TechnologyTell

TechnologyTell Review: High Resolution Technologies dSp

Sections: Accessories, Audio, Headphones, Portable Audio, Reviews, Speakers

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Mr. Hobson, you owe me an email reply 😉

While attending CES 2015, I made a point to visit as many audio-related booths as I could. While floating through the upper floors in the Venetian, I happened to pop into the suite for High Resolution Technologies. Why? Because they were playing some fun music loud enough to lure me in (unlike almost half of the other suites on those three floors).

After what must have been at least a 20-minute conversation with the team, including CEO Michael Hobson, I left the suite with high spirits, great information, and a diminutive audio gadget tucked in my bag. Normally, I refuse on-the-spot product offers (as well as any other handouts at CES, other than USB press kits), but the clear-bagged package was no bigger than a brace of USB flash drives anyway.

I didn’t get a serious chance to test it until I got back home. What I heard thoroughly impressed me. But when I searched for a product page with more information, I came up totally empty! I found all of HRT’s other products (also on Amazon), but not this one. Little did I know that in about three weeks time I would have my answer.

Design

The High Resolution Technologies dSp (and i-dSp) is currently funding on Kickstarter. What I’ve had in my possession this entire time has been an early production unit. I have no idea what, if any, tweaks may be made from my unit to the new ones to be created. But as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t need any.

High Resolution Technologies dSp

So small, yet so capable!

It’s about the size of your average USB flash drive, but noticeably lighter. When you pick it up, you might assume that there is nothing in the High Resolution Technologies dSp, since all you feel and hear is plastic. But don’t be fooled. It works without needing ‘premium’ materials or sex appeal. And it’s completely plug-and-play.

Described as “a bump in the line”, the HRT dSp plays middleman to a USB audio source and  headphones or a speaker. It needs no separate power source, since it draws energy through the cable from the connected device.

Both cable types are included (remember, I have Android and not iOS, so can’t comment on that). Although it’s meant to pair best with Android L (‘Lollipop’), any smartphone or tablet running 4.0+ (Ice Cream Sandwich) also works. Older OS versions can’t pass audio through the Micro USB port.

Performance

High Resolution Technologies has been making DACs and products geared toward audio enthusiasts and audiophiles for years. They certainly know their stuff and have a good track record. For my personal testing purposes, I’ve been pairing the HRT dSp with my Samsung Galaxy Note 4, a Lenovo S8-50 tablet, and Samsung 540U laptop along with the V-Moda XS headphones and Creative Labs Sound Blaster AXX 200 speaker.

High Resolution Technologies dSp USB

Micro USB end, the other side is 3.5mm output.

Now don’t expect the HRT dSp to create some mind-blowing, miraculous experience in how your music will sound. Do expect to hear a noticeable improvement, especially when you’re paying more attention to the overall ‘space’ and nuances all over.

Think of it like trying out a new food; savor the flavors and textures first (active listening), then you can go ahead and gobble it down to fill your gullet (passive listening).

Keep in mind that some genres and song types (especially with better track recordings) make it easier to pick out differences. The Cars? Easy. Dethklok? Not so much. And you’ll know when you hear it versus when you just think you hear it.

On to it, right? So what will the High Resolution Technologies dSp do for your music? First, you’ll get a bit of a volume boost. Not big, but sufficient enough. After that, you’re going to hear how music has a lot more ceiling space. Tracks sound more open and airy in the highs. The lows, too, have more room, though maybe not as noticeable as the highs (at least to my ears).

High Resolution Technologies dSp V-Moda XS

Just like that, a ‘bump in the line’

By comparison, music without the HRT dSp sounds muffled, veiled, and/or dull. This dSp does a formidable job at bringing out more clarity, sharper edges, and separation between instruments and vocals. Complex parts of songs definitely benefit from this brightening and tidying-up of sound. You get more out of your headphones and portable speakers by way of more depth of expression.

You can think of it like comparing two pop-up books of identical stories. Let’s say that book one has only a single pop-up height of 1cm. It’s good. However, book two has more depth with 1cm and 2cm pop-up heights, and all the cutouts have sparkly glitter around the edges. Using the HRT dSP is like reading book two (and you don’t need to be a kid to like it).

Not into books? Ok, cars then. The HRT dSp is like when I turn off my 4-cylinder 2012 Honda Civic’s Econ button; I get added power to drive freeways and hills with authority. More or less. It’s just a Civic.

The only criticism I have of the High Resolution Technologies dSp is that the signal is not completely isolated. It might just be my unit, since it’s early-production. But I can hear a low-level white-noise hiss coming through headphones, not unlike the kind heard when connected to some Bluetooth speakers when no music is playing. It’s very subtle, but it’s there. And I can hear it more through my Galaxy Note 4 than my tablet, but none whatsoever with the laptop. This effect is less with a speaker, too.

Verdict

If you’re a mobile user, listening to music from a smartphone or tablet, you’ll appreciate the audio improvement and value that the High Resolution Technologies dSp brings. And it doesn’t matter if you’re streaming audio, listening to MP3s or FLAC files, or watching a movie. All can benefit.

High Resolution Technologies dSp case

I finally have something to tuck under the elastic in my V-Moda XS headphone case.

While the dSp may work with larger speakers, it’s meant more for portable audio. Especially headphones. There are only a few DSP/DAC devices that work easily with smartphones, however those other ones need to be charged or require a separate power source. The HRT dSp is self-sustaining, drawing only 50mA from the connected smartphone or tablet. Then you have to consider the cost.

You can pick up the HRT dSp for just $59, which is $10 off the MSRP. Compare that to the $200 price tag of a FiiO E18 or $300 for a Beyerdynamic A200. It’s not the easiest thing to break down the cost versus sound output versus the other added features. But, most importantly, the HRT dSp is so small and requires nothing extra. There is no reason you can’t have it with your headphones/speaker at all times.

Either way, the High Resolution Technologies dSp is effective enough that everyone should be able to hear a striking audio improvement within the first few minutes of using it. It’s definitely money well-spent. Enjoy listening to music with more life. Ditch the flat.

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