To test the sound, I used both headphones and IEMs. The main headphones were the venerable Sennheiser HD650 and Dune Blue was kind enough to send me over the Final D8000 for a while. For IEMs I used a variety such as the Vision Ears VE5, DITA Audio Dream XLS, CustomArt FIBAE Black and Campfire Audio Ara. Mainly the Vision Ears VE5 though, as I was using the V380 for another review with those.
As I am new to desktop audio, I unfortunately can’t look at the performance of the DAC and amp individually because I do not have a standalone DAC and amp that I could use instead. Neither do I have speakers to put the pre-amp through its paces. My impressions are thus limited to the V380 as a DAC/amp combo.
If I would describe the V380 in general I would say that the sound is neutral, but unlike I have heard it from any of my portable gear. It is neutral and highly transparent, yet it has a smoothness to it that I feel should make the V380 warmer than it is. It is not warm, it is not cold or clinical either and it is very pleasant to listen to. When I described it to a friend of mine, he termed this ‘Nice Neutral’ and from what I understand it is not something that is easy to achieve. The V380 also has wonderful clarity and great dynamics to give it something musical. Now, I will admit that because this is my first time with a high-end desktop DAC/amp I am probably easily impressed, but I am enamored with the V380. Where I would normally gravitate towards a warmer sound, the V380 has given me a new perspective on neutrality that I find compelling and I just want to explore more of.
It might seem overkill to drive IEMs using a high-end desktop DAC/amp, but I found that the V380 scales IEMs beautifully and beyond what I am used to with portable DAPs such as the Lotoo PAW6000 and Shanling M8. I had initially planned to write the VE5 review in my ‘Masters of Classical Music’ series with the Shanling M8 as the source, but given I had the V380 available I wanted to take a closer look at the difference. The V380 really showed its strength when I came to testing the Andante (second movement) of Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No.1. This highly emotional movement is famous for purportedly bringing writer Leo Tolstoy to tears during its performance. What I found was that the V380 rendered a clearer image with greater transparency, better bass control and improved dynamics over the M8. More important was that the presentation really let the VE5 shine in rendering the emotion of the piece. Where the M8 did a wonderful job, the V380 would almost make me weep alongside Tolstoy. Based on that I felt happy to relegate the M8 to streamer/transport duty.
Of course, headphones make more sense and when I got the V380 in, I immediately ordered one of the most well-known headphones to use for the demo, the Sennheiser HD650. Because I bought the HD650 especially to have them around for the demo, I felt I needed to do something extra to at least be able to say something sensible about the scaling of the HD650 with the V380.
I started by listening with a DAP, the Cowon Plenue 2, in headphone mode. It is a reasonably powerful DAP that I think did an okay-ish job. I did not have to increase its volume to the limit, but clearly it did not drive the HD650 to their full potential either. Poor bass control and brittleness in the treble were testament to that. I then added the Dethonray ha-2 portable amp, which added plenty of power, and that improved things to where the HD650 were enjoyable and like they were getting there. Still not very airy, lacking some control in the bass and still a bit of brittleness in the treble. With the V380 it felt like the HD650 were properly transformed into highly enjoyable headphones. They became airier with better extension at both ends, better bass control, good clarity and a lot more texture and detail going on. Now the HD650’s popularity made sense to me and I found myself waiting for every moment where I had an opportunity to have another listen. It is the sort of sound I can listen to all day.
Dune Blue also sent over their demo unit of the Final D8000, headphones I have been very curious about for ages. Immediately it struck me how much richer and more dynamic the D8000 sound compared to the HD650. The D8000 also has a much more spacious and airy presentation compared to the intimacy of the HD650. Not completely unexpected because of the price difference of course.
I think the pairing of the D8000 with the V380 sounded wonderful. The D8000 had an incredibly good low end with a somewhat warmer mid-range tonality and energetic, but never fatiguing treble. Dynamics of the D8000 felt great and they adjusted easily to the type of music I was playing, from classical to rock. With classical the bass exhibited great control and the midrange tonality was excellent with instruments exhibiting great timbre and leaning somewhat towards a fuller sound against a wonderfully black background. With rock the low end came up with great authority, clear and accurate vocal and plenty of sparkle up top. It was so musical, so energetic that I could not get enough of it and just started browsing all my music.
While these are not the most extensive impressions and lack proper comparisons to other amps and DACs because I simply do not have access to those -please do take my views with that caveat- I still feel confident enough to say that the sound of the V380 is absolutely excellent. Getting this level of transparency in a neutral sounding DAC/amp and have it sound as pleasant as this is no mean feat. I am really impressed by that. For me it was a very clear illustration of what high quality desktop gear is capable of delivering beyond what I know from the high-end portable gear I am most familiar with.
The Violectric V380 is a highly versatile DAC, headphone amp and pre-amp combo where none can be considered an add-on feature. Performance is impressive and can be used to drive anything from the most sensitive IEMs with almost no noise to some of the most demanding headphones out there, as well as active speakers. At its price the V380 offers a very interesting alternative to the flagship V590 for those who are unable to stretch their budget quite that far, but are looking for high-end performance with a similar level of versatility. As a reviewer I can say that the V380 feels like an ideal tool to cover the whole range of gear I review and the sound is perfectly suited for reviewing purposes, as well as just kicking back and enjoying the music. It is neutral and crystal clear while also thoroughly enjoyable thanks to a surprisingly pleasant and dynamic character. Personally, I absolutely loved every second I was using the V380 and I kept wanting to listen more, which I think is the best indication of how beautiful it sounds. It is just so thoroughly pleasant while performing at a very high technical level.