If you’re like me and take your music seriously, you’ll already have great PC speakers, or a top quality home audio system like a Sonos or Bose, and great quality wired headphones. Then you’ll also probably purchase 24-bit audio tracks.
24-bit audio has significant advantages over 16-bit “CD Quality” music in that the latter doesn’t include the full dynamic range of the audio because the hardware format that is the compact disc, has maximum file size and data limitations, and 16-bit download files such as MP3 are also often compressed, thus reducing the dynamic range further. 24-bit is often called “uncompressed” or “studio quality” audio, as no compression is applied and you hear the sound exactly as it was recorded.
Several attempts were made to release 24-bit audio over the years, and you may have heard of both Super Audio CD, and DVD Audio. Neither of these were successfully adopted, but downloads open a whole new world of opportunities with my own music purchased in the UK from HDTracks.
I also mentioned you’d be using wired headphones. This is because the amount of data supported by even the latest Bluetooth standards isn’t enough to broadcast uncompressed 24-bit audio, and the data stream still has to be compressed before transmission. This is why audiophiles gave the Razor Phone a big thumbs down when it was launched in late 2017, as it included a 24-bit DAC, but had no 3.5mm headphone socket.
A DAC (Digitial / Analogue Converter) is a processor that converts the digital signal of the audio file (the 1’s and 0’s of the binary data) into an analogue waveform that is better broadcast by our speakers, which are analogue devices rather than digital because of the way they need to push against the air to create sound. Typically the DACs included within our smartphones, tablets and PCs are 16-bit, and of mediocre quality, and also suffer greatly from electrical interference from all the components around them. This is why true audiophiles will have an external DAC, and I’ve recently purchased the ZuperDAC 24-bit USB DAC where I was a backer for it on Indiegogo.
The ZuperDAC is a small unit about the size of a pack of chewing gum, available in red, silver, or space grey, that includes volume controls and that comes with three USB adapters, so you can use it with devices with full USB, micro-USB, and USB-C sockets (the latter being the Gemini PDA). There is no adapter for the iPhone and iPad, as it will plug into Apple’s Lightning to USB adapter cable.
The device works with every operating system, and doesn’t need a driver with Android. You will however need a specialist audio player that supports uncompressed 24-bit audio, and the manufacturer recommends Onkyo HF Player, USB Audio Player Pro and Hiby Music.
Once plugged in, it’s very clear to hear the difference between audio played through the Gemini’s own 3.5mm headphone jack, and the ZuperDAC, with the latter having much greater clarity. It doesn’t require a separate battery either, being powered by the Gemini over USB, meaning it’s very small and light.
Overall, if you take your music seriously and don’t mind keeping a small extra device in your pocket, the ZuperDAC is excellent value, currently at $69 plus shipping, when many DACs are significantly larger, heavier, and can cost around $400.