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Henry Audio is a bit of an oddball in the world of HiFi. What is now a very well received and good sounding DAC actually started image3
out as a DIY project.

Børge Strand-Bergesen, the Norwegian founder of Henry Audio, has been working on a hi-end CD player for most of his adult life. About four years ago it was obvious the player needed a good USB input, but it was far from obvious who could provide one.

The answer was the Open Source SDR-Widget project. An international group of radio amateurs had put their heads together and developed specialized HAM radio hardware. And it had a very good USB Audio implementation. Børge joined the group and the Audio-Widget project was forked off. Initially, hardware was only offered to fellow project members. After some time software bugs were ironed out and the Norwegian HiFi magazine Watt tested the DAC.

The DAC’s good test and recommendation in the magazine caught Børge by surprise, and a decision was made to try to sell a few more DACs. At the time, the Henry Audio name wasn’t yet there, so a lot of people know the DAC as QNKTC (Quantization Noise Killed The Cat). Something had to be done to attract HiFi enthusiasts in general and cat lovers in particular. Thus the product was renamed Henry Audio USB DAC 128 in early 2014.

Later in 2014, after 500 DACs sold world-wide, a decision was made to up the ante. This time, technology was shed from the CD player and into the USB DAC. Being a professional PCB layout consultant, Børge reorganized the internals for a better split of analog and digital sections.

image4Every part of the DAC received a work over with significantly better power reserves. Whenever a chip needs to deliver some current somewhere, the DAC is designed to let that chip have it a-plenty and fast! More power fast directly translates to better sound quality. The often dirty power supply coming over the USB cable was also given an enhanced power filter.

The result is the Henry Audio USB DAC 128 mkII. Compared to previous models the new one packs a much larger punch. A double bass comes alive with this DAC! More and readily available power also improves on the musical character and makes the DAC more true to life. Hifi Pig was first to test the mkII. 

The purpose of the Henry Audio USB DAC 128 mkII is to show music lovers just how good modern, computer-stored audio can sound. If you care enough about your music to own a stereo kit, and want the convenience of playing your music through a PC, a Mac or a Linux box, a DAC is an absolutely essential component. Without a separate DAC the computer will be the weakest link in the chain. Regardless of the quality of your amp, speakers or headphones, the noisy signals inside the computer should be shielded from the rest of your audio system.

In addition to being a digital audio lifesaver, the DAC remains a designer’s toolbox. 99% of everybody who owns a Henry Audio image1 (1)DAC will never take it apart or modify it. But students, electrical engineers, programmers and other tinkerers here have a piece of modern audio equipment which was designed from the start with them in mind. The DAC can be modified, reconnected and reprogrammed. Makers and doers are welcome to share their experience with other Audio-Widget project members. The design files are published under Open Source licenses and readily available.

The Henry Audio USB DAC 128 mkII does only a few things. But it tries to do those few things very, very well. USB audio easily lends itself to the design of very good clocking circuits inside the DAC. The asynchronous clocking technology was what made the SDR-Widget project such a good starting point for a HiFi DAC. As the DAC turns your PC into a HiFi component over the USB cable, it is not as easily done to also support SPDIF or TOSLINK. Future models may do that, but the present model is kept simple by not including it.

The same goes for a headphone amplifier. To match the quality of the USB DAC part of the design, an added headphone output would increase the retail price quite a lot. And that feature would be of no use to people who already have a preferred amplifier. So the USB DAC 128 mkII bridges the gap from computer to amplifier. That’s the only thing it does, and that’s a thing it does very well.

The USB DAC 128 mkII is stocked in the UK. EU customers get it delivered without any customs hassle.

Depending on your location you can order it in local currency – including shipping – from:
www.henryaudio.com
www.henryaudio.co.uk
www.henryaudio.de – German translation

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