in , , ,

On the road: KEF M500 headphones and HRT microStreamer

  • Whilst on this portable audio jag – kick-started by the stunning Astell&Kern duo – I’ve been contemplating (again) the pragmatists choice for a portable head-fi rig: headphones and DAC/head-amp to take on holiday or on a business trip. In this context, portability and durability are just as important as holding fast to an audiophile mandate.  As is keeping the budget on a super-tight leash.

    This time last year I was rockin’ a CEntrance DACport with AKG K-520 headphones. That combo took me from hotel room to hotel room during a 10-day blast around the western United States. This year it’s gonna be HRT’s microStreamer (US$199/AU$219) and a pair of KEF M500 headphones (US$299/AU$499).

    Here’s why:

    First and foremost: the HRT device sounds truckloads better than the $0.05 headphone output on a MacBook Air. Ditto the CEntrance DACport.  However, the microStreamer sounds crisper and more dynamically adept than the CEntrance tube. Opting for the HRT also saves you/me $100. It’s smaller and lighter too; I can slip it into my jeans’ back pocket and not notice it’s there; something that’s not quite possible with the DACport. The HRT microStreamer is itsy-bisty-teeny-weeny-lose-it-in-the-bottom-of-your-bag small.


    Neither the DACport nor the microStreamer handle anything above 24/96 but I care not one jot when out on the road – 99% of my library is Redbook and the transient discombobulation of hotel rooms don’t lend themselves to chin a stroke through a 24/192 of Unknown Pleasures or a DSD (SACD rip) of Bossanova. For such higher-resolution listening, I’d opt for the bigger, heavier, better-sounding and 4x more expensive Resonessence Labs Concero HP.

    The M500 is KEF’s first shot at the full-size headphone market and they’ve hit the bullseye. Durable and comfortable, they offer superb midrange clarity that neatly exposes the treble delicacy and intricacy brought by increasingly better source hardware – but no need to go overboard when on the road, hence the HRT DAC/headphone amplifier. Back home, the KEFs see juice from a Burson HA-160 that furnishes them with greater fullness and organic bloom, compared to which the HRT sounds a little wire-y in the treble.


    Lastly, the outgoing AKG K-520 don’t fold up into a carry case for protected portability. The M500’s sturdy aluminium backbone and Smart-Hinge tech will keep transit damage at bay.

    Issue 57 of TONEAudio is an all-headphone affair.  There you can read my FULL review of the KEF M500 ‘phones. Dig in – Page 174.

    Further information: KEF / Advance Audio Australia | HRT

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

    CEntrance HiFi-M8 or Cypher Labs Theorem 720 DAC?

    Red Wine Audio announces Signature 57 integrated amplifier