Audio-gd Compass Impressions, not a review!
Gear: Laptop, Foobar and MonkeyMedia, ASIO4all, AD900, HD650, Audio-gd Powe Cable.
Hey all Head-Case.
First off, nice to see so many of the excellent posters I respected at the other headphone forum here. I wondered where you all had gone, I mean once in a while I'll see a blue moon post, but not enough!
I had a wonderful opportunity to be among the first 18 testers to own the newest headphone solution from Audio-gd. For, I feel this is by far the best option for me as a beginner into headphone amps and dedicated DACs.
Audio-gd is a small company out of Beijing China, lead by their lead designer, Mr. He Qinghua, or for the westerners, he calls himself Kingwa. He was the First Prize winner of the American National Semiconductor Audio Design Contest. Actually right now on Audio-gd's website, he is selling the winning design, for those interested.
One of the great aspects of the Compass for those interested in design and technicals, Audio-gd is very open with their products. They truly believe in the quality of their products, sound and in design. Ask their lead designer Kingwa, and he will answer, it's impressive. This transparency is unlikely to be seen or matched in this secretive world of Audio.
The Audio-gd DAC was concieved out of a need for a replacement of the Zero. For so many like myself, who want to venture into this world Headphone Amplifiers, but don't want to jump in all in, the Zero was a great introductory product. But with numerous quality issues, OpAmps arriving in backwards and for even one user, fried his headphones to the point of being utterly useless. Currawong, with great experience with Audio-gd already and recognizing Kingwa's repuation, asked Kingwa and Audio-gd to take up the challenge of a Zero replacement.
The Compass for good or bad, has evolved to something far more and well beyond the budget of the Zero. So what is the Compass?
Compass - Is it is a DAC/Amp combo with a dedicated power source in modular design.
DAC - Based on the DAC-100. Uses the AD1852 and for USB input, the PCM2707. Like quality DACs, PCM2707 I2S to the AD1852. The digital audio interface is the DIR9001. Uses a OpAmp buffer, Audio-gd's discrete HDAMs, with your choice of Earth, Moon and Sun v2. 100% discrete output.
Amp - Class A, discrete amp placed on a different module, separate PCB, it is it's own amp. Comes with a Bypass option that disconnects the Amp from the DAC and allows the user to use the Compass as a dedicated Amp. The design is explained on Audio-gd's website.
Pre-Amp - Has a pre-amp option in the back with RCA output.
Quality - It comes encased in an all aluminum chassiss. Even the Knobs are all aluminum. Unlike the recent Fet-A from TTJV, even at the incredible low entry level price, the Compass skips nothing, parts for internals and externals! The headphone jack is the Neutrik locking jack. The volume pot is the Alps RK27 Blue Velvet. The PCB boards are copper gold plated and 2mm thick, and each component on separate modules. The soldering job top notch as Audio-gd assures their customers, all work done by enthusiastic Hi-Fi fans, not a sweatshop or workers off the street. All products undergo 100 hours of testing.
Power! My gosh, the power behind this unit is immense. Mine has 13db/19db option, I use it at 13db. The Volume starts at around 6:30, and maxes at 5:30. Even with the HD650, 10 o clock and my ears are at uncomfortable level. 9:30 is about right if you want loud. The volume control is quite interesting.