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How does the Solo's DAC differ from the iPod? "We use Wolfson's reference chip* and output 2Vrms. The 4G, 5G & 5.5G iPods use a Wolfson chip of lower caliber and output 1Vrms. Then our Wolfson chip is fed I²S derived in async transfer mode from Apple's USB port which is reclocked using a dedicated high-precision clock on the Solo board. It's a more expensive implementation but pays back big in audio quality. Yes we also tried the Sabre chip which looked good on paper but when listened to was not nearly as musical as the warmer and richer Wolfson. Hence it didn't make it into the final design."


* The Solo uses "10 configurable timers and three clock chips to allow for maximum flexibility in controlling digital timing for extremely low jitter. While the Wolfson DAC is 24/192 capable, Apple's current iPod Accessory Protocol (iAP) over USB is limited to 16/44.1 and 16/48. They just need an App to allow high-res transmission from an Apple device."

By December 6, Vinnie had completed his contributions. "I finished my part of the development of the Solo and today resigned from the project. I am busier than ever with my Red Wine Audio products—especially since the introduction of the LFP-V Editions—and need to devote my time to this company. I enjoyed collaborating with Ken and the Cypher Labs team and am confident that the Solo will be a huge success!"

At the Tokyo Headphone Fair 2010 meanwhile, Fostex played the title tune from Time waits for no man. They showed a prototype iPod DAC/headphone amp in a single enclosure expected to sell for ¥70,000. It will turn Cypher Labs' inevitable triple-decker sandwich of iPod, DAC and amp into a twofer though apparently none the thinner. By December 2010, Kevin Halverson of HRT had launched his $199 iStreamer, an async iPod DAC with outboard power supply and Apple device charger. Peachtree Audio had announced their $999 iDac with integral digital-direct iPod cradle run into their 32-bit Sabre implementation with five more digital inputs (2 x 24/192 S/PDIF, 2 x Toslink, 1 x 24/96 USB). The iLeagues were heating up to give consumers more choices.

Fostex concept drawing & prototype

In portable offerings, digital-direct iPods were still slim pickings however. Depending on certification, it seemed that either Cypher Labs or Fostex would be first on that scene. By December 13, Ken announced on his forum that "I am very happy to report that we are now officially Apple certified!"

What can the RxMkII drive? Anything. That's not a typo or ill-considered hype. Using Ken Ball's 3.5-to-6.3mm wired adaptor, the toughest loads I could throw at his small amp were Fang Bian's HiFiMan HE-6 and HE-5LE orthodynamics. Nobody should/would walk the streets with them or any other expensive full-size headphone on a silly 3-meter leash. At home meanwhile, if such an amp could replace a regular wall-powered component, why not? Multi-tasking small gear is very attractive to iPodders who are so used to moving their Apple devices from dock to dock, pocket to belt to car and back.

At near or fully maxed-out volumes, the RxMkII in hi-gain mode run off the iPod's 1V-max output via Ken's 30-pin-to-3.5mm wired connection produced all the SPLs I could stand on most all recordings. This was frankly unexpected but is probably testament to the very high gain built into today's high-performance opamps. It doesn't mean that such a pairing is ideal or recommended. It simply means that anything below a bear-to-drive HifiMan starting with the low-impedance Audez'e LCD-2 all the way up to a high-impedance Sennheiser HD800 and beyerdynamic T1 is fair game.

Ditto for my 117dB in-ear Ortofon e-Q7 which betrayed zero noise (shown on my monitor above for a lovely closeup) and which should be representative in concept of what 99% of all portable listeners would use - ear buds of varying quality. I can't vouch for IEMs with more extreme sensitivity ratings from experience. I don't have one of those or any custom triple armature version yet. Seeing Ken Ball's business is headfi retail, I'd simply be surprised if his amp didn't account for them. That's where switchable gain comes in handy. It also broadens incremental volume adjustments.

Original vs. MkII: Bass power improvements in mass, impact and reach were the obvious difference on all my earspeakers but particularly impressive with headfi's godzilla of bass, the recabled Audez'e. In my collection and in sequence, it ranks N°. 1 over the equally recabled T1, HD800 and grill-modded HE-5LE. With a combination of virtues including large surface area, balanced drive with magnets on either side of the diaphragm, high SPL potential and low distortion with fast rise times, the LCD-2 has more LF wallop, punch, displacement and extension than I've heard from any other headphone.

Yet it doesn't jump tracks into the obviously goosed slightly fuzzy and fat realm of Grado's PS-1000. In my review I called the Audez'e an honest badass. Equally true, Burson Audio's fully discrete class A HA160D driven S/PDIF through Onkyo's ND-S1 digital-direct iPod dock is even meatier, more dynamic and overall simply bigger. But so are its size and sticker. More to the point, it's forever tethered to a wall socket. That the RxMkII can not only drive the LCD-2 but drives them well makes the point. Batteries + op amps cleverly voiced can obviously go farther with less (size and expense) than seems reasonable or even believable.

The contents of the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo box
  "Our first production run of Solos was completed by the first week of January and sales began around the 10th. Pre-orders began December 15th. The only place to buy a Solo at first will be through ALO Audio. If possible stream Internet radio through your iTouch or iPhone as we have found that it provides an excellent improvement in sonics over the standard line out.

"The ZumoCast app allows for WiFi streaming so not having enough memory in your iPhone, iPad or Touch is no issue - just stream your big collection from Mac or PC."