Turn down for what. Volume pots – few things in hi-fi feel as satisfying as a sharp turn to the right just before that solo kicks in. Heck, there’s even a Tumblr page dedicated to reviews of nothing but knobs – a field day for Viz’s Finbar Saunders.
In the portable head-fi space, the downsized nature of DACs and headphone amplifiers more-often-than-not keeps ergonomic considerations at arm’s length.
Case in point: maximum air guitar satisfaction eludes the Resonessence Labs Concero HP’s onboard control. Pinching the pot between thumb and forefinger just won’t cut it each time you exhume Frampton Comes Alive.
Similarly, the multi-coloured day-glo of the Chord Hugo is a recessed push-me-pull-you, so designed to prevent in-pocket jags. Fair enough too, it’s a go anywhere device. But turning the crank on Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer” probably won’t deliver the feeling you’re after.
One of the few manufacturers to almost nail deep volume turn satisfaction is ALO Audio. Their Island USB DAC’s (review here) volume pot might not be as large as those found on full size components but it sits sufficiently proud of the surrounding chassis to make good with the illusion of turned satisfaction.
Moreover, being able to reach for a volume pot is both more pleasurable and convenient than fumbling with keyboard media keys. The tap-tap-tap of keyboard for volume up and down is the aural equivalent of a decent Shiraz served in a plastic cup – functional but flaccid.
ReTURNing hands to the volume knob are South Korea’s Aurender, whose Flow DAC / headphone amplifier (US$1295) has just been reviewed by yours truly for TONEAudio.
It’s tempting to see the Flow as a direct competitor to the Chord Hugo, especially in light of a user-installable mSATA drive to its internals which removes the storage burden from the host PC. However, a DAP it is not – a PC, Tablet or smartphone is still required for playback.
With rubber feet on its underside side and an OLED display sitting inside the volume pot ring, the Flow is entirely desk bound. And that’s a good thing! Meet with regular interruptions at work? The Flow’s volume pot is there for the turning down; it is easily the most ergonomically satisfying in its class. Think of the Devialet remote control unit transplanted to the portable head-fi space. The Flow’s pot-flow is smooth with a reassuring amount of resistance.
Also in the box – and not mentioned in my TONEAudio review – are a mini-TOSlink cable for connecting Astell&Kern DAPs and an RCA breakout cable for hooking the Flow up to bigger rigs. It’s easy to envisage the Aurender brick fronting a pair of desktop mounted active loudspeakers.
For commentary on how the Aurender Flow stacks up sonically against the Chord Hugo and Resonessence Labs Concero HP, you’ll need to spill US$5 on Issue 70 of TONEAudio over at the iTunes newsstand. Better still, US$19 nets you an annual subscription to the newsstand release which publisher Jeff Dorgay says will now see light of day well ahead of the free, lower-res .pdf that’s available over at www.tonepublications.com. Those without the cash will need patience instead.
Thanks go to Light Harmonic for providing LightSpeed 1G USB cables terminated with both microUSB and Type B to ensure consistency whilst conducting comparisons.