Though many mobile workstation users will "make do" with less-than-satisfying audio output from the notebook's built-in amplifier, high res audioholics will likely seek the help of an external DAC headphone amp. Where once you could expect to shell out quite a tidy sum for a quality sonic massager, there are now a good number of affordable devices on the market, from desktop bricks like the Sound Blaster X7 to pocket-friendly beasts like the DacMagic. The creators of Miyo are promising world-class, studio quality sound in a small, portable and affordable package and believe their DAC to be a cut above the rest.
The Miyo from H2 Designs is said to offer listeners the same kind of audio quality and sonic detail found in professional recording studios (up to 24-bit/192 kHz resolution in fact), but in a portable, wallet-friendly package. It's been over a year in development, with pre-production prototypes including fully functional firmware now ready for the next step.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,200 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
"While no device is the sum of its parts exactly, Miyo is designed using some of the best components available – no low power or low cost anything," the company's Jon Hillman told Gizmag. "We're not aware of another portable DAC that takes this approach."
Though the published specs may change ahead of production, H2 Designs is currently looking at housing the DAC in aircraft-grade aluminum with multi-colored LED level indicators up top which are reported to offer usable level information at a glance. "The LEDs are used to indicate audio levels," explained Hillman. "When input is present, we show both input and output levels – and when not, we show only output levels. Professionals need to understand at any given time where RMS levels are at, and if they're clipping, and our unique solution makes this intuitive and quick."
Inside, there's a multi-layer PCB sporting hundreds of components. These include a Texas Instruments PCM1792A digital-to-analog converter with 129 dB A-weighted dynamic range, dual SiTime MEMS-based audio clocks with less than 0.5 picoseconds of RMS phase jitter for top notch stability, TI OPA1664 and THS4532 opamps and TI TPA6120 headphone amps and a 123 dB A-weighted DR analog-to-digital converter (TI PCM4220 ).
The 2.8 x 1.5 x 0.75 in (72 x 39 x 19 mm), 6 oz (170 g) Miyo features an unbalanced 3.5 mm stereo line-level input for recording and two isolated headphones amps with broadband Pi-filters. The latter are said to offer plenty of headroom for your high-end cans through either or both of the two 3.5 mm unbalanced headphone jacks, without a quality dip when the second headphones are plugged in. The headphone jacks also double as optical (S/PDIF) outputs with built-in multichannel passthrough.
"There are very few headphones in the world that Miyo cannot drive, most of them with ease," said Hillman. "We have tested with dozens of headphone models, professional and consumer-grade (Ultrasone ProLine 650, Beats various models, Sennheiser HD280, HD560/540, Shure SRH1540/1840, Focal Spirit, etc).
"In recent tests, Miyo is driving +13dBu into 600 ohms while maintaining 0.004 percent THD+N. Even at full scale levels into significant loads, Miyo's distortion levels are better than the spec some competitors claim. It's also important to point out that we control output levels in the analog domain, meaning we take OS volume changes and control the analog output level of the DAC – this avoids the common bit-reduction you get with other DACs with lower output levels."
The Miyo is USB bus-powered, with an LC Pi-filter at the USB port. There's more LC filtering for the level meter LEDs and master clock oscillators, as well as separate LDO voltage regulators for the D/A and A/D converters and input stage, and proprietary ground loop elimination – all to cut down on noise sources to help ensure that what you hear is crystal clear.
H2 Designs is currently coming to the end of a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, but backers still have until Jan 7 to pledge for a Miyo for US$250. If all goes to plan, the first DACs will be shipped in March.
A word to the wise for mobile music lovers though. If your digital music library is stored on a smartphone or tablet, then you'll need to transfer it to a laptop to get the best performance from the Miyo and ensure there's enough power to drive your headphones (minimum input impedance of 4 ohms).
Have a look at the pitch video below for an overview of the Miyo DAC.