Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Firestone Audio FireyeDA Review

Firestone Audio FireyeDA Review

Thanks to Firestone Audio for the sample.

First Impressions:  It’s a nice box, nothing too fancy but it’s nice to see someone proudly stating where it comes from.  A big “Made in Taiwan” slapped on the front.  Inside the amp looks nice too.  I do find it a bit odd that it has a 5v supply input but no power adapter.  Now I realise you don’t need one and given it’s a DAC with no line in (so no using as just a amp) you’re always going to have a usb cable connected.  Yes the specs say using the 5v gets you more power and specs improve but I just don’t see anyone using it, ever.  Maybe that’s just me but it seems superfluous.  Actually I find I’m a bit disappointed you can’t use this as an amp.  Looking at the front I thought that line out, optical out socket was a line in (yes I tried to use it as such.)  Sad face.  They do offer an amp but it seems not a DAC/amp combo, in the works perhaps?

Listening time and grabbing the HD515’s as I’m thinking it’s a non-battery device so it’s to be used while you’re sat at a computer.  Plus they advertise it can drive 600 Ohm headphones so it seems a fair test.  Wow!!!  Not only can it go super loud and I’m on low gain I am blown away by how they sound.  Are the HD515 that good?  It’s been a while since I’ve used them much, maybe I’m imagining things but god they pair up well.  They sound so amazingly holographic it’s freaky.  Maybe I had better pull out the big HD600’s.  First listen though has left me super impressed.

Lows:  Depends on your tastes but I found this to be a lean and a touch bright amp.  The bass is lovely and tight, very impressively tight but lacks a touch of expansion and fullness.  Not a lot you understand but a hint and on something like the bass lean HD600 it was a bit unsatisfying.  So ah ha you think, there is a bass boost button!  Well there is but I found it was a bit much and a bit unnatural sounding.  I’m not sure where it cuts in but it was more like one of those “DYNAMIC BASS BOOST” things you see on consumer hifi’s rather than a more subtle EQ hike of the lower end.  It was more like a big boost in just that 30Hz and 60Hz bands but nowhere else.  It’s really going to matter with what you pair it up to.  Flicking over to the HD515 and they sounded superb.  It’s a bassyier can and it’s softer, flabbier so the lean tightness of the FireyeDA complimented it wonderfully.  The quantity too was just outstandingly good.  That fraction above what your brain knows it really should be but you just love it.  The quality too just was excellent; it was really getting the absolute best out of the HD515.  Even being silly and turning on the bass boost and it was great. Whether it be that the HD600 is too accurate and won’t soften the clean crispness of the FireyeDA I don’t know but the HD515 just sounded so fun with it.

Depth seems okay but bass isn’t what it does best, there is that trail away and I think it probably wouldn’t pair terribly well with a bright headphone (grado.)  Stylistically it’s a quick and light low end.  Yes the bass boost bumps up the quantity and fills it out but it was too unsubtle a bass boost for me.

Mids:  Like above this amp has the air of lean and coolness to it.  Breathiness was very good and on the slightly thicker, more liquid HD515 they were just stunners together.  The managed to offer a distant yet sultry, intimate vocals just oh my god good.  Painters Song is just every single thing it should be.  The vocal detail is enough without being analytical and yet it has this perfect mix of breathy and liquidy goodness.  On the HD600 it was rather more detailed and airy but seemed to lose some of the soul of the song.  The more neutral HD600 meeting the pretty lean, neutral amp made for a very technically accurate sound.  One of those on paper faultless but just feels a bit soulless.  Going back the HD515 and god they do pair up well.  Every vocal I’ve tested sounds just so good, enough technical accuracy but so natural and organic.  Guitars too sound fantastic.  Not quite the crisp twang they should but so full bodied.

Vocal dynamics are great, everything feels very energetic and vibrant.

Highs:  There is a bit of a tint towards the top end on this DAC.  So if you like fast, slightly crisp treble then this could be one for you.  Owl City’s “Cave In” is a flurry of very quick bass and treble ass over the place.  It’s not subtle treble either and can very quickly ravage my ears.  Oddly it’s something I’ve seem more in warmer, thicker amps as they try to compensate by over crisping the edges of the highs.  None of that here though, the highs are wonderfully shimmy and clean with good extension.  Now it’s still more treble than I personally want.  This is a brightish amp, that’s just how it is.  Long term I might be inclined to not play lots of very bright music because of its abundance but I can’t fault its quality.  One thing though, the high end decays are frankly too quick.  I know it’s a clean, quick amp but cymbals should last longer.  Here it all feels in a bit of a hurry.

Quantity wise there is a touch too much.  This is a bright headphone amp

In The Hand:  Ergonomically the thing is a fiddly, mostly because it’s so petite.  I found I was always picking the thing up and holding it while I changed the volume.  The headphone jack got in the way of the dial, my fingers didn’t fit in between.  Hardly a big deal.  The other weird thing was the power LED on the back, I guess it’s so it has one but doesn’t bother those who find bright LED’s distracting.

Build Quality:  It is a very solid little block, the case is metal, the top and bottom faceplates are might be metal (I think anyway.)  It’s got apparent metal screws holding it all together.  In no way can I fault the build.  It is good stuff.

Power:  On low gain these could with ease send my HD600’s louder than I’d ever want.  I’d suspect on high these could have a good bash at some ortho’s.

Transparency:  Very good.  There is no two ways about it, these are very transparent.  They are if anything trying to be too transparent, too revealing, too open.  This lends it to that too bright and maybe even a touch over dynamic.  That bit over saturated over contrasted to make things seem hyper transparent.

DAC:  I know from the specs it’s got some Wolfson goodness in there, a WM8761 it says on the specs.  It doesn’t have that organic warmth that things with Wolfson DAC’s in them often have.  Normally you know if you see the Wolfson name that’s the sort of sound you can expect, or at least that’s what I do.  Anyway as this has no line in I can’t separate what is the amp and what is DAC.

Value:  I find it not having a line in and battery a bit of a missed opportunity.  I’m not sure who’d not splash out more and get a DAC/portable amp combo.  So ignoring that, the sound quality is fabulous for something sooooooooooo tiny.    Still if your say using something good and want to use the office computer but don’t want to use its terrible audio out this would work well.

Conclusion:  As I’ve just said I’m not sure why you would want this.  I felt so disappointed when I realised there was no line in, I just thought “whhhaaaa whadda you mean it’s not an amp too!!!” I can only assume FireAudio are coming out with an amp/DAC combo soon as it seems madness not to.  So let’s pretend that doesn’t really annoy me and all I want it for is to use in the office (what I’d ever do with the line out then I don’t know but hey its nicer to have than not have.)

It’s a curious little thing and I’ve got to say I have swayed from my first impressions.  There is no doubt it works amazingly well with the HD515 but otherwise it is not quite so amazing.  I mean it’s very, very good and I really enjoyed it with just about everything but, there is always a but.  It’s a bit bright.  Now I tend to like bright things with a warmish headphone, maybe a bit soft and a nice clean sounding amp.  So for me I was bound to like it but even with the HD600 which while neutral for a Senn is still regarded as a bit warm, bit veiled.  Now I long ago parted with the Grado 325i’s I had.  I suspect they would have made for a blinding bright combo.

I found that bit bright, very dynamic, very contrasted sound the FireyeDA offers is immediately attention grabbing.  Its offers up the allusion to even greater transparency than it really has and when you meld that with the softer HD515 its just superb.  For short listening sessions just wow!  For most things though that brightness up top got quite tiring on my ears. I didn’t notice it at first but listening loud for a couple hours and god my ears felt worn out and I started that track skipping for something more mellow.  I never stopped liking the sound but it wore me out.  So really I think it’s one for those who love brightness or want to clean up something that’s too warm for them.

For me the FireyeDA’s strength have been their clarity and their energetic portrayal of everything.  It’s an exciting listen and I never at any point didn’t like it.  It’s fun, dramatic, exciting and particularly with the HD515’s I really, really enjoyed them.

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