Neutron HiFi DAC V1 Review

 

 

Neutron HiFi™ DAC V1 DAC/Amplifier Review

 

Introduction:

Neutron HiFi™, established in 2011, develops audiophile-grade software (Neutron Music Player and Neutron Audio Recorder) and hardware (Neutron HiFi™ DAC V1, Neutron HiFi™ Isolator V1) catering to listeners seeking high-resolution audio experiences.

The Neutron HiFi™ DAC V1 that I will now review for you is an ultra-portable digital-to-analog converter (DAC) designed to improve audio quality that can be used with a variety of music players and audio apps on your computer, phone, tablet or other digital devices.

It features an ES9219Q DAC chip for digital-to-analog conversion and a headphone amplifier for increased listening volume. Additionally, it boasts preamplifier functionality, allowing connection between digital devices and traditional audio systems.

The DAC V1 supports high-resolution audio formats like PCM up to 32-bit/384 kHz and DSD up to DSD256 in order to provide a wider frequency range for compatible music sources.

Designed for portability, the Neutron HiFi™ DAC V1 features a compact size, lightweight build. It utilizes a USB-C input for connection to various devices and features a 3.5mm headphone jack with an output level of up to 2Vrms at 32 ohms. The DAC V1 also comes equipped with an OLED display for easy control and information viewing, along with two customizable double-tap actions for added functionality. Moreover, the DAC V1 utilizes 2x Ultra-Low Phase Noise Crystal Oscillators in order to eliminate jitter.

 

Disclaimer:

I’d like to thank Neutron HiFi for providing me with the DAC V1 DAC/Amplifier for this review. I am not affiliated with Neutron HiFi beyond this review, and these words reflect my honest and uninfluenced opinions about the product.

 

Price & Availability:

The actual price for the Neutron HiFi DAC V1 device itself is HK$1,370.00 (approx. US$165). I highly recommend purchasing the DAC V1 as a bundle with the USB Type-C to USB Type-C cable, USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable, and the stylish Leather case, which costs around HK$1,370.00 (approx. US$217.20) in total since these accessories are not included in the package. You can find more information on the Neutron HiFi website.

  

Package & Accessories:

The Neutron HiFi DAC V1, USB Type-C to USB Type-C cable, USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable, and the stylish Leather case bundle arrived in a relatively small, but nice packaging that reflects the general Neutron HiFi style. On the top of each box, you will find product brandings and an illustration of the products itself.

The Neutron HiFi USB cables, featuring both a USB Type-C to USB Type-C and a USB Type-A to USB Type-C option, prioritize reliable data transfer between USB devices.

Both cables have gold-plated connectors for improved corrosion resistance and signal transmission. They also feature a durable tinned copper core and a flexible nylon-braided exterior for better handling and tangle resistance.

The Type-C to Type-C cable offers a low-profile design with a total length of 15cm, ideal for connecting nearby devices, while the Type-A to Type-C cable measures 100cm in total length, suitable for connecting devices with more distance between them.

Neutron HiFi offers a very fancy leather case made with high-quality craftsmanship. The premium-looking leather cases come in five stunning options: red, green, blue, gray, and pink. You can choose the color while placing your order.

The case that came with my DAC V1 sample unit is green and looks very stylish.

The leather case features convenient cutouts: one on the top for the DAC V1’s OLED display, another on the top for the 3.5mm headphone jack, and a final one on the bottom for the USB-C port. The small magnetic lid keeps the case securely closed while providing easy access to the device.

 

Design & Build Quality:

The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 is an ultra-portable USB DAC/Amplifier in form of a very small dongle. It features a durable aluminum case/chassis with a Gorilla Glass 3 panel with a black tint on the top. The built quality is top notch and gives you immediately the feel that you hold a premium device in your hand.

The aluminum case/chassis of the DAC V1 is highly reliable. It protects sensitive internal components from external impact, including electromagnetic interference (EMI). This helps to improve audio quality by minimizing noise and distortion.

I was very surprised how small and lightweight the DAC V1 was that is actually smaller than it looks on Neuron HiFi’s webpage. The device measures just 50 x 19.9 x 9.6 mm (L x W x H) and is very lightweight with only 13grams (exclusive cable).

The device is available in two color options, which are Iron Grey and Silver, same like my review unit.

The front of the Neutron HiFi DAC V1 features a hock, scratch resistant Gorilla Glass 3 panel with a black tint. Behind the panel sits a small OLED display with a resolution of 96 x 16 pixels.

The display will show current state [State, Bits, Frequency] and then it will go off automatically to conserve power (you can change display behavior via NConfigurator app).

A change of playback state, volume, format, or 3.5mm jack connectivity will turn on the display to reflect the changes.

The DAC V1’s display offers multiple viewing modes for user preference. It features a black-on-white scheme for clear visibility. Additionally, users can customize the display orientation through the NConfigurator app. The device has a built in sensor for auto-rotation, which is a great addition.

The left surface (top of the device) is equipped with a USB Type-C interface.

The right side (bottom of the device) comes with a 3.5mm Headphone output that supports the CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association) standard that allows you to use headsets with microphone and inline control.

At the rear surface of the device are some product related brandings and the uhD Sound logo.

 

Technical Specifications:

  • Model                         : DAC V1
  • DAC                            : ES9219Q
  • Controller                    : NXP K-Series
  • Digital Input                : USB-C
  • Analog Output             : 3.5 mm headphone jack (24K Gold-plated)
  • Output Level               : 2 Vrms, 1 Vrms (optional)
  • Output Impedance      : < 0.6Ω
  • Channels                    : 2 (Stereo)
  • PCM Bits                    : 16, 24, 32
  • PCM Frequency         : 44100, 48000, 88150, 96000, 176400, 191500, 352800, 384000
  • Native DSD                : 64, 128, 256 / DSD over PCM (DoP) : 64, 128
  • Headset Micr              : Supported (CTIA)
  • Compatibility               : USB-C / USB Audio 2.0, Apple iPhone/iPad requires an adapter
  • Firmware Update       : Supported (OTA via Configurator utility)
  • Colors                         : Silver or Iron Grey
  • Dimensions                : 50 x 19.9 x 9.6 mm (L x W x H)
  • Weight                        : 13g

  

 

Hardware and Software Features:

The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 is a ultra compact but versatile USB DAC/Amplifier that is equipped with some powerful hardware specs such like ES9219Q DAC Chip, 2 x ultra-low phase noise Crystal Oscillators, Real-time ARM Cortex-M4 MCU Chip and more.

DAC (Digital to Analog Converter):

The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 is equipped with a ES9219Q 32-bit stereo DAC chipset that supports a patented 32-bit “HyperStream” architecture, which enables PCM up to 32-bit 384 kHz and native DSD256 decoding. The THD-N value of the device is approximately 0.00046% @ 32Ω over its 3.5 mm Single ended output, while it drops to just 0.00028% at 600Ω load.

The DAC features 2 Digital Filter which are FastRoll Off Linear and Apodizing Fast RollOff that can be selected from the NConfigurator companion app.

 

Amplification and Background Noise:

The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 comes with a single 3.5mm single-ended output that offers a headphone output level of up to 2 Vrms. You can optionally set the device to 1 Vrms via NConfigurator. The output impedance of the device is approximately 0.6Ω, which makes it suitable for a wide variety of IEMs without conflict with low-impedance and high-sensitivity earphones. What really impressed me about the device was the very clean and quiet background that was audible even with sensitive IEM’s like the HiBy Project ACE, which is a real hiss magnet.

32 Ohm100 Ohm600 Ohm
THD+N (see Note)0.000462% / -106.7 dB0.00028% / -111 dB0.00028% / -111 dB
DNR116 dBA120 dBA120 dBA
SNR115.9 dBA119.5 dBA119 dBA
Noise Floor 2.574 / 2.592 μVrms2.695 / 2.700 μVrms2.727/2.693 μVrms
Frequency Response/Flatness±0.02 dB @ 20-20 kHz±0.018 dB @ 20-20 kHz±0.018 dB @ 20-20 kHz
Crosstalk69 dB117 dB93.6 dB
Max Measured Level1.257 / 1.262 Vrms2.033 Vrms2.03 Vrms

Ultra-low phase noise Crystal Oscillators:

This Neutron HiFi DAC V1 utilizes two ultra-precise clock oscillators to minimize jitter and promote pristine audio quality. An Integer Mode operation bypasses fractional conversions, potentially resulting in very low distortion (THD+N) for an enhanced listening experience.

  • 1584 Mhz (44.1, 88.2, 176.4, 352.8 kHz)
  • 152 Mhz (48, 96, 192, 384 kHz)

 

ARM Cortex-M4 MCU Chip:

The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 prioritizes stable audio performance with its ARM Cortex-M4 MCU chip and real-time system, minimizing glitches and ensuring consistent sound quality. User convenience is addressed through over-the-air firmware updates via the NConfigurator app. Additionally, the DAC boasts smart power-saving features, allowing for extended listening sessions without compromising your mobile device’s battery life.


Double-tap Action:

The Neutron HiFi™ firmware update introduces user-customizable double-tap functionality for media playback control. Users can assign actions like Play/Pause, Next Track, or Previous Track to double taps on the top, bottom, or sides of the device through the NConfigurator app. This expands control options beyond standard headset buttons.

Software:

Neutron HiFi™ DSP & NConfigurator APP:

The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 goes beyond simple digital-to-analog conversion (DAC) functionality. It includes a built-in Neutron HiFi™ Digital Signal Processing (DSP) engine. This technology is similar to that found in the well-regarded Neutron Music Player application. The Neutron HiFi™ DSP engine offers a variety of audio processing options that can be applied to both music and video content.

By default DSP is inactive and DAC V1 is operating in audiophile bit-perfect mode. DSP can be activated and managed via the NConfigurator app.

The DAC V1 caters to both audio purists and those seeking sound customization. By default, the DAC operates in bit-perfect mode, ensuring the digital signal remains unaltered for the most transparent audio experience. This caters to listeners who prefer the original, unprocessed sound of their music.

However, the DAC V1 also offers a suite of DSP features accessible through the companion NConfigurator app (available for Windows, macOS, and Linux). These features include:

PEQ is probably one of the core DSP features, especially 20-band, per-channel. Recently added Surround (R.A.C.E.) DSP expands usage scenario to external speakers (this DSP is for external speakers only).

Crossfeed:

Aims to create a wider stereo image, mimicking the experience of listening through speakers in a room. This can potentially improve comfort during extended listening sessions.

 

Frequency Response Correction (FRC):

The NConfigurator app utilizes a very large database of Headphone and IEM profiles (AutoEq) in order to automatically adjust the sound signature for specific Headphone and IEM models. This is a great feature to play around with.

Moreover, a recent firmware updates (Firmware 40 – 42) expands the DAC V1’s DSP capabilities further. Users can now choose from various modes, including:

  • Off
  • Crossfeed
  • Surround (R.A.C.E.)
  • Frequency Response Correction (FRC)
  • Frequency Response Correction (FRC) + Crossfeed
  • Frequency Response Correction (FRC) + Surround (R.A.C.E.)
  • Equalizer (EQ) [10B]
  • Equalizer (EQ) [10B] + Crossfeed
  • Equalizer (EQ) [10B] + Surround (R.A.C.E.)
  • Equalizer (EQ) [10B] + Frequency Response Correction (FRC)
  • Equalizer (EQ) [20B]

Full list of available DSP effects is provided in Specification table (http://neutronhifi.com/devices/dac/v1/details) which can be updated upon further development of the firmware.

Neutron Music Player:

The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 is fully compatible with the Neutron HiFi™ Audio Engine a mature and feature-rich applications, including music playback that works with Microsoft Windows (10 and newer), Linux, OSX, Android and iOS.

Please note that the DAC V1 is universal USB DAC device, so it can of course be used with any other music player and audio apps.

The engine boasts high performance due to its low-level C/C++ code and support for 32/64-bit HD rendering. It offers a wide range of features for both developers and users, including:

  • High-Fidelity Playback: Supports various audio formats, gapless playback, and crossfading for a seamless listening experience.
  • Low-Latency I/O: Delivers responsive audio with low latency for real-time applications like games.
  • Modular Design: Offers a flexible architecture with mixers, sounds, effects, and VST3 plugin support for customization.
  • Advanced Audio Processing: Includes features like non-real-time processing, audio capturing, and voice chat functionality.

Overall, the Neutron Music Player utilizing Neutron HiFi™ Audio Engine is a powerful and versatile solution that unlocks the full potential of the DAC V1.

For your reference Neutron Music Players features, which users will see in the app, are listed here: https://neutroncode.com/apps/player

 

Equipment’s used for this review:

  • Devices          : Neutron HiFi DAC V1
  • IEM’s              : HiBy Project ACE, LetShuoer Cadenza4, CFA Supermoon, Hidizs MP145

 

Albums & tracks used for this review:

  • Adele – My Little Love (Spotify)
  • Randy Crawford – On Day I Will Fly Away (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Hayley Westenra – Odyssey Album (Dezzer HiFi)
  • Dionne Warwick – Walk On By (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Sarah McLachlan – Angel (Flac 24bit/48kHz)
  • Sertap Erener – Aşk (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Edith Piaf – Non Je Ne Regrette Rien (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Diana Krall – So Wonderful (DSF)
  • Aretha Franklin – I Say A Little Payer (Flac 24bit/96kHz)
  • David Bowie – Heroes (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
  • Elton John – Rocket Man ((Flac 24bit/96kHz)
  • Barry White – Just The Way You Are (Flac 24bit/48kHz)
  • Isaac Hayes – Walk On By (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Sting – Englishman in New York – (Flac 24bit/48kHz)
  • Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight (Flac 24bit/96kHz)
  • B.B. King – Riding With The King (Tidal Hi-Fi)
  • Dave Gahan – Kingdom (Tidal Hi-Fi)
  • U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Bro Safari, UFO! – Drama (Deezer HiFi)
  • Armin Van Buuren – Vini Vici (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Really Slow Motion – Deadwood (Deezer HiFi)
  • Jo Blankenburg – Meraki (Spotify)
  • Lorde – Royal (Flac 24bit/48kHz)
  • Toutant – Rebirth (Deezer HiFi)
  • Gogo Penguin – Raven (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
  • Gogo Penguin – Murmuration (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
  • Portishead – It Could Be Sweet (Spotify)
  • Charly Antolini – Duwadjuwandadu (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
  • Michael Jackson – Billie Jean (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
  • Ferit Odman – Look, Stop & Listen (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
  • Chopin – Nocturn No. 20 In C-Sharp Minor (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Fazıl Say – Nazım Oratoryosu (Live) (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Vivaldi – Le QuarttroStagioni “The Four Season” (Deezer HiFi)
  • Otto Liebert& Luna Negra – The River (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
  • The Eagles – Hotel California (Apple Music Lossless)
  • Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (Apple Music Lossless)
  • Lunatic Soul – The Passage (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Deftones – My Own Summer (Shove it) (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Photek – The Hiden Camera (Spotify)
  • Muse – Hysteria (Flac 24bit/48kHz)
  • Metallica – Sad but True (Flac 24bit/96kHz)
  • Opeth – Windowpane (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Megadeth – Sweating Bullets (Tidal Hi-Fi)
  • Rush – YYZ (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Rush – Leave That Thing Alone (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
  • Slayer – Angel of Death (Spotify)s
  • Liquid Tension Experiment 2 – Acid Rain (Spotify)
  • Yosi Horikawa – Bubbles (Spotify)

  

The Sound:

The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 is engineered to deliver a sound profile that is both expansive and precise. Its bass response is characterized by controlled dynamics and a decent level of detail, offering a strong subbass rumble and a clear mid-bass presence. The midrange provides a natural and lifelike experience, with a warm tonality that remains relative true to the original recordings. Vocals and instruments are given with ample space, resulting in a transparent and detailed presentation. The treble is refined and controlled, allowing high-pitched instruments and vocals to be articulated with clarity and precision.

This review was written after a burn-in period of around 60 hours. Selected sources are the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and MSI VECTOR GP68 HX 13V. My sound impression below are mainly based on IEM’s like the Campfire Audio Supermoon, IOAudio Volare, HiiBy Project ACE and LetDhuoer Cadenza4.

Bass:

The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 delivers bass that is both controlled and dynamic, with a high level of detail across the entire bass range, from the lowest subbass to the midbass frequencies.

In the subbass region, the DAC V1 demonstrates impressive depth, producing a strong rumble with good control. This is particularly noticeable when paired with sensitive in-ear monitors (IEMs) like the IOAudio Volare or Hidizs MP145. Tracks like “Royals” by Lorde or “Angel” by Massive Attack can benefit from this subwoofer-like extension.

The mid-bass is another strong point of this portable DAC/amp. It offers a powerful impact, clear definition, and a commanding presence, especially during complex musical passages like those found in Gogo Penguin’s “Raven” and “Murmuration.”

Instruments ranging from drums to electric guitars are reproduced with richness and a robust presence. Percussive elements like snares and kick drums are delivered with precision and force. This is particularly true when the Neutron HiFi DAC V1 is used with high-quality in-ear monitors such as the Campfire Audio Supermoon.

Midrange:

It seems like the sound engineers at Neutron HiFi have spent a lot of time and effort creating such an impressive level of fidelity in the midrange. The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 prioritizes a natural and lifelike midrange. Instruments and vocals have ample space, creating a sense of airiness. This transparency allows for a detailed and organic presentation. While leaning slightly warmer than neutral, the overall tonality remains accurate, and a key strength for this compact and highly capable USB DAC/Amp dongle.

The lower midrange presents a substantial sense of depth and body. This is noticeable when listening to male vocals like Isaac Hayes and Dave Gahan, or with instruments such as clarinets, kick drums, and trumpets. The upper midrange is another strong point, delivering detail, dynamism, and control. Female voices, from Adele to Sertap Erener are reproduced with vibrancy, fluidity, and emotion. This is particularly true when paired with sensitive IEM’s like the HiBy Project ACE or LetShuoer Cadenza4.

Instruments are portrayed with a pretty realistic timbre and remarkable detail throughout the midrange, especially when paired with IEM’s like the IOAudio Volare and LetShuoer Cadenza4. Their extension exceeds expectations for a device of this size and price point.

Treble:

The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 delivers a treble response that is both controlled and refined. Instruments and vocals in the higher registers shine with a balanced level of brightness and detail. This precision holds true even in complex passages, where the DAC V1 maintains surprising composure, especially when paired with the LetShuoer Cadenza4 and IOAudio Volare. The overall impression is one of clarity and precision, allowing high-pitched instruments and soprano vocals to take center stage without becoming harsh or unpleasant. This is likely a testament to the well-implemented digital-to-analog conversion process.

Looking deeper into the frequency range, the lower treble contributes significantly to the overall sonic clarity. This well-extended range enhances the listening experience for instruments like snare drums and cymbals, ensuring clear articulation of details. Soprano vocals also benefit from this range, allowing listeners to appreciate the nuances in a performer’s delivery. Finally, the upper treble shows a pleasing amount of airiness and sparkle audible with IEM’s like the Supermoon from Campfire Audio or the Cadenze4 from LetShuoer, particularly noticeable with instruments like pianos, hi-hats, and cymbals. This emphasis on detail in the upper treble suggests good synergy with headphones known for their clarity, as it allows them to fully express the delicate nuances present in those frequencies.

Soundstage & Imaging:

The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 delivers a soundstage that exudes spaciousness and airiness. This translates to precise localization and distinction of instruments and vocals. While not the most expansive presentation, the DAC V1’s soundstage offers a commendable level of depth and width, particularly impressive for such an ultra-portable USB DAC/Amplifier.

Listening to “Hotel California” by The Eagles reveals the DAC V1’s proficiency at separating the intricate guitar work and vocal layers, showcasing the clarity of its soundstage depth. Similarly, the complex composition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen is handled adeptly by the DAC V1’s fairly expansive soundstage, maintaining detailed vocal harmonies and clear instrumental separation.

 

Conclusion:


In conclusion, the Neutron HiFi DAC V1 is an ultra-portable DAC/Amplifier in form of a USB dongle that stands out as a highly portable and versatile digital-to-analog converter that promises to significantly enhance the audio experience for users. With its advanced ES9219Q DAC chip, powerful headphone amplifier, and support for high-resolution audio formats, it delivers a superior sound quality across a wide frequency range. The device’s durable construction, user-friendly features like an OLED display and customizable actions, and the inclusion of a sophisticated DSP engine further contribute to its appeal. The Neutron HiFi DAC V1 offers an expansive and precise sound profile, ensuring that every note is dynamic, detailed, and naturally reproduced, making it an excellent choice for audiophiles seeking a portable audio solution with an ultra-small footprint.

 

Pros & Cons:

  • + Excellent sound performance (especially considering the price, size, and being Neutron HiFi’s first device in this field)
  • + Detailed and extended treble
  • + Powerful and dynamic bass
  • + Well-controlled and Detailed Midrange
  • + User-Friendly Features (OLED display, Touch Control, NConfigurator app for DSP adjustments, Neutron HiFi Player)
  • + Clean (Noise-Free) & Powerful Output
  • + Ultra Compact Size

 

  • – No Balanced Output (4.4mm or 2.5mm)
  • – Optional Accessories (Cables and carrying case not included in base price)

 

Thank you for the Read!

 

 

 

 

 

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