Audioengine's mighty midget digital converter/headphone amplifier does the job
The Audioengine D3 may be teensy, but this affordable component can radically upgrade your computer's sound quality!
Audioengine is one of those rare companies that gets it right every time. Its desktop speakers excel in a very crowded, highly competitive field, and its digital converters are also strong performers.
Audioengine's latest release, the tiny USB-powered D3 digital converter, continues that tradition. The aluminum body feels nice and solid, and its digital converter can accept 24-bit/192KHz audio. The headphone amplifier works with low- and high-impedance headphones. Alternatively, you can run a set of powered desktop speakers, such as Audioengine A2+s or A5+s, directly from the D3's headphone jack.
The D3 was designed to work with Mac and PC computers, not phones. Included accessories are limited to a small padded carrying case and a 3.5mm-to-6.3mm headphone plug adaptor. Volume control is handled on your computer.
The very first pair of headphones I plugged into the D3, the Audeze LCD X, told me all I needed to know about the little guy's sound in a New York minute. The D3 is refined, dynamic, and highly transparent, and bass prowess is impressive. My old Sennheiser HD 580 headphones were next, and again the D3 didn't miss a beat. To put the D3's accomplishments in perspective I plugged the HD 580 directly into my Mac Mini's headphone jack. Detail and resolution took a hike, dynamic contrasts fell flat, and bass oomph slackened. Once you hear the difference you'll never want to plug headphones directly into a computer again.
I next compared the D3 with AudioQuest's DragonFly USB digital converter/headphone amp. The DragonFly is certainly decent, but the D3 sounds more transparent and effortless. After spending time with the D3, the DragonFly's sound seemed coarser and more opaque.
I really like the D3, but a better AC-powered and much larger headphone amp such as the $249 Schiit Asgard 2 is even more detailed, plays louder, and sounds more dynamically alive. It's not really a fair comparison; the D3 is seriously tiny, just 0.5 inch by 1.8 inches by 2.6 inches, so it's very portable, and it includes a digital converter. The Asgard 2 is a lot bigger and doesn't have a converter, it's just an amp. As always, better isn't the first consideration; get the one that best suits your needs. In a few weeks I'll be looking at another Mini-USB converter, the Cambridge Audio DAC Magic XS.
The Audioengine D3 sells for $189 direct from the company's Web site with a 30-day home trial, free ground shipping, and no sales tax. The D3 is also available from Audioengine's authorized dealers, including Amazon.