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Bluetooth Monday with CEntrance’s portable BlueDAC

  • As seen at the Audio Next booth at CanJam Europe in Berlin last weekend, CEntrance’s BlueDAC is a portable USB DAC and Class A headphone amplifier whose microUSB port and AK4490 DAC chip pairing can play catch on PCM streams up to 32bit/384kHz and DSD.

    In hand, the unit feels much lighter than many similarly-sized (and priced) rivals. The BlueDAC’s textured biodegradable plastic chassis puts a mere 120g on the scales and a US$399 dent in the wallet. Not bad for first impressions. (The US$599 Chord Mojo weighs in at 180g).

    Digging into CEntrance’s website we learn that the BlueDAC is an evolution of the DACPort HD: one that adds 20-hour rechargeable Li-Po battery and Bluetooth input. Go wired or go wireless.

    Bluetooth audio has long enjoyed (endured?) a bad reputation among audiophiles, most likely because of its common association with poor-sounding hardware. That Bluetooth speaker you dislike doesn’t suck because of its wireless digital transmission medium but because of its small enclosure, 50cent drivers and $1 amplifier chips.

    CEntrance’s BlueDAC shows us this needn’t necessarily be the case. Its 3.5mm output hooked up to a pair of Audeze iSine 20 and Bluetooth paired with my iPhone 6S Plus to stream Spotify, the BlueDAC’s supremely airy top-end exposes a good deal of inner detail and spatial information. Most unexpectedly, Ben Salter’s “Back Yourself” communicated plenty of finesse.

    And here’s the kicker for iSine users – even via Bluetooth, the BlueDAC’s sound quality bests that of Audeze’s DSP-optimised Cipher cable. The DAC and the amplifier matter!

    With the planar-magnetic Audeze earphones, robust SPLs are reached at the very upper limit of the BlueDAC’s low gain mode. More demanding headphones will benefit from switching over to high-gain mode.

    The gain toggle is super-stiff to prevent potentially hearing-damaging in-pocket knocks. Ditto the volume control, which runs independently of the host device’s, even via Bluetooth. I opted to listen with my iPhone’s internal volume at full tilt to hand over SPL control to the CEntrance device.

    Impressed, I took the unit home to run balanced via its 2.5mm TRRS socket with a pair of Espresso edition Monk VE Plus. Once again, Bluetooth from iPhone to BlueDAC convincingly outperforms a direct-wired connection (via Monk’s 2.5mm-3.5mm adaptor) that relies on the Apple’s inferior D/A conversion and headphone circuitry.

    For purists, a digital direct discovery: Apple’s Lightning to USB adaptor means a hard-wired digital connection between iPhone and BlueDAC is only a microUSB cable away. With unknown Bluetooth compression (AAC or SBC?) removed from the equation, Ben Salter and band sound a little fuller, their audio image marginally better focussed. That’s what I hear when listening at the deadly quiet DARhaus.

    Out in the street, the benefits of a hard-wired connection are first eroded by the background noise of street life and then by the inconvenience of cables. Bluetooth means the BlueDAC can sit permanently in a pocket to leave the paired smartphone physically unrestricted. Calling bullshit on the need to rubber-strap a DAC/amp to a smartphone is long overdue.

    When paired with high quality DAC / amplification circuitry like that found in CEntrance’s BlueDAC, a wireless Bluetooth connection, preferably fuelled by the superior sounding AAC or aptX codec, will invariably be the preferred convenience/SQ see-saw sweet spot for many users.

    What a find!

    Further information: CEntrance

    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.

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