Violectric DHA V380 DAC, Headphone Amp and Pre-Amp
PROS: High quality neutral sound, powerful, extremely low noise floor even with highly sensitive IEMs, effective upsampling, excellent build quality/finish, no compromise on DAC or amp (not an “add-on” feature).
CONS: Less feature rich than the much more expensive V590.
The Violectric V380 demo unit was kindly offered to me on loan by Michael Wongso of Dune Blue, distributor for Violectric. No incentive was given for a favorable review.
- Balanced headphone output with 4-pin XLR, 2 single ended outputs with 6,3 mm jack
- Line-out, stereo, 1 x unbalanced via RCA, 1 x balanced via XLR
- Headphone path and line-out path individually switchable
- 2 analogue stereo inputs, unbalanced via RCA
- 3 digital inputs, opto and coax with up to 24 bit and up to 192 kHz capability, USB with up to 32 bit and up to 384 kHz for PCM signals, DSD 64 – 512
- 32 bit resampling/reclocking with 180 dB dynamic range, modes: On/Off/Best
- 2 x 32 bit D/A converters per channel with -112 dB THD-N and 123 dB dynamic range
- +/- 18 dB Pre-Gain for a perfect match of the DHA V380 between source and headphones
- 4 powerful amps offering 5.000 mW Pmax into 50 Ohm and 21 V RMS into 600 Ohm
- 1 toroidal transformer, > 26.500 uF filter capacity
- Price: €2,255.87, US$2,499.95
For a while now I have been meaning to get into desktop audio. No scratch that. For absolutely ages I have been meaning to get into desktop audio. Unfortunately, for the most part of my audiophile-being-ness I was living in a tiny flat in London where we simply did not have the space, nor the quiet environment to enjoy desktop audio. Nothing ruins a nice session with open-back headphones like living under the approach to Heathrow Airport and having planes pass over every 30 seconds. Rather than having to wait for the wind to change favorably for a rare opportunity to listen while the planes approach from a different direction, I just put it off until better times. Now that I am living in a sleepy village and have an office space in our attic to run cables far away from inquiring puppy teeth, those times have finally come.
While orienting myself I got talking to Michael Wongso of Dune Blue. Based in the Netherlands, Dune Blue is an EU distributor for around 20 brands and focuses mainly on the Benelux and Scandinavia, but also Poland, France and the UK, making a network of over 70 dealers throughout Europe. Michael highly recommended I give the Violectric V380 a try and was kind enough to send me over his demo unit for long enough that I could develop a good feel for what it has to offer.
Now I will admit that I was not very familiar with Violectric, but quickly found out they have a very good reputation among audiophiles. Violectric is a company from the German brand Lake People, so named because its headquarters is located close to the picturesque Bodensee (Lake Constance). Established by Fried Reim, Lake People has been an acclaimed brand in professional audio for 35 years. With Violectric Lake People established a brand that is aimed at the high-end HiFi market and was recently joined by the ‘let’s go even higher-end’ brand Niimbus. The products from these brands are defined under the company’s slogan “tools, not toys”. Nothing too flashy to look at (still looking very good though), but the highest quality under the hood.
I had not really planned on writing a full review, maybe just some impressions, but given I had enough time, I went for it anyway. In a way I actually felt compelled to write because the V380 has taught me a few new things about what high-end desktop gear has to offer beyond what I have experienced with high-end portable gear. It is also a very refined tool that I found worked wonderfully well for reviewing purposes.
I often include pictures and a brief description of the unboxing, but honestly, I did not see much sense in doing that here. Under the motto “tools, not toys” the V380 is packed in a box with a lot of styrofoam to ensure safe transport and that is pretty much it. The V380 comes only with the bare essentials: a power cable, a USB cable and an instruction manual. A refreshing no fuss, no “unboxing experience” type of unboxing. I love it! Yes, I sometimes quite like unboxing lavishly designed boxes, but that usually has more to do with enjoying the creativity people put into it rather than the actual experience. Deep down inside I am perfectly happy with a functional box and getting to the good stuff without delay. In that sense I think Violectric is very much a brand after my own heart. (In other ways as well, as I greatly appreciate their focus on local production and working with local suppliers.)
As indicated by the slogan “tools, not toys”, the V380 has a fairly simple looking design without anything flashy going on. I will revive a term I have not used in a long time and might have promised never to use again because it is not actually a real word, but rather something like academic dribble spouted by people who want to appear intellectual. The design feels “utilistic”. That is, something aimed at a specific use and designed around that. However, I don’t really feel the V380 has an industrial feel to it or anything clunky and heavy. It is a basic black box with switches and a dial, but at the same time the finish is really nicely done and I love the finish on the front plate that has a lovely texture to it. Everything also feels great in my hands when I use it. The finish does show marks very easily, so people who can be a little OCD about that sort of thing (guilty as charged) will likely spend a lot of time giving it a wipe to make sure it looks all nice and pretty.
Most of the controls can be found at the front. Starting from the left there is the volume dial that feels very nice to use. It is light and easy to control without any noticeable wobble. Next to that you will find in the top row a selection switch that lets you choose between the RCA-1, RCA-2 and digital in. For the digital input there is an extra selection switch for choosing between optical, coaxial and USB.
In the row below you can find the switch to select between ‘headphone out’, ‘off’ and ‘line out’, with next to it the switch for the upsampling, which can be set to ‘on’, ‘off’ or ‘best’. Next to the switches, on the right side of the front panel, are the headphone sockets with at the centre a balanced 4-pin XLR and on either side a 6.3mm single ended. To my surprise, I actually found that having two single ended headphone outs was very useful for doing comparisons.
At the back you find the power cable socket on the far left. Next to it are the digital inputs with USB, optical and coaxial. On the analogue side the inputs consist of two times RCA with next to those the DIP switches of the headphone amp pre-gain that offer five settings; off/0dB (all switches down), -18dB, -6dB, +6dB and +18dB. I found the -18dB to be great for creating more room to work with on the volume dial when listening to sensitive IEMs. On the right side of the back panel there are the line outputs with an unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR outputs with a button to switch between pre and post.
Under the Hood.
The V380 is a pre-amplifier, balanced headphone amplifier and DAC in one. On paper it looks like a less feature rich and more affordable version of the flagship V590. So perhaps this is a good time to go through some of the differences.
It starts with the volume dial, which in the V590 is motorized so that it can be adjusted with the remote control that is included as standard. Here is also an added extra that the V590 has, which is the option to upgrade to the “Pro” version with a 256-step attenuator. This will allow much finer adjustment of the volume and, from what I understand (I couldn’t try it myself), will have a positive impact on sound quality.
Next to the volume dial on the V590 is a dial for adjusting the left/right balance, something the V380 does not have. The V590 also uses buttons rather than switches for selecting the analogue input, digital input, resampling and output selection. Resampling has more options. Where the V380 has on, off and best, the V590 offers off, 1x, 2x, 4x and best.
At the back the V590 has several extras as well. At the digital input side there can now also be found a 3-pin balanced input. The line out of the V590 now has DIP switches for adjusting the line out gain between off/0dB, -18dB, -6dB, +6dB and +18dB. The analogue side also gains 3-pin XLR balanced in on the V590.
In terms of hardware the V380’s and V590’s DAC sections are both based on the AK4490 DAC chips where the V590’s reclocking is done with a higher-end Femto clock compared to the Pico clock in the V380. From what I understand the dynamics of the V590 DAC is a step up from the V380.
The V590 is fitted with two 25W toroidal transformers and has 35,000 uF filter capacity, where the V380 only has one 25W toroidal transformer and 26,500 uF filter capacity. The power output from the amp is noticeably higher on the V590, 6.4W at 50 ohms compared to 5W at 50 ohms on the V380. I asked Dune Blue about this because I was curious what it would mean in practice for very demanding headphones. The V380 might be able to drive headphones such as the Hifiman Susvara well enough, however the V590 will be more capable of driving them to their full potential.
Overall. I think the V380 is similar enough that it makes for an interesting option for people who can’t quite stretch their budget to the V590. Like the V590 the V380 looks like it has a fully developed DAC, amp and pre-amp, so that none can be considered an “add-on” feature. From what I have read on the DAC and amp of the V590, both are capable of competing with stand-alone versions and I therefore expect that to be the case with the V380 as well. That is a little bit of speculation though, as at the moment I don’t have the means to test that for myself.
Looking at the V380, the DAC supports up to 24 bit, 96 kHz for the optical in and up to 24 bit, 192 kHz for coaxial, while for USB it supports PCM up to 32 bit, 384 kHz and DSD 64 – 512. It also has a resampling option for 32 bit, potentially generating up to 180 dB of dynamic range. I tested the resampling to see if it was just a gimmick and found that there was indeed a noticeable difference and therefore I left the setting on “best”. I did not really see any reason to do otherwise.
The amp section is pretty powerful. It peaks at 50 ohm where it delivers 5 W, but still produces 1,450 mW at 300 ohm and 740 mW at 600 ohm. Output impedance for the headphone amp is super low at 0,15 ohm for unbalanced and 0,3 ohm for balanced. Voltage output is also high at around 20-21 V from 100 ohm upwards. The noise floor however is claimed to be inaudible and I put that to quite an extensive test and found that the V380 really does have an exceptionally low noise floor. That makes it especially interesting for people such as myself who enjoy using IEMs even with their desktop gear.
For the test I started with the Campfire Audio Ara, which have an impedance of 8.5 Ohms with a sensitivity of 94 dB/V (73 dB/mW) and they seem to pick up any background noise with ease. With the V380 I found them to be almost perfectly clean and with the pre-gain at -18 dB I had a nice amount of room to work with on the volume dial. I say almost, because there was the slightest noise as I switched the headphone output from ‘off’ to ‘on’, something that was a little clearer with the Vision Ears VE5. The VE5 are rated at 21 Ohms and 122 dB/mW (139 dB/V). Still, the noise level was extremely low and did not bother me in the slightest. In fact, I only noticed it when I was specifically looking for it and while working on a different review with the VE5 I completely forgot about it. While I was finishing up this review another set of even more sensitive IEMs came in, the Empire Ears Wraith, which have an impedance of only 4 Ohms and a sensitivity of 117 dB/mW (141 dB/V), yet they need a very powerful amp to drive their four electrostatic drivers for the super high range. Even my most powerful DAPs, the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch and Shanling M8, could not drive those adequately and so I had to try the V380. Not only does the V380 drive them with ease, the noise floor is still remarkably low and only really noticeable if you look for it.
So, in short, high power, high voltage, high damping and extremely low noise. It makes the V380 a highly versatile DAC and amp combo. On a side note, here. For anyone in the market for just an amp, you can expect there to be a HPA V340 version at some point as well (indicated on the V380’s back panel).