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The LUMIN Amp is an ideal amplifier for planar magnetic headphones, with natural, full sound without being muffled or murky, while impressively controlled dynamics.
iFi Audio Spark
The iFi Audio Spark amp is an ideal portable music playback solution, thanks to its built-in Bluetooth transmitter and lossless digital audio support of up to 24-bit/192 kHz files via its USB port. Furthermore, this amp has a headphone amplifier capable of driving virtually every model available including planar magnetic models; plus Bluetooth aptX compatibility allows your phone or tablet to be used as an audio streaming source!
iFi Audio is an established company with an array of products spanning portable electronics, home hi-fi components, d/a converters, and D/A converters. AMBYTON Music Research (AMR), its sister brand, offers high-end hi-fi components in portable and desktop models; both brands share the same design philosophy combining cutting-edge technology with innovative features at an accessible price point.
As a new manufacturer, iFi Audio could have made their entrance with a grand statement, but instead decided to offer affordable D/A converters and headphone amplifiers at first. This has resulted in them quickly building a loyal following among low-end consumers; and today iFi stands as one of the fastest-growing brands within its category.
The iFi Spark comes packaged alongside the ZEN DAC in its own purple box and includes an IPower adapter as well as an instruction card with printed specs and specifications for both units. Furthermore, both units include an excellent 22-inch wire from iFi-branded purple which should provide for satisfactory audio playback at this price point.
The sound performance on the iFi Audio Spark amplifier is excellent; whether or not it meets your power demands depends entirely on which headphones you wish to drive. Planar magnetics won’t fare too well here; on the other hand, low impedance headphones or high-end dynamics may achieve incredible results through this amp.
UAD Spark collection is an evolving offering from Universal Audio (UA), with more plug-ins expected to join it over time. However, its current selection feels limited compared to other UAD offerings; some mastering-grade EQ tools and an essential reverb plugin like Lexicon 480L are among those missing from its selection.
JDS Labs The Element
JDS Labs recently unveiled the Element amplifier as its latest offering in their lineup of amps, expanding upon their Objective2 design with some modifications designed to improve sound quality and add additional features. One notable change is that the volume knob now utilizes digital attenuators instead of analog ones – providing audibly perfect channel balance even at lower volumes – an essential improvement for those who prefer playing their music loudly.
The Element’s design is stunning – slim and black, featuring an enormous volume knob with great resistance to movement and non-slip surfaces that make gripping it easy. When powered on, an LED will glow under its knob to let you know it is ready for playback!
It’s an extremely powerful amp, capable of driving virtually any headphone on the market. The low gain setting works great with efficient IEMs while its higher gain setting provides power to demanding full-size sets. Furthermore, this amplifier is transparent so you can hear all of the details in your music!
Another feature I really appreciate about the Element is its dual RCA and USB inputs, making it suitable for use with any source device ranging from laptops to desktop computers, while simultaneously supporting balanced and single-ended headphones.
Lastly, the Element amp is an impressive all-around performer that’s both cost-effective and impressively powerful. Give it serious consideration if you’re in search of a new amp!
JDS Labs The Element amplifier is an incredible value and worth every penny spent. Conceived and built in America, its complete DAC+amp design delivers powerful output with neutral sound that comes close to reference levels – an excellent option for audiophiles who wish to enjoy their favorite tunes without breaking the bank.
The Sonos Amp transforms any old speakers into an authentic Sonos multi-room music system. Equipped with HDMI input and, using an adapter, optical digital input too – even used as rear speaker drivers of a surround sound system while front channels are being played by a Sonos soundbar!
Sonos Amp is set up and controlled using their app, pairing seamlessly with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice control capabilities, Tidal streaming integrations as well as home cinema setup integration capabilities are also supported.
Sonos’ EQ settings offer you the ability to tailor the audio experience exactly as you like it. Without Loudness enabled, we found the Amp to have an organically round sound delivery with vocals especially benefiting from enhanced clarity; however it can lose impetus and flow of more complex arrangements like Every Other Freckle by SBTRKT or Trials of the Past by SBTRKT.
Though its ambitious sonic ambitions may suggest otherwise, the Amp is not an overwhelming performer when it comes to bass performance. We weren’t overly impressed with its bass performance either; but its solid performance would still allow you to add subwoofers for added punch if desired.
The Amp is an all-black square with minimalist design, making it easy to slip into a hi-fi rack without drawing attention. At just five pounds and with three touch controls on its face, the unit weighs just under eight inches x eight inches x 2.5 inches. Molded plastic top has circular air inlet and central heat sink to dissipate heat generated during use; perforated bottom provides ventilation; stackable units further help minimize its footprint.
The Amp is an attractive product that makes an effective upgrade for older hi-fi speakers, boasting an easy interface and a great selection of streaming services. Furthermore, Dolby Digital Plus surround sound support can be found here as well; though we would have appreciated having seen an optical TOSlink input to allow decoding of standard Dolby Digital content instead.
NAD D 3045
NAD has long been known for producing high quality, affordable hi-res audio products. Their hybrid digital amplifier/DAC is no exception: while lacking some of the more advanced technical ‘bells and whistles’ that can be found on more costly units, its sonic character stands out clearly: finely etched detail, dramatic dynamics, and jet black background silences that define hi-res music can all be experienced here in an easily manageable package that won’t break the bank or turn off audiophiles alike.
Its small footprint and intuitive controls make this hi-res audio player easy to use, even in tight spaces. The front panel boasts two large knobs (volume) and one smaller knob for input selection; on the rear panel there are an assortment of connections such as HDMI as well as subwoofer option; plus it includes low impedance/high current headphone jack – providing all-in-one hi-res audio solution!
Like Thomas the Tank Engine, this small amp packs a big punch thanks to its carefully considered selection of inputs and outputs. Alongside conventional line-level analogue inputs there are high quality moving magnet phono input for vinyl playback as well as two-way aptX HD Bluetooth streaming capability that works with most modern smartphone/tablet devices.
RCA jacks allow for connecting TVs via its HDMI ARC input, while an included remote allows you to manage music and home cinema all from one convenient place.
This NAD unit is an impressive feat of engineering, packed with features typically reserved for more expensive components. Hi-res USB DACs typically start at three times its price; power amps offering 60W per channel with low distortion and high current capability are rare regardless of price; all this delivered in an energy efficient, convenient package designed by one of audio’s iconic brands!