Fostex HP-A8mk2 – review and test of USB-DAC for headphones with amplifier
- Headphone amplifier equipped with high-quality sound 32bit-DAC (AK4490) and all discrete circuit.
- Supports a sampling frequency of up to 32 bit/192 kHz through in house developed USB driver. In addition, supports DSD 11.2 MHz (ASIO). *DSD playback on Mac is compatible up to 5.6 MHz.
- Eliminates the jitter caused by low accuracy of the source clock of the computer, etc. by using the asynchronous mode of an SPXO for audio (crystal oscillator).
- Equipped with high-quality sound, high-accuracy electronic volume for audio level control.
- Equipped with a large capacity toroidal power transformer.
- Computers, and digital and analog audio devices can be used as the input source.
- Plays DSF files, WAV files and AIFF files on an SD (SDHC) card directly using built-in SD (SDHC) card drive. The drive can also be used for future updates.
- There are several conditions for playback from an SD card. For more information, please refer to “Listening to the files on an SD card” on page 12.
- Equipped with an analog output terminal (RCA pin jack).
- Both the internal clock and the external clock are available for the master clock (only for SPDIF).
- 2x or 4x upsampling function (can also be turned off ).
- Switchable digital filter.
- 24 level gain settings for headphone output.
- Direct analog output that does not pass through the volume.
- Equipped with an infrared remote controller.
- Equipped with an organic EL display.
- Equipped with independent clocks for 44.1K factor and 48K factor.
The Japanese company Fostex is widely known as a manufacturer of high-quality studio headphones and other audio equipment, mainly of professional focus – microphones, mixers and studio monitors. However, their products are of no less interest for high-quality home listening. They are significantly different from competitors in the market and are already winning their fans. Read more in our reviews Fostex HP-A8C and Fostex HP-A4BL.
However, time does not stand still, manufacturers of digital-to-analog converters represent new chips, with updated features and more functionality, followed by hardware manufacturers. Following the trend, Fostex introduced the second version of its award-winning DAC – Fostex HP-A8mk2 based on the new AK4490 digital-to-analog conversion chip and other interesting innovations.
Fostex HP-A8mk2 – price. Where is the best place to buy?
The recommended retail price for the Fostex HP A8mk2 in the US is $ 1 197,80. At this cost, you can order it on Amazon. Plus Shipping, so the total cost of Fostex HP-A8mk2 when ordering on Amazon will be about $ 1220,00. I would not recommend ordering anywhere else except on Amazon. Since you are less likely to find cheaper, and if you do not take into account the fact that Amazon is probably the most reliable online store, it still very often provides free shipping.
A huge and heavy black box with a glass front panel, a bunch of switches and a mass of ports behind – that’s the whole design of the device. Among stationary amplifiers it is difficult to find something unusual, but, it seems to me, Fostex managed to dilute the harsh appearance with pleasant details.
The glass of the front panel is interesting to glare at different angles, and the gold-plated inputs under the headphones immediately attract the eye. The device has an intuitive control, so that it will not be possible to sort out all the twirls of labor: volume, choice of sound source, sound output, power.
OLED-display visually displays all the actions, and the complete control panel allows you to climb into the jungle of settings and in more detail to rebuild the sound, amplification and other parameters.
The appearance relative to the first model did not change. The quality of production is also at the same high level.
The first introduction to the Fostex HP-A8mk2 is a pleasant experience. The body is made of cut black thick-walled aluminum, and the front panel is made of glass. The build quality is very high. Controls do not lyuftyat and pleasantly pressed. Soft light OLED-screen, the absence of eye-burning LEDs and excessive congestion buttons, strict design – it all says that the manufacturer from the outset takes care of the consumer.
The presence of two headphone outputs will be useful if you want to share music with someone or compare a pair of headphones. The outputs work simultaneously. With the Output Set button, you can select where the sound goes: to the headphones or to the line output on the rear panel.
The volume control is performed, as it should be, in decibels in 0.5 dB increments. And the volume is regulated both on the headphone output, and on the line.
The Input Set control operates both as a button and as a controller. You can select the desired input, and also enter the menu and adjust the parameters.
On the rear panel are all kinds of switching connectors, including extremely rare for home appliances Analog In and Digital Out. But first things first.
The manufacturer claims for the device support for all possible digital sound formats from 44.1 to 192 kHz with a resolution of up to 32 bits, as well as a DSD stream from 2.8 to 11.2 MHz. For Apple computers, the DSD frequency is limited to 5.6 MHz, and for playback from the SD card – 2.8 MHz.
USB-input works with its own driver. It has an asynchronous mode of operation, output to ASIO and DSD support. (Asynchronous mode is a standard requirement for all modern DACs, it allows you to control the transmission speed on the receiver side, take data to the buffer and use your own high-quality generator next to the DAC.)
There is also an SD / SDHC card slot with the ability to play WAV, DSF and AIFF files from it, which not only adds functionality to the device, but also makes it work independently.
I would like to note a new remote control – with more comfortable rubber buttons and an increased number of functions.
The menu offers a wide range of settings, of which the most interesting are those that directly affect the sound quality:
- Up Sampling, possible choice: x1, x2, x4 – multiplication of the sampling rate before applying to the digital-to-analog converter chip
- Digital Filter, a possible choice consists of five options:
- Short Dly Shap
- Short Dly Slow
- Sharp Roll-Off
- Slow Roll-Off
- Super Slow
- MSCK Sel, possible choice: Dir or XTAL – choice of synchronization method
- Dir – synchronization of the digital-to-analog converter from the clocks of the signal reconstructed by the S / PDIF-receiver
- XTAL – use of internal high-quality cloak for DAC synchronization
- Direct, possible selection: On, Off – when the On mode is turned on, the volume control of the line output is inactive, the volume is always the maximum
In addition to the USB-ASIO driver, the manufacturer offers a cute and minimalistic player that works via an ASIO driver exclusively with Fostex products. The sound at its use is excellent.
If you remove the top cover, you can make sure that everything is organized internally quite competently.
The headphone amplifier and the filter coming after the DAC are designed on discrete elements, without the use of operational amplifiers. Stabilizers of power supplies are also made on a discrete basis. The used capacitors in analog and supply circuits are audiophile Nichicon Muse and ELNA. The chip of the digital-to-analog converter is a new chip from AKM, AK4490, it has a signal-to-noise ratio of 123 dB and KG below -112 dB. In addition, AKM added three more new filtering modes.