FOMO. Fear of missing out. I’ve been using the Resonessence Labs Herus in various system configurations for a good few months and not once have I been troubled by FOMO. Fear of missing out on a better sound from bigger, badder, more expensive DACs — e.g. Resonessence Labs’ own INVICTA Mirus, the AURALiC Vega, Metrum Hex or Aqua La Scala MKII. It’s THAT good.
The Herus is one of the many USB-powered DAC/headphone amplifiers to come to market in the past two years. It joins the Audioquest Dragonfly 1.2 (US$99), the HRT microStreamer (US$189, review here), Audioengine D3 (US$189) and the ALO ‘The Island’ (US$299, review to come) as a portable solution that fits in the palm of your hand. Like the ALO unit, the Herus feels solid in the hand, readily connoting a sensation of substance, and unlike the HRT unit, it doesn’t feel like you could damage the Herus easily. You could probably throw it across the room and it’d come off unscathed.
What sets the Herus apart from (most of) the competition for me are three features: 1) DSD support, 2) a Type B USB input socket and 3) a 1/4″ headphone output socket.
The Type B USB socket I’ve been able to stir audiophile USB cables from Light Harmonic and Total DAC into the mix; both of which really open up the Herus’ sound. Ironically, the filter on the Total DAC D1 USB cable is larger and heavier than the Herus itself!
The 1/4″ headphone socket means Mr Speakers Mad Dogs get a look-in without having to first don the awkward pants of a 1/4″-1/8″ adaptor (which is needed for the ALO, HRT and Audioquest units).
At US$350, the Herus is one of the cheapest entry points into the micro-world of DSD music. I’m still playing (the pragmatic) wait ‘n see game with DSD, not necessarily because I’ve yet to be convinced of its sonic benefits but because thus far VERY few mainstream-ish titles have seen the light of day. There are even fewer that fall into personal categories of ‘know’ and ‘like’. Thankfully, Steely Dan’s Gaucho is one such album. I suspect most long-term ‘Dan fans would (ahem) peg Aja as their finest work…but not I. For me it’s Gaucho all the way, a near-perfect, California-drenched mid-life crisis record.
Gaucho is now available from the Acoustic Sounds online store as a DSD download for US$25. US$18 gets you the 24/96 PCM download from HDTracks. The big question then: how do they compare sonically?
Illegal fun, under the sun. What follows is far from conclusive. It’s a sample of precisely ONE album across TWO systems. And after this piece is done, I don’t want to hear Gaucho for a very, very long time. I’ve been flogging the both downloads in my current portable headphone and two-channel setups all week. The Resonessence Labs Herus provided D/A conversion in both, proving just what a flexible little fella it is.
System 1 (headphones): V-Moda Crossfade M-100 w/ Memory Cushions, Resonessence Labs Herus DAC, Total DAC USB cable filter, Macbook Air w/ Audirvana+
In both rigs, the results tumbled down the same.
Hollywood – I know your middle name. DSD serves up more texture – particularly on bass notes – but its presentation is softer, more easeful. The 24/96 PCM version pours in more caffeination, keener leading edge energy. It’s more forward sounding and perhaps a shade wider with soundstaging (which caught me by surprise). However, I can see how record lovers and NOS DAC diggers might prefer the DSD take; its closer to the qualities often (erroneously?) attributed to vinyl playback and filterless DAC solutions. If your system is chillin’ more than illin’, the HDTracks download is your guy. The DSD spin instantly recalls my recent foray into Blu-ray audio over HDMI: DSD sounds squishier; seeming more elastic.
When switching out the V-Moda cans for Mr Speakers’ Mad Dog headphones, I preferred the extra energy of the 24/96 PCM. It better cuts through the warmer, ‘vintage speakers’ vibe of the entry level Mad Dogs. Evolution Acoustics MicroOne are more ruthless with source material – here I’d peg the DSD as a better fitting suit.
So – what gives? I’d like to say I could pick a favourite but I just can’t. This standoff puts me me firm on the fence. DSD for more lively, thinner sounding systems, PCM for thicker, less energetic rigs. Cop out? Hardly. Different doesn’t always translate to better.
Yes, the Schiit Loki (US$149) is a cheaper DSD gateway but it doesn’t do PCM. Resonessence Labs mighty little Herus means you can try both for yourself in pretty much any system setup – no external power supply required. Don’t let its appearance fool you: it’s as suitable for portable audio solutions as it is for more luxurious two-channel configs. And it’s FOMO free. Good game Resonessence Labs, good game.
[The Resonessence Labs Herus will also work with an iOS 7-equipped iPhone or iPod Touch.]