One of my hopes about the future of casual, consumer listening products is that there be more of a middle ground between high-end and affordable. I’ve been checking out a lot of economical DAC/Amp adapters for laptops and smartphones and have really appreciated what they’re accomplishing. There’s been the HELM Audio BOLT, which I enjoyed for its simplicity and immediate increase in high-fidelity resolution. MQA support was also a huge plus. Recently, Spectra X is a name I’ve been seeing floating around with the same amount of praise. It’s a DAC/Amp from a company called NextDrive, and although they offer a few other selections, the Spectra X is their main bread and butter. This DAC/Amp costs only $149.99 and offers a lot, so let’s dive right into it.
What You Get
- Spectra X DAC
- Microfiber Case
- Quick Start Guide
- Presentation case with magnetic closure
NextDrive champions the Spectra X as one of the smallest DAC/Amps around, and there’s definitely some truth to that. The piece itself is quite long but very narrow and easy to store. The device is lightweight but highly durable, with an aluminum chassis and an extra-long, flexible cable. If I could compare the size to anything, it’s like a small pen attached to your device. NextDrive sports a few different input options as far as sources go. I was given the USB-Type C connector, but Type A and B versions are also available. Type C was perfect to use for my android phone, but standard USB is more friendly to use with desktop and gaming devices.
It can be a slight nitpick to say that only featuring a 3.5mm female headphone connector is rather limiting for a DAC/Amp but seeing that this is pretty much a perfect device for listening to IEMs. Some over-ear headphones might be inaccessible to use with the Spectra X without an adapter, but for what I think most listeners are going to use this for, I think the output selection is perfectly fitting for the use of this specific device. There are a few different graphics on the SpextraX, and like other DAC adapters, features an LED light. This is overall a respectively solid construction for the price that should be built to last.
Underneath this strong assembly is an equally capable interior system. At the core of this DAC/Amp is an ESS Sabre 9018QTC chipset, powered by NextDrive’s XtraSOUND technology. This component delivers reduced distortion and low noise-floor output for a higher resolution performance. Lossless audio files have a natural reproduction of output, making it easy to forget you’re not listening to a high-end DAP. The Sabre provides 32 bit 384kHz PCM data DSD 5.6MHz.
As I previously mentioned, it’s easy to forget about what source you’re listening from when attaching the Spectra X. On their website, NextDrive says that its XtraSOUND technology gives you a live experience. That could mean many different things, and using the DUNU SA3, NF Audio NM2+, and Tripowin TC-01, we’re going to find out exactly what that ‘live” sound is truly about.
This pair of IEMs are still fresh in my mind, and I was eager to hear how they sounded with the Spectra X. The first major difference I noticed was the bass response. The TC-01 usually has this punchy, rounded tonality, but with this DAC, the lows become a lot more subdued and natural. However, I thought it gained a much wider resonance than it originally had. The midrange here is still just as balanced, but with a much richer timbre, even if the depth isn’t as great as the bass. Being initially impressed with the highs, I was even more delighted to hear more of them with some added detail. Some of these details can appear a bit thin, but I prefer this than making the TC-01 sound darker than it should. The only difference I found in soundstage was the slight enhancement of height I got with it. I thought instruments sounded a lot more floaty in their positioning than usual, creating a more airy headspace.
The more neutral lows of the SA3 don’t see much change in timbre, keeping to the IEMs’ overall sense of accuracy, but it does gain some nice added depth. Low-end frequencies are a lot more spread out and offer more extension in the soundstage. Space here is important to communicate the more nuanced and subtle details this low-end actually has. As for the mids, the sense of accuracy is also greatly expanded upon, creating a much closer, and more bodied response. The highs are still not as full or enticing as the rest of the signature, but some treble frequencies do show a bit more light, but not really enough to merit a significant change.
NF Audio NM2+
One of the more impressive feats of hr NM2+ is its surprising sub-bass, so I was interested to hear how that would be handled when pairing with the Spectra X. When I first reviewed the NM2+, I didn’t notice the sub-bass for a good amount of time, as the response was one of the most subdued I had heard on an IEM. However, the feel of it never went away. I wanted the SpectraX to bring out more of those frequencies, but that’s not what this DAC really does with its bass. The sub-bass was still there, but not a whole lot of enhancements were given to it. Instead, the signature is more natural, with not a whole lot of coloration. That sense of accuracy is shown a lot more clearly in the midrange, with its mostly flat timbre, minus a bit of nice levity in the upper-mids. The highs here got the best resolution so far, as the well-balanced and controlled tonality are able to perform much looser. This makes for a more colorful treble with sparkle and a touch of sibilance.
The Spectra X proves itself to be quite the little audiophile machine, with high-res sound and sustainable build quality. This is a simple and affordable device that just makes your sound better. It has some subtle details, some of which might go unnoticed, and if you’re really picky about coloration, you might wish it did more. At the end of the day, once you pair this with your smartphone or laptop, you’ll never go back.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Energetic sound, simple but durable build, price
Cons: Doesn’t offer a huge amount of bass
The NextDrive Spectra X is available from Amazon.
Discuss the NextDrive Spectra X on our forums here.
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