Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Audiophile Review!
Essence HDACC II 4K
Headphone Amp/DAC/Preamp
“Low Cost, Versatile HDACC
Gets Major Performance Boost”

 Essence HDACC II Everything Audio Network
Price: $599
Likes: sound, connections, A/D
Dislikes: no word length indicator
Wow Factor:  HDACC II way above I 
More info: Essence HDACC II

by John Gatski
  In 2014, I reviewed the original Essence HDACC DAC. This $600 (now $399) all in one, HDMI v1.3 de-embedder, A/D, D/A converter was a handy, great sounding, audiophile device that could be fed by a universal Blu-ray player via HDMI, or by its assorted typical digital audio connections.
  The fixed level A/D worked great for dubbing vinyl and the headphone impedance, through software adjustment, allowed the HP amp to work with most HPs.
The new HDACC II-4K has all the of the great features of the original, but adds a mobile 32-bit/384 sample rate ESS Pro 9028 DAC chip, which is where the HDACC II-4K gets most of its sonic advantage over the original HDACC. The new DAC also boasts four HDMI 2.0a (4K capable) inputs, a single HDMI 2.0a pass through output, and native playback of 2.8/5.6 MHz DSD via DoP.
  The combination of HDMI upgrade, the new ESS Pro 9028 DAC chip and the increased upsample range keep the HDACC II-4K at the top of the heap when it comes to performance/value ratio of DACs in this price range.

  As with the original HDACC, the II-4K version is a sleek, half-rack size with just the right amount of control knobs and buttons and an easy-to-read OLED display. The front panel sports (l-r) a quarter-inch headphone jack, an eight-inch stereo analog input for the A/D, the OLED display, and the control knob/volume control.
  Round back are four HDMI 2.0a input jacks, an HDMI v2.0a output jack, digital SPDIF coax and optical inputs and outputs, USB digital input, which can handle up to 24-integer/384 kHz sample rate PCM and DSD via DOP via USB and HDMI.

  For $599, the Essence HDACC II-4K receives a major uptick in audio quality plus HDMI 2.0a compatibility. Its small foot print, connection prowess and the ability to handle most any headphones or drive an amplifier with the upgraded sound extends its reign as the Swiss Army Knife of D/A converters.

  The SPDIF TOSlink and Coax connections handle up to 24-bit/192 PCM. The unit contains analog XLR outputs, as well as and RCA unbalanced and the 1/8th-inch analog input jack for the fixed level 24/192 A/D converter. The latter can be sampled rate controlled from 24/44.1 through 24/192 and fed through the SPDIF and TOSlink outputs on the rear panel. The HDACC II-4K lost a bit of connection compatibility, compared to the original, when the A/D’s rear panel analog RCA input jack inputs were eliminated to make room for more HDMI inputs.
  Speaking of HDMI jacks, the four HDMI 2.0a jacks are compatible with all HDMI sources. Thus, you can use the DAC as the D/A converter for your TV, cable box, BD player, streamer, etc. For those who use their high-end BD players {late model Oppo, Denon, Marantz and Pioneer) as hi-res players Blu-ray and USB thumb drive for up to 24/192 stereo, the HDMI inputs are perfect. 

Essence HDACC II Rear Panel Everything Audio Network
A full array of connections including balanced  outputs.

  Operationally, the HDACC II-4K works just like the original with a combo push/button rotary volume control doing double duty. The volume control is a volume control until you push it. It then opens up the bluish, easy-to-read OLED based menu, which allows the user to toggle through the different modes including the Input, sample rate converter, input impedance and HDMI  output control. Once you push the knob to get it in the Menu mode, you then toggle through the mode choices via the rotary action of the volume control. Once you reach the desired mode. You push the knob again to engage the mode.
  Once you are in the desired mode, you rotate the knob again to toggle through the mode’s settings. Then you push the button again to lock in the settings choice. It is pretty easy
  For the Input Source menu item, the connection choices are HDMI 1-4, Coax, Optical, USB, Line: Output Connections: HDMI, coax, optical, and analog XLR,Line RCA.
  The SRC (Sample Rate Converter) operates at: 44.1K, 48k, 96K, 176K 192K, 384K. A bit odd there is no sample rate choice at the 352.8 sample rate, the only ultra hi-res rate now being commercially used, but that is not a big deal since it plays native all the way to 384K.

FīBBR Tech Ultra Pro cable a perfect fit for HDACC

  The headphone impedance menu options are 16 ohms, 32 ohms, 64 ohms, 200 ohms, 300 ohms and 600 ohms, which allows the user to match the impedance of any headphones. My AKG K702 and AKG K812 HPs were driven to fairly high levels at the lower impedance values.
  The other menu items include HDMI Output Transmit, which allows the choice of audio/video or both from the HDMI output jack; and the screen timeout duration, five or ten seconds.

The set up
  I auditioned the HDACC II-4K with my trusty AKG K702 Anniversary, Sennheiser HD-600 and Shure SRH 980 headphones. I also connected the HDACC II-4K’s balanced and RCA outputs to my Rogue Audio RP-7 tube preamp, which was connected to a A First Watt F7, an all Class A MOSFET amp, which drove my MartinLogan Impression electrostatic loudspeakers. And as I expected, based on my experience with other DACS that were switched to the newer ESS pro DAC chips, the sonic improvement is quite audible.

The audition
  On the very first play of music through the headphones, I could hear the new HDACC II-4K’s advantage. The original, ESS 9016 D/A chip-equipped HDACC sounded very good, but it had that slightly warm, rounded edge to the transients sounds that made PCM sound like DSD, a little too smooth for my taste. The newly implemented ESS Pro 9028 chip sounds amazingly accurate with abundant transient energy and air, even on a modestly priced unit like the HDACC II-4K.
  Via the headphone jack and line output, this $599 DAC sounds like a million bucks! The DSD-to-PCM transferred “So Real” track from the Warren Bernhardt Sio Real SACD from 2001 (recorded by Tom Jung) relayed that amazing air of the drum cymbals and snare rim shots. Stereo image was quite spacious for this price range.
  With my smart LG V20 phone, an OTG cable and the USB Audio Player Pro Android app, I played scores of hi-res music tracks, PCM and DSD, and came away with such a high regard for the  audio performance of this DAC.

  On Joshua Bell’s rendition of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto No. 1 in D from a 2003 live-to-two track SACD, the complex hues of the Mr. Bell’s violin textures and the orchestra’s powerful, lush projection was clearly out front.

  On Joshua Bell’s rendition of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto No. 1 in D from a 2003 live-to-two track SACD, the complex hues of the Mr. Bell’s violin textures and the orchestra’s powerful, lush projection was clearly out front. If you like accuracy and musical involvement on a budget, this $600 DAC will impress you.
  The HDACC II-4K’s upsample feature is great for 16-bit/44.1 recordings, the upsampling filtering process at half the sample rate (192 kHz nets a filter slope to 96 kHz, which lessens the hardness of the 44.1 sample rate’s filter effect (22 kHz). In my opinion, all 44.1 PCM shows improvement with upsampling.
  I played some of my own classical guitar recordings recorded in 24/192 kHz with professional gear and also found the HDACC II-4K’s playback quality impressive. In fact, because of the unit’s compact proportions, I found it the perfect companion for my Macbook Pro lap top music editing set up. And I could use the HDACC II’s USB or the HDMI connection with my Mac

HDMI pushes higher
  Speaking of HDMI, the HDMI 2.0a spec inputs give you the best signal possible for the HDMI conduit. On two channel audio, it does not make an audible difference, but if you are using the HDACC II-4K more as an audio de-embedder than as a pass through HDMI 4K conduit to your 4K LED TV, you will be impressed with video quality. 
  When testing an Oppo BDP-203, using the HDACC II-4K to listen to a stereo soundtrack of the AIX Record’s Mark ChestnutLive Blu-ray, the standard 1080p presentation of the live, on-stage video image of the performance was incredible. Very sharp and dimensional when played through my 2009 LX-929 Sony Bravia LED. I can only imagine in 4K.
  Part of the reason for that video clarity and depth was the HDMI cable that I was using, the FīBBR Tech Ultra Pro HDMI  Fiber Optical Cable, a HDMI 2.0a compliant cable that delivers hi-res audio and video through active Fiber Optic. And it is a very reasonable cost (only $180 for a 15 ft cable).
  This cable is way less bulky than many high-end, copper conduit HDMI cables, easy to route in any length, and the video always looks stunning. I can’t wait to try it on a 4K set with native 4K videos, judging by what it does for 1080p. Multichannel audio, in the highest channel count, should also benefit from such a high bandwidth cable.

Analog choices
  On the analog front, the HDACC II-4K also offers quality sound via the stereo balanced or unbalanced outputs. It sounds pretty darn good as a preamp with reasonable resolution at various volume settings. You can use the HDACC II-4K as your audio preamp in a good system, and you will not be disappointed.
  I found the A/D converter quite useful for dubbing vinyl with an old Macbook Pro mid 2008 that had an 24/96 optical input connection. I set the SRC to 24/96K and dubbed several of my original Telarc LP’s that had been done on digital tape before being transferred to LP in the late 1970s.

  The newly implemented ESS Pro 9028 chip sounds amazingly accurate with abundant transient energy and air, even on a modestly priced unit like the HDACC II-4K. Via the headphone jack and line output, this $599 DAC sounds like a million bucks!

  As with the original HDACC, the final audio signature of the A/D was very good, but the lack of input gain control means you need to have gain either in your recording source, or you add gain from your computer editing program. The 1/8th-inch jack input is plenty good for vinyl dubbing. I used a Monster Cable 1/8th-inch to stereo RCA female adapter for the turntable/preamp end.
   Overall, I had no significant complaints about the HDACC II-4K, in fact it so much better sounding than the original that its primary review impression is one of a premium upgrade. The sonic performance increase, coupled with more HDMI inputs, makes it a nearly perfect DAC for those who want quality but are not willing to go much past $500. My only HDACC II-4K want is a word length indicator.
  The only real quibble is that you have to wait for the screen timeout after you complete a memory function to change the volume. The five second choice is better if you are impatient like me.

The verdict
  For $599, the Essence HDDAC II-4K receives a major uptick in audio quality plus HDMI 2.0a compatibility. Its small foot print, connection prowess and the ability to handle most any headphones or drive an amplifier with the upgraded sound extends its reign as the Swiss Army Knife of D/A converters.

Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award Image

  Even if you own higher-end DACs, the HDACC II-4K will still find a place in one of your listening systems: enhancing the audio experience of your bedroom TV, using it as a USB DAC for your smart phone, or just as a DAC/preamp for your modest den, the HDACC II-4K is well deserving of the EAN Stellar Sound Award.

  John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for SoundOnSound, Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email:

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Home Recording Studio Review!
PreSonus Studio 192 Command Center
24-Bit Audio Recording Interface

Price: $995
Likes: quality audio path, easy to use
Dislikes: Not one major complaint
Wow Factor:  best Presonus interface yet
More info: PreSonus Studio 192

by Bruce Bartlett
  I was excited to try out the PreSonus Studio 192 recording interface for PC and Mac. It boasts 26 inputs and 32 outputs, a USB 3.0 connection to a computer, A/D-D/A that operates up to 24/192 kHz, and eight Class-A XMAX preamps. It’s compatible with most music recording programs. Price is $899 street ,including loads of free software.
  The unit’s 192 kHz sampling rate is a big deal. Compared to recording at 44.1 kHz sampling rate, recording at 192 kHz extends the ultimates upper frequency response. The 44.1K rate gives a frequency response up to 22 kHz, while the 192K rate gives a response up to 96 kHz. That’s way above the upper limit of microphones and loudspeakers. But using a higher sample rate lets the A/D converter use a gentler-slope anti-alias filter with less phase shift. The result is improved transient response and nets a more audible smoothness.
  Also, the higher the sample rate, the lower the latency (delay) of any DSP processing in your computer. A 192K rate greatly reduces latency, so when you tap a key on a MIDI keyboard, you get almost instant sound triggering.

  With its ultimate 24-bit/192k sample rate audio via upgraded converters, USB 3.0 connection, monitor controls and its powerful StudioOne recording software, the PreSonus Studio 192 audio interface is a class act for those home recordists and seasoned pros who want to record/edit in the “box.” 

  Another major feature is the implementation of USB 3.0 as the data transport path to the PC OR MAC. The Studio 192 connects to your computer with a USB 3.0 port. USB 2.0 signal rate is up to 480 megabits per second, while USB 3.0 signal rate is up to 5 gigabits per second. So USB 3.0 is about ten times faster than USB 2.0. It should be noted that USB 3 vs USB 2 bus speed does not affect latency, but USB 3.0 is a bigger pipe, so it does affect the number of audio streams.

   The real importance here is the number of tracks and the fact that with the DSP effects, we need to use more streams, and USB 3 enables  that process. USB 3.0 also lets you record and play back more tracks and plug-ins, and at higher sampling rates, than USB 2.0. USB 3.0 is backward-compatible with USB 2.0, so if your computer’s USB port is version 2, it will still work with the Studio 192 interface.

  The Studio 192 contains 8 XLR/TRS combo jacks, so you can simultaneously record up to eight instruments via the analog connections, such as a fully miked drum kit; you also can record via ADAT Optical using an A/D/A expander, such as the PreSonus DigiMax DP88 and digitally via S/PDIF. Two mic/instrument jacks are on the front and six mic/line connectors are on the back. I liked the convenience of having a couple of inputs on the front for quick input changes and experiments. It’s easy to plug in and capture a singing guitarist, for example.
UC surface control GUI makes for user-friendly audio projects

  Rather than having a gain knob for each channel, the Studio 192 has a single gain knob and a gain indicator from 0 dB to 60 dB. You tap the previous and next arrows to change the input channels, then set the recording level with the gain control. These level settings are recallable. The gain knob affects the mic and instrument inputs but not the line inputs.
  48V phantom power can be enabled for any or all channels. Each input channel has a multi-step LED level indicator, as do the main stereo output channels. The clip LEDs flash at -0.5 dBFS.
  A useful feature is the monitor control section. Three push buttons are labeled Talk, Dim/Mute, and Mono. The Talk (talk-back) button works like an intercom, letting the engineer talk to the musicians via a built-in mic over any of the 8 output channels. The Mono button converts the monitored signal to mono so you can check for phase cancellations and work out the best EQ for separation of instruments. Pressing Dim/Mute temporarily drops or mutes the main output signal. Press and release to drop the level by 20 dB; press and hold to mute. 

Studio 192 analog section

  A large knob labeled Main adjusts the monitor speaker listening level, while two smaller knobs control the level at two 1/4-inch headphone jacks. Conveniently mounted on the front panel, an on-off switch glows steady blue when USB sync is established. 
  The rear panel contains 6 XLR mic/line inputs., which keeps much of the mic cables hidden and uncluttered to the front panel. Also on the rear is a full complement of I/O connectors: USB 3.0, ADAT S/MUX, S/PDIF digital in/out (up to 96 kHz), word clock in and out on BNC connectors, L and R main outputs using 1/4-inch TRS jacks, and eight line outputs that are TRS balanced. Those eight outputs can be used for independent monitor mixes or for loudspeaker switching.

Superb onboard mixer
  The Studio 192 comes with a powerful on-screen, UC surface monitor mixer (Figure 3), which allows you to adjust the mix between live mic signals and track playback. But it goes way beyond that.
  “Fat Channel” DSP processing in the UC Surface adds all sorts of effects to the headphone mix without affecting the recording itself. Every input channel has gating, compression, expansion, limiting, reverb, delay, and 4-band semi-parametric EQ. Using these effects does not add noticeable latency delay, unlike the usual routing of input signals through effects in a DAW. This zero-latency monitoring avoids the confusion of hearing yourself delayed over headphones when using DAW effects.

...And the digital connection options

  The sonic character of the DSP effects sounded quite good, except for a bit of grain in some of the reverb presets. That’s not too critical, because these effects are heard only over headphones while overdubbing; they are not part of the recording. Other reverb presets sounded smooth. 
  The UC Control allows you to create and store a library of scenes. A scene is like a snapshot of your monitor mix. It stores each Fat Channel parameter, input gain structure, the aux and effects mixes, each fader’s position, channel mutes and solos. With recallable monitor mixes, it’s easy to record a band in several sessions and use the same monitor mix setup each time.

Free software
  The Studio 192 interface is bundled with lots of free downloadable software. Some examples are the PreSonus UC Surface Contrtol software, PreSonus Studio One 3 Artist DAW software; and the Studio One manual, demo and tutorials. 

  If you have not tried the latest generation of recording interfaces in a while, you will be impressed how good the PreSonus Studio 192 sounds in comparison to the old computer recording gear.

  Studio One includes the Studio Magic Plug-in Suite, including plug-ins from Maag Audio, Lexicon, and Arturia. And there’s Brainworx's bx-opto, and SPL's Attacker transient designer. For 2018, the Studio Magic Plug-in Suite was updated for 2018:, including Klanghelm SDDR2tube and Output Movement.  These plug-ins are compatible with any DAW. Also available are free samples of drums, piano, synth and other instruments, plus music loops. PreSonus has produced many excellent tutorial videos for Studio One software. 
  Using an iPad with Studio One Remote software, each studio musician can set their own headphone mix. And the engineer can control the Studio One DAW away from the computer. Remote control of the preamps can be done via UC Surface software for iPad and Windows 8 Touch computers, Mac and Windows laptops and Android tablets.

The audition
  The PreSonus Studio 192 is a high-quality, multichannel recording interface, Though it came late to the 24/192 standard of other competitors, but it is a well-designed, great sounding recording center for the computer. I liked the solid feel of all the controls and the beautiful futuristic styling. Even the packaging was slick and eco-friendly. I had high expectations for quality sound, considering that the interface includes Burr-Brown converters which are spec’d at 118 dB dynamic range. Sonically, and operationally, the the PreSonus delivered the good.
  If you have not tried the latest generation of recording interfaces in a while, you will be impressed how good the Studio 192 sounds in comparison to the old computer recording gear. To determine how the sound quality of PreSonus interfaces has evolved, I did an A-B comparison between the PreSonus Studio 192 (running at 24-bits/192K) and the PreSonus FireStudio (running at 24-bits/44.1K). I picked up a variety of sound sources with a Rode NT-1 microphone, and split its signal through a Y-cable to both interfaces.

Darn tootin' the Studio 192 gets a Stellar Sound Award! This is one of the best recording/editing interfaces available for serious home studio buffs.

  Speech, kick drum, floor tom and electric bass sounded the same on both interfaces. But with a strummed or plucked guitar, I heard a more clarity with the Studio 192. The individual string plucks within a strummed chord were better defined, and the overall sound was more airy or open. Cymbal hits sounded almost the same in both interfaces, but slightly more “delicate” in the Studio 192, as if the cymbal were more real. In any case, the playback audio from the Studio192 was always pristine and beautiful.

The verdict
  With its ultimate 24/192K sample rate via upgraded converters, USB 3.0 connection, monitor controls and its powerful StudioOne recording software, the Presonus Studio 192 audio interface is a class act for those home recordists and seasoned pros who want to record/edit in the “box.”  Highly recommended and a worth recipient of the Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

  Bruce Bartlett is a long time audio professional, microphone designer/engineer, and a product review contributor to the Everything Audio Network.