Category Archives: Product Reviews

We personally review the hot products coming onto the market, so you can decide if they are for you.

AudioQuest’s new Dragonfly Cobalt – Worth the upgrade?

AudioQuest introduced their first portable headphone DAC and amplifier seven years ago in 2012. The Dragonfly Black allowed music lovers to bring their music anywhere, with a high-resolution DAC and powerful headphone amp. Shortly after, the Black was joined by the Dragonfly Red. Boasting a higher output for more demanding headphones, as well as a more sophisticated and capable DAC chip.

As of July 2019, the Dragonfly line-up has expanded. Introducing the Dragonfly Cobalt, AudioQuest’s newest and arguably best portable DAC and headphone amp to date.

The Cobalt promises superior performance thanks to a wide range of improvements. Such as a new ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip, delivering a more expressive, detailed sound. As well as a PIC32MX274 microcontroller, which draws less current than the Dragonfly Red, while increasing the processing speed by a third. The new Dragonfly also features improved power supply filtering, reminiscent of AudioQuest’s dedicated JitterBug USB Noise Filter, which reduces unwanted noise inherent in Wifi, Bluetooth and Cellular devices.

The new Dragonfly is capable of powering even the most demanding of headphones, thanks to its 2.1-volt output. It is also capable of MQA rendering, which worked perfectly with Tidal Masters on my phone. The DAC is capable of handling high-res audio up to 24 bit 96kHz, and while the ESS DAC chip is capable of a much higher sample rate (As high as 384kHz), the Cobalts sample rate is limited to 96kHz due to the Microchips USB receiver. Allowing for a wide range of compatibility, without the need to install any driver software to your device, whether you are using Windows, Mac OSX, iOS, Android or Linux. AudioQuest would have to sacrifice compatibility and ease of use to increase the Cobalts maximum sample rate and realistically, how much music do you listen to with a sample rate higher than 96kHz?

I listened to all three Dragonfly’s, the Black, Red and Cobalt, using a variety of headphones. Pictured, are the AudioQuest Nighthawk headphones. I also listened to the Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signatures and the Quad ERA-1’s.

The Cobalt is 10% smaller than its predecessor and perfectly matches the included Dragontail USB C adapter. Making an already small DAC, even more portable.

Is it worth the upgrade?

If you just read the Cobalt’s specs you may think it’s just a Dragonfly Red with a newer DAC chip, however, the whole product has been completely redesigned and is a real improvement on its predecessors. Improving in overall volume output, clarity and detail. The Cobalt can be considered a grown-up, more refined Dragonfly Red.

One of the highest compliments we can give the Cobalt is that it can stand up to the more costly and incredibly well-reviewed Chord Electronics Mojo, and while the Mojo excels thanks to its high sample rate compatibility and fantastic detail, the Cobalt can sound more musical and easy to listen to in some cases. When it comes to portability, the Cobalt is much smaller than Chords portable DAC and also doesn’t require charging, unlike the Mojo. This may be an unfair comparison, as both DAC’s are priced differently and are aimed at different audiences, but it is interesting nevertheless.

The Cobalt is an upgrade well worth considering whether you are already a Dragonfly owner or not. I would definitely suggest heading to your nearest Hifi shop and trying one out. You won’t be disappointed.

Products Mentioned

AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt – USB DAC & Headphone Amp

AudioQuest Dragonfly Red – USB DAC & Headphone Amp

AudioQuest Dragonfly Black – USB DAC & Headphone Amp

Chord Electronics Mojo – USB DAC & Headphone Amp

AudioQuest Nighthawk – Headphones

Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature – Headphones

Quad ERA-1 – Headphones

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Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly – Portable Hi-Fi?

Chord Electronics is widely renowned for making the best DAC’s on the market and their pocket-sized Mojo is no exception.

Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly
Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly

Using technology from Chords Hugo Series and their flagship Dave reference converter, the Mojo features a custom made FPGA DAC, DSD capability and support for sample rates up to a whopping 768kHz. All squeezed into an aluminium chassis no bigger than your wallet.

Chord Electronics Hugo 2 Headphone Amplifier and DAC
Chord Electronics Hugo 2 Headphone Amplifier and DAC

The Mojo also features a headphone amp, powerful enough to drive any pair of headphones. I listened to a range of headphones from the Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature’s, Quad ERA 1’s and the Sennheiser HD660S’s, all of which were driven effortlessly by the Mojo.

Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly with Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature Headphones
Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly with Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature Headphones

On the one side of the Mojo you will find two 3.5mm headphone jack outputs. With the other side featuring a micro USB input and a 3.5mm digital COAX input (both capable of handling 768kHz/32-bit audio). Alongside an optical TOSLINK 96kHz/24-bit Capable Input and the Micro USB charging port.

Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly
Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly

If you don’t want to keep all your music files on your phone or if you’re looking to connect to the Mojo without wires, the Chord Poly has you covered.

Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly
Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly

With a Micro SD card slot to hold all the music you could ever want, along with WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, the Poly is the perfect companion for Chord’s pocket-sized DAC.

Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly
Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly

After connecting to the Poly via Bluetooth, I could control playback of the music stored locally on the SD card using my phone. The feature I was most excited for however, was Poly’s integration with Tidal. Which has recently been enabled via the Poly 2.0 software update. Along with an improved WiFi & Bluetooth connection and support for Roon, Qobuz and Internet Radio.

This update has completely transformed the Poly, from an SD card and Bluetooth player to a very capable streamer, to rival any other on the market. Pairing with the Mojo, makes this an unbeatable combination, for your train journey, walk in the park or sit-down listening session at home.

Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly with Sennheiser HD660S Headphones
Chord Electronics Mojo & Poly with Sennheiser HD660S Headphones

As expected from any Chord Electronics product, the Mojo and Poly sound fantastic. With high-res Tidal support, a beautifully detailed, clean and musical DAC and a headphone amp capable of powering any pair of headphones. The Mojo and Poly seem almost unbeatable.

Product Links

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A Look at Rotels New A11 & CD11

With the release of their new A11 and CD11, Rotel has created high-performance hifi on a budget.

Rotel A11 & CD11 with Bowers & Wilkins 606's
Rotel A11 & CD11 with Bowers & Wilkins 606’s

The A11 and CD11 add to Rotels well established 14 series, offering high-performance sound and build at a more affordable price.

Having 30 years experience in making CD players, Rotel has crammed the CD11 with technology found in their higher end machines. Featuring a Texas Instruments 24-bit 96kHz DAC for the CD11’s Analogue RCA Outputs, Rotels balanced design and a high-end power supply to reduce any unwanted noise. All paired with Rotels high-end CD transport mechanism to provide musical, detailed playback of your favourite CD’s.

Rotel A11 & CD11
Rotel A11 & CD11

With specs and performance rivalled by products twice the price, the A11 and CD11 are leaving us impressed. The A11 features a 50-Watt class AB stereo power amplifier, a moving magnet phono stage and a Texas Instruments DAC for its Bluetooth aptX input.

Rotel A11 & CD11 with Bowers & Wilkins 606's
Rotel A11 & CD11 with Bowers & Wilkins 606’s

I set the CD11 and A11 up with the Bowers & Wilkins 606’s. Which I think is the perfect sub £1500 setup for any Living Room, Office or Bedroom. So much so, that the A11 has now become our go-to amplifier for anyone wanting a great sound on a budget.

“Rotel has long been a recognised leader in the affordable, high-performance audio space. These 2 new models continue our mission of offering performance well beyond the modest price point by leveraging our Balanced Design Concept throughout the entire engineering, testing and manufacturing processes, all contained in our own dedicated 10,000 square meter (100,000 square foot) factory.”

Peter Kao, Managing Director of Rotel
Rotel A11 & CD11 with Bowers & Wilkins 606's
Rotel A11 & CD11 with Bowers & Wilkins 606’s

Speaker cables and interconnects are very often overlooked, with many people opting for the cheapest cables they can find. I think that using the right cables can make a huge difference in any system. But you don’t have to spend hundreds to get the best cable for the job; you need to find a cable suitable for the rest of the system.

Chord Clearway with the Bowers & Wilkins 606's
Chord Clearway with the Bowers & Wilkins 606’s

Our go-to speaker cable for systems such as this would be Clearway by the Chord Company. I found it was the perfect match to get the most out of the Rotel A11 and Bowers 606’s, without spending a fortune.

Chord Clearway RCA with the Rotel A11 & CD11
Chord Clearway RCA with the Rotel A11 & CD11

I also used the matching Chord Clearway RCA interconnect to connect the CD11 to the A11. I thought this made a huge audible improvement over the RCA interconnect that Rotel includes with the CD11. An upgrade which is definitely worth considering.

Rotel A11 & CD11 with Bowers & Wilkins 606's
Rotel A11 & CD11 with Bowers & Wilkins 606’s

What do I think about the A11 and CD11?

Having spent the day listening to the A11 and CD11, I can safely say that this combination is very impressive, rivalled by systems which are considerably more expensive.

I listened to a variety of music through Rotels new system, ranging from Muse, The 2nd Law, to Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Lorde, Pure Heroine. The A11 had more than enough power to drive the 606’s, while maintaining great detail and clarity.

I would highly recommend the A11 to anyone looking for a sub £500 integrated amplifier, only audibly bettered by significantly more expensive machines.

The CD11 is a welcomed addition to the A11, if you are looking at reviving your CD collection or starting a new one. As you would expect, they are a perfect match for each other.

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Bowers & Wilkins PX Vs Sennheiser PXC-550

The two headphones I will be comparing are the Bowers & Wilkins PX and the Sennheiser PXC-550I will be talking about the Sound Quality, Noise Cancellation, Comfort, Physical Appearance, App Control and any features which I think are worth mentioning. 

The PX’s are currently priced at £329 and the PXC-550’s are £249. There has recently been a price reposition on the Sennheisers’ from £329 to £299 – which makes them a great competitive price against the PX’s! 

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Review: AudioQuest NightHawk

We’ve been anticipating the arrival of Nighthawk since we first heard of the project, and now the luxurious pair of headphones are on my head, I couldn’t help but tap up this review.

First Impressions

The level of meticulous care and attention that AudioQuest have put into the construction of the Nighthawk is immediately evident. A classy leather hard-case zips open to reveal the headphones nestled gently within a shock-absorbing foam. Also in the box are two cables (Nighthawk, why two cables?), a 1/4” jack adapter and a 1 month free subscription to high-quality music streaming service; Tidal.
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Bowers & Wilkins – T7 Premium Bluetooth Loudspeaker

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AVAILABLE FOR DEMONSTRATION & PURCHASE AT HIFIGEAR
Click here for purchase information

Bowers & Wilkins saw massive success with their AirPlay compatible loudspeakers; the Zeppelin Air, Z2, A5 and A7, arguably setting a still unbeaten standard within the new media hifi market. While the aesthetic design prowess has always been exceptional with these units, the overall sound quality has always been at the forefront of the Bowers & Wilkins product engineering process.

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