x:
I initiated the burning process at 10x. It was able to erase the disc, but was surprised at the following message it gave me:
For some reason, it thinks the disc is 0 MB. However, pressing OK makes the disc burn successfully, or so I thought. Turns out this drive seem to ignore ImgBurn’s request to cycle the tray, and when the verification starts, it just freezes and starts making seek noises. This drive was also the noisiest drive. It seems the laser makes some noises when burning. Ultimately, I ejected the drive manually by disconnecting and reconnecting the USB cable. Then, ImgBurn somehow say the disc is “empty” yet it shows the old Table of Contents of the disc:
Maybe the drive couldn’t handle burning at 10x, so I restarted it at 4x:
But again, it froze at verification:
The disc seems to be lightly burned:
The result is a failure for this drive. It isn’t able to correctly burn these discs. But maybe it’s the drive that’s somehow dead for CD’s, since it has issues reading most of them but reads fine CD-ROMs.
My next attempt is to use my TEAC DW-224E-C. Here, initially the drive is unable to read the disc as the Toshiba drive corrupted it.
It does not let me do anything as it doesn’t read it. I had to jump to the Optiarc drive which was successful at detecting the disc and allowing me to burn it.
This unit was successful at burning and verifying the disc.
You can see that the lighter burned area is now darker.
I then placed the disc in the TEAC drive where it was able to read and verify it successfully too:
It also allows us to burn the disc again, so even when it was written, I performed an erase operation first, which blanked the disc:
From the above drives, only the Toshiba SD-R6252 failed to burn it. Both the TEAC and Optiarc drives were able to burn and verify it fine. Maybe the Toshiba drive is bad, as it fails to read CD-Rs correctly, sometimes unable to read the Table of Contents and sometimes failing to properly seek. However, that same drive is able to read DVDs without any issues, so maybe the CD laser is bad.
For the TEAC and Optiarc drives, the final result is a working, playable disc. The Optiarc drive is able to burn these discs at 4x and 10x. I didn’t test burning it at 4x. The TEAC drive does not show the supported burning speeds on ImgBurn like it did for the other 2 drives, but in reality, it burns it at the expected 10x.
Early this week, I ordered more Double Layer Blu-Ray discs. Unfortunately, the Philips 10pk BD-R DLs that were at $9 each were out of stock, so I had 2 options, both listed at $11 dollars:
Philips BD-R DL 10pk – Logo surface
HP BD-R DL 10pk – Logo surface
I decided to go with the HP ones since I’ve already tested the Philips BD-R DL 10pk printable discs, and maybe the Logo surface ones were the same CMC Magnetics discs. With the HP ones, I have the opportunity to review these and see if they are the same or different than the Philips discs. Because the Verbatim 100GB discs are still very high on price and seem to be low on stock, I need to get more BD-R DLs than usual. This is why I ordered 5 of these packs again.
Basically, last time I wasted a full 10pk of the Philips discs doing tests, until realizing that the Pioneer BDR-2212 drive was the one that handled them best. Will the same happen here again? We’ll find out.
The disc packaging is very similar to the Philips discs, except that these spindles have a paper on the top as well as the branding on the sides. Both were made in Taiwan. They are also rated to be burned up at 6x, although the burning speeds available depends on the burner capabilities and firmware itself.
Opening it, we have the shiny top logo surface discs:
The discs does look to be very well made. The data surface also look very smooth too.
It also has a dark gold-colored look, as opposed to the dark grey color of the Philips discs. This is important because it may tell us that the manufacturer is different.
My first thought was to insert this into the Panasonic UJ-260, to see what it thinks of this disc.
ImgBurn says these discs are made by Verbatim! The media code ID is VERBAT-IMf-000. The Panasonic UJ-260 can burn them at 2x and 6x. This is higher than the RITEK-DR3-000 and CMCMAG-DI6-000 discs, both of which could be burned up to 4x on this drive (Note that the CMCMAG-DI6-000 failed on this drive, but it could burn the RITEK-DR3-000 perfectly fine).
Given this, let’s try to burn a disc with Nero at 6x.
It did seem to start burning great, but unfortunately, the disc failed to burn with just a generic burning error:
This is the first time the Panasonic fails on me while burning a disc. This is also unexpected, given that Verbatim discs should be the best of the best. Usually, this drive would burn a disc fine but may fail on the verification, like it did on the CMCMAG-DI6-000 discs. Maybe it couldn’t handle burning at 6x.
As we can see, it failed at the first layer.
My next try was of course, on the Pioneer BDR-2212. It burned all of the Philips spindles flawlessly, altough on just one of the discs, it wrote a bad sector and this drive was able to read it back while the others failed on that sector. I discarded this disc, but the others wrote and verified just fine.
The Pioneer drive reports that this disc can be burned at up to 8x.
I fired up Nero and attempted to burn the disc at 8x. The CMCMAG-DI6-000 burned great at this speed and the verification went really well too. No speed slowdowns happened at all when reading them.
Nero was able to burn and verify this disc successfully. In fact, it also read back fine in my LiteOn iHBS112.
The finished disc has a dark grey burned color. Here we can see it compared to a burned CMCMAG-DI6-000 disc:
The CMCMAG-DI6-000 on the left has a darker burned color than the VERBAT-IMf-000 disc on the right.
Next are the usual quality scans. I really don’t pay attention to it, as it’s been proven that the drives can handle high amounts of LDC/BIS numbers and the only discs that failed on me were scratched or rotten ones. This happened some years ago, but none of the discs I’ve burned so far has given me issues.
Test results of an 8x burn
The LiteOn iHBS112 seem to read the disc just great but reports high numbers on the first layer and a bit on the 2nd one before going back down to numbers that stays within the limits. Besides this result, the disc was completely readable.
Now, let’s move on to scanning and verifying it on the LG WH16NS58:
The LG drive stayed between the tolerance numbers except once it reached the 20GB mark, where it went up. It stabilized again on the 2nd layer at around 29GB and stayed within its limits. The disc once again was completely readable according to Nero DiscSpeed.
Test results of a 6x burn
I burned a disc at 6x, which was successful too. The difference between a 6x and 8x burn is about 5 minutes.
Now, let’s see how it scanned:
The scan on the LiteOn drive is very similar to the 8x burn. On the LG drive, however, it seems the first layer was burned better. The start of the 2nd layer did present a spike but seem to correct itself. Remember that the Pioneer drive performs some calibration while burning. It usually does it at around 56% after starting to burn the second layer of a BD-R DL disc. The rest of the disc burned with good quality and no spikes.
Even with those spikes on both scans, the disc read fine on both instances.
Burning on the Panasonic UJ260 at 2x
I decided to give this drive another try, but this time burning at 2x. Surprisingly, it handled burning it and succeeded in the verification stage.
Testing on the LiteOn and LG drives looked way, way better too
We can see once again that the LG scanned it a bit better, but the difference between the LiteOn and LG is not so much. Overall, this looks way better than the Pioneer burns at 6x and 8x.
This is very good to know because before the Pioneer drive, I was always burning on the Panasonic drive. This means that the only media this drive cannot handle well is the CMCMAG-DI6-000, but it could be because of the tint of those discs that I mentioned on that review and may not be the case with other branded CMCMAG discs.
The discs from the batch I got are all Verbatim 6x media. They are burning reliably on the Pioneer drive and at 2x on the Panasonic drive. The LG and LiteOn drives can read back the data on all of the above cases regardless of the quality scans without any speed slowdown. I’d recommend this media because of how cheap it is, considering they seem to be Verbatim media but branded for HP.
You can order these discs on Amazon at the following link:
The Oakcastle CD100 Portable CD Player with Bluetooth
Today, I’ll present you the Oakcastle CD100 Portable CD Player. Yes, a CD Player, and this one has Bluetooth in it. As you may know, nowadays people use streaming services to listen to music, which includes services with lossless audio quality. However, some people also prefer to buy CDs and listen to them, as some may argue that CDs offer better quality than lossless streaming services. Others buy them to collect them.
I’m one of the few who prefer to listen to Audio CDs, collecting them if I find it worth it after listening to them on streaming services. I do listen to them, but on my PC, as I didn’t have a CD player. My last one died lots of years ago, probably due to battery leakage. Thankfully, CD players are still being made and now comes with a rechargeable built-in battery, but the biggest new feature that’s coming to them is Bluetooth audio transmission. This is really important because, in a world that has shifted toward digital streaming and Bluetooth headphones, this means we can pair them to this CD player. It also means we can pair it to cars that no longer have an internal CD player.
I was suprised by the small, simple box.
Opening and starting to take out what’s inside, we first see the instruction manual and the CD player behind:
The box on the left contains all of the cables and the included in-ear headphone:
The CD player is very well protected with a foam container:
Let’s take a look at the CD optics:
This CD player states that it can read Audio CD, CD-R, CD-RW, and discs containing MP3 files. I have tested it with some burned CD-Rs and can say that it works flawlessly. My discs are specially burned because I tend to create a LabelTag label on the data side. These discs are therefore considered multisession discs, as the label counts as a session on the disc structure. The CD player could read it without any issues at all.
The audio quality is very good, both when connected to the 3.5mm jack and when using Bluetooth.
The volume is very loud, so the IFI IEMatch comes in handy here, to reduce the volume by -24db. The Bluetooth sound is very clear. The difference I noticed is that the bass is a bit less present. It’s there, but it’s just not as dynamic as when using the headphone jack. The treble, on the other hand, seems to be the star of the show, along with crystal clear vocals. Maybe it’s the treble that may be shadowing the bass. Overall, everything sounds finer, even considering that it only transmits audio using the SBC codec.
The CD player charges via USB at a max of 1 amp. This basically allows you to use any USB charger you may have around. You can also use it while charging it.
My first impressions of this product are very positive. I’m pleased with the sound quality, both wired and on Bluetooth. It paired easily with my FiiO BTR5 and Hiby W3, both of which use a Qualcomm chipset. This means it should theoretically pair with headphones and receivers having one of their chips.
This CD player can also read MP3 files, and it worked really well on these discs too. It does take a second or two to load it, but works, and the audio quality is also very, very good. I just wish the next generation of players can read FLAC files directly too.
Regarding the battery life, I’ll play audio CDs non-stop to know how much time I can listen to music without having to recharge it.
UPDATE 3/26/2021: This CD Player can also play WMA files.
So far, I’m really impressed with it.
You can order this CD player on Amazon at the following link:
Today, I will be showing you the Kolude KD-k1 All-In-One keyboard.
It is a USB-C keyboard that also acts as a USB hub, having 4 USB 3 ports, SD and Micro SD Card reader, Power Delivery, and an HDMI port.
The keyboard contains the entire layout as well as the numeric pad keys, which is great for those who prefer to use them.
It is made of aluminum and the keys have a great typing feeling.
It also comes with a long USB-C cable that we can use to plug it on a Desktop PC. Is is really long.
The keyboard layout is strange. It seems to be designed primarily to be used on Macs, as we can see on the layout that before the space bar we have the Command key followed by the Alt key. On a Windows layout keyboard, you would have the Windows key first, then the Alt key, followed by the Space bar.
The amount of USB ports on the keyboard means we can easily plug our devices, like a USB mouse dongle, for example. Also, for photographers, it’s good to know it has the SD and Micro SD card readers right there.
Kolude released a firmware update for the keyboard that improves compatibility with Windows machines and switches the Alt and Command keys for Windows users. However, I thought the keyboard was reversing itself to the Mac mode. Turns out there are some keyboard shortcuts to alternate between the 2:
fn + A switches to the Mac mode.
fn + S switched to the Windows mode.
Because of this, I switched the Alt and Command keycaps to better fit my setup. It’s way easier to use now than it was before that firmware update. Also, the function keys now work as expected on Windows too. Just press the fn key followed by one of the function keys.
It’s been almost 9 months since I received it and I can say it is my very favorite keyboard. My previous one was a basic Wireless Logitech keyboard but this one really improves the typing experience, since I’m used to laptop-style keys. The hub feature is also very convenient as I can easily plug my devices. The supplied cable is connected to the back of my AMD desktop machine, which also has a USB-C port. Of course, it only works for data, so the HDMI port doesn’t work with it and I get the “Limited connectivity” message, which is expected.
The discs do not come in a standard spindle, so you have to be very careful when opening it.
They have a branded surface:
The recording surface has a dark purple color:
When the disk is loaded in ImgBurn on a LiteOn iHAS524 drive with OverSpeed turned on, it will detect them as having a speed of up to 16x:
The disc media ID from this batch is RICOHJPN-D01-67.
Unfortunately, burning these discs with either 12x or 16x will not work and will produce coasters. They will actually write at 4x but will fail the verification. This is why I recommend turning off OverSpeed and burning at the rated 8x speed.
Here’s the disk information with OverSpeed turned off:
The LiteOn iHAS524 was able to burn the discs successfully when burned at 8x. I burned them with HyperTuning, Online HyperTuning and Smart-Burn turned on. OverSpeed was turned off.
Interestingly, it seemed to have burned some discs using a CAV strategy while the rest were burned using a Z-CLV strategy.
The disc started burning at 5x but eventually reached 8x. Then it went backward:
Data verification was successful going up to 16x:
The drive burned the discs starting at 4x, then going up to 6x, and finally up to 8x. It then did the same on the opposite direction:
Data verification was also successful having a maximum read speed of 16x:
Disc Quality Test
I used Nero DiscSpeed to perform quality tests on these discs. It seems that there is a problem around the layer break when the scan is performed at the maximum speed which is 16x:
However, when we reduced the speed to 8x, we got some decent results with no issues at the layer break:
With a price of just $19.99, I think this is a good media to backup data. A 100pk Single-layer DVD+R spindle cost somewhere between $20-$25 these days. While these media are Double Layer, you’re getting half the discs with almost double the capacity for around that same price.
When burning these discs, just don’t overspeed them. You’ll have coasters. Burn them at their rated speed of 8x and always verify the data. While none of my discs had issues verifying the discs burned at 8x, those burned at 12x and 16x did experienced issues. This is why you should disable overspeed and burn at 8x.
Last month, I got this USB cable to be able to charge my Game Boy Micro:
The cable is USB-A in one end and has the Game Boy Micro connector on the other side. It fits flawlessly in it:
It also charges well when connected to a computer USB port:
The Game Boy Micro draws about 160-180mA of power when charging, as we can see on the USB meter. It took a while to charge, but it’s been working fine. It also has to be noted that the Game Boy Micro rated input voltage is 5.2V. Since it is being plugged into a laptop USB port, the voltage is lower. This, however, didn’t seem to affect charging.
It feels good to be able to play games again on it, after losing the original charger. It’s also more convenient to plug it on a USB port to charge it when needed.
Yesterday, I wrote about how my 2020 was in terms of audio gear. Today, I’ll be talking about my initial purchases and what’s to come over the next few days and weeks.
I’m always looking to try new digital audio players and DACs mainly, followed by some headphones, usually from KZ. This year, I’m starting it with new products from Hiby, Hidizs, and Fiio. Let’s see the products below.
The Hiby R2 is Hiby’s newest ultra-portable player, which has most of the features of the R3, but in a smaller body. It is able to decode and render MQA, and can stream music from Tidal via Wifi. I’m a huge user of the Hiby R3 Pro Saber, so I’m really exited to give the R2 a try!
The Hidizs H1 is a neckband Bluetooth cable that comes with the Hidizs MS1 Rainbow. For the price, it is a real bargain, considering you get both items and also considering that most people will already have 2-pin 2.5mm or 3.5mm cables. Since I already own the Hidizs MS1 and MS4 which I backed on Kickstarter, the MS1 Rainbow is the only one I still don’t own. I also already have Hidizs’ 2.5mm and 3.5mm cables, as well as their BT01 Bluetooth cable. This means that this cable will be new in my collection. The Hidizs H1 is also compatible with the Hiby Blue app. It supports the SBC, AAC, aptX and aptX Low Latency codecs.
The Hidizs H2 is Hidizs newest Bluetooth receiver adapter. It shares a few design details from Hiby’s own W3 adapter, having physical buttons as well as the LED which will be green or blue depending on the audio sample rate. It supports the main Bluetooth codecs, while also having support for LDAC and Hiby’s UAT codec. The Hidizs AP80 and AP80 Pro, as well as Hiby’s products already support UAT, so it is guaranteed we will have the best audio quality when listening on those products with the Hidizs H2. It also supports the Hiby Blue app and can also be used as a USB DAC.
The Hidizs S9 is Hidizs newest DAC, sporting an AKM AK4493EQ DAC. It has both 2.5mm and 3.5mm outputs and supports up to 32bit/768Khz.
The FiiO BTA30 is a Bluetooth receiver and transmitter. It claims to transmit audio using LDAC when using an optical or coax cable. My main purpose of this product is to attach it to my TV and see how much the audio quality improves and to try LDAC with it.
And that’s my initial purchased for products I should be receiving in the next couple of days. The Hidizs S9 is the product with the most far date, presumably due to AKM DACs shortage due to their factory fire. I’ll patiently wait, and I’m really looking forward to try all of these new products.
Last year was a great one when it came to acquiring new Audio Gear. In this post, I’ll talk about my acquisitions with a bit of overview for each product.
Digital Audio Players
In 2020, I got the FiiO M5, the Shanling Q1, the Hiby R3 Pro Saber, and the Hidizs AP80 Pro. These 4 companies do great products, so I went ahead and ordered their newest products. I had the Shanling Q1 already preordered on Kickstarter.
The FiiO M5 is a hybrid DAP. I say it’s hybrid because it also has a Qualcomm Bluetooth chip inside that makes it work as a Bluetooth receiver and transmitter separately. While products like Hiby and Hidizs DAPs also have Bluetooth receive/transmit functions, these work entirely using their Ingenic X1000E CPU and their Bluetooth chip, while the FiiO M5 uses its CSR8675 chip for this purpose.
The sound quality of the M5 is musical, using an AKM AK4377 with Velvet Sound, which seems to focus on mid details. The only downside is that a USB DAC cannot be used when using it in Bluetooth receive mode, and that it does not supports Opus files.
Hiby R3 Pro Saber
The Hiby R3 Pro Saber is a derivative product from the Hiby R3 Pro. Its main difference is that it uses 2x ESS 9218p DACs as opposed to the dual Cirrus Logic DACs found in the Hiby R3 Pro. Hiby claims the R3 Pro Saber offers a more analytical sound, and I can describe the sound as being more airy and open than the R3 Pro. This has been my favorite DAP to this date.
Hidizs AP80 Pro
The Hidizs AP80 Pro is the successor of the original Hidizs AP80 (pictured on the left). Its main difference is that it now offers dual ESS 9218p DACS and the Hiby HBC3000 FPGA. These same DACs and FPGA are found in the Hiby R3 Pro Saber, but they sound completely different. I would describe the sound of the AP80 Pro as being more warmer, especially in the bass, while the sound of the Hiby R3 Pro Saber is more open and fuller. I think that the AP80 Pro would fit those who seek deep bass while the Hiby R3 Pro Saber fits those looking for a more musical and open sound.
The Shanling Q1 (Pictured in the bottom center) was launched in Kickstarter. This player didn’t had Wifi until a later update added it with the DLNA feature. It also uses an ESS 9218p, but sounds different than the Hiby R3 Pro Saber and Hidizs AP80 Pro. The sound seems to be centered around mids. It sounds good, but different at the same time. The only downside is that the headphone jack is right in the middle and it is slippery. The buttons are also sensitive, but otherwise it’s a good DAP.
DACs and Dongles
Moving to the DACs and Dongles category, last year I got the new Tempotec BHD, the IFI Hip-Dac, and an off-brand very cheap DAC that’s surprisingly good.
The IFI Hip-Dac is an affordable DAC with a Burr-Brown DAC. It also renders MQA. Its sound is warm. On the back, it has a USB-C port which is only for charging, while a USB-A Male port is used for data. I rarely use this DAC because of the weird ports and I’d rather prefer it having 2 USB-C ports rather than its USB-A port. On the good side, the analog volume potentiometer works great, but be careful with sensitive IEMs as the volume gets extremely loud!
Tempotec Sonata BHD
The Tempotec Sonata BHD can be considered a “successor” to the Tempotec Sonata HD Pro. This one has dual Cirrus Logic CS43131 and has a 2.5mm output. It also shares the independent volume controls as the HD Pro. On the downsides, this one doesn’t have a detachable cable, and like the HD Pro, it has few volume steps. On the good side, it shares the same sound signature as the Tempotec Sonata HD Pro and doesn’t get warm.
Geekuy USB DAC
This one was a surprise find on Amazon. It is very cheap, considering it has an XMOS controller and an ESS DAC. It also features a 3.5mm output. For the price, I was surprised at how good it sounds. It also doesn’t generate heat, is USB Audio Class 2.0, and works great with the PC. However, it had compatibility issues with my DAPs.
In this category, I got the FiiO UTWS1 (My favorites!), the Shanling UP4, the Qudelix 5K, and the new TRN BT20S Pro.
The FiiO UTWS1 seems to be a rebranded TRN BT20S with a different button configuration and better volume control. Its advantages are a more functional button configuration that includes raising and lowering the volume. This is the most warm Bluetooth adapter I have, which would satisfy bass lovers.
The Shanling UP4 is yet another product using dual ESS 9218p DACs. It, again, sounds differently than other products with the ES9218p. This time, it is warmer yet musical at the same time. When compared to the similar FiiO BTR5, which also uses the same dual ES9218p DACs, the sound of that one is more analytical, working best for treble and more analytical detail retrieval, while the Shanling UP4 works best for concert-like music and to be immersed into the music experience. It has a volume knob and supports major Bluetooth formats, which is standard in this kind of products nowadays. It also supports USB DAC functionality up to 16bit/48khz due to it its Qualcomm CSR8675 SoC.
The Qudelix 5K is made by a team of people who, according to sources, are the same ones who did the original EarStudio ES100 Bluetooth adapter. The Quidelix 5K is unique in that it uses the newer Qualcomm QCC5124 SoC versus the usual CSR8675 that others use. It also supports USB DAC mode up to 96Khz due to the improvements of the chip. It, again, uses dual ES9218p DACs, but sounds different due to the implementation used as well as their DSP processing. It sounds clean and not harsh. My only complaint is the button learning curve.
TRN BT20S Pro
The TRN BT20S Pro is the successor of the TRN BT20S. They now include their own charging case which replaces the Micro USB port on the units. The hooks are also replaceable shall they go bad or you’d like to switch from 2-pin to MMCX. Unfortunately, it doesn’t play well with my phone as the volume is too loud. They also still have some hissing noise that’s also noticeable in their previous versions.
The only Bluetooth transmitter I purchased last year was the Avantree DG80.
The Avantree DG80 supports aptX Low Latency, as seen on the FiiO BTR5 on the right. It is a small dongle that transmits audio from a PC or other devices supporting USB Audio Class 1 products. I’ve been an Avantree customer for some time due to their excellent transmitter and receiver devices, and their excellent support.
Last year, the only headphone acquired was the KZ ZAX.
The KZ ZAX uses 8 drivers per side, consisting of 1 dynamic driver and 7 Balanced Armatures. The sound profile is V-shaped. It sounds somewhat similar to the KZ ZS10 Pro, yet more refined and doesn’t have a metallic sound that the ZS10 Pro suffered from. The sound is clean too and I sometimes listen to this over the Hidizs MS4, which are the ones I use the most. They retrieve a lot of detail in the music despite their V-shaped signature. On the downside, they do not isolate sound as well.
Late in 2019, I ordered the NiceHCK Spiral tips, which I received early in 2020. Later in the year I ordered some tips from AZLA.
NiceHCK Spiral Tips
The NiceHCK Spiral tips have a spiral form in them. I ordered them after comparing them to other tips and making the nozzle close to the ears. The sound isolation is very good and improves bass in most cases.
I brought these tips accidentally, because it resembled the bass tips of the Hidizs MS4. Turns out the nozzle stays far from the ear, but they did improve the sound stage.
AZLA SednaEarFit Xelastec
Made from a different material than silicone, these have a sticky feeling. I wrote a more detailed review of these that you can find here.
And that was my 2020 in music gear. In my next post, I’ll talk about my acquisitions for 2021 that I will be reviewing as I receive them.
I haven’t received most of the products above, so keep looking forward to my reviews over the year too along with my new 2021 gear!
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