At its conversion heart lies an Asahi Kasei AKM4430 chip with asynchronous timing provided by Golledge crystal oscillators. Sample rates up to 192/24 are a go. There is no enforced upsampling to instead focus on highest quality playback at native resolution. Linux and Mac OS X offer native support for USB Audio Class 2 without the need for additional drivers. To take full advantage of Henry with Windows, there is a downloadable ASIO driver programmed in open source. The DAC is switchable between USB Audio Class 1 and 2. Both protocols support asynchronous audio transfer to enable the DAC to achieve minimal jitter. The Windows ASIO is located on the Henry Audio website along with extensive instructions and step-by-step screen shots specific to configuring JRiver Media Centre, a welcome guide for the technically timid. Other ASIO-compatible media players like Foobar2000 can also be used. For the adventurous and in keeping with the open source nature of the Audio Widget project, full schematics are also supplied.

The front panel is Spartan, with company graphic and logo on a white background and a small dual-function lamp on the right. It acts as power indicator, lighting up when the source supplying power via USB is turned on; and serves as indicator of selected USB mode, green for UAC1, red for UAC2. There is no conventional on/off power switch since this function occurs automatically in the presence of power coming over USB. The case sides, top and bottom are a clam shell of two relatively lightweight but surprisingly thick aluminium extrusions which offer rigidity and ease of access to the motherboard. These are machined tongue and grooved, not thin folded sheet metal, an unexpected luxury at this price. The rear panel mirrors the same Spartan theme with a USB mini B female socket and two small push buttons marked Prog and Reset which switch between UAC1 and UAC2. Press Prog until the light changes. Press and release Reset. The USB DAC 128MkII should now be in the new mode. Other than this option, it's all plug'n'play. Enough with the introductions. For music, a healthy proportion was allotted to 16/44.1 Tidal streaming. 

"You‘re Driving Me Crazy" from the HRx edition of From the Age of Swing is a Reference Recordings of lively and bouncy jazz by Dick Hyman and ensemble done to perfection by Keith O. Johnson in 24/176.4. It earns the full audiophile vocabulary of nuance, warmth, texture, abundant hall information, all augmented by the extra information available in high resolution. Next came the 24/96 download of Bach: the Goldberg Variations - Glenn Gould [Zenph/Sony Masterworks], a re-performance of a 1955 reading by Glenn Gould reproduced live on stage in 2006 at the Glenn Gould Studio on a 9-foot Yamaha Disklavier Pro grand piano on what would have been his 74th birthday, recorded in purist binaural. It's a kinky little pleasure that brings back the dead for a live performance.

"Boffons" from the SACD/CD Garden of Early Delights: Pamela Thorby/Andrew Lawrence [Linn] is fast-paced early music with the cleanliness of a quality Linn recording with superb dynamics, an ample soundstage and rousing performances on recorder, harp and psaltery. Early music doesn't have to be boring or dry. "First Class" from X-Men First Class: Henry Jackson is a great symphonic piece of music that shows sophisticated layering, interweaving quick hard edges and sweet soaring strings that requires a delicate balance on the playback end to unravel properly. Get it wrong and it becomes congealed mush or a segregated vivisectionist's filet, contrary to the holistic intent. Get it right and it's pure rapture. And that leads to "The Finale" from Kingsman: The Secret Service: Henry Jackman & Matthew Margeson. If you were going to make a definitive early Bond-style movie today, this would rank as a strong contender for top title. The music drips with the feel of John Barry at his best, albeit with modern embellishments. Well done music, lovingly performed, decently recorded. The "Finale" has some starch in its shorts but the entire album manages to carry a leitmotif with sufficient variation and emotional flexibility to keep it interesting.

"Rosemullion Head " from The Sound of Blue: Phil Manzanera shows a brilliant fearless guitarist who spans such an eclectic amount of material across so many genres and over such a long period that it's breathtaking to spend an evening following the path from his early 401 album to a point like this. The man can make a guitar sing and he certainly knows how to make it weep. This is great fun, great talent and nicely recorded. "Rule the World" from The Greatest Day: Take That is a recording of a live concert at Wembley Stadium in 2009 which captures the interaction between crowd and band on a song made famous in the movie Stardust. The engineers did a nice job of balancing a good performance against venue acoustic. These snippets are purely a sampling, neither definitive nor all encompassing. I listen to be critical but I also need to listen for fun. Otherwise, what's the point of all these toys?

To keep a level of consistency, the basic configuration was the Tortuga Audio LDR6 preamp with the Bel Canto EVO 200.4 with/without Paradigm Servo 15 subwoofer. Interconnects and speaker cable were the Arkana Physical Research, power cables were a combination of Arkana Physical Research and Audio Art. Digital cables spanned the gamut of my available leashes to match for best performance on comparative DACs, thus probing abilities including but not confined to USB. On the USB front, Henry Audio place some fresh demands. Whilst quality USB A to B cables are quite accessible, mini Bs are less so. For this review, I acquired from local cable guru Steven Huang of Audio Sensibility two short lengths of his highly regarded Impact SE USB cables in both versions to keep comparative tests between DACs on an even keel. The basic listening sessions and comparative studies were divided into two basic source selections. First up was the Linux-based Wyred4Sound Music Server, my current top source recently upgraded with a 2TB SSD drive for faster conventional storage as well as being outfitted with streaming support for Tidal. For comparison, the Henry Audio DAC went against Wyred's own DAC-2 utilizing its I²S connection (since it doesn't support USB in Linux); and against the Grant Fidelity Tube DAC11, an aggressively priced high-performance piece that was at the heart of rave reviewed systems at both the Toronto and Montreal audio shows. The Grant Fidelity can output SS or tube via USB or coax as well headfi. This contest pitted some stellar overachievers with very different characters against the Henry Audio DAC 128MkII.

A second set of auditions used a Dell laptop source, staying solely with USB/Foobar 2000. Whilst this bare-bones program is not the most expensive audio suite, it gets the nod from Yamaha and exaSound for its ability to run unembellished native resolution as high up the format chain as DSD. The Henry Audio and Grant Fidelity ran ASIO, the Wyred WASAPI. All configurable options were disabled. Source material was a wide variety of file-based material at various resolution levels. These were duplicates of recordings on the Wyred Music Server, allowing me a comparison of the character differences between hardware sources, dedicated driverless Linux versus driver-based PC and how they affected the abilities of the DACs. For the initial sessions, I employed a pedestrian USB mini cable to see how the unit would perform when budgets were severely restricted. I also confined playback to UAC1 mode so this initial listening test was a worst-case scenario. How did the Henry Audio perform? Shockingly well. The first point of character was a high level of authenticity in the critical midrange-through-bass region although there was a slight softness and diminishment in the extreme lower octaves. Dynamics and detail were quite good as were overall soundstaging and placement. The results were so encouraging, I engaged UAC2 mode. This yielded small improvements in all parameters and more significant improvements in overall transparency and bass definition. The performance at this stage was already so far removed from pedestrian that I decided to accelerate the rest by immediately breaking in the Audio Sensibility Impact SE cable before writing a definitive breakdown of the DAC's abilities. Had its performance topped out; or was it just waiting for some real wire pedigree to hit even higher levels?