Roon Community Reviews: Zuma Lumisonic, the Ultimate Wireless Multi-room System

Roon Community contributor Steven44 graciously contributed the following review. Roon Editorial staff added layout and minor editing to convert the forum posts to a review format.

Overview

Zuma Lumisonic is a state-of-the-art Roon Ready lighting and sound system. Each light/sound unit is an all-in-one audio system. It’s very sophisticated and supports multiple audio services onboard, plus Alexa voice control.  

This system may be the first to use Roon in a full home automation product. Zuma Lumisonic won the prestigious 2021 CEDIA New Hardware award (Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association).

Continue reading “Roon Community Reviews: Zuma Lumisonic, the Ultimate Wireless Multi-room System”

Roon Ready Writeups: Chord Hugo 2 and 2go Review

At Roon, our passion is to help you get the very best sound and performance from your gear purchases. Our Roon partner products guarantee seamless integration, stress-free reliability, and high-quality sound within every music lover’s budget. 

We understand that gear homework can be confusing and a chore, “will this X sync with my Y DAC/Amp” ad infinitum….. The excitement of gear shopping can evaporate pretty quickly.

Roon-certified gear takes care of all that for you and leaves you with only the fun tasks: shipment tracking, setup planning, and more quality time for enjoying music. Those are benefits we all can appreciate! 

Winner and Still Champion: Chord Hugo 2

Chord Electronics Hugo 2 and 2Go Review

Chord’s Hugo 2 sports an impressive winning streak and continues to rack up Best DAC awards for its design, aesthetics, and sound – even when matched against much more expensive units. It’s not especially difficult to understand why. It remains one of the best value upgrades you can add to your system for its price range. Like all things Chord, Hugo 2’s technical advances and innovation never lose sight of the ultimate goal – superior sonic performance. Let’s take a look!

Aesthetics and Design 

From its robust aluminum enclosure to its lovely polychromatic spherical controls, every element of Hugo 2 / 2go exhibits exceptional design thinking. These products deliver the features and functionality that music lovers demand, and they do it creatively and engagingly.  

Yes, some critics still grumble about Chord’s fondness for color-coded controls. For my tastes, they’re a brilliant, intuitive means for conveying a wealth of information without using an LED screen. Using the crib sheet in the manual, you’ll be up to speed with color translation in no time. We put the cheat sheet back in its box much quicker than expected. 

Grippy rubber feet keep Hugo 2 and 2go safely in place when used as a desktop headphone DAC/amp or streamer/server combo. The handy full-function remote eliminates having to leave your favorite listening spot to make adjustments when using Hugo 2 as an integrated component. Its feature set makes it ideal for that role. We realize design perfection means different things to different people. But we couldn’t find any noteworthy shortcomings in either of these devices that warranted further discussion. 

Hugo 2 and 2go, poised to satisfy every audio need

Chord Electronics Hugo 2 and 2Go Review

The Chord 2go is a high-performance streamer/server that adds Bluetooth, wi-fi, and wired network connectivity for Hugo 2. Together, they’re a solution for an impressive range of use scenarios. Here are just a few we were able to tackle with ease:

  • An unmatched Roon ARC mobile headphone rig 
  • A feature-rich Roon Ready sonic advancement for any legacy Hi-Fi setup
  • A high-quality desktop and handheld head-fi audio solution
  • A veritable digital audio player (DAP) slayer! 2go’s dual microSD card slots provide 4 TB of onboard high-res audio storage,
  • A highly portable around-the-house RAAT streaming endpoint 
  • Hugo 2 has all the device connection inputs and outputs you’ll likely need, making it a powerful contender for myriad applications beyond those we mention.

Use flexibility is a significant factor when I purchase gear. Hugo 2 excels in this capacity. Its small footprint, the size of a petite paperback, further accentuates its versatility.

Sound Impressions

Not surprisingly, the Hugo2/2go produce awe-inspiring sound that reflects their award-winning pedigree. Every genre we fed through the duo assumed a new level of spaciousness, dynamics, and fidelity. The highest praise anyone can give a piece of gear is to say it motivates its owner to find extra time for music listening. These devices do that effortlessly! 

Chord products achieve their unique sound signature with bespoke conversion, filtering, and processing chipsets designed by Rob Watts. 4 filter settings provide users with options for crisp, transparent presentation or a warmer, rounded analog vibe reminiscent of vintage gear. To clarify, Chord states that the filters’ purpose is to reduce high-frequency noise generated by the selected input. They aren’t designed or intended to act as DSP or EQ enhancements. To my ear, they do add understated coloration. It’s very slight, but it’s there. My favorite filter settings were Incisive Neutral, or Warm, depending on the music I was playing. 

I’m even more surprised to discover that I’m a big fan of Hugo 2’s crossfeed filters. Crossfeed gives headphone listening a more speaker-like soundstage by subtly blending left and right headphone channels, giving you a bit of both in each driver rather than distinct separation. I don’t typically use crossfeed features because they rarely produce the desired results for my tastes. Hugo 2’s crossfeed feature outshines all others I’ve tried. As a result, I used the Medium crossfeed setting for most of my casual listening – turning it off only for the close listening session below. 

Listening Notes

For detailed listening, I drove Hugo 2/2go with tracks sourced from Qobuz and TIDAL. All were rendered at their native sample rates, indicated below. Hugo 2’s EQ, crossfeed, and noise processing settings were toggled off for reference listening.

Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown from Sundown (24-bit/192 kHz PCM) 

This one gave me chills when I played it from Hugo 2 through the Meze 109 PRO. The combination instantly transported me to the early 70s when this song dominated AM radio.

The layered acoustic guitars shimmered as if they were in the room. The soundstage was enormous and airy with excellent depth, adding considerably to the perfect vibe achieved in this performance. Textural separation was also very impressive. Each instrument had plenty of room to be enjoyed distinctly in the mix. The bass and drums lock in wonderfully, exhibiting heaps of instrumental detail. Lightfoot’s voice was as warm and comforting as fine winter cognac – the plate reverb on the double-tracked vocal chorus becomes a star contributor in its own right. The Meze 109 PRO’s detail retrieval dovetailed divinely with the Hugo 2. If you’re a detail junkie, this combo deserves consideration. 

Tom Waits – Alice from Alice (24-bit/96 kHz PCM) 

Tom Waits is a musical enigma who shape-shifts between a skid-row carnival barker, a whiskey-soaked crooner, and a tin-pan alley apparition.

On this track, he leans heavily into a sweet tube mic and lays down a spoken jazz vocal that the Hugo 2 delivered absolutely brilliantly. He’s accompanied by a Paul Desmondish sax line, stand-up bass, vibes, piano, snare brushes, and other assorted magic. In my Massdrop Sennheiser 6XX cans, this song transmuted into a moody film noir with undercurrents of loss and unrequited love. 

Orchestra Baobab – Mouhamadou Bamba from Bamba: (16-bit/44.1 kHz PCM) 

Orchestra Baobab comes across as a powerhouse Afro-Carribean ensemble rather than a Senegalese music institution. Bamba compiles several of their early 80s sessions.

Mouhamadou Bamba opens with ethereal guitar and an ocean of plate reverb on the Sengalese vocals before being joined by Afro-Caribbean percussion and a pulsating reggae bass motif. A stinging tremolo-drenched overdriven guitar solo lights up the bridge with a bit of Afro Rock flavor. It’s an intoxicating blend! With the Hugo 2/2go powering the Meze 99 Classics, I noticed a touch of tape hiss sizzle in the track as I was carried blissfully away to West Africa. Meze audio cans pair exceptionally well with the Hugo 2.

John Coltrane – Afro-Blue from Live at Birdland (24-bit/192 kHz PCM) 

This track is a favorite for spotlighting the John Coltrane Quartet’s emotional and visceral power in live performance. The group drives headlong into a passionate reading of Mongo Santamaria’s classic.

Coltrane’s soprano sax soars above and inside McCoy Tyner’s fluid runs and block chords. Elvin Jones’ electrifying percussion propels the ensemble ahead while Jimmy Garrison’s double bass holds the foundation and answers Elvin’s cymbal attack. It’s genuinely mind-blowing to imagine experiencing a performance of this caliber and intensity in that tiny intimate space.

My crossfeed curiosity got the better of me when listening to this track. Using maximum crossfeed to mix channels through the warm voice of the Meze 99 Classics, I felt as if I was there when listening with my eyes closed. I’ve heard this track innumerable times and was amazed at the detail I experienced using this combination. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to some of the most esteemed headphones in existence over the last several months. The Meze Classic 99 always satisfies, even when following on the heels of Audeze’s flagship models.

Our Conclusion

The Chord Hugo 2 / 2go delivers brilliantly refined detail and warm, lush sound via its expertly designed sonics, filters, and soundstage. If you’re looking for a superior DAC/amp for headphones that also shines as an integrated component, you can’t do much better than Chord’s Hugo 2 at this price. Add Chord’s 2go, and you can easily take those sonic qualities anywhere. 

For more details, please see Chord’s partners page.

Additional Observations

  • Hugo 2 enters RMS line level mode by simultaneously holding down the power button and X-PHD buttons during power up. Though not easy to accomplish, I accidentally activated this mode while sitting down for some relaxed headphones listening. It was painfully memorable. Please use caution to avoid having a similar experience.
  • The Hugo 2’s dual headphone outputs lack individual volume controls. Volume changes affect both outputs.
  • Hugo 2’s clean design leaves no room for either an I2S or HDMI output. If either is needed, a low-cost coaxial to I2S or HDMI adapter will do the trick.
  • Hugo 2/ 2go is a tad chunky for in-pocket on-the-go use. Mojo/Mojo2/Poly is a better match if frequent mobile use is a critical requirement. 
  • Some coaxial cables may require an adapter for optimal coupling with Hugo 2’s connection points.
  • Chord products don’t offer MQA support; fans of the format will need to consider other options.

Chord Hugo 2 and 2go FAQs

Chord Electronics Hugo 2 and 2Go Review

Are the Chord Hugo 2 and 2go Roon Ready?

  • Yes, the Hugo 2 and 2go are Roon Ready! The Hugo 2, when used alone, requires a USB connection. Adding the 2go provides wireless Roon Ready streaming over your home network. 

What file formats and resolutions do the Chord Hugo 2 / 2go support?

  • Hugo 2 offers future-proof format support up to 32bit/768kHz PCM, Native DSD512, and Encapsulated DSD256.
  • 2go supports gapless PCM to 32-bit/768kHz, DSD via DoP to DSD256, and SD card DSD playback as well as FLAC, WAV, ACC, AIFF, OGG VORBIS, ALAC, WMA, and MP3 file formats. Tidal, Qobuz, Internet radio, and more with the GoFigure app.

What type of input and output connections does Hugo 2 / 2go have?

  • Hugo 2 offers four digital inputs: optical, dual configuration coaxial, Mini-USB, Roon RAAT, DNLA, AirPlay, and Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity.
  • Hugo 2 analog outputs include two headphone outs: one ¼” (6.35mm) and one ⅛” (3.5mm), plus Stereo RCA out. The RCA outs remain active when using headphones.
  • 2go inputs include long-range 2.4GHz WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1 A2Dp, Hotspot mode, and a Gigabit (GbE) ethernet port. 
  • 2go features dual MicroSD card slots capable of 4 TB of music storage.

How much play time do I get from a fully charged Hugo 2 / 2go?

  • Hugo 2 and 2go are each equipped with Mini-USB battery charging ports.
  • Hugo 2 provides 7-8 hours of music with a full charge. 
  • 2go provides about 10 hours of use with a full charge.
  • Hugo 2 / 2go allows around 7 to 8 hours of playback time when paired.
  • Intelligent desktop mode protects the Hugo 2 and 2go internal batteries from overcharging damage.
  • Hugo 2 will automatically power off when dormant for 15 minutes. This feature is deactivated when charging in desktop mode.
  • Hugo 2 and 2go allow tandem charging during use. A 2A (amps) or more charger is required. 
  • Hugo 2 has two charging modes: fast charge in 4 hours with a 2A charger and 8 hours with a charger rated under 2A.

Tech Specs:

Chord Hugo 2

  • Chipset: Chord Electronics custom-coded Xilinx Artix 7 (XC7A15T) FPGA
  • Tap-length: 49,152
  • Pulse array: 10-element pulse array design
  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz +/- 0.2dB
  • Output stage: Class A
  • Output impedance: 0.025Ω
  • THD: <0.0001% 1kHz 3v RMS 300Ω
  • THD and noise at 3v RMS: 120dB at 1kHz 300ohms ‘A’ weighted (reference 5.3v)
  • Noise 2.6 uV ‘A’ weighted: No measurable noise floor modulation
  • Signal-to-noise ratio: 126dB ‘A’ Weighted
  • Channel separation: 135dB at 1kHz 300Ω
  • Power output @ 1kHz 1% THD: 94mW 300Ω, 740mW 32Ω, 
  • 1050mW 8Ω
  • Dimensions: 5.11″ (W) x 3.97″ (H) x 0.82″ (D)
  • Weight: 12.5 ounces

Chord 2go

  • Compatibility: For 2go to perform as a fully functional streamer, a connection with Hugo 2 (DAC/Preamp/Headphone amp) or 2yu is required.
  • Power supply: Internal battery with up to 10 hrs (approx) playback. Desktop mode activated upon insertion of Micro USB charging cable).
  • Wireless connectivity: Long-range 2.4GHz WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, A2Dp
  • WiFi modes: Connect to (allows 2go to connect to an existing 2.4GHz WiFi network) or Hotspot mode (activated within the Gofigure app, which enables 2go to broadcast its own WiFi network with SSID and password in the eventuality that the device cannot connect to a static network).
  • Wired connectivity: Gigabit (GbE) ethernet
  • PCM and DSD Support: up to 32-bit/768kHZ PCM, DSD256
  • File format support: ACC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, OGG VORBIS, ALAC, WMA, MP3, and more…
  • Initial setup, configuration, and updates: Via the free Gofigure app for iOS and Android
  • Music storage: 2x Onboard Micro SD card slots (up to 4TB of total storage)
  • Playback: Roon Ready, DLNA (server and render), AirPlay, Bluetooth audio (A2DP), Tidal, Qobuz, Internet radio, and more coming…
  • Gapless playback: Supported
  • Dimensions: 1.96″ (W) x 3.97″ (H) x 0.82″ (D)
  • Weight: 5.6 ounces

What comes in the box?

Chord Hugo 2

  • User Manual
  •  Safety instructions
  •  Drawstring bag
  •  5V 2A Switching Micro USB power supply
  •  IR remote control
  •  Micro USB to Type-A USB cable
  •  Micro to Micro USB OTG cable
  •  Optical cable
  •  Optical to 3.5mm optical cable
  •  2x AAA batteries

Chord 2go:

  • Get started with the 2go guide
  •  Safety instructions
  •  Drawstring bag
  •  Micro USB to Type-A USB cable
  •  Ethernet cable
  •  2x locating screws
  •  Allen key 

Roon Ready Writeups: Audeze LCD-4z and LCD-5 Review

Roon Ready Writeups is back with part two of our profile on Audeze Headphones; and man, let me tell you, this is exciting stuff! In part one, we focused on the LCD-2 Classic and LCD-X and also included a how-to on using Roon’s Audeze plug-ins to take them to the next level for optimal performance and enhanced listening enjoyment.

In this segment, we’ll ascend the loftiest summits of Headphonia with two untouchables from Audeze’s flagship lineup, the LCD-4z, and LCD-5. We’ll explain the groundbreaking engineering behind their technical evolution, lighter weight, and near-indescribable sonic supremacy. Or we’ll try anyway… if we can pull ourselves away from searching for hidden audio jewels in our favorite music. But first… we should tell you that once you’ve heard these headphones, it may be impossible to get their sound out of your head.

Warning, the music produced by these headphones may be habit forming.

your friends at Roon.

Audeze has commanded a unique position among headphone and audio manufacturers since they released the original LCD-2 in 2009. They’re in that rarified space of being their own fiercest competitor in the race to reach audiophile Olympus. Audeze frequently exhibits a tendency for upsetting their own R&D apple cart by further iterating on prior achievements. They’re not the least bit hesitant to reimagine past perfection by releasing variations on models or dialing back changes to recapture the signature traits of a revered headphone. The LCD-4z and LCD-5 embody that boundary-pushing fearlessness in its purest form.

Audeze LCD-4z review

Technical Overview

Our previous article featured a brief summary of the advantages planar magnetic designs have over dynamic drivers and how those qualities benefit performance and sound quality. Audeze has what must be the most consistent and overtly successful track record of any headphone maker where planar magnetic driver development is concerned.

The future of headphone audio regularly makes its first appearance in Audeze’s Southern California factory, popping out of hardshell travel cases like a genie released from a bottle…

Audio Genie: Audeze, you have freed me from this headphone case… wow, nice case by the way! You may have three wishes; what is your command…?

Audeze: Hmmm, what can you help us with this time…? Oh, yes… Nano-scale diaphragms, Parallel Uniforce voice coils, and Fluxor magnet arrays, please!

It’s a silly trope, obviously. Audeze doesn’t really have an audio genie that magically helps with audio breakthroughs. (…or maybe they do) But their Flagship headphones certainly push tech to its limits with what feels like magic, and they’ve packed a lot of it into the LCD-4z and LCD-5’s eye-catching enclosures.

Headphones use two main components to make sound, the magnet, and the diaphragm. Three of Audeze’s most impressive audio advancements, Nano-scale diaphragms, Parallel Uniforce voice coils, and Fluxor magnet arrays, converge on those two areas. Here’s a brief rundown of what they do and how it translates to their performance and tonal signature.

A peek inside the LCD-5’s planar magnetic driver assembly

The LCD-4z and LCD-5 feature the lightest and fastest diaphragms Audeze has ever engineered! They’re made of flat sheets of strong, ultra-thin, lightweight, flexible film that’s ten times thinner than a red blood cell. The diaphragm actually weighs less than the air volume it’s able to move!

Audeze’s Parallel Uniforce voice coil is fused to the film and works in tandem with the ultra-powerful Fluxor Magnet array, producing more fluid, piston-like movement. The Uniforce voice coil is thinner in places where the magnetic field exerts greater force – because less internal current is required to activate the voice coil when the magnetic field is stronger. That triple shot of tech fuels the critical quicksilver speed, roughly around 20,000 diaphragm vibrations a second, needed for producing high frequencies and precise sound reproduction.

The diaphragm’s high elasticity more easily converts the electrical impulses moving through the voice coil into sound waves. The symbiotic partnership provides better control of diaphragm motion, higher efficiency, and heightened performance from the driver array. Once the drivers are assembled, they’re electronically matched to create better performance synergy within the headphone.

Pairing those advancements with ongoing Fazor waveguide and contoured earpad improvements culminates in the LCD-4z and LCD-5’s unsurpassed ability to bring music to life with breathtaking clarity, resolution, and accuracy. Improved efficiency results in unparalleled transient response and virtually distortion-free listening, producing the smooth precision, vivid realism, and tonal reproduction Audeze’s flagship headphones are known for.

The LCD-4z and LCD-5 result from Audeze’s alchemistic mashups of existing models and their willingness to revisit perfection to squeak more performance out of previous achievements.

LCD-4z

The LCD-4z is extremely popular with audio professionals for its incisive technical ability, musicality, and finesse in revealing every detail in the mix. The LCD-4z’s low impedance makes it a perfect grab-and-go reference headphone. It can be driven with any portable device, but Audeze recommends at least 250 milliwatts of source output power for the best LCD-4z performance.  The LCD-4z was born by blending the LCD-X’s low impedance flexibility with the original LCD-4’s driver technology for faster transient and impulse response, more precise imaging, and deep, accurate bass with low distortion.

LCD-5

The newer LCD-5, introduced in 2021, was designed entirely from scratch. Audeze assembled its best in-house technology and gathered feedback on previous models when conceiving the LCD-5. According to Sankar Thiagasamudram, Audeze’s CEO, none of the LCD-5’s parts are used with other LCD models.

Their goal was to reduce weight and modernize the Audeze look while preserving and besting the sonic signature of prior Flagship models. For that, it trades the LCD-4’s double-sided 106mm magnet array in favor of a single-sided, 90mm Fluxor magnet array paired with Audeze’s updated Fazor waveguides. The LCD-5 rates at just 14 ohms impedance. It’s powerable with the headphone out of just about any device, but device output power level of at least 500mW (1/2 a watt) will produce ideal results. Clean, ample power always delivers sonic advantages.

Aesthetics and Design

The LCD-4z and LCD-5 plug right into Audeze’s familiar profile, but there are plenty of new traits to explore. Audeze are masters of subtlety; their enthusiasm to eke out even the most fractional improvements in audio technology and sound also carries over to aesthetic and cable design. These folks strive for improvement and perfection in every aspect of the development, build, and assembly process. Every pair of Audeze headphones is hand-made for better quality control in their So-Cal HQ.

Audeze LCD-4z for review

LCD-4z

The LCD-4z’s design ingredients list includes the following:

  • High-grade aluminum.
  • New lighter-weight magnesium earcup rings and grill cover.
  • A tasty carbon fiber headband with a perforated genuine leather strap.
  • Soft black lambskin earpads filled with plump comfy memory foam.

The weight distribution and comfort of the LCD-4z are excellent, with only minimal downward and clamping pressure. An elegant splash of gold adorns the yoke logo, extension rods, gimbal lettering, and wire mesh under the grill. The earcup uses standard dual 4-pin mini-XLR connectors. Everything comes packed in a rugged, foam-padded professional travel case.

Audeze LCD-5 review

LCD-5

As previously mentioned, the LCD-5 was designed entirely from scratch. The grill cover, gimbal, and underlying design elements are featherweight magnesium. LCD-5 completes the redesign with a new carbon fiber headband, strap design, elegant tortoiseshell acetate earcups, and subdued black mesh inserts. The new extension rods have deeper notches for more precise sizing. A small knurled tip on the rod makes those adjustments more tactile.

LCD-5 also includes Audeze’s latest and greatest sculpted earpad design. The new pad slopes downward toward the driver in a near-triangular shape that minimizes contact with the listener’s head creating a better seal on more surfaces. The design optimizes the acoustic chamber inside the earpad, reduces resonance, improves air control, smooths frequency response, and enhances definition across all frequencies. The seal, clamp, and design benefits are most evident in the tight, controlled low-end. We’ll cover sound quality in more detail soon.

The new pads aren’t as plush as those of other LCD models, but they’re a noticeable improvement and no less comfortable. The pads are glued on. And boy, do some internet folks have stuff to say about that! Audeze explains that gluing is still the best way to attach the pads for uncompromised sound quality and promises they’ll modify their process if they find something that works better.

I’ll happily take their word on that. They’ve built many more amazing headphones models than I ever have. The score is something like 30 to zip in favor of Audeze. So we’ll stick to the “they’ll make them, and I’ll write about them” arrangement, given that’s what we’re both best at.

It’s my assessment that Audeze nailed its vision for the LCD-5 on all fronts. The design strategy execution is flawless, especially concerning comfort. It weighs in at under 15 ounces for their lightest headphone yet. These are easily as comfortable as the Meze 109 PRO and Meze 99 Classic/NEO, the previous occupants of the top spots in my “most comfortable headphones ever” shortlist.

As I write this, someone somewhere on the internet is moaning as if the LCD-5 has the gravitational pull of a black hole. Before you let random weight complaints from people you don’t know shape your thinking, please try them first. Anyone whose focus is on the comfort and clamping force of the LCD-5 instead of how rapturous they sound is paying too much attention to the wrong stuff. Not to put down folks’ opinions, but really… it’s the sound, man.

Sound Impressions

I’ll begin this section by saying that I may struggle to adequately convey what these headphones sound like. There are certain times when words utterly fail to capture the emotional impact of our experiences with music. And the LCD-4z and LCD-5 exude musical qualities that are simply beyond the reach of written language. But I’ll still give it the old college try.

Both models are cited as reference headphones by audio professionals. Listening to either instantly reveals why; they deliver transparency, accuracy, resolution, and the joy of music in a way that has to be heard to be properly understood. Detail retrieval and responsiveness are taken to previously unheard levels.

Transients and instrumental decays resolve thoroughly. The leading edges of notes are crisp, and dynamics are preternaturally agile. Imaging is hyper-precise; the staging width is natural with a slight foreground and good depth but varies depending on the production characteristics of the source track. Instrumental layering is excellent, and sheer technical performance is outstanding. Audio detail can be reductionist if required for forensically examining mixes.

If you’re a listener who yearns for a deep connection with lyrical poetry and vocals when listening to music, you should definitely audition the LCD-4z and LCD-5. There’s an incandescent immediacy, intimacy, and expressiveness to both that I’ve only heard in recording studios, live performances, and these headphones. It’s almost as if you’re part of the music, inside it in some way.

Their phenomenal presentation of vocals reminds me of the first time I experienced an Aphex Aural Exciter in person during a recording session. It sounded like the engineer had sprinkled pixie dust on the vocal track. It was infused with sparkle, life, and a near three-dimensional realism. But it somehow didn’t sound the least bit like we had patched in an outboard effect. I was blown away. The LCD-4z and LCD-5 produce similarly captivating vocal excitement while feeling entirely neutral and transparent.

Audeze LCD-4z review

LCD-4z

The LCD-4z has a very linear tonal presentation across the entire frequency spectrum. It may measure otherwise, so I’ll clarify that I’m simply describing what the headphone sounds like to me – because I listen to music with my ears, not measurement tools. I’m not knocking measurement graphs, though, if you dig that stuff. They can be interesting, but equally deceptive.

The bass is rich, round, yummy – and natural. I credit that to driver design’s technical abilities more than tuning trickery. Bass extension is generous with great heft and no discernible sub-bass roll-off. Hearing a Hammond B3 organ cat dig in with proper drawbar chops is gloriously ASMR-inducing through the LCD-4z!

The Mids are truly decadent, with unmatched richness, verve, and presence that’s free of all artificiality. Instrumentation and vocals exude in-the-room-immediacy, yet don’t feel unnaturally pushed.

The Treble is exceptionally sweet and linear to the ear. The perceived volume of treble frequencies can fool chart readers. The LCD-4z has excellent air and brilliance, lively abundant detail retrieval, resolution, and clarity are all appropriately measured out and don’t feel fiddled with.

For my personal tastes, the LCD-4z is now my favored headphone for listening to music.

LCD-5

The descriptive power of words rather gives up the ghost when attempting to capture how transcendent music sounds when heard through the LCD-5. I’ll start by saying their technical abilities are genuinely startling when you first listen to them. I thought there might be marginal sound quality gains over the LCD-4z, but there’s much more going on than I initially expected. Despite that, the LCD-5 doesn’t exude an overly clinical nature. Far from it, in fact, yet gazing into mixes for detail retrieval, accuracy, and error checking is effortless when required.

The LCD-5 has an exceptionally linear perceived tonal cohesion. I’ve seen measurement charts and read reviews that say otherwise. But I’ll emphasize again that measurements and how we actually perceive frequency loudness when listening to headphones don’t always jive. That’s why it’s essential to actually listen and form your own sound-quality opinions. We all hear things differently; our ears are the ultimate authority.

Audeze LCD-5 review

The LCD-5s have natural, full-bodied, wonderfully rounded, meaty bass that’s capable of astonishing depth. There’s slightly less warmth when compared to the LCD-4z, but bass energy is abundant, tight, and nimble, thanks to the compounded audio tech that’s packed into the driver design. Bass texture and character are unquestionably the best I’ve ever heard. There’s subtle skin grain to hand percussion and congas. Full kit drum voices are more substantial, especially on toms and kick drums. The legends of Jazz drumming are a revelation when heard through these. Some critics have dismissed the LCD-5’s bass chops, but my take is that they never stoop to shoveling artificially EQ’d bass gunk down our ear holes, and I’m absolutely cool with that.

Mids are positively amazing, exuding in-the-room resolution, dynamics, and tonal color that exceeds anything else I’ve ever heard in a headphone. There’s simply unbelievable life-like music energy on display here that I’ve only previously experienced in the studio or live performance. The LCD-5 is especially stunning when delivering classic rock, heavy soul, live albums, jazz, classical pieces, and acoustic singer-songwriters. Piano tracks are incredibly commanding. The LCD-5 delivers the finest piano reproduction I’ve heard. Chordal resonance and decay within the body resolve fully with thoroughly organic character.

Where the LCD-5 delivers pure, unadulterated, sonic gold is with voices. Vocal intimacy and nuance are three-dimensional, magnificently vivid, strikingly true-to-life, and unrivaled by any other headphones I’ve reviewed or heard previously.

Upper mid-range energy is a bit pronounced in the LCD-5 initially. It settles down nicely as the headphones break in, however. I’ve seen a few reviewers call the LCD-5’s upper mids shouty. I didn’t experience that personally and suspect those remarks could have been prompted by the production values of the source material rather than shortcomings with the LCD-5’s upper mids/treble border management. The LCD-5’s DSP preset in Roon smoothed the upper mids handily when I applied it, even before the LCD-5s had thoroughly broken in.

The perceived volume of treble frequencies can deceive measurement chart adherents. Audeze really nailed the treble tuning in my assessment. There’s nothing missing here, to my ears. Air and brilliance feel natural and blend seamlessly with upper mids. Treble representation is sensed more than heard in some frequency ranges. Much of what we’re listening for is a thin layer of sweetening to the mids and upper mids that adds sparkle to instrumentation and vocals.

In some cases, that comes from delicate shading in timbre, texture, and grain. One of the most conspicuous differences between the LCD-4z and LCD-5 is in their treatment of these subtitles. Vocal overtones, snare spring sizzle, and cymbal decay tails are the best I’ve heard anywhere. Vocal harmonies give way to more clearly discernable individual voice attributes.

All told transparency, accuracy, and detail surpass anything I’ve heard before. Instrumental and vocal realism is supernatural. Listening to music through the LCD-5 is transformative; I don’t know what else to say.

Listening Notes

For close listening, I drove the LCD-4z and LCD-5 with the Roon Ready iFi NEO Stream feeding a Mytek THX AAA HPA amp using Audeze’s stock premium single-ended cable plugged into the HPA’s unbalanced input. Tracks were sourced from Qobuz and TIDAL and rendered at their native sample rates, indicated below. 

The Turtles – Elenore from The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands  (24-bit/96 kHz PCM)

The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands was released to showcase the band’s songwriting and artistic versatility. The album playfully masquerades as a various artists’ “Battle of the Bands” record, with The Turtles performing under different names for each musical style. Elenore, a perfect specimen of chamber pop and the band’s talent, was initially conceived as a throw-away parody. It was written in under an hour and designed to quiet their record label’s constant demands for a sequel to their smash hit “Happy Together.” Despite vocalist and writer Howard Kaylan’s heavy use of saccharine lyrical clichés, the song became a surprise Top 10 single. Thanks in no small part to its divine harmonies, lush arrangement, and radiant production – all of which shine beautifully when heard with the LCD-4z and LCD-5.

LCD-4z

Plenty has been said about the LCD-4z’s prowess for letting audio professionals and listeners peer deep into dense mixes, and this track highlights that strength. Elenore gets underway with punchy propulsive piano chords, hand percussion, bass guitar, and the lovely lead vocal. The full kit, guitar, and a luminescent wall of harmony vocals join in for the chorus. One of the earliest pop music appearances of a Moog synthesizer sneaks into the second verse, adding an additional whimsical motif and unexpected tonal color.  

The LCD-4z’s tonal balance and cohesion are superb. The presentation overall is very full, smooth, and linear. The track’s production has loads of mid-range energy, but the layering of instrumentation remains uncluttered even when we’re hit with that enormous glistening vocal chorus. Elenore is a dainty pop stunner without a heavy bottom end, so there’s not much bass chat for this particular track. Highs are perfectly dialed in and lifelike. The multitracked harmonies are wonderfully airy and articulate. Snare snaps and cymbal shimmer are crisp and vivid.

A lot is going on in the mix, but detail retrieval is effortless and highly satisfying. The soundstage is realistic and natural, with excellent depth. Imaging is laser precise; every instrumental element in the mix has plenty of space to breathe and contribute. Resolution is exceptional; reverb tails and instrumental decay resolve completely. The LCD-4z’s vocal presentation is intimate and wonderfully expressive. The multitracked lead vocal and layered harmonies are breathtakingly vivid, with incredible presence and excitement. The reverb decay at the end of the track is a thumbnail portrait of the LCD-4’s technical performance capabilities. 

LCD-5

As I said earlier in our sound impressions summary, the technical abilities of the LCD-5 are truly startling when first experienced. I thought there might be a marginal difference between it and the LCD-4z, but Elenore has a lot more to survey than I expected. 

Transparency, accuracy, and detail transcend anything I’ve heard before, and realism is extraordinary. Vocal intimacy is unmatched, very close sounding, and exceptionally clear. With minimal effort, vocals can be examined as if they were isolated tracks. The same can be said of all the instrumentation. At the same time, the LCD-5 isn’t overly clinical and doesn’t reduce songs to their component parts.

The remarkable difference in texture delivery between the models is clearly highlighted. The shimmer of the snare spring and cymbal splash has a more crisply defined nature. The layered harmonies reveal individual voice timbres more clearly. The lively mid-range energy in this track comes through like a technicolor cannon. It’s genuinely incredible.

Neil Young – Heart of Gold from Harvest 50th Anniversary Edition (24-bit/192 kHz PCM)

Chances are good that neither the artist, track, nor album requires any introduction. If they do, a selection of gifted music writers have taken the fact-finding plunge on this album and surfaced with pearls. I picked up the 50th Anniversary box set of Harvest to have the physical book, even if I find streaming the music from Roon easier and more enjoyable. I was eager to hear what Audeze’s flagship would do with Neil’s most popular album. 

LCD-4z

Neil’s classic comes through the LCD-4z like molten honey. This track explains why people call this a warm, rich tuning. Heart of Gold is perfect for these headphones. I’m sure the same could be said for most classic or live-album rock. 

This is an overly familiar track, the kind we almost soft-tune and listen to passively because we’ve heard it so frequently. But the LCD-4z opens up the mix revealing hidden veins of diamonds in the lush, dense acoustic arrangement.

The tonal saturation of the guitars is sweet and shimmering. The bass is warm and close, locking up snuggly with the spare drumming. The air from the harmonica, acoustics, and steel guitar slide through the upper register smoothly. The snare has a crisp snap. Reverb tails are abundant and fun to chase.

Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor’s backing vocals provide a wonderful vocal contrast with Neil’s lead in the final chorus. The balance between instrumentation and vocals is perfect. The mix sounds incredible in these headphones and has more foreground and overall depth than the previous track.

Carefully chosen reference tracks help demonstrate that the LCD-4z gives you precisely what’s in the final mix and presents it with better sound quality than you’ve ever heard.

LCD-5

..until you put on the LCD-5! Similar to Elenore, this is another step up in detail and resolution. A significant difference here, though, is that Heart of Gold has a great bass line, a lopping drum shuffle, and more layered guitars to work with, and it makes the absolute most of all of it. The LCD-5’s driver advancements step forward confidently. The tonal presentation is so balanced and natural but has wonderful fullness and radiates live music energy. This is the most detailed, rich, and nuanced presentation I expect to ever hear of Neil’s intoxicating early 70s classic. 

Charles Mingus – Better Git Hit in Your Soul from Mingus at Antibes (16-bit/44.1 kHz PCM)

Charles Mingus was a volatile larger-than-life jazz composer, bassist, personality, and legend. He’s often credited with helping anchor hard bop as one of jazz’s most popular hybrid strains. Mingus routinely drew inspiration from gospel, blues, and R&B feeding it all through a funky, deep-swinging, rollicking jazz engine that all his own. Mingus once said that the best jazz performances should feel like a Black gospel tent revival and claimed that this live 1960 Jazz à Juan Festival was one occasion when his Jazz Workshop bottled lightning.

LCD-4z

The track opens with light applause and audience chatter as Mingus propels the piece forward with a peppy bass intro before the Dolphy, Ervin, and Curson horn trifecta jump in with a jubilant motif that channels Mingus’s lat 50s pantomime The Clown. Spirited vocal call-and-response erupts among the Workshop cats who are laying out during solo breaks. It’s a tour de force display that swings with euphoric intensity.

The band and audience provide handclaps when members first lay in for their solo helpings. Curson leads with sweet and peppery trumpet choruses. Booker Ervin cuts a huge bluesy trench through the track’s sonic tapestry. The always transcendent Eric Dolphy twists himself into driving stream-of-consciousness soulful riffs than come straight out of jazz Shambala. Dannie Richmond cranks his kit up to crackling tempos punctuated with break-neck stop-on-a-dime rumbling tom rolls as counterpoint. Richmond is a criminally underrated jazz drummer whose name should be heard mentioned among the greats.

The full ensemble leans in on the follow-up solo choruses, stoking the rhythmic coals beneath each soloist, eliciting soaring ecstatic bursts of impassioned riffs from each member in turn. Mingus unexpectedly decamps from the upright bass to pound the defenseless piano during the melee, further provoking the kinetic instrumental frenzy.

I’ll never forget my first experiences with this track. I’ve enjoyed it tremendously over the years and used to spin it regularly on a jazz radio show. The imaging, detail, and staging are better on this recording than any other I’ve demoed thus far. It showcases the LCD-4z’s jazz presentation chops wonderfully. You gotta hear it.

LCD-5

The same “better everything and more of it” treatment we’ve gotten thus far is ladled on Better Git Hit in Your Soul – as if answering the call to action in the track title! Transparency and detail are of much finer granularity revealing macro details. A previously unnoticed listener near Mingus’ recorder can be heard saying “cool bass” at about twelve seconds in.

Textural subtleties are more distinct. The voice-like approach of each of the horn cats shines through with greater sass and funk now. Mingus’ outbursts are even more comically beatific. I’m wiped out from the sheer joy of listening and feel like I’ve just witnessed the performance from the festival orchestra pit – four times in a row!

Conclusion

The LCD-4z and LCD-5 exude musical qualities that are simply beyond the reach of written language.

Audeze’s LCD-4z and LCD-5 represent the apex of headphone audio technology and sound quality -and they come with a price that speaks for the astounding innovation and sensory euphoria they deliver.

They pull the listener into a sonic wonderland that is nearly impossible to leave. I was able to hear detail and texture I’d never heard previously in music I’d listened to for my entire life. And not from tomfoolery or trickery – but from audio technology, innovation, and passion that delivers the most vivid, natural, transparent, thrilling, and soul-stirring headphone experience currently available. 

Listening to these headphones is just about the best experience I’ve ever had with recorded music. That’s a profound statement because music is a daily staple of my life and has been for decades. If you’re searching for headphones that will transport you to the heart and soul of music. The LCD-4z and LCD-5 will take you there.

For more details, please see Audeze’s partners page.

Additional Observations

  • The LCD-5s push a lot of mid-range energy than generally heard from Audeze headphones initially. It naturally dissipates as they break in and the diaphragm is exercised. The Audeze DSP plug-in for the The LCD-5 in Roon also smooths it out very nicely.
  • There may have been an issue with the sizing rods on our review model of the LCD-4z. They were too relaxed for my taste. Several times during wear, they suddenly extended a notch or two, even with very slight head movement. It was a distraction that occasionally detracted from my listening enjoyment. The LCD-2C, LCD-X, and LCD-5 didn’t have that problem.
  • Both models ship with Audeze’s premium black and white crystal-infused 2.5m OCC copper cable. It’s a high-quality, flexible, tangle-free cable with a non-microphonic jacket. Many headphone buyers like to swap cables. Audeze’s premium cable wouldn’t need an upgrade.
  • 60s Chamber Pop tracks with layered harmonies sounded unbelievable through these headphones. The Beach Boys, Rascals, Lovin’ Spoonful, Byrds, The Association, and Simon & Garfunkel were hugely satisfying when heard through either the LCD-4z or LCD-5.
  • If you’re into classic or live album rock, give these headphones a try. They have incredible synergy with those genres.

Tech Specs:

LCD-4z

  • Driver Type: Planar magnetic
  • Magnetic structure: Double Fluxor™ magnet array
  • Ear Cup Design: Open back
  • Phase Management: Fazor
  • Transducer Size: 106mm
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz – 50kHz
  • THD: <0.1% @ 100dB
  • Sensitivity: 98 dB/1mW
  • Impedance: 15 Ω
  • Weight: 1 lb, 1 ounce
  • Materials: Steel, magnesium, aluminum, carbon fiber, leather, memory foam 
  • Warranty period: 1-3 years

LCD-5

  • Driver Type: Planar magnetic
  • Magnetic structure: Double Fluxor™ magnet array
  • Ear Cup Design: Open back
  • Phase Management: Fazor
  • Transducer Size: 90mm
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz – 50kHz
  • THD: <0.1% @ 100dB
  • Sensitivity: 90 dB/1mW
  • Impedance: 14 Ω
  • Weight: 14.8 ounces
  • Materials: Steel, magnesium, aluminum, acetate, carbon fiber, leather, memory foam 
  • Warranty period: 1-3 years

What comes in the box:

LCD-4z

  • LCD-4z headphones
  • Audeze premium travel case
  • Premium 1.9m 1/4″ to dual 4-pin mini-XLR cable
  • Product paperwork

LCD-5

  • LCD-5 headphones
  • Premium aluminum travel case 
  • Premium braided 2.5m Cable 4-Pin XLR Balanced cable
  • 4-Pin XLR to 1/4″ adapter
  • White cotton gloves
  • Product paperwork
  • 2 keys

Roon Ready Writeups: Audeze LCD-2 Classic and LCD-X Headphones Review

These are a few of my favorite things

We’re back and super excited to get right down to business because, this time, we get to knock out three of our favorite things in a single article.   

  1. Answer your questions.
  2. Discuss the two legends of head-fi from a Roon partner, the Audeze LCD-2 Classic and LCD-X headphones.
  3. And, share a how-to for a great Roon feature that helps any Audeze headphones sound their very best.

If you’re thinking, “more headphones? How can headphones be that different… ?” You’re not alone. Many Roon subscribers have returned to headphones or explored them for the first time, thanks to Roon ARC. They’ve also asked why anyone would have multiple pairs of headphones and wondered why not get one pair that works for everything?

Audeze lcd 2 classic review

Well, if I were to reveal secrets, the real reason why many of us own multiple pairs of headphones is that they’re an exotic gear landscape custom-made for audio obsessives. The chase for that magic sound is reinforced and enabled by everyone involved. It’s incredible, you should try it!

A slightly more reserved answer is that headphones help us play to the strengths of our favorite music and listening environment. They can satisfy multiple listening experiences, from laid-back immersive listening to focused detail exploration and anything in between. They’re perfect for creating an ideal personalized listening space immune to room coloration, one that can be transformed tonally just by swapping out headphones and is mobile by design.

They’re unquestionably the easiest way to do all that… unless you’re willing to change or add an entire system to your listening room whenever you have the inkling to experiment with sound. And, with the release of Roon ARC, many listeners have realized that headphones are ideal complements to any Roon system. All perfect reasons to discuss and listen to two head-fi legends, the Audeze LCD-2 Classic and LCD-X.

And as a bonus, we’ll show you how to use the Audeze headphone DSP plug-ins, included free in Roon, to get the best sound from any pair of Audeze monitors you decide on or already own.

audeze lcd 2 classic review

LCD-2 Classic and LCD-X: the legend and the gold standard

Technical overview

The LCD-2 is the headphone that established Audeze’s bona fides when it was released in 2009. Since then, it has evolved and benefitted from numerous advancements in audio technology. But in doing so, some felt it had traded one type of sonic magic for another. And being the music listeners we are, many of us wished we could have both – the classic and the new LCD-2 sound. So Audeze, being the gracious folks they are, kindly obliged us. The result is the LCD-2 Classic which dials the LCD-2 back to its original tuning by adding a dash of additional sweetening and removing the Fazor phase management technology of the current LCD-2.

The LCD-X is Audeze’s studio workhorse and their most popular headphone among audio recording, mixing, and mastering professionals. Its accurate presentation provides realistic transparent playback that closely resembles the neutrality of an acoustically treated studio. The LCD-X was updated slightly in 2021, lending enhanced mid-range linearity, a restructured magnetic array, reduced weight, and fit improvements, making it an even more attractive contender in Audeze’s model lineup. 

Both models are open-back planar magnetic designs that feature 106mm diaphragms! That’s a glorious four inches plus of bookshelf speaker-sized driver for each side of your head! Both models are exceptionally easy to drive. The LCD-2C has an impedance rating of 70 ohms. The LCD-X is rated at just 20 ohms and can be powered by any portable device.

Planar magnetic designs have a lot of advantages over dynamic dome drivers. They’re much more efficient and push larger volumes of air with a more fluid range of motion. Planar magnetic transducers use an ultra-thin polymer film for a highly flexible driver assembly, and the voice coil is printed directly upon it. The entire mechanism is then sandwiched between two staggered magnet arrays. Resulting in nimble dynamics, wide frequency response, lightning-fast transients, greater transparency, excellent control, immersive detail, more realistic imaging, lifelike musicality, and better sound – free of distortion and other driver-introduced artifacts. Which translates roughly to “all good and nothing bad” We’ll dig into their sound signatures more in just a moment.

Bomb-proof design and build quality

At first glance, the LCD-2C and LCD-X appear nearly identical; but upon closer examination, slight differences emerge. Both models feature an overbuilt modern black industrial design with a flash of chrome courtesy of the yokes and screw heads. 

audeze lcd x review

The LCD-2C utilizes crystal-infused nylon for a nearly indestructible earcup. LCD-X features understated polished black aluminum rings. Audeze logo grill guards, the standard textured matte black spring steel headband, and synthetic leather head strap are employed on both.

Audeze’s improved contoured earpads provide a perfect seal around the ear for better sound and comfort. The plush molded memory foam is covered in soft vegan leather on the Classic. The LCD-X offers buyers a choice of vegan or genuine leather.

Regarding comfort, the LCD-2C and LCD-X aren’t lightweight headphones; they’re both over a pound. But they’re not uncomfortable. The headband and strap balance the weight nicely, and the clamping pressure is reasonable. I’ve worn them for several hours over many days without any discomfort. Aside from that, it kinda feels rude to complain about headphones that sound this good being uncomfortable. They weren’t such a problem that they distracted me from enjoying the music, not for an instant. If clamping pressure and weight are a concern, give them a chance, their sound is absolutely worth it! Speaking of…

Audeze lcd x review

Sound impressions

As the ancient audio texts advise: Listen ye first, then charts read.

Ancient Audio Texts

LCD-2 Classic

Reviewing the LCD-2 Classic’s sound is somewhat challenging because they’re cleverly hypnotizing! They’re headphones for disappearing inside the music, not so much for analyzing it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an attractive praise-worthy trait that some reviewers have puzzlingly chosen to fault rather than recognize.

The LCD-2C shines in its balance of frequencies and classic hi-fi presentation. Bass is wonderfully rich, full-bodied, natural, and energetic. These kick plenty large on bass-heavy tracks with exceptional, smooth extension. And lows ease effortlessly into the mids like honey. My classic roots rock reggae tracks sound like they were made for these headphones.  

Audeze lcd 2 classic review

Mids are balanced but wonderfully full and warm, enveloping the listener. Acoustic instruments are rendered with sumptuously saturated tonal color. Male and female vocals are intimate, vivid, and lifelike. Allegedly some frequency response charts say the LCD-2 Classic lacks vocal presence, but I never felt them insufficient in that area. Presence is subtle when unaltered, and the LCD-2C feels natural in this range to me. Further proving that the best measurement tool is our ears. As the ancient audio texts advise: Listen ye first, then charts read.

The LCD-2 Classic’s upper mids and treble are slightly rounded and softer sounding by design. The original LCD-2 was a warm, pleasing, laid-back headphone – and that’s the LCD-2C’s tuning target. Listeners who admire an audiophile presentation with crisp detail and abundant air may not initially gel with the LCD-2 Classic. But for relaxed immersive listening, it’s a beautiful match for most musical styles and unbeatable for some. 

The soundstage is wide, close, and enveloping but with less distinct imaging. That results from LCD-2C’s ability to place the listener inside the music. It’s a supremely enjoyable headphone that hung well with my review tracks and was perfect for casual listening.      

LCD-X

Coming from Audeze’s Reference Series, LCD-X sits at the other side of the tuning spectrum and welcomes more technical detailed inspection. As the preferred reference headphone of audio engineers and musicians, it provides the neutral yet wonderfully musical presentation necessary for creating accurate recordings. Mastering and mixing engineers rely on LCD-X to ensure tracks translate transparently to the real world. Their ability to mimic a perfectly acoustically treated studio gives recording professionals a reliable mobile reference tool and rewards close listening enthusiasts with music delivery that reflects the artist’s original creative intent.

Here again, we’re treated to decadent bass response. Some planar magnetic, open-back cans are a bit bass anemic, but Audeze isn’t your typical headphone. LCD-X delivers remarkable slam and weighty body that approaches full-size dynamic speaker drivers. It’s immense and rich but well-controlled – never flabby or bloated. Bass energy is punchy, and extension is excellent, effortlessly plumming sub-bass. This is, without question, the most satisfying bass I’ve heard from a planar magnetic design for the price.

The LCD-X’s midrange underwent mild precision adjustments in the 2021 version making it one of the most neutral and natural-sounding Audeze models to date. The re-tuning corrected mild shortcomings in the previous version but didn’t undo any of its musicality or flair. There’s still lush mids saturation, but the changes deliver better definition and balance overall with an expressive vocal presentation that doesn’t resort to excessive artificiality. Instruments are vivid, detail reproduction is precise, and resolution is pristine. Overall, the mids are shamelessly beautiful, balanced, and fully enjoyable, leaving nothing wanting.

The treble of the LCD-X is exceptional and technically capable – exhibiting a silky organic quality. Air and detail are dialed in impeccably. Sizzle and brilliance are spot-on. Some reviews I’ve seen call the LCD-X’s highs “soft.” Soft certainly wouldn’t have been the first adjective that sprung to my mind. I’d call them not overdone. That’s not a fault; they’re faithful and realistic to my ears. Pushing a tuning to create qualities in music that aren’t there doesn’t jive with the transparency needed in a reference tool like the LCD-X.

Sadly, one of the most unfortunate lasting side effects of “audiophile” tuning is its disdain for natural treble balance. This may be one of the most assiduous afflictions to assail recorded music after over-compression. The LCD-X avoids it by pegging its highs perfectly, delivering lifelike treble that’s dynamic, snappy, and articulate. Subtle details like reverb tails and natural instrument decay are wonderfully displayed and true to form.

This could be one of the best headphone treble presentations out there. It certainly is at this price point. It’s authentic and detailed with outstanding resolution and texture, yet never grainy, exaggerated, or strident. LCD-X is entirely capable of providing forensic insight into mixes or fulfilling engaged listening sessions for detail junkies. 

The soundstage of the LCD-X is narrower when compared to the LCD-2C, as we’d expect from a reference headphone. The rendering is decidedly less forward. It’s still close and intimate, but where the LCD-2C places the listener directly inside the music with hard center, left, and right staging, LCD-X evokes the optimized listening depth provided by near-field desk monitors – a more convincing and true-to-life presentation. The professional capabilities of the LCD-X are overtly baked into every aspect of its character. Stereo imaging and separation are vivid and pinpoint accurate, communicating its studio pedigree and reference dependability. Those traits also mean that it suits pure detailed listening enjoyment exceptionally well. 

The LCD-X easily outshines headphones several times their cost and leaves nothing wanting for listeners who admire accuracy, rich presentation, natural detail, and musical realism that perfectly balances professional applications with incisive music appreciation. They assume either role effortlessly.  I’m confident in naming the LCD-X the most musically enjoyable and technically capable headphones available at this price point.

Listening notes

For close listening, I drove the LCD-2 Classic and LCD-X with the Roon Ready iFi NEO Stream feeding a Mytek THX AAA HPA amp with tracks from Qobuz and TIDAL. 

All tracks were rendered at their native sample rates, indicated for each track below. We’ve chosen one of them for a before and after using Audeze’s integrated DSP presets in Roon – including a step-by-step so you can try them out. 

Arthur Rubenstein – Chopin: Nocturne No. 19 in E Minor from Chopin: The Nocturnes on RCA Red Seal (24-bit/96 kHz PCM)

Our selection of later-era Rubenstein doesn’t coyly indicate taking a side in the quiet war over which of his periods is definitive. This performance is so utterly lyrical, assured, relaxed yet percussive and absurdly enjoyable through these headphones that the decision was essentially made for us.

LCD-2 Classic

Duke Ellington once said, “The piano is an orchestra…” This performance illuminates Duke’s statement brilliantly. Rubenstein’s performance of Chopin’s Nocturnes in later life is decidedly less technical but more romantic and truer to their essence of longing and melancholy. 

The LCD-2 Classic delivers this piece with intoxicating luxurious beauty. Its’ lows and mid-range, combined with the staging intimacy, impart Rubenstein’s percussive left-hand attack deep in the chest as delicate right-hand motifs dance fluidly inside the body of the instrument. 

When his reading of the high register becomes more insistent, the notes are crisp and textured yet sublimely controlled and passionate. This piece proves that the LCD-2C retains technical listening capabilities; notes and piano body resonance resolve distinctly, but the LCD-2C truly shines at immersive listening. Rubenstein’s performance is beguiling and effortlessly draws the listener deep inside its embrace.

LCD-X

Inviting the performance to inhabit the LCD-X reveals even greater spirit and ardor tucked within Rubenstein’s interpretation. The performance is no less beautiful with the added detail and transparency. It retains all its romanticism while bringing crisper resolution to subtleties. 

The highs command an evener balance with the low-end and mid-frequency ranges. This piece singlehandedly dismisses claims of LCD-X being marred by soft highs. This is an exceptionally refined yet fervent listening experience. Hearing Nocturne No. 19’s final notes fade inside the body vibration of the piano is a treat. The LCD-X’s treatment of classical solo piano is simply lovely and not to be missed. 

Fred Neil – I’ve Got a Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree) from Fred Neil (16-bit/44 kHz PCM)

Fred Neil was an eccentric troubadour who gregariously reigned over the late 50s/early 60s Greenwich Village scene with a near-mystical presence, taking young arrivals like Bob Dylan and David Crosby under his wing. His second album Fred Neil is a stone classic containing two of his most prolific compositions, The Dolphins and Everybody’s Talkin’, but it’s his incredibly soulful revision of this Elizabeth Cotton folky that knocks us sideways and exhibits all of Neil’s most majestic superpowers.

LCD-2 Classic

Neil’s reverb-laden guitar, a submerged acoustic, and looping jazz bass kick the song off and are quickly joined by a silky whistled melody line. Fred’s vocals drop right into the pocket, cradled in the mother of all reverb. The others lay out reverently until Fred’s through the buttery opening chorus. A second electric leans in, pulling rubbery tremolo behind it. The snare picks up, and another acoustic guitar slides in. The track floats along on rich mids and bass with a softened but lovely high end. 

The star player is Fred’s vocal, and LCD-2C’s staging pulls the listener completely inside it as he massages the plate reverb and plums bass notes from a well of smokey vibrato. It feels like we’re hearing his heavenly polished mahogany baritone from inside his head. The instrumental layering is dense and somewhat amorphous, which may not be to every taste. But the track was born for the tonal capabilities of the LCD-2C. 

Its hypnotic quality meshes brilliantly with these headphones, and it’s challenging to pull away from immersive enjoyment into technical listening. Those who relish airy separation may feel they’re trading detail for the lush presentation. 

LCD-X

Immediately we’re treated to finer details when switching to the LCD-X. The recessed acoustic hiding in the previous intro has shimmer, space, and greater clarity. The upright bass is full and rounded. Reverb tails in Fred’s vocals are clear and resolve smoothly. The effortless rhythmic flow produces a shiver when the full band drops in. 

The track still presents a warming organic quality with layered richness, but everything is more distinct. The nicotine tar on Fred’s voice peeks through in places, and the guitars exhibit more nuance. Slight subtle variations on the pulsing rhythm break the surface conspicuously. The vast reverb adds excellent top end, and the snare, while still laid back, has light snap and spring resonance. The overall presentation is detailed, tonally balanced, and yet moderately classic hi-fi, probably from the outstanding mid and bass performance. 

My pick between the LCD-2C and LCD-X for this one is the LCD-X. Everything I liked about the LCD-2C is still here, but the added transparency lends clarity for hearing further into the track without diminishing its captivating allure.   

Roon’s Audeze DSP plug-in feature

The plug-ins from Audeze’s Reveal+ headphone software are included with Roon free of charge and are super easy to use. Our video below contains an easy step-by-step on finding and applying them in Roon. We’ll discuss their audible difference and see if they affect an artifact heard in this track. 

We should clarify that the plug-ins aren’t intended to be audio correction tools. But, by using the plug-in to optimize the EQ curve of the headphones, it will reveal whether it’s caused by the LCD-2C’s default tuning. 

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Moanin’ from Moanin’ (24-bit/192 kHZ PCM)

Art Blakey’s 1958 return to Blue Note Records resulted in one hard bop’s archetypal classics, Moanin’. Its title track embodies the sub-genre’s funky, back-to-the-roots embrace of blues, gospel, and R&B fueled by a driving modern jazz engine room. Despite being recorded by what may be the shortest-lived Jazz Messengers lineup, the album epitomizes the form and remains essential listening for the telepathic musical interplay and soulful intensity on display from the entire ensemble. 

LCD-2 Classic

Without the LCD-2C DSP preset plug-in:

Moanin’ bolts from the gate, setting up a classic hybrid gospel/blues call-and-response groove from writer Bobby Timmons’s percussive piano figures and the Morgan/Golson horn team. Benny Golson’s sax reed sizzles with fuzzy warmth as The Messengers lock in underneath the swinging motif. 

Lee Morgan’s trumpet bars crackle with brash energy, half-valve slurs, and peppery staccato riffs, but the plosive power at the leading edge of his breaks literally pops the LCD-2C’s planar magnetic element detracting from the piece’s renowned perfection. Golson’s two choruses add strut, shuffle, and sass with a rounded body over the rhythm sections’ foundational groove. Jymie Merrit’s bass bops along with Blakey’s effortless swing as he adds tight press rolls and crash cymbal punctuation between solo choruses. 

When Timmons takes his helpings, Merritt digs in on the stand-up, offering up lovely interplay. The piano is a delight, expansive with nice heft, depth, and punchy bite with someone, likely Blakey, grunting approval in the background. The bass leans in with voice-like huskiness as the rhythm section saunters with Swiss precision. The piece closes with that classic call-and-response motif, building in power before ending in a flourish of rolling piano figures. It’s an unimpeachable masterpiece that’s mildly blemished by Lee Morgan’s atomic trumpet leads. 

With the LCD-2C DSP preset plug-in:

To apply Audeze’s custom presets in Roon, press the volume icon in the footer of Roon, then click DSP. Toggle on the Audeze presets on the DSP page and select the corresponding headphone model. It’s that easy; see our video below for a step-by-step. 

From the go, there’s more clarity, detail, and air in the mix. Jymie Merritt’s finger can be heard tracing a bass string before playing. The rafters of Rudy Van Gelder’s studio carcasses the music with airy goodness and natural room ambiance. The plug-in opens the mix noticeably but not excessively. The staging doesn’t feel more expansive, but the foreground seems deeper – set back a few feet for more detailed study. 

When Lee Morgan takes his break, the blistering lead ruffles the element again. There’s perhaps the slightest bit less grain but not much. And that’s reassuring to observe. Using the optimized plug-in adjustments tells us that the LCD-2C’s default tuning isn’t what’s causing the pop and grain. 

What’s even more impressive though, is the lively top end that’s on display with the addition of the Audeze LCD-2 plug-in. Subtle details break the surface everywhere. There’s more nuance, richness, and character throughout the song. It lends the hard bop classic additional deference. Everything feels more lively and musical but not in the least bit exaggerated. 

It’s a remarkable difference. The LCD-2C doesn’t suddenly become the LCD-X by adding the preset, but they’re much closer to them now. The signature warmth and mid-range richness get a resolving dash of high-end for surprisingly transformative resolution. Roon’s Audeze DSP plug-ins make these classic headphones sound even sweeter. It’s like buying the next better model just by using the DSP feature. 

To conclude the artifact test, I ran another set of headphones using the same setup to demo the track. The dynamic driver phones I tested also broke up but sounded harsher with more abrasive distortion. That tells me that Audeze’s planar magnetic design’s swift responsiveness and dynamics grab the transient so quickly that it catches the lead plosive and resolves it smoothly without the crunching distortion heard in the dynamic driver design. That’s genuinely astounding.

Conclusion

I’m confident in naming the LCD-X the most musically enjoyable and technically capable headphones available at this price point.

The LCD-2 Classic and LCD-X are stunning headphones that cover the waterfront sonically and balance each other’s strengths perfectly: LCD-2C for immersive relaxed listening, LCD-X for hunting audio easter eggs, detail exploration, or professional transparency. Owning them both would immediately satisfy most listening desires. 

Both models feature exceptional build quality, thoroughly beautiful sound, and impressive technical performance – especially at their respective price points, making them excellent choices for first-time high-end headphone buyers or those wanting to upgrade. 

Audeze lcd x review

Additionally, Audeze is the undisputed champion of planar magnetic headphone manufacturers. Their headphones spoil listeners with nimble dynamics, wide frequency response, lightning-fast transients, greater transparency, excellent control, immersive detail, more realistic imaging, lifelike musicality, better sound, and lovely tonal balance. 

They’re equally perfect for music enthusiasts and audio professionals. Their easy compatibility with reference tracks and casual listening sessions earns them my unreserved and entirely enthusiastic recommendation. The LCD-X commands a spot in my best headphones list for its all-encompassing musicality and performance. 

And, if you already own a pair of Audeze headphones but don’t subscribe to Roon, trust me on this… do a free 14-day trial. Roon’s seamless integration of Audeze’s headphone presets are audio icing on top of all their other winning qualities. 

The LCD-2 Classic was impressively transformed with a few mouse clicks. As a fellow music lover, I encourage you to hear what you’re missing. Roon + Audeze + all your favorite music, free for two weeks. It’s risk-free; why pass it up?! 

For more details, please see Audeze’s partners page.

And click here for a free 14-day Roon Trial!

Additional observations

  • If you’re into classic rock or soul, pop, live recordings, singer-songwriters, or reggae, hear me when I say try these headphones. They have incredible synergy with those genres. You will thank me.
  • The included stock cables are lovely, tangle-free, flexible, comfortable, and sturdy. They don’t transmit noise into the earcup, which is more than I can say for some premium cables I’ve demoed. 
  • The LCD-X provided for the review was the Creator Package with the standard case and cable. Both are of fine quality. Buyers concerned about the standard case and cable can put those worries away. I don’t see a risk of disappointment. 
  • Before letting concerns about the weight of the LCD-2C or LCD-X, please give them a listen. Given what I had read, I expected them to be very uncomfortable, but both models were totally agreeable when worn, even for long hours.

Tech Specs:

LCD-2C

  • Driver Type: Planar magnetic
  • Ear Cup Design: Open back
  • Phase Management: Non-fazor
  • Transducer Size: 106mm
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz – 50kHz
  • THD: <0.1% @ 100dB
  • Sensitivity: 101 dB/1mW
  • Impedance: 70 Ω
  • Weight: 1 lb, 2 ounces
  • Materials: Steel, nylon, synthetic leather, memory foam 
  • Warranty period: 1-3 years

LCD-X

  • Driver Type: Planar magnetic
  • Ear Cup Design: Open back
  • Phase Management: Fazor
  • Transducer Size: 106mm
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz – 50kHz
  • THD: <0.1% @ 100dB
  • Sensitivity: 103 dB/1mW
  • Impedance: 20 Ω
  • Weight: 1 lb, 3 ounces
  • Materials: Steel, aluminum, nylon, synthetic leather, memory foam 
  • Warranty period: 1-3 years

What comes in the box:

LCD-2C

  • LCD-2C headphones
  • Audeze LCD hard carrying case
  • 1.9m 1/4″ to dual 4-pin mini-XLR cable
  • Product paperwork
  • 2 keys

LCD-X (varies based on Creator or Premium package type)

Creator edition

  • LCD-X headphones
  • Audeze hard carrying case
  • Single-ended 1/4″ braided OCC Copper cable
  • Product paperwork
  • 2 keys

Premium edition

  • LCD-X headphones
  • Premium travel case
  • 4-pin balanced XLR cable
  • Single-ended 1/4″ braided OCC Copper cable
  • 1/4″ to 1/8″ stereo adapter

Roon Ready Writeups: Meze Audio 109 PRO headphones review

Since the release of Roon ARC, the mobile app that transforms your personal Roon library into a bespoke streaming service, many of you have asked what you need to get the most out of the surprise bonus bundled with Roon 2.0.

As a result, there are many more Roon customers with AudioQuest DragonFlys and Meze 99 series headphones than there were in the summer! Nothing compares to the intimate listening space created by pairing quality headphones with a worthy DAC/Amp. They reconnect us with our most loved artists, albums, and recordings and make recent musical discoveries more engaging. 

The 99 Classics are affordable entry points into primo portable audio that gained Meze troves of admirers. Immediately upon their release seven years ago, requests for an open-back version began pouring in. So when early prototypes of a new open-back, walnut-trimmed Meze headphone were spotted at audio shows, feverish excitement and anticipation broke out among the open-back Classics petitioners and headphone intelligentsia.

But there’s just one thing…

The 109 PRO isn’t simply a 99 Classic in disguise

And that’s great news! Yes, an open-back 99 would have been cool. But we know it’s not Meze’s style to rest on prior success; they weren’t going to repeat themselves – no matter how much people would have loved them for it. I mean, we’re talking about the same folks that released the revolutionary closed-back Liric model right on the heels of their incredible new flagship Elite. They’re not going to follow trends or do what’s expected.

The only thing anyone can reliably predict from Meze is that during waking hours in Romania, they’re busy figuring out new ways to make music listening more engaging and emotionally resonant. The rest will be a surprise and delight – just like the 109 PRO.

meze audio 109 pro design review

Technical Design

Technical engineering for 109 PRO began by returning to the basics: carefully selected materials, exacting craftsmanship, and precision assembly. The result is an in-house designed and produced 50mm dynamic driver assembly featuring a dual membrane diaphragm made from a cellulose-carbon fiber composite dome surrounded by a Beryllium-coated polymer torus. Circling that is a copper-zinc stabilizer ring alongside an efficient neodymium magnet encased inside a precision machined aluminum frame.

That tech translates to music like so… the cellulose composite W-shaped dome produces highs with incredible detail, clarity, and definition, while the Beryllium-coated torus contributes to faster transient response and greater dynamic range. It pairs with the ring-shaped stabilizer to suppress unwanted resonance and vibration, reducing harmonic distortion. The precision-machined aluminum frame guarantees a perfectly flat surface to affix the magnet and diaphragm assembly improving stability and performance. The completed transducer is placed at a precise angle and distance from the ear inside the open earcup housing.

It’s an entirely different headphone with innovative technology and engineering that sets it apart from other Meze offerings. And even more impressively, its 40 Ω impedance rating and high sensitivity mean it can be driven using the headphone out of most devices.

meze audio 109 pro design review

Aesthetics

At first glance, the 109 PRO exudes a strong visual resemblance to the 99 Classics. That similarity undoubtedly contributed to the notion that the headphone gods had smiled on us and an open-back 99 series headphone had descended from the clouds. But upon closer inspection, the 109 PRO’s unique traits, technical characteristics, and singular beauty are revealed.

Old-growth black walnut reappears for an elegant second life as Meze earcups. The 109’s are scaled up to accommodate and reveal the larger dynamic driver, producing one of Meze’s most open patterns. The ornate grill design inside the earcup and matching rose gold hardware create a striking contrast against the jet-black lightweight spring steel frame, earcup grill insert, and accompanying noir appointments. The self-adjusting vegan leather headband distributes weight evenly to relieve pressure for a better fit. Memory foam and soft, breathable velour earpads envelop the ears, creating a luxurious listening space.

Comfort is exactly what you’d expect from Meze, which is to say the 109 PRO is absurdly comfy. In fact, it’s even more comfortable than the 99 Classics – that’s something I didn’t expect to say about any headphones. They feel nearly weightless, are pleasantly snug, and hug the head perfectly, requiring no adjustment. Meze should think about branching out into making earmuffs for fans of their headphones that live in cold environments. It doesn’t even get that cold where I live, but I don’t think I could resist them. 

The 109 PRO continues Meze Audio’s unmistakable artistic expression with stunning visual appeal that’s equaled only by its musical voice.

meze audio 109 pro design review

Sound

When Meze sets out to produce a new headphone, they focus on what they’d like the wearer to experience when listening to music and proceed with a tuning informed by the heart, emotion, and immersive musical connection. It’s one of the things that set Meze apart. The 109 PRO nails that sonically; it’s tastefully tuned for enjoyable engaged listening over strict technical neutrality. 

Lower bass frequencies offer excellent extension with a slight shelf in the low and mid-bass range. That tuning adds nice fullness and warmth to the lows and compensates wonderfully for the typical thinner bass response of open-back designs. The dynamic driver produces great punch and adds a muscular body to the lows, while the open-back design eliminates any possibility of bass loading. 

The midrange is very smooth and linear, up to around 3-5kHz. Precisely tuned presence provides shimmer to vocals and instruments, plus a wonderful sense of space and headroom. I’m unsure if it’s a light boost or a subtle cut to the preceding frequencies – but it’s very tastefully done. I didn’t detect any resulting vocal sibilance or sharpness to instrumentation.

Highs also have some air adjustment around 10-12kHz, adding a brilliant, lively top-end. How well the 109’s upper mid and treble tuning works will vary depending on what you’re listening to. Early 60s pop mixed for transistor and car speakers, thinner lively mixes of the 80s, and lo-fi punk or indie tracks may feel slightly aggressive depending on their individual production traits.

We poured our soul into every aspect of its design, and it always brings a smile to my face. I think right now this is, of all our headphones, the one I listen to most.

Antonio Meze on the 109 PRO

However, after letting the 109 PROs play for about 10 hours over three consecutive nights, the top end became silky smooth and vivid. Buyers who feel tentative about the 109’s highs should give them about 40 hours of playtime before judging the tuning. After that, you’ll be hooked and won’t dream of letting them go.

Meze’s tuning decisions have a proven track record and are well-received; the same holds true here. Overall, the 109 PRO exhibits a wonderfully pleasant and smooth voice with lush, tastefully warm lows and linear mids, giving way to lovely presence and shimmer in the upper mids and treble for incredible detail, clarity, and definition. They deliver great punch and astounding dynamics, the soundstage is spacious, even three-dimensional on some tracks, the resolution is top-notch, and the imaging is genuinely mesmerizing.

To my ears, the 109 PRO blends traits of the 99 Classics, Liric, and Elite – which packs a lot of character and performance into a single set of cans and makes their price point tremendously appealing.

Meze’s passion-driven approach to design and conception underpins everything they do; over 30 different prototypes of the 109 PRO were produced before they felt they’d achieved the perfect harmony of sound, comfort, and materials. That dedication shines through in the final version.

At The Munich High-End show, Antonio Meze said, “We poured our soul into every aspect of its design, and it always brings a smile to my face. I think right now this is, of all our headphones, the one I listen to most.”

Listening Notes

For focused listening, I drove the 109 PROs with the headphone output of MacBook Air, then added the DragonFly Black and later Mytek’s exquisite Liberty DAC II to get a sense of how well 109 played with a range of devices. Their 40 Ω impedance rating and high sensitivity delivered engaging listening across everything I used for testing.

Brian EnoApollo/FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE (MacBook Air laptop out, DragonFly Black, Mytek Liberty DAC II)

I was thoroughly stunned by the detail retrieval and soundstage I experienced when I queued up Under Stars from Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks using the headphone out of my MacBook Air. The 109’s presentation captured the vastness and sensation of drifting weightlessly through space much more convincingly than I expected and proved how easy the 109s are to drive. 

Then Roon served up Eno’s new record FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE as a follow-up. Even with this simple setup, the results were captivating, drawing me into the atmospheric performances. Vocals exhibited fabulous presence and clarity.

Eager to entice even more detail from the 109s, I plugged into the Dragonfly Black and found a quiet space to pull up ARC for a second listening. The soundstage shifted to an immense dark background that completely enveloped me in sound. The music formed a dome above and even slightly behind my head. The 109s skillful enhancement in the upper mids and treble worked exceptionally well with these selections. If I had been in a blind listening test, I would have easily believed I was plugged into a high-end tube DAC/amp rather than the entry-level offering of the DragonFly line.

After the DragonFly Black, I excitedly plugged the 109s into the Mytek Liberty DAC II. I eagerly pulled and reconnected connections like an over-caffeinated switchboard operator. Listening through the Mytek is as close as I’ll ever come to being inside the lunar modules in the documentary. The jump in detail, imaging, resolution, soundstage, and character of Under Stars was positively revelatory. The extra amperage the Mytek provided revealed a landscape of subtleties. I’ve listened to Apollo numerous times; it’s a go-to ambient favorite. But hearing it this way provided a fresh perspective that was immensely enjoyable. 


On I’m Hardly Me from FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE, Darla Eno‘s delicate vocals were layered with effects. The instrumental separation was so transparent that the brief pause between the clean vocal and its drapery was clearly detectable. The free-flowing synthesizer bed was as organic as wind through trees. Brian Eno’s vocals oozed like warmed honey in a cup of tea. It felt telepathic, a voice painting images in the mind as exotic electronic birds sailed through the space behind the listener. I can’t imagine a better way to experience this album for the first time.

Jackie McLeanLove and Hate from Destination Out (DragonFly Black)

Destination Out is a stand-out favorite among several stellar albums by Jackie McLean. I often played this lead-off track, Love and Hate, when I hosted a jazz radio show years ago. Like nearly all Blue Note albums, the lineup is perfectly honed to the vibe of the material. 

Larry Ridley and Roy Haynes provide a sparse yet ample rhythmic foundation with plenty of room for Grachan Moncur III’s soulful trombone breaks. The star performance on this piece for me is Bobby Hutcherson’s vibraphone fills. The 109 PRO showcases their resonance and decay lusciously. Each percussive mallet strike is rendered with snappy attack before resolving completely. Jackie’s expressive alto lines are simultaneously soulful and searching, weaving laid-back lines with brisk flurries of cascading notes.

McLean’s playing was always just a touch sharp. Miles Davis once hilariously commented, “Jackie McLean plays like somebody’s standing on his foot!” The presence and air of the 109s walk the line perfectly here, exhibiting great control while showing off the texture in McLean’s tone without becoming strident. 

Even more impressive was the overall grandeur the track acquired. Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs is an immense cathedral-like space with open rafters and a 39-foot ceiling built to evoke a spiritual response from artists who recorded there. The DragonFly Black/109 PRO combination thoroughly conveyed the room’s contribution to the recording and performance.

The BeatlesWithin You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows from Love (Mytek Liberty DAC II)

For some Beatles fans, the song mashups of the Love album, crafted to accompany the Cirque du Soleil production of the same name, were a near heretical misuse of the coveted original recordings when the album was released. Now several deluxe edition boxsets and outsourced album remixes later, the versions are far less controversial. Love’s results feel consistent with The Fab Four’s technical curiosity, openness to studio experimentation, and recording innovation. This selection deftly welds John Lennon’s avant-garde Revolver closer to George Harrison’s eastern spirituality, and mysticism informed Sgt. Pepper centerpiece. 

The track shows off the finesse of the 109s sub-bass extension as the song plunges to the center of cosmic consciousness at 1:03 in – whisking us into the technicolor spiral as the floor drops out from under us. The originals were an intoxicating blend of exotic instrumentation in their own right; when conjoined, they’re a captivating tapestry of swirling sound layers. The 109s make pursuing them through the mix deliriously fun and exciting. The thundering synergy of bass and drums is thick and rollicking in places, but the 109’s expert low-end tuning contains it well and keeps everything out of the mud.

John’s opening lines from the demo version of Tomorrow Never Knows drift diaphanously toward the listener before George’s ethereal vocals levitate just above the center of the forehead. Tape loops, strings, Indian hand drums, and mellotron weave a sonic kaleidoscope before an array of soft effects and detached elements from Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds ushers the dreamy arrangement to a close. The 109 PRO joined the spellbinding dance effortlessly. It was all too groovy, man.

Conclusion

The 109 PRO melds a delightfully pleasant and smooth voice with warm, tasteful lows and linear mids that give way to lovely presence and shimmer in the upper mids. Highs are tuned for incredible detail, clarity, and definition. The revolutionary in-house driver assembly delivers great punch and astounding dynamics with a spacious soundstage, top-notch resolution, and genuinely mesmerizing imaging in an acoustically open design that conveys breathtaking musicality.

Meze’s dedication to achieving the ideal harmony of sound, comfort, and timeless design is embodied fully within the 109 PRO. Like all Meze headphones, it is a beautiful piece of sound art that expertly fuses visual beauty with an equally alluring sound signature and maximum comfort for fully immersive, engaging listening without distractions. Loads of character, performance, and value is packed into the 109 PRO for the price.  I encourage anyone looking for high-quality open-back headphones with premium appointments and unmatched sound to give it a close listen.

Additional observations of Note

  • Aftermarket cables may not be compatible with the narrow cable input canal of the 109 PRO. 
  • The 109 PRO’s out-of-box driver tightness dissipates rather quickly. To hasten the process, allow them to play overnight for a few consecutive nights. They’ll sound magnificent.
  • If the fit of the spring steel headband is too snug, grasp the earcups and gently pull them outward a few times before putting them on.
  • Check out the 109’s included brochure for a closer look at the innovative technology inside the model.
  • The 109 PRO is a highly easy-to-drive headphone, but pairing it with a quality DAC/amp will result in even more musical character and enjoyment and bring its full potential to life.

Tech Specs

  • Driver Type: Meze in-house dynamic
  • Diaphragm Type: Dual Membrane Diaphragm – combination of Beryllium-coated polymer and cellulose + carbon fiber composite
  • Transducer Size: 50mm
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz – 30KHz
  • Sensitivity: 112dB SPL at 1KHz, 1mW
  • Impedance: 40 Ω
  • Weight: 13 oz without cables
  • Materials: Black walnut wood, zinc, manganese steel, vegan leather, velour, and memory foam. 
  • Warranty period: 2 years

What’s in the Box

  • Meze 109 PRO open-back headphones
  • Case: Hard EVA pouch
  • 1.5 m dual mono to single-ended 3.5mm soft TPE cable
  • 3 m dual mono to single-ended 3.5mm soft TPE cable
  • 3.5mm-to-1/4″ adapter
  • Cable pouch
  • 109 PRO brochure


18 Ways to Love the AudioQuest DragonFly

Don’t worry; a new DragonFly DAC hasn’t slipped in under your radar undetected. That’s news that would be difficult to miss considering their popularity. Instead, we’re highlighting an amusing paradox that sometimes affects gear reviews. Some devices continue to excite and spark revelations long after the review is written and published. 

It’s most common when discussing feature-rich equipment with app-based controls and functionality. But this time is quite different. The AudioQuest Dragonfly Red has no buttons, no settings to navigate… not even a power cord. Despite its simplicity, its full potential is only revealed over time – like a lotus blossom opening in slow motion. 

Examining specs is helpful for understanding gears’ technical nature, but commenting on their personality requires a relationship with the devices. That personal connection uncovers more significant insights and appreciation. Complexity isn’t a requirement for excellence. Here are 18 remarkable qualities and use possibilities for the AudioQuest DragonFly Red – 9 things to know and 9 ways you can use it.

9 essential AudioQuest DragonFly character traits

  1. It’s one of the easiest, and most affordable audio upgrades you can make: DragonFly is reasonably priced, simple to integrate into your system, and the difference it makes is instantly audible. That’s not always a given when upgrading audio gear, especially with low-cost equipment. If we’re being honest, we occasionally have to convince ourselves the “improvement” was worth it. That’s never the case when adding DragonFly Red; the jump in audio quality over using a mobile device’s built-in DAC is instant music to our ears.
  2. AudioQuest does the work for you. Unlike some newer portable DACS, there aren’t a bunch of settings to fiddle with – that’s not a downside. Sometimes trivial features disguise mediocre sound quality. In DragonFly, AudioQuest did everything we could want. They paired the correct circuitry, added a digital filter, and tuned the audio tastefully. All we have to do is enjoy how good music sounds when using it. That’s a gift.
  3. It’s not a disposable gadget: The DragonFly Red isn’t a short-lived gizmo. The entire DragonFly line is firmware upgradeable using the intuitive device manager software. There’s no planned obsolescence here. The performance and functionality of your DragonFly will continue to improve with new updates.
  4. It works with almost everything: DragonFly offers plug-and-play ease of use with any playback software and is fully compatible with iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS. AudioQuest’s reasonably priced adapters provide greater connectivity with a broader range of devices.
  5. Premium audio circuitry courtesy of Sabre: Sabre two-channel DACs are specifically designed for low-power applications that still demand audiophile performance. DragonFly Red sports the ESS9016 DAC chipset with an ES9601 headphone amp – circuits found in top-tier disc players and AudioQuest’s flagship DAC. The combination delivers perfect synergy and outstanding audio quality from an incredibly portable platform.
  6. Maximum efficiency means more play time: DragonFly Red’s upgraded high-performance microprocessor is 77% more efficient than previous version’s. Meaning several hours more playtime with minimal mobile battery impact.
  7. Increased output power means more use flexibility: DragonFly Red provides 2.1 volts of output power; that’s plenty enough punch to drive less sensitive power-hungry headphones or use it as a preamp for a power amp or active speakers.
  8. Seamless integration with your OS volume control: DragonFly Red uses highly sophisticated 64-step, 64-bit, bit-perfect digital volume control that automatically syncs with your device’s OS. It becomes one with your device as soon as it’s connected.
  9. Driverless simplicity: Some reviewers have complained that AudioQuest capped DragonFly resolution support at 24-bit/96kHz. But it makes driverless device compatibility possible resulting in better audio quality with greater ease of use – that’s a sweet deal!
audioquest dragonfly red

9 more ways to enjoy better sound quality with DragonFly Red

As inveterate music hounds, the primary use scenario discussed in our DragonFly review focused on getting the best sound from our new on-the-go streaming app, Roon Arc. With daily use, we discovered more ways DragonFly Red can improve everything we listen to. Here are a few that came to mind.

  1. A perfect companion for Nucleus and Nucleus Plus: our Roon Core music servers are controlled with Roon Software installed on a computer, mobile phone, or tablet. The DragonFly Red is a perfect companion device because it dramatically improves the audio quality of those control devices compared to their merely adequate onboard DACs. DragonFly’s near universal compatibility means they work with all the most frequently used devices.
  2. High-Quality car audio: Since the release of ARC, I connect my iPhone to Dragonfly Red, then use a 3.5mm cable for the AUX input in my car. The improvement over using a Bluetooth connection is instantly apparent. Radio apps sound better as well.
  3. Create a DIY Roon Ready Streamer/DAC/Amp: I have an iFi Zen Stream here for review. One afternoon I connected the DragonFly Red to its USB output, then ran a 3.5mm to stereo RCA cable to a set of powered Klipsch speakers. It sounded much better than I expected. The superior audio quality of the streamer and DAC fed the speakers a solid signal that improved their usual performance making them more enjoyable – and Roon Ready!
  4. Instant Zone Expansion: DragonFly Red makes it so easy to add another Roon Zone. Connect it to your phone for an around-the-house or bedside headphones DAC/amp endpoint. If you aren’t a headphones listener but are interested, this is the quickest way in!
  5. A reference DAC you can drop in your pocket: The DragonFly Red has an appealing memorable sonic signature. It’s a perfect portable reference DAC for auditioning headphones, powered speakers, or power amps. There’s no audible noise or distortion, and it’s dead quiet, rendering a blank slate ideal for testing gear. 
  6. More realistic gaming: Our senior support tech uses his DragonFly Red to enjoy more immersive video game audio. The driverless connectivity makes it effortlessly compatible with various gaming platforms. 
  7. A taste of vinyl fever: You can use DragonFly to connect a USB turntable to a pair of powered monitors for an instant hi-fi system with much better sound quality than the built-in phono preamp.
  8. Bring movie effects to life: DragonFly doesn’t just make music sound better when using a computer, phone, or tablet. It makes everything sound better. Say goodbye to mediocre audio from YouTube, Netflix, and Prime Video with DragonFly Red’s superior audio processing power.
  9. There’s still lots of net left: We’ve named a handful more things you can do with DragonFly Red. Some are Rooncentric, and many are not. But there’s still enough net left to scoop up less obvious use scenarios – like improved sound quality for video meetings or any of the numerous digital communication tools we’ve adopted in the last few years. Or something for self-reflection, like enjoying a podcast or audiobook. The possibilities are only limited by our imagination.

That’s the great thing about gear that’s elegant in its simplicity and just works. It improves our experience with sound in an effortless, intuitive, and uncluttered way. DragonFly Red is a beautiful little converter that does its job so well that we forget it’s there. It’s honest and unbothered, giving us a more direct and immersive connection with the media we enjoy, whether it’s music or any of the examples above. The fact that it’s one of the most accessible, easily affordable, future-proofed, and highly portable sound improvements you can make is all the more reason to climb aboard a DragonFly!

For more details, please see AudioQuest’s partners page.

22 Best Gifts for a Music Lover 2022

Gift buying can be overwhelming… Black Friday this, Cyber Monday that, products that all seem the same with features that sound like algebraic equations. With so many what to buy and when to buy options, it’s no wonder we close those tabs and shove cash into an envelope. But money isn’t personal, and you want to give a gift they will love. The Roon Store is here to help. Put those gift cards away and check out our guide featuring the best gifts for music lovers.

Let’s get started!

Meze Neo 99 headphones

Meze 99 NEO Headphones

$199.00

A fresh take on the 99 series for the uptown audiophile, 99 NEO brings together Meze Audio’s signature sound quality with cutting edge style. They’re the perfect over-the-ear headphones. The ear cups are large and comfortable making them ideal for all-day listening. Plush memory foam padding provides noise cancellation for those times we need to block out distractions and focus. 99 NEO is the perfect music-lover gift at a great price. For more information please read our Meze 99 NEO Review.

AudioQuest DragonFly Portable DAC

$119.95 – $249.95

Whatever music turns you on, wherever you are, an AudioQuest DragonFly USB DAC delivers inspiring, dynamic, and beautiful sound to earbuds, headphones, powered speakers, or complete audio systems. Simply plug DragonFly into any mobile or desktop setup to create an instant Hi-Res music listening system. These compact DACs feature integrated volume control, built-in MQA support and powerful headphone amps, making them the perfect starting point for any audiophile. At home or on the go, DragonFly has you covered for just about every need. Available in Black, Red, and Cobalt. For more information please read our AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt Review.

ifi go blu review

iFi GO blu Portable DAC

$199.00

The GO blu portable HD DAC/amp is diminutive enough to take with you wherever you go. It gives best sound from wired but the convenience of wireless as you no longer need to have a cable connection to your smartphone. This HD Bluetooth DAC allows lets you take any Roon ARC, Apple Music, or Spotify song on the go. It even features a built-in microphone for calls and voice commands. All of this – and a 10 hour battery! For more information please read our iFi GO blu review.

ifi zen stream digital streamer

iFi Zen Stream

$399.00

Beneath its classy exterior, the ZEN Stream is a technological streamer-de-force. It has one purpose – to send music simply from the Internet to your DAC with no loss of quality. The iFi Zen Stream is a Roon Ready bridge that provides instant wireless connectivity to any device with USB or S/PDIF inputs. It handles everything from MP3 to MQA, High-Res music up to 32/384 PCM plus DSD256, and takes just minutes to set up. That’s not all! It’s packed with iFi’s cutting-edge audio technology and a full range of streaming options, including TIDAL Connect, Qobuz, Spotify, YouTube Music, AirPlay, and Chromecast.

elac discovery z3 speaker

ELAC Discovery Z3 speaker

$459.00

ELAC Discovery Z3 Wireless Speaker with 140 watts of powerful built-in amplification means all you do is plug it in and listen! The Z3 all-in-one speaker delivers huge sound in a small package, making it an ideal gift for music lovers. It’s the perfect upgrade for a kitchen, bedroom, or anywhere you want to enjoy music. Simply plug it in, connect it to the network, and start enjoying your music using Roon, Spotify Connect, AirPlay, Bluetooth, or 3.5mm AUX inputs.

bluesound pulse mini review audiophile gift for music lover

Bluesound Pulse Mini 2i Speaker

$599.00

The Pulse Mini 2i is a powerful all-in-one speaker that produces more detailed audio than many rival players twice its size. Featuring freshly redesigned tweeters that expand the listening sweet spot, the Pulse Mini 2i has double the bass drivers and amp power, resulting in a true stereo performance. Compatible with almost every streaming service and high-resolution file format, the PULSE Mini 2i redefines what compact speakers can do by delivering a rich, dynamic performance no matter where you put it. An incredibly easy plug-and-play gift for the music lover in your life! For more information read our Bluesound Pulse Mini review.

Meze 99 classics

Meze 99 Classics Headphones

$309.00

The Meze 99 Classics delivers perfect natural sound even to the pickiest of audio lovers. The walnut wood earcups, soft earpads, and the spring steel headband make the 99 Classics an audio heirloom rather than just a pair of headphones. What better gift for the music lover in your life? For more information read our Meze 99 Classics review

Cambridge Audio dacmagic dac

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M DAC

$549.00

DacMagic 200M is Cambridge Audio’s first product to support MQA. MQA is an award-winning British technology that delivers studio-quality sound in a file small enough to stream. The DacMagic can accommodate three wired digital sources plus Bluetooth while integrated into a system and still handle headphone duties. Build quality, fit, and finish are all typical top-tier Cambridge Audio caliber, as expected. For more information read our Cambridge Audio DacMagic Review

ifi xdsd gryphon review audiophile gift

iFi xDSD Gryphon Portable DAC

$599.00

iFi xDSD Gryphon is an ultra-res portable balanced DAC & headphone amplifier. See the iFi option EISA named “Best Mobile DAC” for 2022-2023. The Gryphon is, to put it simply, a fantastic beast. With massive support for audio resolutions from 32 bit/768kHz PCM and MQA to DSD512, integrated Bluetooth streaming, and both balanced and unbalanced headphone outputs – this is a portable DAC that can do just about everything. From quiet, focused HiFi listening at home, to easy streaming during a commute, this the perfect gift for just about every music lover out there. For more information read our iFi xDSD Gryphon review

meze advar in ear monitors review audiophile gift for a music lover

Meze Advar Earbuds

$699.00

High-quality earbuds are the best gift for the music lover on the go. Their size provides portability, comfort and performance. Reminiscent of a lustrous gem that transports you through a mystical folktale, ADVAR hides a powerful, detailed, lifelike sound behind a uniquely designed stainless steel chassis. A balanced blend of function and beauty, ADVAR is an IEM like no other. For more information read our Meze Advar review

BLuesound NODE hi res streamer black

Bluesound NODE Hi-Res music streamer

$599.00

Renowned for exceptional performance and value, the NODE is the ultimate HiFi streamer that easily connects to any stereo system to help you discover a universe of audio streaming. With all the inputs and outputs to please the most ardent audiophile, the NODE connects your gear to all the music ever recorded. With built-in premium hi-res music services like Tidal®, Spotify®, and Qobuz®, as well as virtually all other popular music services, internet radio and even your own digital music library held on a computer or Roon Nucleus – the NODE brings infinite playback choices into your very own high fidelity sonic domain.

escape p6 air outdoor speaker review audiophile gift for music lover

Escape P6 Air Outdoor Speaker

$999.98

The Escape P6 Air features a timeless weatherproof design combined with wireless capability to enjoy your favorite music anywhere you go. With a built-in carry handle and a rechargeable battery with up to 16 hours playback, every aspect of the P6 Air was purpose built for outdoor use. And thanks to the built-in Bluetooth receiver the P6 Air can be used in places without WI-FI reception. Available in tan, white, or black. For more information read our Escape P6 Air review

bluesound pulse review audiophile gift for music lover

Bluesound Pulse 2i Speaker

$799.00

Designed to complement any décor, Bluesound’s Pulse speakers can easily fit into large or small living spaces, all the while providing outstanding musicality and bass output. Compatible with almost every streaming service and high-resolution file format, the Pulse 2i redefines what compact speakers can do by delivering rich, dynamic performance no matter where you put it. Available in black and white. For more information please read our Bluesound Pulse 2i review

chord mojo 2 review audiophile gift for music lover

Chord Electronics Mojo 2 Portable DAC

$775.00

Mojo 2 is the most advanced pocket-sized DAC/headphone amplifier in the world. It plays your favorite music with class-leading detail and clarity up to studio-grade levels. The Mojo 2 can connect to systems of all sizes via optical, coaxial, Micro USB, and USB-C connections. And, when paired with Chord’s Poly streamer, it gains network streaming capability as well! For more information please read our Chord Mojo 2 review

chord electronics poly portable streamer

Chord Electronics Poly Streamer

$800.00

Poly is a portable music streamer/player that combines with Mojo to wirelessly stream from connected devices. Poly gives you the flexibility to use your Mojo 2 around your home free of wires and can adapt for out-of-home use with 9 hours of battery life. It’s the perfect combination gift for music lovers looking for just a little bit more from their Chord Mojo experience. For more information please read our Chord Poly review

primare np5 prisma mk2

Primare NP5 Primsa MK2

$750.00

Primare’s NP5 Prisma MK2 makes it easy to introduce streaming capabilities to any outboard DAC or other component with a digital input. Ready to integrate your Legacy gear into your setup; the NP5 Prisma MK2 makes it easy! It’s more than just a streamer; Prisma is a full suite of features reserved for Primare’s premium gear – at a fraction of the price. For more information, please read our Primare NP5 Prisma review.

Roon nucleus music server review audiophile gift for music lover

Roon Nucleus Music Server

$1,459.00

The Nucleus music server is simply the best way to experience Roon. Store up to 10,000 albums (100,000 tracks) with multi-room streaming and up to 4TB SSD. Nucleus is built to provide a worry-free, turn-key, and highly reliable whole-home music system. This gift will be used daily for many years to come and guarantees top Roon performance. For more information please read our Roon Nucleus review.

Chord Hugo 2 silver and chord hugo 2 black

Chord Hugo 2 portable DAC

$2,950.00

Hugo 2 is a powerful DAC and headphone amp that builds on the ground-breaking original. Designed for both home and mobile use, Hugo 2 transforms headphones and audio systems’ sound quality with its cutting-edge proprietary DAC technology and a host of other impressive sound processing features.

Chord hugo 2 portable dac and chord 2go streamer

Chord 2go streamer

$1,500.00

2go is a high-performance streamer/server that transforms the Hugo 2 DAC into a fully featured Wi-Fi and Ethernet-enabled device with up to 4 TB of onboard music storage. Adding 2go to Hugo 2, creates the most sonically advanced compact music streamer available today. It’s internal battery delivers 10 hours of wireless music playback via Roon, Bluetooth, or Airplay. It’s the pinnacle on-the-go HiFi experience and a perfect gift for every music lover.

burson coductor 3xr reference dac

Burson Audio Conductor 3XR Reference DAC

$2,200.00

Burson’s Conductor 3XR Reference is a fully balanced DAC, Pre-Amp, and Class-A headphone amp with a whopping 7.5 Watts of power. It features top-of-class audio components, dual mono DAC circuitry, future-proof audio format support, analog and digital inputs, plus multiple headphone output options for exceptional flexibility and premium sound quality in a compact package. The 3XR makes an ideal gift for the music lover who has everything! For more information, please read our Burson Audio review.

pair of devialet phantom 103db with treepod

Devialet Phantom I 103db

$2,300.00 single / $4,600 pair

Devialet’s Phantom I 103dB offers rich and clear sound in an elegant, compact performance-driven design. This striking setup shows a pair of Devialet Phantom I 103db on matching Treepod stands ($350 each). Phantom I 103dB may be the starting point in the Phantom I series, but don’t let that deceive you. Its detail, range, and impact are staggering for a speaker of its size. It works brilliantly as a standalone speaker, in stereo, or as part of a multiroom system. Available in White or Black; supports Wi-Fi, Airplay2 & Bluetooth.

dutch & dutch 8c

Dutch & Dutch 8c

$14,950.00 (pair)

The Dutch & Dutch 8c is an innovative active speaker handcrafted in the Netherlands. Fast becoming a top choice for mastering studios, the 8c uses a variety of new technologies that work together with the acoustics of your listening room to deliver extremely natural, detailed sound. These will quite possibly be the best speakers you have ever heard, even compared with full systems costing four times the price.

Roon Ready Writeups: Roon Nucleus Music Server Review

Bringing it all back home

Since the release of Roon 2.0, we’ve presented a selection of mobile audio gear dedicated to helping us get the most from Roon ARC. If you’ve missed our recent notifications, ARC is a new app that transforms your Roon library into a bespoke streaming service with all your favorite Roon features. We’re pretty excited about the reception it’s received. This time out, we’re taking a different path to an enhanced ARC experience and optimal overall Roon performance by bringing it all back home to the most critical piece of any Roon system, your Roon Server.

Before we continue, let’s briefly describe the three components that make up a Roon setup; Roon Server, Roon apps, and audio devices. Those parts can be separate devices or bundled all in one. An example of the all-in-one approach is a laptop that functions as your Roon Server, software control interface, and audio device – perhaps in the form of a headphone out. This is how the majority of people start out when using Roon.

The separates method offers greater flexibility and limitless device possibilities. An example setup might consist of a Roon Nucleus, an Android or iOS tablet with the Roon app as remote, and Devialet Phantom I speakers running as a stereo pair as audio devices. Our How Roon Works video above provides an excellent overview. You can also check out the Show (off) your Roon Setup thread on our Roon Community for more ideas and inspiration.

In essence, your Roon Server is the musical superbrain of the entire Roon operation. It manages your Roon library, handles signal processing, and oversees music playback. It’s home to your Roon software, its superior audio engine, database, playlists, local music storage locations, and all the customizations and preference settings you’ve made to Roon. Whether you’re listening at home or with Roon ARC on the go, it’s the first link of your signal chain. Accordingly, it’s super important that you ensure Roon Server is parked on a machine that’s sufficiently up to scratch.

In this review, we’ll explain why Roon Nucleus and Nucleus Plus represent the best choices you can make for your Roon Server. The Roon Store’s exclusive promotional offers mean there’s no better place to purchase your Nucleus. But first, this important message.

roon nucleus plus music server

Friends don’t let friends run Roon Server on NAS.

This has been a public service announcement from your friendly Roon Technical Support team. Yes, it’s somewhat said in jest. But it’s also a genuine plea to help you help yourself. The most compelling argument for choosing a purpose-driven server machine is the mountain of support requests from customers with Celeron and Atom-based NAS units or similar boxes with prohibitive native software that does nothing but fight with Roon. The same can be said for nine-year-old laptops with badly outdated operating systems.

For the love of all things music, don’t do that to yourself. An underpowered server machine is the quickest possible route to a bad Roon experience, with a shaky home network coming in as a close second. However, if your desire is to start corresponding regularly with Roon Tech Support, then it’s a great strategy.

To be clear: there’s no shaming, passing judgment, or snarky attitude in this advice. We totally get your thinking – you have an older machine sitting unused; why not make it a Roon Server. That’s all it’ll be used for; it should be fine, right? In our experience, no, not always. Ideally, you want each device in your system to perform at its best. Starting with an unstable foundation for your Roon Server will have ripple effects further downstream. That’s not what we want for you. Nucleus and Nucleus Plus provide the most solid platform possible for Roon because we built them that way.

roon nucleus music server

The only server designed specifically for Roon, by Roon.   

Before you turn red and wag your finger from anticipating a sales attempt, we’re not saying you must have a Nucleus to use Roon. That’s not at all the case. 

We’re simply saying that Roon Nucleus is the best way to experience Roon. Why? It’s the only music server on the market explicitly designed to showcase Roon’s full performance potential that’s manufactured by the same team that created Roon. It immediately plants Roon on terra firma, and it’s the fastest way to upgrade the performance of an existing setup.

Alternatively, you can run Roon on a recent laptop or small form factor desktop that meets our recommendations and have great results – many of our customers do. My first Roon platform was a Mac laptop; it’s the easiest, most immediate point of entry for many of us. But much like the onboard DACs in our mobile devices, the problem is that most computers aren’t built to be high-quality audio transports. And, to make things worse, they’re distracted by a slew of behind-the-scenes activity and house circuitry that hinder performance and potentially deteriorate sound quality.

Nucleus has an advantage over other platforms because it was engineered to provide the most reliable and problem-free Roon experience. It’s designed to do one thing and do it unerringly: provide a home for Roon. All that Windows and Mac busy-work jive is eliminated. Nucleus isn’t checking emails, looking for driver updates, juggling dozens of other unessential processes, or flexing your firewall against overly curious apps. Its only concern is Roon.

It’s a gateway to plug-and-play Roon enjoyment that provides silent, high-performance, power-efficient reliability and superior audio quality in a visually striking modern enclosure. And it’s an unrivaled, dead simple to use, purpose-driven home for Roon Server! Why deny yourself that kind of luxury?

roon nucleus music server plus

Inside the mysterious finned black box

When designing Nucleus, we ultimately decided to produce two models. They’re identical in all respects except for raw computing horsepower. We wanted to provide options based on specific needs and adjust device costs around the use scenario. A few other goals were for:

  • A turn-key Roon Server that does not require a Mac, PC, or NAS
  • Computing power to support Roon’s requirements now and in the future
  • Ease of use – with little to no customer support needed after installation
  • Software and firmware updates that are downloaded “over the air” and managed by the end-user
  • Reliable and robust operation – tamper-resistant and nothing to service
  • Audiophile-friendly – no fans or moving parts

Nucleus is perfect for the majority of our subscribers. Nucleus Plus is for those with more rigorous processing requirements due to library size, more simultaneous playback streams, DSP, convolution, and high-rate DSD playback. Their differences and details are below.

NUCLEUS

  • Built on an optimized Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM
  • Library capacity: Up to 10,000 albums (100,000 tracks)
  • Pre-installed internal storage is available. 
  • Multi-room streaming: Up to 6 simultaneous zones
  • DSP capability: All DSP functions available in the PCM domain, certain combinations of functions using DSD, upsampling, or multi-channel processing may not be possible. 

NUCLEUS PLUS

  • Built on an optimized Intel Core i7 processor with 8GB RAM
  • Library capacity: Over 10,000 albums (100,000 tracks)
  • Pre-installed internal storage is available. 
  • Multi-room streaming: Over 6 simultaneous zones
  • DSP capability: All DSP functions available
  • Compatible with Crestron and Control 4 control modules
roon nucleus music server plus

Connection points are identical in both models:

  • Inputs are 2 x USB-A 3.0 for connecting an external storage drive, network attached storage, and Gigabit LAN connection.
  • Outputs include 2 x USB-A 3.0, 2 x HDMI audio-only stereo and multi-channel, networked Roon Ready, Apple Airplay, and Google Chromecast devices. 

They’re bold yet simple, functional and durable yet visually stimulating – just like Roon. Both models are housed in a striking winged heat-dissipating aluminum chassis finished in automotive-grade off-black satin paint. A low-profile Roon logo is stamped on their face.

The connection points listed above, the power supply connection, and the power button are on the rear panel inside a port inspired by the hanger bays of the Death Star. Nucleus measures 10.5in (W) x 10.5in (D) x 2.5in (H). The device itself weighs about 7 lbs, depending on internal storage. Nucleus can accommodate 2.5-inch HDD or SSD drives with a maximum height of 15mm.

Setup and software updates are done via an easily accessible, intuitively simple web interface. Control of Roon is handled with the Roon Remote app. On-the-go access to your Roon Library with ARC is guaranteed by Nucleus’ always-on design. You can also connect an external disc drive to rip CDs directly to the Nucleus. 

Sonically, Nucleus and Nucleus Plus are identical. While reviewing our recent parade of DACs, I’ve discovered that a direct wired or wireless Roon Ready connection to the Nucleus is always sonically superior to connecting to the USB port of a computer remote. It’s a darker achromatic slate that feeds an entirely transparent signal to Roon’s audio engine. That neutral background allows you to shape your system’s sound signature with DACS, playback devices, amps, and speakers. Nucleus provides the optimal platform for sonic sculpting; simply choose from any of our 1000+ Roon Certified partner devices to customize your sound.

If you’re looking for the quickest, easiest, most reliable, problem-free, best-sounding, sweetest smelling, and immediately excellent Roon-designed Roon server experience… Ok, maybe not the sweetest smelling; I was just making sure you were listening. If you’d like all that other good stuff, then Nucleus is for you! A personal bonus is that Nucleus has provided snappier Roon performance and 100% problem-free operation since I added one to my setup. Now let’s look at some other benefits.

tidal for roon nucleus music server

Plug yourself into the web of sound

Ok, your Roon server is sorted; now what? Now it’s all about the music. If you have a library of local music files, connect an external hard drive directly to the Nucleus, point Roon toward your network storage location, or simply drag and drop your music to the internal storage drive. Roon immediately flexes its metadata superpowers on your collection – to bring its hidden relationships and stories to life. You can tap into an even more spectacular sound repository if you don’t have many music files. Or…you can have both! Upload your music and add streaming; that’s our favorite!

As music lovers, we’re fortunate to live in a time when music is so plentiful and easily accessible. Syncing a streaming service in Roon immediately plugs you into what we call the vast web of sound. Adding streaming to Roon lets you explore and stream untold millions of lossless and Hi-Res tracks.​ It also means 24/7 access to an unrivaled array of high-resolution recordings when using Roon ARC.

TIDAL, Qobuz, or KKBOX membership places a practically limitless all-encompassing palette of music at your fingertips. Once synced, Roon’s rich features are applied to those immense catalogs delivering effortless discovery of new and forgotten favorites informed by an intimate understanding of the interconnected storylines of the music we already love.

tidal for roon nucleus music server

For instance, using the TIDAL browse tab in Roon unlocks an exclusive set of personalized mixes, new album recommendations based on popularity and your listening history, and the keys to exploring new genres. TIDAL’s selection of curated playlists is easy to find and even easier to spin. Roon uses your streaming subscription to augment those features with even more recommendations, featured albums, daily mixes, and a Roon Radio experience tailored to your specific tastes. Roon accentuates the treasure hunt while its MUSE audio engine delivers a pristine, uncolored, bit-perfect listening experience.

Try to imagine another way you can have all of the above with such ease. You cannot; Roon is the only way to experience what I’ve described. And Nucleus + Roon + streaming is unquestionably the very best way to enjoy music.

Conclusion

Nucleus is an unrivaled, dead simple to use, purpose-driven home Roon Server and an immediate gateway to plug-and-play Roon enjoyment.

Its high performance, power-efficient reliability, and fanless solid-state design guarantee superior audio quality. An intuitive user interface provides effortless ease of use and support-free operation, allowing you to focus on what Roon is all about – unparalleled exploration and discovery of bit-perfect high-resolution music delivered to your listening space – wherever that may be. 

If that sounds appealing to you, we’re confident you will love Nucleus. 

Click here to customize your Nucleus at The Roon Store!

roon nuclues music server plus

Roon Nucleus FAQs

Are these devices Roon Certified?

They’re beyond certified; Nucleus and Nucleus Plus are Roon bona fide! This is the only music server explicitly designed for Roon by the same team that created Roon. 

What does a Roon Nucleus do?

Nucleus is a device that acts as your Roon Server – it’s the foundation and the most critical piece of your Roon system. It’s where everything begins and the best way to experience Roon. It’s also dead simple to use and a perfect purpose-driven home for Roon.

Do I need a streamer with Roon Nucleus?

You don’t have to have a streamer; Nucleus will handle all that. But you may still want one, depending on your use scenario and where you place Nucleus in your listening environment. Nucleus is your mothership; you can connect it to your audio devices using a wired or wireless connection. 

Does Roon Nucleus sound better?

In some cases, yes. I’ve discovered that a direct wired or Roon Ready connection to the Nucleus is always sonically superior to connecting to the USB port of a computer remote. It’s a neutral palette for Roon’s advanced audio engine that allows you to shape your system’s sound signature with any of our 1000+ Roon Certified partner devices.

Is Roon Nucleus an endpoint?

No, it’s not an audio device; its job is more important. It’s your Roon Server – the origin of all things Roon, the gatekeeper of in-home listening and on-the-go Roon ARC enjoyment. Nucleus provides the most stable, quickest, easiest, utterly reliable, problem-free, best-sounding, and immediately excellent Roon-designed Roon Server experience. Get one; you’ll see what we mean.

What type of input and output connections do they have?

  • Inputs are 2 x USB-A 3.0 for connecting an external storage drive or network attached storage box.
  • Outputs include 2 x USB-A 3.0, 2 x HDMI audio-only stereo and multi-channel, networked Roon Ready, Apple Airplay, and Google Chromecast devices. 

Tech specs: 

Roon Nucleus

  • Audio inputs: 2 x USB-A 3.0 for connecting an external storage drive, network attached storage (NAS)
  • Audio outputs: 2 x USB-A 3.0, 2 x HDMI audio-only stereo and multi-channel, networked Roon Ready, Apple Airplay, and Google Chromecast devices. 
  • Zones: up to six simultaneous zones
  • Digital signal processing (DSP): complete DSP functionality in the PCM audio domain. Some DSP functions and combinations may be limited by the DSD and MQA formats to ensure format integrity.
  • Internal storage: 2.5″ SATA SSD or HDD up to 15mm drive height (drive not included)
  • External storage: 2 x USB-A 3.0 for connecting external storage drives, network attached storage (NAS)
  • Library capacity: up to 10,000 albums (100,000 tracks)
  • Network: gigabit network LAN
  • APP: Roon Remote (Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android) and Roon ARC (iOS and Android)
  • Control systems: Roon API, Crestron, Control4
  • Power supply: DC Power Supply (19V, 60W); Barrel length: 2.5mm ID, 5.5mm OD, 11mm L; Cord length: 4 feet
  • Enclosure: heat-dissipating one-piece die-cast aluminum chassis.
  • Finish: automotive grade satin off-black
  • Dimensions: 10.5in (W) x 10.5in (D) x 2.5in (H)
  • Weight: 7lbs (product only)
  • Warranty: 2 years

Roon Nucleus Plus:

  • Audio inputs: 2 x USB-A 3.0 for connecting an external storage drive, network attached storage.
  • Audio outputs: 2 x USB-A 3.0, 2 x HDMI audio-only stereo and multi-channel, networked Roon Ready, Apple Airplay, and Google Chromecast devices. 
  • Zones: unlimited simultaneous zones
  • Digital signal processing (DSP): complete DSP functionality. Some DSP functions and combinations may be limited by the DSD and MQA formats to ensure format integrity.
  • Internal storage: 2.5″ SATA SSD or HDD up to 15mm drive height (drive not included)
  • External storage: 2 x USB-A 3.0 for connecting external storage drives, network attached storage (NAS)
  • Library capacity: More than 10,000 albums (100,000 tracks)
  • Network: Gigabit network LAN
  • APP: Roon Remote (Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android) and Roon ARC (iOS and Android)
  • Control systems: Roon API, Crestron, Control4
  • Power supply: DC Power Supply (19V, 60W); Barrel length: 2.5mm ID, 5.5mm OD, 11mm L; Cord length: 4 feet
  • Enclosure: Heat-dissipating one-piece die-cast aluminum chassis.
  • Finish: automotive grade satin off-black
  • Dimensions: 10.5in (W) x 10.5in (D) x 2.5in (H)
  • Weight: 7lbs (product only)
  • Warranty: 2 years

What comes in the box?

Roon Nucleus/Nucleus Plus:

  • Roon Nucleus Server
  • Universal DC Power Supply with US/UK/EU/AU plug adapters
  • Quick Start Guide
  • One year of Roon promo subscription code
  • Four screws for mounting an internal storage drive (drive not included) 

Roon Ready Writeups: iFi GO bar, GO blu, and xDSD Gryphon Review

A bold, and better-sounding, new world

The release of Roon 2.0 has revolutionized our connection to the music we love, thanks to the Roon ARC app. Roon ARC hands us the keys to a custom-built streaming service – powered by the very same music library and rich trove of Roon features we enjoy at home. Now that ARC is our mutual music obsession, we’re continuing our exploration of specialized portable DACs perfect for getting the most out of our on-the-go music listening.

Some folks may wonder why even bother with it – it’s just a mobile device. And that’s a reasonable question. Rather than fall back on a reflexive music obsessive’s “because music, dude.” answer, let’s consider why. One reason is that Roon ARC uses the same superior audio engine as your Roon setup at home. Another is that we frequently don’t realize what we’re missing until we hear the difference that a good DAC can make. Returning to mediocre sound afterward presents a real challenge – and potential suffering. We don’t want you to go through all that, which is reason enough.

Fortunately, audio manufacturers have stepped up to make the task more effortless than ever before. They’re locked in a feverish race to churn out value and feature-packed, small-form-factor DACs with impressive sound quality and plummeting prices. It’s a surprisingly competitive market that music lovers benefit from. Roon is here to help you choose with a growing selection of portable converters featuring flagship DAC chipsets and inclusive format support in every price range – and in increasingly undersized packages.

The iFi Audio products in this review are examples of that. The iFi GO blu is so tiny it could be a HiFi system for a fairy house – the GO bar resembles a lighter. They’re small small, but both earned a “though she be but little, she is fierce” rating on our scale of sonic subjectivity. Let’s take a closer look at what they have to offer. 

iFi Audio, specialists in affordable feature-packed on-the-go DACs

The GO blu, GO bar, and xDSD Gryphon aren’t iFi’s first foray into portable or desktop DACs. The retired micro and nano series devices were Roon Tested customer favorites and offered considerable value to feature benefits. Their new lineup retains many of the previous models’ connectivity and file format strengths while adding performance, sound, and circuitry implementation improvements in all-new, incredibly downsized enclosures. 

All three models feature balanced and single-ended headphone outs, impressive amp output power, multiple digital filters, and sound processing modes, plus bespoke device-tailored circuitry implementation to ensure winning performance before their individual character traits are dialed in. 

ifi go blu review

GO blu (seen above through a magnifying glass) is iFi’s most portable DAC and headphone amplifier. It supports every current Bluetooth codec plus high-resolution streaming up to 24-bit/96 PCM over USB-C. It’s sparse on LEDs and controls to maintain its size, and each button is multi-function. It also features a built-in microphone for calls and voice commands.

ifi go bar review

GO bar is a remarkably feature-packed DAC that offers uncompromised file support for up to 32- bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256, DXD, and full MQA playback. It packs a whopping 7.5 volts of balanced output power that outpunches every other DAC in this weight class. iEMatch allows the GO bar to push sensitive in-ears without associated hiss or noise. 

ifi audio xdsd gryphon review

The 2022-2023 EISA Best Portable DAC award-winning xDSD Gryphon provides unmatched connectivity with dual USB-C, Bluetooth, mini S/PDIF, and analog inputs with support for up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM; DSD512, DXD768, full MQA decoding and every Bluetooth codec in their familiar flask-shaped design. The OLED screen displays input, format, bitrate, and filter mode. iFi’s full suite of bespoke circuitry integration is tucked inside. Navigation is intuitive, and Gryphon is pleasantly easy to use. Full specs for each iFi model are listed further below.  

The iFi portable DACs paired exceptionally well with my headphone choices, powering them easily. We’ll cover general sound characteristics first and expand below with detailed listening notes. 

The devices have a slightly warm tuning consistent with iFi’s other models, but it isn’t overdone. There’s quick, realistic bass response; full, rich natural mids resulting in good upper mid presence. Imaging and detail are pretty impressive across all models. Staging is natural. Highs are clear and detailed, only bright or grainy on test tracks with those qualities. The Gryphon steps well forward of the other two DACs, but that’s expected given its price and award-winning status. 

Listening Notes

For close listening, I used Roon ARC and Roon to push Hi-Res FLAC and MQA from Qobuz and TIDAL directly to the headphone output of my iPhone, iPad, or Apple Silicon MacBook Air. Immediately afterward, I listened to each selection a second time with an iFi DAC taking the place of the system headphone out.

Then I activated the audio filters to assess their impact on each track and the headphone pairings I used. Headphone choices were the Meze 99 Classics and its new open-back look-alike – the Meze 109 PRO. I also used the Sennheiser Drop 6XX to test their output power.

The reference tracks came from my New Releases For You section in Roon and Community member recommendations from What We Are Listening To [2022-10].

John Coltrane – Blue Train – from Blue Train: The Complete Masters using the iFi GO blu with the Meze 99 Classics.

iPad headphones out:

Those landmark opening horn lines feel mournful! Paul Chambers’ loping bass is rubbery in the right channel. Coltrane’s horn soars in the center upper left, but there’s not a lot of detail to engage with. The piano and cymbals are lost, not much character in the drums. Backing horn parts aren’t very distinct. It almost feels like listening to an MP3. There’s good energy during Lee Morgan’s break, but that’s all coming from him. There’s heaps of nuance missing. 

iFi GO blu:

ifi go blu review

The legendary three-horn intro has returned to its full glory! Rhythm section synergy is on full display from the first few bars, and the bop lines from the piano cut through the mix better. Trane’s horn is rounded and warm, with sumptuous tonal color and mild grain when he digs into the body – but there’s also excellent air. 

The entire soundstage has improved depth. The backing horn lines are distinct, with more precise imaging now. Morgan’s break absolutely crackles with his signature fire. Curtis Fuller’s trombone lays in with some cool blue riffs. When the horns lay out, Kenny Drew kicks the piano up a gear as Philly Joe and Paul Chambers lock in perfectly. The GO blu presents the trio segment splendidly. This is what several constituents of the Miles Davis Quintet at work are supposed to sound like! The GO blu and the 99 Classics pair well here and do this track justice.

Filters review:

XBass: This filter doesn’t work too well here. The bass is placed pretty far right in the mix, and with the filter activated, the track feels lopsided. 

XSpace: This scoops out the bass a bit too much and also takes away from the piano, creating an unnaturally thin sound. Spatial shaping is just more EQ. 

XBass+XSpace: This added watery depth to the soundstage during Curtis Fuller’s break due to the splashy plate reverb. During the piano trio segment of the track, this filter played really nicely.  

No Filters: Returning to an unprocessed signal demonstrated that while the filter settings were agreeable in places, they’re not necessary on this particular track because the interplay and musicianship outstrip any need for sound fiddling. 

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River – from At the Royal Albert Hall using the iFi GO bar with the Drop/Sennheiser 6XXs.

MacBook Air headphones out: 

This is another excellent example of how a carefully chosen DAC improves music listening. The laptop headphones out doesn’t generate enough power to adequately run these headphones. This is something that many of us have encountered: we take tentative steps into quality headphones only to realize they need more than our stock devices can provide to sound their best. And that’s precisely what I experienced when I tried to run these moderately power-hungry Sennheiser 6XXs. 

Consequently, there’s not much going on here other than volume. The track is a live rocker, so it suffers considerably less than some other selections might have. The bass throbs shapelessly, cymbals are lifeless, anemic snare snap, boxy drums, and guitars are scratchy and mildly abrasive. These are relatively warm headphones, but some highs are sharp and brittle.   

iFi GO bar:

ifi go bar review

Here’s where the GO bar revealed CCR’s true colors. GO bar powered the Sennheiser 6XXs effortlessly. 

Green River exploded to life with driving bass lines that exhibit thunderous heft. The snare leaps to the fore tucking itself between the vocal and just below the bass. Fogerty’s vocal is filled out and soulful. His melismatic lyrics fold themself into Stu Cook and Doug Clifford’s heavy groove like broken-in chambray. Tom Fogerty’s guitar, practically inaudible before, provides extra color with Byrds-like chiming rhythm lines. John’s stinging guitar leads were so gritty and distinctive that they pulled me into an unplanned bonus lap. 

I loaded up the new Travelin’ Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall documentary on Netflix to see them crank this one out on archival film. Another benefit was immediately highlighted, portable DACs make everything sound better. They’re not just for music. It’s difficult to fully articulate how much detail was missing when using the laptop’s headphones out when compared to the GO bar. It’s something that has to be heard to fully understand.

Filters review:

XBass: the low bass region is heavier and has a rounder depth. There may be a slight heft for definition trade-off. But still, a decent enough filter when applied to this track.

XSpace: this filter has more of an upper mids/low highs focus, drawing out the airy frequencies. It saps the groove and doesn’t work on this track. 

XBass+XSpace: The added punch in the lows is balanced by the presence boost providing equal helpings of drive and space. This setting really works for this track and headphone pairing. 

No filters: returning to an unprocessed sound wasn’t a big jolt. That’s always a good indicator that the filters were well-implemented and designed. 

Abel Selaocoe – Ibuyile l’Africa / (Africa is Back) from Where is Home (Hae Ke Kae)  using the iFi xDSD Gryphon with the Meze 109 PRO

iPhone headphones out

This performance really drove home the point of our portable DAC testing exercises. Ibuyile l’Africa (Africa is Back) is a traditional South African hymn sung during the apartheid era that encourages African youth to shape their future and cherish their traditions. It provides a taste of South African cellist Selaocoe’s distinctive and diverse talents by blending isiZulu vocals with an ethereal cello solo contributed by Yo-Yo Ma. 

It’s also a demonstration of the eclectic range of recommendations you’ll encounter in the Music threads of Roon Community. Even the iPhone’s paltry headphones and its difficulty pushing Meze Audio’s 109 PRO couldn’t entirely strip it of its beauty and emotional depth. Still, it’s overtly apparent that instrumentation and musicianship of this caliber are painfully underserved by the iPhone’s onboard DAC. And in many more ways than just the downsampling of the original 24/96 Hi-Res track. I felt rude listening to the piece in this way.

iFi xDSD Gryphon

ifi xdsd gryphon review

When heard through the xDSD Gryphon, entire landscapes of previously absent tonal color, gentle dynamics, and acoustic space are revealed. The interplay of instruments and voices is intoxicating and captivating in equal measure. The violins swell among the warmer cello, and beautifully expressive vocal lines rise and fall with the melodic string accompaniment as the piano adds light punctuation and delicately flowing motifs. To enjoy a composition this beautiful with coffee and quality open-back headphones under a giant oak tree in the park on a golden autumn morning is audio-decadence-defined. One I never would have had without Roon ARC, iFi Gryphon, and the Meze 109 PRO’s similarly spellbinding contributions to the experience. 

Filters review:

XBass: Ouch! When activating the XBass filter, I was assailed by an unexpected loud snap. It’s the first time I’ve encountered that when using the filter options on one of these devices. That was quite unpleasant. In this piece, XBass has less of an effect. There’s some marginal added depth when the cello and piano are present, but they’re superfluous and unneeded.

XSpace: Again, not much benefit. The piece already enjoys a lovely recording space and remarkable dynamics.

XBass+XSpace: Another loud pop. The experiment is concluded until I figure out the cause.

No filters: The composition and performance are masterful in their own right. There’s no need at all for any menial improvements. The sudden, painful spikes caused by activating the filter have made me cautious about playing with the settings further.  

Conclusion

iFi’s commitment to making high-quality audio accessible to everyone continues. Their new lineup of versatile High-Res portable DACs is perfect for enjoying the benefits of Roon ARC, Roon, or any other media you consume on your mobile device or laptop. Portable DACs make everything sound better. They’re not just for music. Gaming, movie streaming, podcasts, radio… all your better sound wishes are granted.

All three models are flexible feature and connectivity-rich DACs with bespoke device-tailored feature implementation and impressive output power capable of driving demanding headphones. The iFi xDSD Gryphon is an award-winning portable DAC with support for up 32-bit/768kHz PCM; DSD512, DXD768, full MQA, and Bluetooth codec decoding overachiever with excellent sound and features. GO blu and GO bar were equally impressive by packing pristine audio quality into pixie-sized packaging. I can’t envision more portable on-the-go audio than iFi’s GO blu and GO bar.

They provided an immediate and obvious improvement over the onboard DACs we pitted them against, and they’re some of the most affordable inroads to high-quality audio that can be found. Even better, they were foolproof when integrated with Roon! Paired with our headphones and song selections, they were thoroughly exceptional sonically. iFi Audio makes it easy to enjoy high-quality audio wherever you go. Simply match them with any of the headphone options in The Roon Store to rediscover and reconnect with your favorite music.

Their winning streak in on-the-go value-for-price audio makes it a strong candidate for consideration whether you’re looking to take ARC to the next level or optimize your desktop setup. Any choice you make is guaranteed to reap Roon ARC rewards – and your ears will thank you!

For more details, please see iFi’s partners page.

Additional observations of note:

  • If your iOS devices are older models, you’ll want to ensure they’re compatible with iFi’s portable devices. I use an older iPhone (iPhone 7 on iOS 15.6.1) that wouldn’t send audio via USB to the iFi devices if my battery was below a certain charge level. My newer iPad worked without any problems. 
  • The text on the GO blu and GO bar is nearly invisible due to its low contrast. GO bars LEDs are on the small side also, making them difficult to read.
  • The Gryphon’s analog inputs become line outputs when USB, Bluetooth, or S/PDIF are selected as input. 
  • The Gryphon USB-C input has priority over the S/PDIF input. To use the S/PDIF input of the Gryphon, you must disconnect the USB-C input.
  • On two occasions, Gryphon emitted a loud pop from the headphone out when activating the audio filters. I couldn’t determine a cause, but the unexpected jolt was unpleasant. Other iFi owners have mentioned similar behavior in online forums. I recommend caution when applying the filters. Hopefully, iFi will investigate and fix the issue. It was the only less-than-stellar impression I had of the Gryphon.

iFi portable DAC FAQs

Are these devices Roon Certified?

  • Yes, each of these iFi portable DACs is Roon Tested. Simply plug them into a USB port or compatible adapter, then enable the device (or select the Zone connected to the iFi DAC) in Roon to enjoy better sound quality!

What file formats and resolutions do they support?

  • iFi GO blu: up to 24-bit/96kHz PCM via USB. Bluetooth 5.1 codecs: SBC (standard Bluetooth), AAC (Apple iOS), Qualcomm’s aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, and aptX LL (low latency), Sony’s LDAC, and LHDC/HWA Adaptive, aptX HD, and LDAC
  • iFi GO bar: up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256 native, and MQA via USB.
  • iFi xDSD Gryphon: up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM, DSD512, DXD768, and MQA. Up to 24-bit/192KHz PCM and DoP (S/PDIF) 

What type of input and output connections do they have?

  • iFi GO blu: 
  • Inputs are USB-C and Bluetooth 5.1. 
  • Outputs include 1 x unbalanced 3.5mm, and 1 x balanced 4.4mm headphone outs.
  • iFi GO bar: 
  • Inputs are 1 x USB-C. 
  • Outputs include 1 x unbalanced 3.5mm, and 1 x balanced 4.4mm headphone outs. 
  • iFi xDSD Gryphon: 
  • Inputs are 2 x USB-C, (one for audio, and one for charging) Bluetooth 5.1, 1 x 3.5mm S/PDIF, 1 x 3.5mm analog, and 1 x 4.4.mm analog. 
  • Outputs include 1 x unbalanced 3.5 mm and 1 x balanced 4.4mm headphone outs. 
  • The Gryphon’s analog inputs become line outputs when USB, Bluetooth, or S/PDIF are selected as input. 
  • The USB-C input has priority over the S/PDIF input. To use the S/PDIF input, you must disconnect the USB-C input.

Tech specs: 

iFi GO blu:

  • DAC Chip-set: Cirrus Logic 43131
  • Bluetooth Chip-set: Qualcomm QCC5100
  • Compatibility: Roon Tested, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Audio inputs: 1 x USB-C, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Audio outputs: 1 x unbalanced 3.5 and 1 balanced 4.4.mm headphone outputs
  • Supported File Formats: up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM and Bluetooth 5.1 codecs: SBC (standard Bluetooth), AAC (Apple iOS), Qualcomm’s aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, and aptX LL (low latency), Sony’s LDAC, and LHDC/HWA Adaptive, aptX HD, and LDAC
  • Dynamic Range: > 120dB(A)
  • Output Impedance: < 1Ω
  • THD+N: Balanced: < 0.009% @ (6.5mW/2.0v@600Ω); Single-ended: < 0.03% @ (100mW/1.27v@16Ω)
  • Power Output: Balanced: 245mW @ 32Ω, 5.6v @ 600Ω; Single-ended : 165mW @ 32Ω, 2.8v @ 600Ω
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 45kHz (-3dB)
  • Battery Life: 8-10 hours
  • Weight: 0 lbs, 0.95 oz.
  • Dimensions: 2.1″ (W) x 1.3″ (H) x 0.5″ (D)

iFi GO bar:

  • DAC Chip-set: Cirrus Logic 43131
  • Compatibility: Roon Tested
  • Audio inputs: 1 x USB-C
  • Audio outputs: 1 x unbalanced 3.5 and 1 balanced 4.4.mm headphone outputs
  • Supported File Formats: up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256 native, and MQA via USB.
  • Dynamic Range: 109dB(A) Balanced; 108dB(A) Single-ended
  • Output Impedance: < 1Ω
  • THD+N: Balanced: <0.002% (6.5mW/2.0V @ 600Ω); Single-ended: <0.09% (100mW/1.27V @ 16Ω) 
  • Power Output: Balanced: 475mW @ 32Ω; 7.5V @ 600Ω; Single-ended: 300mW @ 32Ω; 3.8V @ 600Ω
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 45kHz (-3dB)
  • Weight: 0 lbs, 0.1 oz.
  • Dimensions: 2.6″ (W) x 0.9″ (H) x 0.5″ (D)

iFi xDSD Gryphon:

  • DAC Chip-set: Cirrus Logic 43131
  • Bluetooth Chip-set: Qualcomm QCC5100
  • Compatibility: Roon Tested, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Audio inputs: 1 x USB-C, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Audio outputs: 1 x unbalanced 3.5 and 1 balanced 4.4.mm headphone outputs
  • Supported File Formats: up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM and Bluetooth 5.1 codecs: SBC (standard Bluetooth), AAC (Apple iOS), Qualcomm’s aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, and aptX LL (low latency), Sony’s LDAC, and LHDC/HWA Adaptive, aptX HD, and LDAC
  • Dynamic Range: > 120dB(A)
  • Output Impedance: < 1Ω
  • THD+N: Balanced: < 0.009% @ (6.5mW/2.0v@600Ω); Single-ended: < 0.03% @ (100mW/1.27v@16Ω)
  • Power Output: Balanced: 245mW @ 32Ω, 5.6v @ 600Ω; Single-ended: 165mW @ 32Ω, 2.8v @ 600Ω
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 45kHz (-3dB)
  • Battery Life: 8-10 hours
  • Weight: 0 lbs, 0.95 oz.
  • Dimensions: 2.1″ (W) x 1.3″ (H) x 0.5″ (D)

What comes in the box?

iFi GO blu:

  • iFi GO blu
  • User manual
  • Warranty card
  • iFi decal
  • Soft travel case
  • USB-A to USB-C cable

iFi GO bar:

  • iFi GO bar
  • User manual
  • Warranty card
  • iFi decal
  • Leather travel case
  • Lightning to USB-C cable
  • USB-C cable
  • USB-A to USB-C adapter.

iFi xDSD Gryphon:

  • iFi Gryphon
  • User manual
  • Setup guide
  • Warranty card
  • iFi decal
  • Soft travel case
  • Lightning to USB-C cable
  • USB-C cable
  • USB-A to USB-C cable

Roon Ready Writeups: The AudioQuest DragonFly meets Roon ARC Review

The arc of Roon: A continuous line of progression

I’m going to start by giving you a peek behind the curtain. The last few weeks have been absolutely incredible at Roon. The reason is the recent unveiling of Roon 2.0, our most exciting release yet. It’s packed with new features and delivers significant performance improvements on more hardware platforms than ever before. 

Even better, it includes something our customers have requested for a long time – something that forever changes how we use Roon. It’s called Roon ARC – think of it as your own custom-built streaming service powered by your Roon Library at home. It’s now included free of charge with every new and existing Roon subscription. With ARC, staying connected to Roon and the music we love is easier than ever! We’re genuinely humbled by your enthusiasm for ARC and delighted to hear how much you’re enjoying it. 

We’ve been surprised by how many of you have asked about the name, “Why Roon ARC? What does ARC stand for?” Roon ARC isn’t an acronym for anything. Roon ARC just felt right – it named itself after what it wanted to be. 

ARC: a curved structure spanning space that forms a bridge and connects two points.  

roon ARC

And that’s precisely what Roon ARC does. It’s a beautifully designed, intuitive mobile app that creates a bridge to your entire Roon collection of local files and streaming favorites at home – no matter where you are. It includes Roon’s goldmine of music information, Roon Radio, Daily Mixes, New Releases For You, and Roon’s Valence discovery engine – all on your mobile device. 

Just as Roon Bridge creates a bridge between your audio devices, Roon ARC provides a connection across space to your Roon Library. And it utilizes the same audio engine as your Roon setup at home. Now you can explore, rediscover, and expand your music collection with great sound – no matter where you are. 

Wait, great sound on mobile devices? That’s not a thing… is that a thing?! 

We get it. Some of you may wonder if you read that correctly. High-resolution audio wherever you are… on mobile devices? Can you do that? Aren’t mobile devices solidly MP3 territory? We’re excited to say no, they are not, and yes, you can totally do that. As always, Roon is happy to help.

We’ll show you how to get high-quality sound from Roon ARC on your mobile device using the AudioQuest DragonFly – a tiny DAC/headphone amp powerhouse disguised as a magic iridescent USB stick. Best of all, it’s one of the most affordable and enjoyable audio upgrades you can make. 

AudioQuest DragonFly red black and cobalt

Flight of the DragonFlys, a flash of sonic color 

Even the most conscientious and committed screen agnostics must admit that they spend a great deal of time with their mobile devices. As a music lover, that means the sound you’re getting from music apps probably isn’t all that it could be. More than that, none of the sound you’re getting is that good. That’s because our device’s DAC falls into the “just good enough” performance bracket, even on laptops. 

But it’s only a mobile device, right? So we deal with it. Our real listening happens on our music systems at home – we say to ourselves. But there doesn’t have to be such a vast disparity in sound quality on mobile if you take flight with a DragonFly.

They’re powered when plugged into the port of your mobile with an adapter and take over decoding from the integrated device DAC. They’ll work with tablets and nearly any Windows or Mac machine. Or you can use them as a pre-amp, plug DragonFly into the USB from a turntable, or your laptop, then connect a pair of powered speakers. Bam, instant hi-fi system.

AudioQuest’s first DragonFly appeared in 2012. Over the last 10 years, the squadron has grown to three wings. The DragonFly Black, DragonFly Red, and flight leader – DragonFly Cobalt. Three impressive DAC/headphone amps that deliver a significant upgrade in sound quality over each other and absolutely smoke the mobile’s onboard DAC. They’re USB sticks dressed in automotive-grade iridescent paint (except for Black) with a 3.5mm headphone out on the other end. Small enough to stick in your pocket or drop into a backpack. They even come with a travel case. So how do they work, you ask?

Each DragonFly model features an ESS Sabre DAC chip, advanced power circuitry, filtering, and signal implementation, producing exceptionally detailed playback of up to 24-bit/96kHz PCM and MQA audio. They have minimal impact on mobile battery life and are firmware upgradeable. The Dragonfly on the sticks lights up to indicate the resolution of the track being played: standby (Red), 44.1kHz (Green), 48kHz (Blue), 88.2kHz (Yellow), 96kHz (Light Blue), and MQA (Purple). Pretty. It reminds me of Chord’s use of color. We’ll discuss audio details a bit more when we talk about their sound using some excellent tracks AudioQuest shared with us. 

audioquest dragonfly for arc playlist

Listening Notes

I used Roon ARC to push High-Res FLAC from Qobuz and TIDAL to the DragonFlys using my iOS phone while out and about. Then used them with Roon 2.0 on an Apple Silicon MacBook Air. My headphone pairings were the Meze 99 Classics and its new open-back look-alike – the Meze 109 PRO (review coming soon). I also used the Sennheiser Drop 6XX to test their output power. I queued up the playlist AudioQuest shared with us (see the DragonFly for ARC playlist on your home page in Roon.) and let it throw songs at me. I’d pause and play tracks while swapping out DragonFlys, eager and amazed to hear their differences in real time. 

I started with the headphone output of my iPhone by shuffling the playlist. Then I free-played ARC and Roon for an hour to note the differences between the DragonFly models.

Bobby Hutcherson – Love Song from Montara

Love Song is a percolating electric piano, vibes, horns, and hand percussion track that fuses soulful jazz with 70s R&B and features the heaviest players Blue Note Records had in their roster at the time. The track is off Hutcherson’s simmering soul jazz groove-fest meets Latin rhythm 1975 album, Montara. A bit of a sleeper in the soul jazz lineage. All Blue Note albums seem to project a deeply individual groove, and this one excels at it. Its active arrangement and mix of instrumentation fit our needs perfectly.

iOS out:

With the headphone out of the iPhone, all I got was more volume. There wasn’t any degree of detail, which really robbed the track of life. It felt suffocated and flat. Still an interesting piece but obviously underserved with the OS DAC. There was clearly a lot missing.

Audioquest Dragonfly black

DragonFly Black: 

Immediately there’s a night and day difference in sound quality. It doesn’t even feel like the same song. It’s wholly alive and awash with detail. The vibes and Fender Rhodes piano resonate over each other as Afro-Cuban percussion and hand drums add depth and texture. When the horns come in, their timbre and tonal differences are vivid, finding space to breathe. The increased output power rendered greater imaging and clarity from the Meze 109 PRO.

audioquest dragonfly red

DragonFly Red: 

Just as the Black surpassed the iOS output, Red is a giant step up from the Black. The detail is much sharper but not bright or grainy. The bass extension is nice and full. The horns are incredible. There’s more space to the soundstage and depth to the recording. Everything sounds more filled out; the AudioQuest headphone amp in the Red delivers nicely. There was wonderful synergy on this track when paired with the Meze 109 PRO and enough wow factor to impress jaded gear heads.

AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt

DragonFly Cobalt:

This was another startling jump in sound quality. I only expected a subtle improvement, but there were remarkable differences between Red and Cobalt. The pulsing ringing current from the vibes and sparkle of the piano are soulfully articulate, the musical interplay feels more fluid with the improved resolution, and the bass has a richer depth. Horns have lovely detail and presence. All the percussion exhibits finer granular character. There’s beautiful organic density to the music, increased dynamic response, and excellent output power. The soundstage is wide but natural. Imaging is a bit more speaker-like. It’s genuinely impressive – enough so to make the listener study the specs. And I’m a sound guy, not a specs guy.

The ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip is here. That’s the same DAC chip I’ve seen in the best-sounding DACs I’ve reviewed. But we know there’s more to a DAC than just its chip. Looking further… there’s also an AudioQuest headphone amp, improved microprocessor, mono-clock with jitter control, improved power circuitry, noise filtering, and an integrated minimum-phase slow roll-off filter. All of that results in impressively natural and thoroughly enjoyable sound. It’s truly awe-inspiring performance, especially considering the Cobalt provides sound quality of this level from a USB stick that slips into your pocket.  

The sound character observations above held when free listening on ARC and Roon Remote across the tracks on the AudioQuest Playlist and my Roon library favorites. 

audioquest dragonfly red with roon nucleus

Conclusion: Climb aboard the DragonFly.

Each move up the DragonFly color scheme resulted in an immediately detectable jump in fidelity. With the DragonFly Cobalt ultimately glowing the brightest. As it should be, it’s their flagship DAC. I can’t emphasize enough how surprised I was by what I heard. If you’re seeking a no-compromise experience that’s on par with your at-home Roon listening, Cobalt provides astounding performance in an unbelievably small package. 

But Cobalt’s excellence in no way suggests that the others aren’t star players. The entry-level Black is a vast improvement over the iOS and Mac system output. It perfectly demonstrates what adding the correct external DAC can do. Compared to Black, DragonFly Red is aflame with detail and dynamics, providing an instantly perceived leap in sound quality that had already been greatly improved. They easily drove the Meze 99 Classics, Meze 109 PRO, and even the 300Ω Sennheiser 6XX.  

They’re versatile and can be used for a range of scenarios beyond music listening. Here’s a testimonial from Noris, our Tech-Support team lead:

AudioQuest’s DragonFly DAC and headphone amps are perfect companions to Roon ARC or any listening that could benefit from improved sound quality. They remove all roadblocks to high-resolution audio on the go and on your desktop – and the entry price is unbeatable, no matter which one you choose. Grab a DragonFly, your favorite headphones, and your mobile for travel-friendly, superior sound quality wherever Roon ARC takes you. 

For more details, please see AudioQuest’s partners page.

Additional observations of note:

  • For mobile device connection, use an Apple camera adapter for iOS. The AudioQuest Dragon-Tail USB-C adapter can be used for Android.
  • Each DragonFly was rock solid with Roon ARC and Roon Remote. When using them, I didn’t have a single sync, volume, or responsiveness issue. 
  • There’s an entire DragonFly flight detachment at the ready across Roon. It’s one of the most used DACs among Roon staff. 
  • Updating the firmware of the DragonFly is as easy as downloading the AudioQuest device manager and accepting the update. 

AudioQuest DragonFly FAQs

Are these devices Roon Certified?

  • Yes, all three AudioQuest DragonFly models are Roon Tested. Simply plug them into a USB port or compatible adapter, then enable the DragonFly (or select the Zone connected to the DragonFly) in Roon to enjoy better sound!

What file formats and resolutions do they support?

  • AudioQuest DragonFlys support up to 24-bit/96KHz PCM and MQA rendering.

What type of input and output connections do they have?

  • All AudioQuest DragonFly models feature a single USB-A input
  • All AudioQuest DragonFly models feature a single 3.5mm headphone output

Tech specs: 

DragonFly Black:

  • DAC Chip-set: ESS ES9010 DAC chip with integrated minimum-phase fast roll-off filter
  • Compatibility: Roon Tested, MQA renderer
  • Audio inputs: 1 x USB-A
  • Audio outputs: 1 x 3.5 mm headphone output
  • Supported File Formats: up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM and MQA
  • Headphone Amp: Texas Instruments TPA6130
  • Output power: 1.2V
  • Dimensions: 0.74″ (W) x 0.47″ (H) x 2.44″ (L)
  • Weight: 0lb 3.5oz

DragonFly Red:

  • DAC Chip-set: ESS ES9016 DAC chip with integrated minimum-phase fast roll-off filter
  • Compatibility: Roon Tested, MQA renderer
  • Audio inputs: 1 x USB-A
  • Audio outputs: 1 x 3.5 mm headphone output
  • Supported File Formats: up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM and MQA
  • Headphone Amp: ESS Sabre 9601
  • Output power: 2.1V
  • Dimensions: 0.74″ (W) x 0.47″ (H) x 2.44″ (L)
  • Weight: 0lb 3.5oz

DragonFly Cobalt:

  • DAC Chip-set: ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip with an integrated minimum-phase slow roll-off filter for more natural sound.
  • Compatibility: Roon Tested, MQA renderer
  • Audio inputs: 1 x USB-A
  • Audio outputs: 1 x 3.5 mm headphone output
  • Supported File Formats: up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM and MQA
  • Headphone Amp: ESS Sabre 9601
  • Output power: 2.1V
  • Output Impedance: 10k ohms
  • Dimensions: 0.74″ (W) x 0.47″ (H) x 2.44″ (L)
  • Weight: 0lb 4.2oz

What comes in the box?

DragonFly Black/DragonFly Red:

  • DragonFly Black or DragonFly Red
  • DragonFly Flight (owners) Manual
  • 60-Day Roon subscription code (included with DragonFly Red only) 
  • DragonFly travel pouch. 

DragonFly Cobalt:

  • DragonFly Cobalt
  • 6″ AudioQuest Dragon-Tail (USB-C male to USB-A female adapter)
  • DragonFly Flight (owners) Manual
  • 60-Day Roon subscription code
  • DragonFly travel pouch.