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iFi hip-dac 3 review: delicious audio and features in a beautiful portable DAC
8:00 pm | December 9, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi | Tags: | Comments: Off

iFi hip-dac 3: Two-minute review

USB-C ports and Titanium finishes are just so hot right now – and nothing is more desirable than this cheeky little audio accessory next to your shiny new iPhone 15. Even if you don't have Apple's freshest-baked iPhone (or a smartphone toting a USB-C port) your music al-desko from your laptop or tablet is about to get a whole lot better. 

iFi hip-dac 3's bid to enter our best portable DACs buying guide is a strong one: no sooner had Apple's quartet of iPhone 15 handsets rolled out in late September 2023 – a clutch of devices that finally ditched Apple's proprietary Lightning port in favor of USB-C as you doubtless know – a range of some of the best USB-C-toting DACs also arrived, wanting to turn your new iPhone into a hi-res audio music player. 

But none of those looks more resplendent next to your iPhone 15 Pro or iPhone 15 Pro Max in Natural Titanium than iFi's hip flask-esque hip-dac 3. If Apple were ever to make a DAC, I wager Tim Cook's engineers would seek to deviate from the ice-white AirPods aesthetic in favor of this gorgeous hue. It is referred to by its UK makers as 'Titanium Shadow', because it was purported to "change tone in different lights, with hints of bronze and vintage gold." And this is true, reader; while photographing the thing I struggled to capture its occasionally buttery hues, but these are quite beautiful.

And it's not all TikTok-able looks! Merely a trifle it is not, this thing comes from strong stock. Allow your eyes to feast upon original 2019 hip-dac in 'Petrol Blue', plus the hip-dac 2 (which I helped review for TechRadar's sister publication, What Hi-Fi?) the color of which looks for all the world like a good single malt but is actually called 'Sunset Orange'. As the name suggests, hip-dac 3 is the third in a lineup of excellent hip-prefixed DACs. And this iteration is by far the best. 

iFi hip-dac 3 held in hand on white background

Yes, it does look like a fine single malt should be involved (Image credit: Future)

What are you getting for the 2023 update, aside from my favorite finish yet? There are now two USB-C ports in its base; the right-hand side for charging (it glows different colors to denote current onboard battery capacity), and the other for audio, thus maintaining a dedicated audio input for the purest signal path, which also means you can use the hip-dac 3 while connected to the mains – and that is rare against the competition. For clarity, the previous two hip-dac generations used USB-A for audio, and in the first-gen model, it was quite a deeply recessed male USB so not all spare cables played nice with it. 

There is an additional switch on the back of hip-dac 3’s casework now too, which grants you iFi’s IEMatch technology. It's a proprietary circuit designed to optimize the amp’s output to better suit high-sensitivity 3.5mm or 4.4 mm-ended headphones and earphones. Simply plug in your pickier 3.5mm or 4.4mm IEMs, flick the switch to 3.5mm or 4.4mm and you're away – particularly useful for some of the best wired headphones we've tested.

Ultimately, a standalone portable DAC's viability lies in whether it can make its supplementary presence worth it; you don't expressly need it (your iPhone has a tiny DAC in it, after all) but oh, once you've heard it, you'll struggle to go back to listening without it for detail, neutrality and clarity… 

iFi hip-dac 3 review: Price and release date

  • Released October 6, 2023
  • Priced: $199 / £199 / AU$349

The iFi hip-dac 3 is selling for $199 in the US (thus making it the same price as the Helm Audio Bolt) which means it slips into iFi's considerable DAC lineup somewhere above the cheaper iFi Uno (yours for around $79 / £79 / AU$119) and below the flagship iFi xDSD Gryphon ($599 / £599 / AU$899). 

It's worth mentioning that the inaugural February 2020 hip-dac retailed for $149 / £149 / AU$249 at launch, (and the hip-dac 2 cost $189 / £189 /AU$279) so there is an ongoing increase at play here – although it's a more palatable $20 / £20 hike rather than the $40 / £40 surcharge between the first and second iterations. 

Now, in 2023 the market does not want for reasonably affordable USB DAC/headphone amps – everyone from Chord to Astell & Kern has something for you. None are built quite like this though and honestly, few sound like it either. 

iFi hip-dac 3 review: Features

iFi hip-dac 3 detail of USB-C charging port, on black table

The dedicated USB-C charging port that also gives battery life is game-changing (Image credit: Future)
  • Dual USB-C ports plus 3.5mm and 4.4mm balanced headphone outs
  • 384kHz PCM, DSD256 and MQA compatibility
  • IEMatch vastly reduces background hiss 

Let's get granular (gran-u-lar! I wanna get granular…): hi-res PCM and DXD audio data is supported at sample rates up to 384kHz here, alongside DSD from 2.8MHz to 12.4MHz (DSD64, 128 and 256, aka a sample rate that's 256 times as high as a regular CD). Full decoding of MQA is also supported by the iFi hip-dac 3, performing the full ‘three unfold’ decoding process (as opposed to just the final unfold in the manner of an MQA ‘renderer’ – and yes, there is still plenty of MQA content available on Tidal).

While my pick of the 3 best wireless DACs can level up the quality of music from your phone, they cannot support these kinds of hi-res figures over Bluetooth. 

On either side of the hip-dac 3's rotary volume control you'll find a pair of LEDs that change color to indicate the format and sample rate of the incoming audio, with seven different colors: yellow for PCM 44.1/48kHz, white for higher-res PCM files up to 3384kHz, teal for DSD 64/128, red for DSD 256, lime green for MQA, blue for MQA Studio, purple for original sample rate files (MQB). 

Yes, this DAC wants to get overtly specific about your file (more specific than most rivals), although teal and lime are pretty similar, and of course, it's tough to keep that information in your noggin at all times. 

Another point of note is that hip-dac 3’s USB-C audio input is asynchronous, meaning the data rate is regulated solely by the hip-dac 3’s specialized audio clock circuitry for accurate, jitter-free data transfer from the source device. 

Including a separate USB-C port (I mentioned above but just to reiterate: you get two USB-C ports here) for charging maintains a dedicated audio input – ergo, you can still use the hip-dac 3 while charging it.

Why is the Southport UK firm's IEMatch tech a great feature? It reduces background hiss and enhances detail and dynamic range while increasing the useable range of the volume control, that's why. 

You still get the fan-favorite XBass button too. All in all, it's hard to know what else iFi could've been thrown into the hip-dac 3 to make me like it more. 

Features score: 5 / 5

iFi hip-dac 3 review: Sound quality

iFi hip-dac 3 held in a hand

(Image credit: Future)
  • Excellent detail and insight
  • Extra clarity through the leading edges of notes
  • Spacious and refined across the frequencies

If you're considering this DAC, I urge you to subscribe to one of the best music streaming services. Then, simply by plugging the iFi hip-dac 3 into your phone and tapping up the service’s app (I might nudge you to Qobuz or Apple Music – and away from Spotify here) means you'll hear that hi-res file as fully as possible.  

And you're in for a treat at this level. A 24bit/96kHz FLAC file of Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer has oodles of funk and showcases Gabriel's textured and smiling vocal with surgical skill, which is nonetheless given extra space to shine in an expansive mix. The playlist continues to Solsbury Hill where guitars, strings, shakers and the driving beat are beautifully relayed with admirable timing and cohesion, but never losing focus – that is, never losing the brilliance of Peter Gabriel. 

The age-old debate of refinement, detail and clarity over oomph, zealousness and fun once again comes into play here – an argument I like to call 'hi-fi, or fun?' although that's the issue at its most simplistic and something we could all muse on at length. What you need to know is that the iFi hip-dac 3 falls into the former camp, but I do not mention it to do this DAC down – it'll depend on what you prioritize. I favor the detail and extra insight here. I like that in Stormzy's Angel in the Marble the intentionally heavy bassline is held back just enough to allow me to detect a trilling female vocalist sample in the mix. I like that I hear everything, in its place, at the right time, even if I sacrifice an iota of dynamic oomph. 

Supplementary vocals, gunshots and the fizzing of sparkling liquid being poured are expertly layered and accurately placed throughout Freddie Gibbs' Toe Tag – and despite my observation, this is a rousing performance and one that can go loud even with my multi-driver Campfire Audio IEMs. 

Do I like this DAC for this money? I do. I really do. 

Sound quality score: 5 / 5 

iFi hip-dac 3 review: Design

iFi hip-dac 3 detail, IEMatch switch on the reverse of the unit

iFi's new IEMatch switch is another excellent addition (Image credit: Future)
  • Dedicated USB-C charging port provides battery life info
  • Short USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB-A cables provided, no Lightning adapter
  • Exposed volume knob can mean accidental tweaks 

The hip-dac 3 is a well-made little thing – which is hardly surprising considering the quality of its older siblings. Several important but less headline-grabbing changes have been made to this update's innards too, including circuitry enhancements and new metal film capacitors. In addition, the DAC section features an upgraded version of iFi’s GMT (Global Master Timing) circuitry, including a new crystal oscillator to further reduce phase noise, all contributing to its purer, crisper sound.

Other than these changes, the hip-dac 3 retains all the features that made the hip-dac 2 a winning portable USB DAC/headphone amp and one I still love. 

The hip-dac 3's sleek, robust aluminum enclosure measures just 10.2 x 7x 1.4cm so it'll slip easily into a pocket or bag – but do accept that it'll probably have your colleagues thinking you're not averse to a wee dram at your desk. 

According to iFi, the hip-dac 3’s battery will extend to 10 hours of playing time, but this will depend on your listening volume level and how demanding your headphones are; I got just over 8 hours from it, from full to red-flashing-light flat. A lovely touch here is the LED under the USB-C charging port, which changes color depending on battery status: glowing white for more than 75 percent, green for more than 25 percent, red for over 10 percent, and flashing red when you’re in dire need of juice.

Any gripes? A tiny one: I love the exposed power/volume knob, which rotates silently and like a warm knife through butter, but it is very easy to whack the volume up inadvertently in my pocket – and there's no way to set the volume and hold it there. It's more an observation rather than a complaint, really… especially because its amp stage is capable of offering up to 400mW into a 32-ohm load for compatibility with a wide array of headphones, while the balanced output's 6.3V into 600 ohms basically means even high-impedance options can be used without issue.

In summary, the iFi hip-dac 3 is a thing of beauty and a musical companion I soon never left behind. 

Design score: 5 / 5 

iFi hip-dac 3 review: Usability and setup

iFi hip-dac 3 on a black table, next to a smartphone

It does look good next to a smartphone, no?  (Image credit: Future)
  • Make sure it's charged. Switch it on
  • Plug one end into your smartphone or laptop
  • Plug some headphones into the other end
  • Consider Power Match, IEMatch and XBass. Enjoy

I charged the hip-dac 3 for around two hours upon receiving it, by plugging a cable into its dedicated USB-C (5V only) charging port. Then, I switched it on by turning its rotary power and volume knob clockwise. The lights come on, the DAC is home. 

Now, connect to a sound source by USB-C – the one on the adjacent to the charging port. Next, go to the top end of the hip-dac 3 and hook up some 4.4mm balanced or 3.5mm unbalanced headphones using the correct port. 

Now, you can play music, noting the LED indicator silently judging your file choices and their resolution. As well as adjusting the volume, you can now deploy the XBass and/or PowerMatch buttons next to the LEDs (the latter increases gain for larger cans, or reduces it for IEMs) and finally, head to the back of the unit to consider IEMatch, selecting 3.5mm or 4.4mm if your listening gear is of the more delicate in-ear variety. 

That's all folks. It's more whistles and bells than you'll get with a dongle DAC and all in all, it's a lovely little proposition for the money. 

Usability and setup score: 5 / 5

iFi hip-dac 3 review: Value

  • Affordable considering the features 
  • Excellent sound-per-pound value 

Considering the build quality and extra features plus the fact that it's still a fair chunk of aluminum, despite its pocketable dimensions, you're getting a lot of product for the money here. And the sound is as detailed as this money can buy, by quite a margin. 

Of course, iFi can sell you something cheaper still if you'd prefer, see the iFi Uno. Given this cheaper DAC's five-star review, that could put the cat among the pigeons somewhat. The entry-level unit boasts different connectivity options and even 'EQ' filters for different content, including ‘game’, ‘movie’ and ‘music’. For me, the iFi hip-dac 3 outdoes it easily when hooked up to my MacBook Pro, but at more than double the price, so that was to be expected.

Value score: 5 / 5

Should you buy the iFi hip-dac 3?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

iFi hip-dac 3 review: Also consider

How I tested the iFi hip-dac 3

iFi hip-dac 3 on a table, next to a smartphone

It was a Peter Gabriel kind of day (Image credit: Future)
  • Used for over two weeks
  • Connected to an Apple MacBook Pro and an iPhone 12 Pro smartphone
  • Wired to Sennheiser IE600 (with custom Sennheiser ear tips), Campfire Audio Solaris Stellar Horizon and Audeze Euclid IEMs

OK: the more your source of music has to work in order to reach your ears, the less effective it is – I don’t make the rules, it is what it is. Thus, when unplugging headphones as capable as those listed above from the headphone socket of my laptop (or the Lightning port of my iPhone 12 Pro, where an additional adaptor purchase is required) and listening again using the iFi hip-dac 3's simple setup, the differences in quality are night and day – like removing a muffling veil from your music, or liberating a track from a tunnel. 

And I challenged my listening with the Edifier Stax Spirit S3 wireless headphones too – as an aural challenge only loosely related to this review. Even these detailed planar magnetic cans (emphatically some of the best wireless headphones in their category) struggle to match the performance of good wired headphones when the iFi hip-dac 3  is also plugged into my MacBook Pro as a music source. 

First reviewed in December 2023

iFi xDSD Gryphon review: a stylish DAC and headphone amp that’s as portable as a hip flask
7:24 pm | November 30, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi | Tags: | Comments: Off

iFi xDSD Gryphon: Two-minute review

The iFi xDSD Gryphon represents a new area of flexibility for the company. iFi is one of the front-runners where audio products like this are concerned and has been for some time. This xDSD Gryphon wants to widen the operability and relevance of its DAC and headphone amp range by offering wireless, as well as wired, connectivity in a package small and light enough to be considered portable. And it’s only gone and pulled it off. The xDSD Gryphon ain’t cheap, but the way it performs justifies the outlay all day long. 

Huge flexibility where connectivity and digital audio content is concerned, a completely confident and convincing sonic attitude, and a user interface that only just stops short of ‘impenetrable’ are what makes this iFi, the product it is. If you want something that’s capable of doing the audio business whether at home or in the wild, it’s almost a no-brainer.   

‘Almost’ because it’s not without competition from the best portable DACs on the market. A lot of it is from in-house, admittedly – but the xDSD Gryphon is going up against the Chord Electronics Mojo 2, which is a massively capable device in its own right. Hear them both, and then make your mind up. 

iFi xDSD Gryphon review: Price and release date

The iFi xDSD Gryphon next to a phone and heardphones

(Image credit: Future)
  • Release date: December 2021
  • Price: $599 / £599 / AU$899

The iFi xDSD Gryphon went on sale a couple of years ago, and in that time its reputation has grown in line with its asking price. As of the time of writing, it’ll set you back $599 / £599 / AU$899, which puts it up against some very well-regarded alternatives from companies as credible as Astell & Kern, Audiolab and Chord Electronics.

iFi xDSD Gryphon review: Features

The iFi xDSD Gryphon on a stool

(Image credit: Future)
  • Burr-Brown DAC
  • Extensive compatibility
  • Wired and wireless connectivity

iFi is not messing around where the feature-set of the xDSD Gryphon is concerned. The serious business is taken care of by a Burr-Brown chipset with enormous headroom and compatibility with a huge number of different digital audio file types. Use the USB-C input and it can handle PCM files up to 32bit/768kHz, DSD512 and DXD768 – and it can fully unpack MQA files too. The digital coaxial input is good up to 24bit/192kHz.   

Regardless of the type or size of the file you’re interested in, though, you have plenty of options as to how to best deliver it to your headphones via its balanced 4.4mm or unbalanced 3.5mm analogue outputs.. Its ‘Xspace’ setting, for instance, strives to give the biggest soundstage possible. ‘XbassII’, I hardly need say, increases low-frequency presence and substance – and can be further assisted by a physical ‘bass and/or presence’ switch on the chassis. Content delivered digitally can also be breathed on by one of three digital filters: ‘standard’, ‘bit-perfect’ and ‘GTO’ (which stands for ‘Gibbs Transient Optimised’). The xDSD Gryphon can also be adjusted to best respond to the sort of headphones you’re using – high-sensitivity in-ear monitors, for example, can sometimes introduce hiss, so there’s an ‘IEmatch’ switch on the bottom of the chassis to help deal with that.

Wireless connectivity is handled by Bluetooth 5.1, and there’s codec compatibility from SBC and AAC to aptX (HD, Adaptive and Low Latency), HWA and LDAC. So you should be able to find something to best suit your needs. All the most significant (and noisiest) circuitry – amplification, Bluetooth and digital-to-analogue conversion – is kept isolated in order to minimise cross-talk and other sonic gremlins. 

Power comes from a battery, of course – it’s a portable device, after all, and anyway it’s a cleaner and more efficient way to drive electrical equipment than noisy, dirty old mains power. The iFi has a 3600mAH lithium-ion battery that’s good for around eight hours before it needs recharging. From ‘flat’ to ‘full’ should take a couple of hours. 

Peripheral features extend to a quite generous selection of high-quality (although admittedly quite short) connecting cables. If your needs aren’t met by USB-C / USB-C, USB-C / Lightning or USB-C / USB-A cables, then what exactly are you attempting to attach?

Features score: 5 / 5

iFi xDSD Gryphon review: Design

The iFi xDSD Gryphon

(Image credit: Future)
  • 19 x 75 x 123mm (HxWxD)
  • 215g
  • Unhelpful user interface

This isn’t the first iFi product with a strong suggestion of the hip flask about it, and I strongly doubt it will be the last. At 19 x 75 x 123mm (HxWxD) its proportions are most definitely hip-flask-y, and it’s halfway between being truly pocket-sized and more suitable for desktop use. 

If you do decide to take it out and about, though, its 215g weight is no kind of burden. A lot of that is down to its aluminium construction – its ridged and contoured design is quite interesting and tactile – and is broken only by the little mirrored strip on the top surface. There’s a crisp, bright white OLED display beneath it, which makes it easy to understand what the xDSD Gryphon is up to.

Getting it to the stage where it’s doing what you want it to is more trouble than it really should be, mind you. iFi has plenty of previous where unintelligible user interfaces are concerned, and the Gryphon is just the latest example of the company’s commitment to end-user confusion.

A push/turn control in the centre of the fascia takes care of volume, power and menu navigation. Nearby there’s a ‘settings’ button - it turns ‘Xspace’ and ‘Xbass II’ on or off if you use quick presses, while a longer press summons the on-screen menu. Here’s where you can select your preferred digital filter, set a maximum volume level and adjust screen brightness. An adjacent button handles input selection and Bluetooth pairing. There are also those balanced 4.4mm and unbalanced 3.5mm headphone outputs on the fascia, as well as five vanishingly small LEDs. One of them is embedded into the push/turn dial, and shines in one of five different colours (to indicate volume level) or flashes (indicating the Gryphon is muted). One reveals whether or not ‘Xbass II” and/or ‘Xspace’ is switched on. One reveals the input that’s in use (and so can shine in one of four different colours), and one reveals the audio format of the digital file currently on board (so shines in one of seven different colours, two of which are so similar as to be indistinguishable). All clear? Of course it bloody isn’t.

Meanwhile, the rear panel features two USB-C sockets (one for charging and one for data input), balanced and unbalanced analogue inputs and a 3.5mm digital coaxial input. There’s also the three-stage switch to select the ‘Xbass II’ tone (‘bass’, ‘presence’ or – hey! – ‘bass and presence’). It’s small, but it’s not as small as the switch on the bottom that controls the ‘IEmatch’ circuitry.

Design score: 3.5 / 5  

iFi xDSD Gryphon review: Sound quality

The iFi xDSD Gryphon being held in a hand

(Image credit: Future)
  • Fast, detailed and articulate sound
  • Dynamic and precise in equal measure
  • Not impressed by inferior headphones

It makes sense to start listening to the iFi xDSD Gryphon in its most ‘pure’ state, which means filters set to ‘min’ and with ‘Xbass II’ and ‘Xspace’ switched off. Heard this way, and with content ranging from a 256kbps MP3 file of Eartheater’s Pure Smile Snake Venom to a DSD64 file of Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise incoming from an Apple MacBook Pro via USB-C, the iFi is an uncomplicated, satisfying and thoroughly entertaining listen.

Its fundamental character is one of energy and speed. It creates proper momentum at the bottom of the frequency range without sacrificing any substance or extension. It powers through bass information with pace and precision, controlling low-frequency information with absolute authority – so the low end stays in its lane, underpinning everything going on above.

It’s similarly confident and accomplished at the opposite end of the scale, too. Treble sounds have brilliance and bite, but there’s no suggestion of edginess or splashiness, even if you’re listening at volume – and the Gryphon is most certainly capable of summoning significant volume. What you get at the top end is enough substance to counteract the shine, and – just as with the rest of the frequency range, impressively high levels of detail retrieval.

In between, the midrange is handled with complete assurance. Vocalists as idiosyncratic as the two mentioned above are given complete expression, their character and attitude and emotional state made absolutely plain. There’s real articulacy to the way the iFi deals with singers of all levels of competence, and as a result they communicate in the most direct and positive fashion. 

The frequency range is properly integrated, and with its settings left well alone the Gryphon enjoys a nicely neutral and unshowy tonal character. It’s adept at creating a sensation of singularity and ‘performance’ to a recording, even if the recording itself isn’t the result of a group of musicians all playing in the same room at the same time. Dynamic range is considerable, so both harmonic variances and big changes in intensity or attack are tracked without apparent effort. And the soundstage it’s able to create inside your headphones is spacious, organised and utterly believable. 

Fiddling with filters and what-have-you can result in small differences around the edges of the DAC’s overall performance, but in truth its fundamental characteristics don’t change all that much. And this is true regardless of which of the wired or wireless inputs you use - although naturally the quality of the wireless source (and its codec compatibility) has an effect on the final sound. Of more concern to the Gryphon, it seems, is the quality of the headphones you attach to it – it can happily drive even uncooperative headphones, but it gets a bit sniffy about less capable pairs and isn’t about to disguise that fact.  

Sound quality score: 5 / 5 

iFi xDSD Gryphon review: Value

The iFi xDSD Gryphon

(Image credit: Future)
  • Getting more expensive rather than more affordable
  • Performance to back up the asking price…
  • …but not so much the appearance

Unlike plenty of rival products, the price of the iFi xDSD Gryphon has gone up, rather than down, in the time it’s been on sale. This suggests that it’s been a roaring success, sure – but it also makes it slightly less compelling than previously. That the sound it makes is worth the money is not up for question, but if you judge as much by appearances as by performance you might end up wondering what all that money has bought you…

Value score: 4 / 5

Should you buy iFi xDSD Gryphon?

The iFi xDSD Gryphon

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

iFi xDSD Gryphon review: Also consider

How I tested the iFi xDSD Gryphon

The iFi xDSD Gryphon

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested indoors and out
  • Tested with numerous file types and sizes
  • Tested with a number of different pairs of headphones

Really, that’s the whole story. I used the iFi xDSD Gryphon as a desktop DAC and headphone amp connected to a laptop, and I used it wirelessly when out and about connected to a smartphone. 

I listened to a huge variety of file types and sizes, I used a number of different headphones, and I listened to lots of different types of music. I investigated its various options where filters and what-have-you are concerned, and I listened to some competing products too.  

First reviewed in November 2023

Magnetar UDP800 review: a 4K Blu-ray player with astounding video and audio quality
3:00 pm | August 28, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Magnetar UDP800: One-minute review

The Magnetar UDP800 is a reference grade 4K Blu-ray player with audiophile trappings. It delivers superb image clarity from Ultra HD discs, and is also compatible with SACD and DVD-Audio legacy music discs. Build quality is impressive, and includes the unusual provision of balanced XLR stereo outputs, fed by a 32-bit, 192kHz Burr-Brown PCM 1795 stereo DAC.

The name may not be familiar, but the Magnetar UDP800 is a heavyweight disc spinner that deserves the attention of serious cinephiles. Hailing from the same stable as Reavon and Zappiti, this Chinese-made player combines battleship build quality with high-end performance to create absolutely one of the best 4K Blu-ray players, if you've got the case to spare.

Streaming may have the upper hand when it comes to home entertainment these days, but the UDP800 could well convince you there’s another (tried and tested) way to amuse yourself – provided you can afford the asking price. Especially if you're into audiophile disc formats too, because that's where this really distinguishes itself over some of the competition.

If you just need something that plays movies at an extremely high level to show off on one of the best TVs and best 4K projectors, the Panasonic DP-UB9000 is maybe a better option at around a third lower in price – but for those who want to unlock elite audio options as well as video, it's excellent.

Magnetar UDP800 remote on top of the unit

The Magnetar UDP800's remote is dense with buttons, for a relatively simple device. (Image credit: Future)

Magnetar UDP800 review: Price & release

  • Released December 2022
  • $1,599 / €1,332 (around £1,140)

Occupying a price point once dominated by AV royalty, in the US the UDP800 sells for $1,599. In Europe it retails for €1,332. Currently there’s no UK distribution for the UDP800, but UK buyers can order one direct from France, with free shipping.

This is far higher than most people will spend on a Blu-ray player, of course, but this isn't made for most people. Its high-end audio components and construction are made for people who want the best performance, and will pay for it. 

Still, it's "only" about 50% higher-priced than the Panasonic UB9000, though it lacks streaming features. It's definitely one for audiophiles and the home theater hardcore, though.

Magnetar UDP800 review: Specs

Magnetar UDP800 audio ports shown up close

With XLR and standard stereo outputs, the Magnetar UDP800 is ready for your hi-fi as well as your TV. (Image credit: Future)

Magnetar UDP800 review: Features

  • Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support
  • SACD and DVD-A compatible
  • Audiophile stereo DAC

It’s a fair bet that if it's round and shiny, the Magnetar UDP800 will play it. In addition to 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays, and both regular and 3D Blu-ray, it spins DVD, AVCHD, SACD, CD, and a raft of recordable formats. Laserdisc is out, though, sorry.

The Magnetar also supports all mandated HDR formats for recorded media, including dynamic metadata rivals HDR10+ and Dolby Vision.

The deck can function as a self-contained content hub, with support for external HDD drives up to 16TB, which makes for a sizeable library by any measure. It will also stream from connected NAS devices, using DLNA and SMB.

There’s no support for Wi-Fi or Bluetooth though. You’ll need to hardwire everything. And apps are conspicuous by their absence – this is not a streaming hub. Get yourself an Apple TV 4K (2022) or something for that.

Like many high-end disc players, there's a big focus on sound here. The components are audiophile grade. Beneath the lid lurks a 32-bit, 192kHz Burr-Brown PCM 1795 stereo DAC. A four-layer PCB sports a high-quality op-amp for the deck’s Pure Audio mode, with a high-power, custom 60W transformer and Japanese Rubycon electrolytic capacitors. 

There’s no shortage of ways to integrate the UDP800 into a sound system: rear connections include a stereo XLR gold-plated balanced output, as well as a standard stereo RCA phonos. Of course, for convenience, many users will simply stick with HDMI – there are two here, for flexibility.

  • Features score: 4.5

Magnetar UDP800 menu

Despite the remote's imposing buttons, the menu of the Magnetar UDP800 can be relatively simple. (Image credit: Magnetar)

Magnetar UDP800 review: Performance

  • Excellent image clarity
  • High-grade audio performance
  • Universal disc support

Disc loading times are relatively fast. A Sherlock Holmes (2009 vintage) UHD Blu-ray went from tray to Warner Bros logo in 30 seconds, while a Goldfinger Blu-ray travelled from tray to main menu in 40 seconds. 

The UDP800 uses a quad-core system Media Tek MT8581 chipset, which boasts enviable audio video decoding. 

Picture performance is sublime. The aforementioned Guy Ritchie 4K Sherlock disc opens with a heavily shadowed slow-motion action set piece with Robert Downey Jr. The deck delivers detail down to near black, without obvious noise or artefacts being introduced.

A 4K test disc featuring impeccably polished musical instruments conveys all the luster and near three-dimensional texture you would hope for. The featured instruments reveal subtle thumbprints and the minuscule patina of use. 

Ironically, where premium Blu-ray decks such as the UDP800 really shine is not so much through video, but audio. This deck is an absolute joy to listen to.

A 96khz 24bit 7.1 (Japanese) recording of The Earth overture, by Kosuke Yamashita,  in linear PCM sounds superb, with crystal clarity and hugely dynamic fanfares. It's like sitting amidst the orchestra.

The deck’s stereo performance is similarly involving. Jazz SACD Bluesmith, by Tommy Smith, is a revelation (particularly if, like me, you spend too much time listening to smart speakers). This two-channel DSD 2.8MHz recording exhibits astounding depth of tone and clarity.

Obviously, the UDP800 does all the immersive audio stuff too – with bitstream support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Movies and music are equally impressive. This will make the most of any of the best TVs, best 4K projectors, and whatever elite sound system you have available to you.

  • Performance score: 5/5

Magnetar UDP800 rear, showing all of its ports

The Magnetar UDP800 has two HDMI ports as well as its audio connections. (Image credit: Magnetar)

Magnetar UDP800 review: Design

  • Formidable build quality
  • Versatile connectivity
  • Button-heavy remote control

The UDP800 can be considered old-school handsome for AV fans. Weighing in at 8kg, it feels like the sort of equipment that will still be going strong in a decade or two.  

The player itself features a double-layer chassis structure, 1.6mm thick, with a 3mm steel plate for extra rigidity.

The front fascia has a premium hairline finish, broken only by the center-mounted disc loading tray and LED display. To the left is a concealed USB port, while to the right are transport and control buttons.

Rear connections comprise two HDMIs, one of which is audio only, a USB 3.0 port, and two digital audio outputs, one coaxial and the other digital optical. The deck also has a stereo analog audio output, with both RCA phono and XLR options.

There’s an Ethernet port for networking, but no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Smart home system control is offered via an RS-232C port.

Similarly suggestive of times past is the IR remote, which is festooned with tiny buttons. Why navigate a menu when you can give pretty much every option its own button? Thankfully, usability in practice is less intimidating.

  • Design score: 5/5

Magnetar UDP800 review: Value

  • Built to last
  • High-end componentry
  • Unapologetically expensive

Let’s be clear: the Magnetar UDP800 is a niche product. No one is going to slap this kind of cash down on a whim, but if you already have a big investment in physical discs, be they Blu-ray, 4K UHD, discs, CDs or SACD/DVD-As, then its punchy price starts to make a lot more sense.

The price tag is commensurate with the Magnetar’s build and specification – it's not double or triple the price of the Panasonic UB9000, yet it delivers a real feast for audiophiles.

On the other hand, it doesn't have streaming apps, so it can't be your all-in-one movie and music hub. While this is technically a knock against its value, we expect that the target audience has no problem picking up a high-quality streamer too.

  • Value score: 4/5

Magnetar UDP800 review: Should I buy it?

Buy it if…

Don't buy it if…

Magnetar UDP800 review: Also consider

WiiM Pro Music Streamer review: multi-room high-res audio on the cheap
11:00 pm | March 22, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Tags: | Comments: Off

The best wireless speakers offer incredible levels of versatility, letting you stream music to either one or multiple speakers around the home using sophisticated control apps. Models like the Sonos One, or the forthcoming Spatial Audio-enabled Sonos Era 300, come to mind, but there are many others offering similar functionality from brands like Apple, Naim Audio, and KEF.

But what if you have a more traditional hi-fi setup consisting of an integrated amplifier or receiver and passive speakers that isn’t equipped for streaming? There are plenty of streamer components (usually called network music players) from hi-fi brands that you can add to your system, but many of those are pricey, with the $449 Sonos Port and $599 Bluesound Node representing two of the cheaper options.

At $149 / £149 / around AU$225 the new WiiM Pro Music Streamer is a considerably more affordable choice, and it’s also one that doesn’t skimp on the high-level features you’ll find on much more expensive network music players.

WiiM Pro streamer from above on black background

The WiiM Pro has a basic design with lightweight plastic housing (Image credit: Future)

With support for up to 24-bit/192kHz streaming, the WiiM Pro is primed to deliver high-res audio from the best music streaming apps such as Tidal, Amazon Music Unlimited, and Qobuz. You can also configure its control app to stream from Spotify, Deezer, and Pandora, along with internet radio apps like TuneIn. 

The WiiM Pro’s app lets you stream music either simultaneously or individually to multiple WiiM Pros, providing an inexpensive Sonos alternative for those who have existing audio systems set up in various rooms throughout their home. It can also be used to group Nest, Echo, and Apple HomePod speakers for streaming. Voice control options include Alexa and Hey Google, both of which can be enabled in the app.

AirPlay 2, Chromecast built-in, Alexa Casting, Spotify Connect, and Tidal Connect are all also supported by the WiiM Pro, giving you plenty of additional streaming options. Apple Music subscribers, however, should take note that Apple Music isn’t supported from within the WiiM Pro’s control app. To listen with that service, you’ll need to use AirPlay 2 to stream tracks from your iPhone or iPad, and that means no high-res audio since music streamed via AirPlay 2 from an iOS device to the WiiM Pro maxes out at lossless 16-bit/44.1kHz quality.

WiiM Pro streamer rear panel connections

Connections on the WiiM Pro's rear panel include both analog and digital inputs and outputs (Image credit: Future)

At 5.5 x 1.6 x 5.5 inches (W x H x D), the WiiM Pro is slightly larger than an Apple TV 4K and has the same puck-like design. There’s not much heft to the WiiM Pro’s plastic case, and it’s also not much to look at, so you’ll likely want to stash it somewhere to the side of your integrated amplifier or receiver where it can safely and silently do its job.

Output connections include analog stereo and coaxial and optical digital, and there are also analog stereo and coaxial and optical digital inputs for routing external sources through the WiiM Pro. There’s an Ethernet port for a wired network connection and a trigger output that can be used to automatically turn on a connected amp. Analog stereo and optical digital cables are included, along with a USB-C adapter and cable for power.

A basic set of touch-sensitive controls are located on the WiiM Pro’s front panel to adjust volume, switch inputs, and play/pause tracks. A traditional hardware remote is a $20 extra option, though in most cases you’ll simply use the WiiM app or those of whatever music app you’re using for streaming to carry out basic control functions.

The WiiM control app is very intuitive and easy to use. Once you’ve linked the WiiM Pro streamer to your home’s Wi-Fi by entering your network password, you sign in to any apps you plan to stream from and then browse your albums, playlists, and tracks the same as you would in the app’s own interface. I was glad to see that my Tidal album collection was presented chronologically by date added – an option that’s maddeningly not always available in streamer control apps – though alphabetical, artist, and release date sorting was also possible.

WiiM Pro streamer app panels on black background

The WiiM control app's Playlist, Browse, and Albums panels (Image credit: Future)

I listened with the WiiM Pro by streaming from Tidal and mostly using its analog stereo output, but also trying the coaxial digital output to compare its built-in DAC to my integrated amp’s own DAC. 

The WiiM Pro’s sound quality was impressive for a $149 streamer/DAC. Listening to jazz musician Julian Lage’s track Tributary, his electric guitar had a clean, compelling tone and the bass guitar had a full-bodied quality. Drums also sounded clean and crisp, and the WiiM Pro presented a super-wide stereo image.

Playing James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg’s countrified instrumental cover of Reel Around the Fountain by The Smiths next, both acoustic guitars had good definition and a sense of air around them. And when I next streamed Rivers of Mercy by Tears for Fears, a track with a much denser production than the previous two, both vocal and instrumental layers in the mix were clearly rendered, and the WiiM Pro easily tracked dynamic swells during the chorus.

When I switched over from using the WiiM Pro streamer’s analog to its coaxial digital output – something that can be easily done in the app – in order make sound quality comparisons with my integrated amp’s DAC, I felt that the WiiM Pro was definitely lagging somewhat when it came to detail resolution and dynamic punch. But the difference wasn’t so major that I was disappointed when I switched back to the streamer’s analog output, and I’m fairly certain most listeners would feel the same way.

Hand holding WiiM Pro streamer showing controls on front panel

A basic set of touch-sensitive controls are located on the WiiM Pro's front panel (Image credit: Future)

Ultimately, the value category is where the WiiM Pro scores the biggest win – you literally have to spend hundreds more to get a streamer that does as much. And while the simple, unpretentious design isn’t going to earn it any oohs and ahhs, it sounds very good, performs reliably, and is equipped to handle almost any music streaming task you would ask of it.

WiiM Pro Music Streamer review: Price & Release date

  • $149 / £149 / around AU$225
  • First available: October 2022

The WiiM Pro Music Streamer is available now for $149. Most audiophile-grade music streamers offering this level of versatility cost well above what you’ll pay for the WiiM Pro, leaving it pretty much in its own league when it comes to pricing. Step-up models would be the Bluesound Node ($599) and Sonos Port ($449), both of which also support a range of protocols and offer multiroom streaming capability using a control app.

You still might be able to find Google’s Chromecast Audio online for nearly half the WiiM Pro’s price, but that model has very limited connectivity and only supports Chromecast for streaming.

WiiM Pro Music Streamer review: Specs

Should you buy the WiiM Pro Music Streamer?

Buy it if...

You want to cheaply add music streaming
The WiiM Pro is the cheapest music streamer I know of, with a cost that’s hundreds less than the least pricey step-up options. It’s a perfect entry point into the world of high-res audio streaming from services like Tidal, Amazon, and Qobuz.

You want multiroom capability
The WiiM app can be used to route music to multiple WiiM Pros around the home, letting each system play the same track or individual systems play different tracks. You can even use multiple apps for multi-room playback.

Don’t buy it if… 

You want a streamer with rugged build quality
The WiiM Pro’s cheap plastic case is flimsy compared to typical hi-fi components and even A/V streamers like the Apple TV 4K. You’re clearly getting what you pay for, though the compact WiiM Pro can be easily hidden away.

You want a streamer with exceptional sound quality
Sound quality using the WiiM Pro’s analog stereo output doesn’t match what you get with high-end stereo components, but it’s very good nonetheless and you can always use its digital outputs to feed an outboard DAC.

WiiM Pro Music Streamer: Also consider

WiiM Pro Music Streamer: How I tested

  • Streamed music from reference Tidal HiFi playlists
  • Compared analog output to reference DAC
  • Evaluated control app for functionality and ease of use

I tested the WiiM Pro Music Streamer using tracks from the Tidal music service. I have created Tidal playlists that allow me to listen for various performance aspects such as detail, dynamic range, and vocal clarity, and those playlists were used along with a new one created specifically for this review.

To compare the WiiM Pro’s DAC (digital-to-analog converter) with the one built into my integrated amplifier, I switched between the streamer’s analog stereo and coaxial digital outputs. And while the switching process wasn’t instantaneous, it did provide me with a good sound quality comparison. I have used the same integrated amp as a reference for many years, and for comparisons in many other audio component reviews, so I have a good handle on its performance.

Part of the testing process involved evaluating the WiiM Pro’s control app for functionality and ease of use. I have used apps from competing products like Sonos and Bluesound extensively, so there was a strong base for comparison with the WiiM app.

Focal Bathys review: maybe the best-sounding wireless headphones you can buy
2:00 pm | October 15, 2022

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Headphones | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Editor's Note

• Original review date: October 2022
• Launch price: $799 / £699 / AU$1,199
• Regular price now: $699 / £699 / AU$999

Update: February 2024. The Focal Bathys launched at a price that signalled that they're in a rarified strata of quality among the best headphones, and little has changed since then. They see occasional discounts, but even those still leave them well above even premium headphones from the likes of Bose and Sony. Which means that our feelings on them hasn't really changed either: they're a sumptuous treat for Hi-Res Audio aficionados, a remarkable achievement in wireless headphones sound, and sightly lacking in smarter features and active noise cancellation power. We still thoroughly recommend them for those interested in what they offer, but those looking for something lighter, cheaper, with better ANC (but still with impressive sound quality, even if not this good) should consider the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. The rest of this review remains as previously published.

Focal Bathys: two-minute review

Let's get it right: sonically, the Focal Bathys are more than worthy of their enviable heritage. And aside from the quality wireless listen, chuck in the USB-C cable in DAC mode and you've got hi-res up to 21bit/192kHz too. Oh, and in case it needs to be stated, they're utterly stunning to look at. So, why the four-and-a-half star review instead of a resounding five? It's not that simple at this price – and the competition is fierce. 

The Focal Bathys are not the French audio specialist's first foray into beautiful cans – indeed, the company makes some of the best over-ear headphones we've ever had the pleasure of placing over our ears. But this is Focal's first foray into wireless headphones and (there's no easy way to say this) the Bathys are expensive. We understand the reasons behind the asking fee – those patented aluminium/magnesium "M”-dome speaker drivers are made in France using technologies from the finest Focal headphones don't come cheap; neither does the backlit flame emblem in the center of each beautiful earcup – but they're more expensive than the AirPods Max and the new Bowers & Wilkins PX8, which is significant and comes with it no small amount of pressure to perform. 

Put them on and you feel beautiful, buoyed up by their detail, insight and clarity, but deploy ANC (you get 'silent', 'soft' and 'transparent' options) and you might find you want a little more – which you can't tweak. 

None of our gripes regarding the Bathys pertain to their sound, irrespective of the noise-cancellation profile you select – and although the cheaper Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless (launched in August 2022) boast double the battery life at 60 hours versus 30 hours, the Sony WH-1000XM5 (which launched in May 2022) also come bearing 30 hours of stamina and that is more than sufficient for us. 

The Bathy's companion Focal and Naim app (you swipe right for Focal or left for Naim, like some sort of audiophile dating app) is also likeable and has every necessary feature to aid your listening pleasure, including a five-band EQ tab with helpful presets. 

Perhaps confusingly, our issues refer to the build – odd since we've just said how beautiful they are, but stay with us. The on-ear physical buttons feel a bit flimsy and prototype-esque, and we do find them hit-and-miss during use. Also, the headband occasionally clicks during wear which impacts the otherwise excellent sound. 

Again, for this kind of sonic prowess, we're prepared to forgive most things – for us, sound is paramount. But the big selling point here is wireless listening, so we do need to point out these minor shortfalls in what is still a glorious-sounding set of over-ears. 

Focal Bathys on green grassy background

Whether the backlit flame is illuminated or not, they're good-looking cans  (Image credit: Future)

Focal Bathys review: price and release date

  • Released on October 4, 2022
  • $799 / £699 / €799 (around AU$1,210)

The Focal Bathys are available now, priced $799 / £699 / €799 (around AU$1,210).

This makes them more expensive than all of the class-leaders in this space, including the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 ($699 / £599 / AU$1,150), Sennheiser's Momentum 4 Wireless (at $349 / £300 / AU$549) and the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM5, which will set you back $399 / £380 / AU$550. 

And let's not forget that the aformentioned Sennheiser over-ears boast double the stamina of the Focal Bathys (and the XM5, and the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 while we're on the subject) the pricing feels bordering on arrogance… 

But it isn't – because whatever else we're about to say, the sound quality here is exceptional and worthy of the price-point. 

Focal Bathys earcup detail

The on-ear controls are just a little flimsy for us  (Image credit: Future)

Focal Bathys review: features

  • USB-C wired DAC mode for glorious hi-res audio 
  • ANC is standard rather than exceptional 
  • On-ear controls are unreliable during testing 

The big draw here is the bundled USB-C to USB-C cable, because it grants you access to decoding in up to 24bit/192kHz, depending on how good your file is. We grab our Samsung Galaxy S21 and plug in, switching the slider on the Bathys' right earcup to 'DAC' and start listening to Fontaines D.C., downloaded in High-Res Lossless on Apple Music. It is sublime – but it's interesting to note that the glorious wired performance is a major selling point given that this is billed as a Focal wireless product. 

Perhaps it is best to think of Focal Bathys as premium wired over-ears that merely offer the option of wired listening, because this is Focal's inaugural set of wireless over-ears and it does show. Focal devotees won't care, but if you're used to wireless listening gear from the likes of Sony, there are things you'll miss. 

The Focal Bathys' spec sheet is fine, but given the Bluetooth-only competition out there in 2022, excellent it is not. For example, the two ANC profiles and one transparency option cannot be tweaked, there's no scope for optimizing the mics or voice pickup when you're in a call (beyond Focal's implemented Clear Voice Capture tech), and there's also no wearer detection, so your music won't automatically pause when you remove them. These are small omissions, but at this premium level we would expect them – and anyone used to their music pausing when they lift an earcup will soon miss it when it doesn't happen. 

There is auto-standby (which sends the cans into low power state after a period of inactivity) and a button to access your voice assistant of choice. Focal's flame symbol, illuminated with a white backlight on each earcup, can also be switched off in the slick yet enjoyable Focal and Naim companion app. 

Then, there's the intuitive five-band EQ tab, which includes presets or can be tweaked manually – and which we really enjoy. Perhaps we might have wanted a little more stamina than the 'standard' 30-hour battery life, although this beats both the Bose QuietComfort 45 and Bose Noise Cancelling 700, which offer between 24 and 30 hours. Also, a quick 15 minute charge gets you five hours playback – a claim we can vouch for. 

As you might expect, Focal has adopted a traditional approach here to the on-ear controls in that they are all physical buttons, with volume, playback, power and a dedicated button to access to your voice assistant of choice (Alexa, Google Assistant, Bixby and Siri are all supported) on the right ear cup, plus an ANC button on the left ear cup, which scrolls between 'silent' (the highest ANC the Bathys can muster), 'soft' (low-level noise-nixing) and 'transparent' to filter external noise in. 

Interestingly, Focal suggests that if you want maximum ANC but aren't listening to music, to "be on the DAC position", but this essentially means switching the Bluetooth off, so your headphones are no longer paired to your phone. This in turn means you lose access to the app and are limited to scrolling these profiles using the button on the Bathys' left earcup, which doesn't announce which profile you're on. For us, while there is certainly a degree of noise cancellation happening when we do this (and we think we're in 'silent' mode) , we still hear car engines outside the office window… it's not the all-encompassing bubble of silence you might be hoping for, but then again, neither is it nauseating (you may laugh, but some solutions are like a vacuum tunnel). 

The Bathys' Bluetooth 5.1 codec includes support for both aptX and aptX Adaptive for the best Bluetooth (and lowest latency) wireless resolution currently available – oh, and in case you were wondering, the name Bathys comes from the word ‘bathyscaphe’, the first submarine exploration vehicle. What you won't get is support for Sony's higher-resolution LDAC codec – but that's a relatively minor issue what aptX Adaptive is on the menu. 

  • Features score: 3.5/5

Focal Bathys close-up of left ear cup

There's a dedicated button for ANC, but it doesn't announce which profile you're on (Image credit: Future)

Focal Bathys review: design

  • Stunning 'backlit flame' illuminating ear cups 
  • Very comfortable 
  • Buttons feel a little flimsy

When worn (especially with the backlit flame on each ear cup illuminated on 'high') this is a striking set of cans indeed. 

Anyone familiar with the Focal Stellia will know that the St. Etienne-based audio specialist's cutaway, almost web-like ear cup accents sparkle and shimmer under the light, but although the build-quality here suggests high-ticket jewellery, the magnesium and aluminium combination feels a tad insubstantial rather than strong (dare we say plasticky?), and that real leather headband, although well-padded, does click a bit during use, which in time impacts the overall enjoyment. 

Bathys' foldable design means the ear cups lie flat to fit neatly into the included carry case, but note that the Bathys echo the current move towards cans with cups that do not fold up entirely into the headband, including the Bowers & Wilkins PX8Sony WH-1000XM5 and Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 (over the older, foldable Sony WH-1000XM4, say). 

Within their hard-shell, fabric covered carry case, we also find a USB-C to USB-C cable for both charging and for the USB-C DAC mode (which incidentally nets you an extra 10 hours of battery for up to 40 hours of listening), a 3.5mm to 3.5mm headphone jack cable (which gives you 35 hours of playtime – yes the mode must be in 'on' to use this, so you're not listening passively) and a USB-C to Lightning dongle.  

The comfort levels are really very good, but during use we find the on-ear buttons just a little flimsy and unreliable. The skip-forward option (which should be as simple as a double-press of the central button between the volume up/down options) to move to the next rack proves particularly illusive for us – the Bathys either ignore us, or pause the music and resume it, which is a shame. 

  • Design score: 4/5

Focal Bathys app on silver background

The Focal/Naim app is slick and likeable, but there are a few omissions in the features set (Image credit: Future)

Focal Bathys review: sound quality

  • Stunning musical clarity, depth and space
  • USB-C DAC mode is a joy
  • Agile presentation across the frequencies

We stream Fontaines D.C.'s Big Shot in High-Res Lossless downloaded on Apple Music, and the rock guitar reverb in our left ear coupled with the rhythm in our right is energetic, agile and exciting. This is an angry track and no mistake, and the Bathys aren't afraid to get with the program. Grian Chatten's vocal is borderline mocking and brimming with emotion as it arrives in the middle of this wide and talented soundstage. 

The rhythmic joy in Hootie & the Blowfish's Only Wanna Be With You is something else entirely in terms of tone – and it is celebrated just as effortlessly. The texture in the raucous intro is expertly layered, from the bass to the percussives, guitars, backing vocal and Darius Carlos Rucker's relaxed vocal stylings. 

Stormzy's Vossi Bop is a stiff challenge for the bass weight of any headphones, and the Bathys pass it with flying colors. Cymbals come through each ear as the intro sinks easily down to the grimy depths, but the Bathys deliver the low end with agility and panache. Anything we throw at these can is beautifully held in check throughout, across the frequencies. 

Our playlist continues to Big For Your Boots and the sense of the track quickly arriving and abruptly washing over you is beautifully handled. In what is nothing short of a war cry, Stormzy's vocal is every bit as three dimensional as it should be. 

Compare them to the new class-leader at the level, the Bowers & Wilkins PX8, and we hear a marginal difference in terms of the exuberance and fun of the PX8 versus the detail, expanse and refinement of the Focal Bathys. Which you think best will largely come down to whether you prefer an integrated, detailed, expansive, refined listen (Bathys), or something boasting agility and an extra ounce of dynamic build and oomph over a fractional modicum of expanse (PX8) but again, it's a very closely run race here – both cans are a stone cold five stars for sound.  

  • Sound quality score: 5/5

Focal Bathys on wallpaper background

Just look at those illuminating ear cups with the Focal flame, though…  (Image credit: Future)

Focal Bathys review: value

  • High-end sound for high-end money
  • ANC can be bettered at the level though 
  • Good rather than excellent battery life

This is far from budget-friendly territory (remember, the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 are arguably their nearest competition, but even these premium cans are cheaper by $100/£100 – and the minor issues we had with the build quality coupled with the few omissions on the Bathys' spec-sheet do affect the value given their high-end pricing. 

The lack of auto-off wearer detection, the fact that the three ANC profiles are limited to Silent, Soft and Transparent – and you cannot forego them completely since it's impossible to have the ANC 'off' entirely – and the buttons which have us dig out our phone rather than use them also impact the judgement. 

The ace up the Focal Bathys' sleeve is that they are essentially powered, wired over-ears which just happen to offer wireless Bluetooth listening, and the sound when listened in either way is excellent. And it's hard to put a price on that – so if sound quality is paramount to you, the Focal Bathys should still be on your list. 

  • Value score: 4/5

Should you buy the Focal Bathys?

Buy them if…

Don't buy them if…

Also consider…

If our Focal Bathys review has you considering whether to buy them or to seek out other wireless over-ear headphones, take a glance at these three competing cans at the level.