TouchMyApps » VentureCraft All Things iPhone and iPad for those who like to Touch. iOS App reviews, News, New Apps, Price Drops and App Gone Free Thu, 08 Oct 2015 03:18:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Audiophile Friday #1: Cypher Labs Algorhythm SOLO vs Venturecraft Go-DAP Unit 4.0 – Digital Output Sat, 19 May 2012 05:22:45 +0000 Last week I half-arsedly introduced two accessories made specifically for the iDevice audiophile, the Venturecraft Go-DAP Unit 4.0 and the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo. Both are able and willing to replace larger, more expensive and decidedly untransportable HiFi gear, but only one is worthy of doing so. What’s important Each decodes information internally, outputting high … Read more]]>

Last week I half-arsedly introduced two accessories made specifically for the iDevice audiophile, the Venturecraft Go-DAP Unit 4.0 and the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo. Both are able and willing to replace larger, more expensive and decidedly untransportable HiFi gear, but only one is worthy of doing so.

What’s important
Each decodes information internally, outputting high quality analogue signals. But, neither stops there. Venturecraft’s Unit 4.0 spits out SPDIF over a 3,5mm optical connection. It also protects your iPhone, charges it, and syncs it via a cheap and ubiquitous a mini-USB cable. Remember the original Go-DAP? This is its younger, more capable sibling.

The Solo won’t charge your battery nor protect your iPhone. It’s actually sort of beastly to lug around. But, its glory isn’t its general utility. Its glory is its sound and signal quality. Since it doesn’t harness an internal headphone amp, it spits analogue signal at line-level and SPDIF digital signal over coaxial. It pairs perfectly with the likes of the ALO The National and ALO Rx and many other headphone amps.


Why digital?
For years, we’ve had access to the rather high-quality line outputs of the iDevice. Via 30-pin cables, we’ve been able to hook up high quality portable amps, recording devices, microphones, and sync cables. Then came the Wadia iTransport, a device that sat on your desktop and allowed your iDevice to spit out digital signal to an external DAC. Now, there is a host of such devices.

They why of digital is fairly easy to decipher in a single word: accuracy. While analogue signals sound great, they are prone to distortion, jitter, noise, and theoretically degrade via poor quality cables.

Digital has its own host of problems, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll skip them. The music in your iPod/iPhone is 100% digital. The aim of both the Go-DAP and the SOLO is to keep that signal digital. The Cirrus Logic chips in the iPhone/iPod do a fine job of converting digital signals to analogue, but they can be bettered by external converters.

In the case of the SOLO, they are completely outclassed.

The effects
Here’s where the argument rights itself a bit. Since the iDevice already does a fine job of converting digital to analogue, DAC virgins and indeed DAC party girls and guys may not immediately realise the effects. What you pay for is the last few iotas of quality, not a revolution.

However, if you pair your iPhone with the proper outboard amps, you can get both demonstrable and measurable improvement.

Digital signals from both the Go-DAP and the SOLO can be split into balanced signals given the right outboard DAC. Balanced signals in turn, can be read by the proper amp, and plugged into the proper headphone. Balanced headphones are few and far between simply because most require rewiring. Some headphones such as new AKG and Sennheiser models can be paired up with high quality balanced cables without surgery. Some IEMs can, too, but IEM topology, whose balanced armature crossovers are meant to operate differently. Some may indeed be better balanced, but among those that sport passive crossovers, I’ve yet to discover one that retains its original magic.

Single driver headphones are another matter all together. The rather thrifty Einar balanced amp provided more power to the DT880 and better left to right stereo separation. The effect was immediately recognisable at matched volume levels.

If you want to get into the more powerful, higher-end world of balanced headphones or speakers, but want to stay portable, either the Go-DAP Unit 4.0 or the SOLO is your ticket.

Signal tests
This review’s RMAA measurements reflect the performance differences between the Venturecraft Go-DAP Unit 4.0 and the Cypher Labs Algorhythm SOLO. Since these measurements are taken with my equipment, they should not directly be compared measurement-to-measurement to other technical data taken with different equipment. The data represent the ability of the amplification circuit to drive headphones and speakers.

Frequency response
As you can see, the SOLO is flawless. In digital, there is zero deviation from RMAA’s benchmark. You cannot do better.

SOLO: win

The Venturecraft Unit 4.0 takes a different approach to playback, which is to roll off the highs from just after 1000Hz. It is an extreme approach that isn’t the effect of load. Unloaded, in both digital and analogue, the Unit 4.0 is unable to sustain anything resembling a proper signal. Because audio is subjective, such a result isn’t a disaster. Many audio makers add their own signature to sound. Personally, I enjoy the sound very much, especially with the likes of the DT880, which are bright to begin with. However, a digital signal should be as close to the original signal as possible, and in this case, it isn’t.

Go-DAP: fail

Noise levels
Again, the SOLO sweeps the test. Its noise levels top actually surpass the limits of 16-bit audio at -97,9 decibels. You won’t find better performance in any portable device, and even in home units, higher scores are probably not discernable. When spitting out analogue, noise creeps in and averages -93,1 decibels, again a damn fine score.

SOLO: win

The Unit 4.0 fairs well at -94,2 in digital. It doesn’t break the 16-bit barrier, but the difference in digital signals between the two is negligible when feeding outboard DAC units. In analogue, the Unit 4.0 falls to -87,3 decibels. Again, it is a respectable score, but not necessarily so when considering that the iDevice is able to sustain loaded levels up to -91 decibels.

Go-DAP: win

Dynamic Range
Again, the SOLO exceeds the bounds of 16-bit audio at +96,7 decibels. One wonders how it would fair if playing back higher resolution material. The DAC is capable of it, but the iPhone isn’t.

SOLO: win

The Go-DAP still isn’t putting its strong foot forward. At an averaged +63,3 decibels, it puts out the dynamic range of an iPod under heavy load. It actually sounds decent here though, quite excellent for recordings that are heavy on binaural material and harsher sounds.

Go-DAP: fail

THD IMD and noise
If there was a more violent trounce party, I don’t know what it is. The SOLO isn’t able to manage the bounds of 16-bit audio for THD+noise, but it does deliver very high quality signal.

SOLO: win

The Go-DAP sprouts IMD errors from its digital ports like the Titanic spouted water into the Atlantic Ocean. Its analogue output fairs much better, managing merely the worst output score I’ve tested thus far. The digital output is simple astonishing.

Go-DAP: fail

Stereo separation
Here, both units perform well within the bounds of my expectation. I’ve found that the original RMAA signal played end to end from other digital outputs never deviates from around -50dB at worst. Why, I can’t tell you, but: both units perform horribly here.

SOLO: fail
Go-DAP: fail

Digital output was flawless. This is the analogue wave.

Square waves
Analogue: both units perform well here, with slight ringing in the high frequencies the sort of low frequency responses you would typically see in high quality analogue devices. Ringing is minimal, though, again, the SOLO outperforms the Go-DAP Unit 4.0. I would suggest that the differences that favour the SOLO aren’t discernible.

Digital: both units perform well, but the SOLO is less plagued by ringing. The Unit 4.0 shows slight, though almost imperceptible ringing in both signal extremes.

SOLO: win
Go-DAP: win

NOTE: Take note of the shape and size of the ringing portion. The Square waves are drawn by Sound Studio when recorded in/out via Edirol FA-66. The software doesn’t allow for 100% scale comparisons.

As you can see, the SOLO ran digital circles around the Unit 4.0 in just about every test. Add to that a cleaner analogue signal, and you have a truly pocketable reference level system. Of course, the SOLO necessitates the use of external cables, amps, and a lot more money. It exceeds the bounds of 16-bit in every test but one: stereo separation, and creates a perfect square wave. In its singular purpose, it is nonpareil.

The Unit 4.0 is an amazing device. It charges. It protects. It amps. It spits digital. But, apart from its incredible ability to recharge your iDevice, it does so with a lot of strain. Since it is heavy, a fall to the floor will likely damage it. Its amp is fun, and loud, but has more signal noise and distortion than any iDevice does. Its digital signal is a wonderful accessory that adds functionality to your HiFi, but it isn’t nearly up to the same quality as the SOLO is.

If Venturecraft can fix this with a firmware update, or simply by choosing a more stable DAC, they should do so. For now, SPDIF output seems at best a lazy implementation.

Of course the Go-DAP costs less, charges and syncs syncs, and keeps cables out of the way. There is none like it. And, in case you want to ditch the charging features, Venturecraft have just introduced their next project, the X which acts as a DAC and amp for your iPhone and your computer. Again, it is the first of its kind. Get ready for myriad copycats.

On the Go
This light-hearted audiophile would choose the Go-DAP simply because it charges and has fewer parts to break. Cables are buggers. The SOLO practically requires a case of some sort to keep everything together. And, when packed with an amp, headphones, and all the interconnects you need, it looks like a bomb.

Still, both have their fans. I saw heaps of SOLO stacks at the recent Fujiya-AVIC headphone festival. People use them. People enjoy them. And those people are audiophiles that demand the utmost quality from their portable listening rigs.

Both units work with just about every recent iDevice. The SOLO is just that much more compatible. I’ve had a bugger of a time getting an iPod touch 4G working with the Unit 4.0. The SOLO worked with every 30-pin iDevice I plugged it to.

The Cypher Labs National stack – not an easy carry

Why iDevice and external DAC?
Here’s a question I’m sure is asked by many audiophiles who look at devices such as the iBasso DX100, HiFiman, Colorfly C4, etc, and suffer indecision. The simple answer is this: if your music requires gapless playback, perfect navigation, few to no firmware issues, better battery life, and almost no build quality concerns, stick with Apple.

If you want the absolute best, you will have to purchase external DACs/amp for these players anyway. Of course, if you hate Apple, you are probably not reading this article anyway.

I throw music onto my iDevices via iTunes drag and drop. I don’t want to make CUE sheets, worry about WAV compatibility, or poor battery life. I don’t suffer players that can’t play back gapless files. Since I demand that music plays back as simply in my device the same as it does from a CD, there is only Apple.

After nearly 2000 words, my conclusion is very simple, but it hinges on you. If you value compactness and have an iPhone 4/s, there is NO other choice than the Go-DAP Unit 4.0. You still get digital output and fun/powerful sound plus all the other features. The Go-DAP Unit 4.0 is a great device. But, its compromises in output signal quality are severe.

Between the two, the SOLO is the only choice for reference-quality sound. But it gives up is portability. It also requires you to invest in outboard audio components. But then again, you knew that, and you were prepared to invest. To you, only one thing matters: signal quality.

While this seems a lopsided comparison, it is the only sort that is possible. Venturecraft chose to attack all angles, Cypher Labs chose to tackle one. Audio-wise, only one nailed it. That is the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm SOLO.

Cypher Labs
Cypher Labs LLC

4260 Galewood St. Suite B
Lake Oswego, OR 97035

Umeda 1-2-2-1400
Kita-ku, Osaka-shi
Osaka 530-0001
SOLO-GoDAP4.0-ct SOLO-GoDAP4.0-dr SOLO-GoDAP4.0-fr SOLO-GoDAP4.0-imd SOLO-GoDAP4.0-ns SOLO-GoDAP4.0-thd The Cypher Labs National stack - not an easy carry CLAS-COAX-SPDIF VCGo-DAP4.0-SPDIF CLAS-VCGo-DAP4.0-stack.2 CLAS-VCGo-DAP4.0-SPDIF.2 50SQ-SOLO-vs-GoDAP-4.0Read more]]> 3
Audiophile Friday Intro – A look at the AlgoRhythm SOLO and Venturecraft Unit 4.0 Fri, 11 May 2012 13:47:31 +0000 Today, I’d like to briefly introduce two remarkable iDevice accessories: the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm SOLO and the Venturecraft GoDap Unit 4.0, both portable units that output SPDIF digital signals to high-end audio equipment. iPhone zeitgeist, marked as it was by cute bunny-eared cases, vibrators, and farting apps, has obviously evolved. These are two very different … Read more]]>

SPDIF is no longer the iPhone's Holy Grail

Today, I’d like to briefly introduce two remarkable iDevice accessories: the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm SOLO and the Venturecraft GoDap Unit 4.0, both portable units that output SPDIF digital signals to high-end audio equipment. iPhone zeitgeist, marked as it was by cute bunny-eared cases, vibrators, and farting apps, has obviously evolved.

These are two very different items.

The Venturecraft Unit 4.0 is very Japanese, fulfilling every necessity an iPhone user has in a single device. It is a case, charger, external battery, USB sync, music transport, and a fantastic headphone amplifier. Whew! Just like its forerunner, the Go-DAP for iPhone 3G/s, it happens to be a personal favourite of mine precisely because it does everything in one box. If it trades a bit of audio quality for convenience, who am I to complain?

But as an audio device, the AlgoRhythm SOLO (aka CLAS) carries more weight. It serves one purpose: to translate your digital files to external amplifiers and DACs. Its guts are high grade and the signal that spews from its coaxial port is pristine. It is part of ALO’s The National SOLO package, powered by The National, a truly excellent portable headphone amp.

Sorry about the cheap cables - at least the colours work

Coincidentally, the Venturecraft 4.0 is made in Japan and the SOLO is made in USA, and they will be going head-to-head in next week’s episode. Oh yes, TMA will be running a new column called Audiophile Friday. This is its introduction. We are looking forward to unveiling some great products that will help you rediscover your music.

In the meantime, you can bone up on both devices by following the links below:

Venturecraft Go-DAP Unit 4.0
Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm SOLO

If you can’t wait till Friday, check out our headphone and headphone amp reviews. There’s lots to fill a lazy weekend.

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VentureCraft GoDAP in Review – audio and power for the people! Thu, 02 Dec 2010 16:10:07 +0000 Firstly, I’m not dead. Now with that out of the way: What do you get when you combine the audiophile heart of the iPhone with a juiced-up ad-hoc power supply? Or, perhaps I should ask it this way: what made VentureCraft, maker of car-mounted cameras and creative telegrams, shoot for the moon and create an … Read more]]>

Firstly, I’m not dead. Now with that out of the way:

What do you get when you combine the audiophile heart of the iPhone with a juiced-up ad-hoc power supply? Or, perhaps I should ask it this way: what made VentureCraft, maker of car-mounted cameras and creative telegrams, shoot for the moon and create an audiophile iPhone battery jacket? My guess is a pioneer spirit. VentureCraft are the first company to build such a combination. As off-beat as the GoDAP battery jacket and headphone amp combo unit may sound for a company like VentureCraft, it is certainly worth the raised eyebrows and facepalms. It’s just so ingenious and geekily disturbing that it’s worth a perfectly long review!

Feel free to discuss VentureCraft’s GoDAP in our forums.

Output Power: 300mW (16Ω)
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 95dB
Klirr Factor: <0.009% (10mW)
Frequency Response 10Hz – 120KHz
Impedance: 16Ω – 300Ω
Output Terminal: Headphone Output (3,5mm)

Battery Specifications
Battery Type: Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery
Capacity: 1450mAH

VentureCraft obviously made the GoDAP for the iPhone 3G and 3GS. Both fit snug as a bug in a rug, sliding smoothly into place. This perfect fit means that the 30-pin dock remains stress-free, something that no other line-out or sync dock can boast. Now, I borrowed iPhones for this review, but in the main, stuck it out with my iPod touch 2G. Of course, not made for the iPod, I had to add a whack load of electric tape and velcro. The end result? Nothing strikingly attractive, but a fine compromise that oozes my inner audiophile geek. This brings me to the major drawback with VentureCraft’s design: it can only be used perfectly with outgoing iPhone models. The next iteration is scheduled for Spring 2011, but again, for the iPhone 4, which will head out of Apple’s current product portfolio just a few months later.

What would be nice is VentureCraft made swappable plates that snapped into place at the base of the GoDAP so that any iPod/iPhone could be used comfortably. As it is, just about any 30-pin iPod/iPhone works – Hell, even the iPad works with an extension cable -, but each require creative workarounds.

The GoDAP is a fine enough unit that I would love to use it with my other iPods. Considering that audiophiles can forgo expensive and awkward third-party line out cables and get a great amp thrown in with battery power, the GoDAP is the most cost effective method to increasing sound enjoyment with an iPod or iPhone. In fact, when out with Nick Cave or The Cure, I simply can’t part with the GoDAP. Ho hum.

Build Quality
Overall, VentureCraft have struck a fine position between affordability and quality. The amp is sandwiched between a plastic sync butt and a cute control head in a metal case that doesn’t seem to pick up outside interference.

The headphone out port is metal and grips headphones firmly. The volume pot, too is metal. On the butt, ports for the speakers are cut so that you can get that call. Overall, the GoDAP is a well-made device despite creaking a bit here and there. Considering its competition (none at all), the GoDAP is riding very high.

VentureCraft packed their first iPhone accessory with another trump: iTunes sync. Plugging the mini USB into the GoDAP’s butt and switching to ‘sync’ allows your iPhone/iPod to download and sync with iTunes. Great, so this battery jacket/headphone amplifier is also an iPhone/iPod dock, you say? Yes, and it is pretty good at it, too. Actually, syncing from power accessories is vital considering that the 30-pin port is the most prone part of the iDevice.

As a battery pack
Most evidence points to Apple’s portable audiophile market shrinking. The iPod is no longer the market leader; iOS has replaced it. The iPod touch is as close to the old iPod as we get in this new age, and that market is driven not by music playback, but by apps. So, while the GoDAP may be a fine audiophile product, the fact that it has a decent battery packed in feels sort of like a backup plan.

As a battery jacket, it does thing well – enough. There are three settings selectable by the top-mounted translucent toggle: off, charge-i, and sync. OFF charges the GoDAP’s internal battery. Sync extends your iPhone’s battery and allows you to sync it with your computer. Charge expends the GoDAP’s battery to charge your iPhone.

Using sync or charge can extend your iPhone’s battery by up to ten hours of music and little less for video. Not bad, but considering that even my abused 2G iPod touch still gets over a day of music playback, it feels chintzy. The reason for this is that the GoDAP’s internal headphone amplifier is constantly engaged. In some ways, this limits the functionality of the unit. On the other hand, it proves that VentueCraft had the movie/music lover in mind when creating the GoDAP.

Ten hours is still a long time. You can get through several movies and more music than it took to split the skulls of zombie neighbours in Sean of the Dead. And, when the GoDAP finally gives up the ghost, your iPhone is still ready to go. Speaking of which, you should be able to extend your iPhone’s talk time by up to about 5 hours with the GoDAP attached.

The problem with using it as an add-on battery, of course, is that it is bulky. Thankfully, VentureCraft cut out a nice spot for the iPhone’s camera for high quality images.

As a headphone amp
Being an unerringly silly audiophile, the GoDAP’s integrated headphone amp intrigued me from the first. I constantly have my iPod connected to a computer downloading new music, or transferring notes, so battery life isn’t a problem for me.

What is a problem is my favourite earphones, the Audio Technica CK10, accurate little buggers that never leave my ears. Well, their linear playback combined with the neutral/accurate signature of the iPod doesn’t always make for friendly bedfellows. Rather, the two roll around a bit and discover that neither wants to give up the comfy pillow.

Enter the GoDAP headphone amplifier. While not overly warm, it certainly adds a wonderful sheen to certain parts of the audible spectrum. The lower midrange in particular, is smoother and more pleasing than the stock iPod sound particularly with accurate/sharp earphones like the CK10.

In fact, with a smooth flowing from under the bonnet, I’ve found that a lot of my old acoustic favourites – David Bowie, Iggy Pop, the Eagles, Van Halen, Duran Duran, The Cure, Depeche Mode (the list of embarrassing pre-emo music goes on), has taken centre stage. The iPod touch is a fine sounding device, but when vocals cut into the music, I often reach for another player.

Vocals and percussion are ‘better’ textured. Characteristic tinniness from the CK10 is traded for emotion and shoulder-shrugging groove. The changes aren’t entirely dramatic, though. But they are enough to bring me out of my trance (snigger snigger), which I think is a good thing – especially when talking with other audiophiles who, for some reason, are as stuffy as Olde English libraries about things like rock and jazz music.

No, we can go gaga googoo about age-old music on the bleedingest edge of portable technology. Technically, the GoDAP doesn’t outperform the internal iPhone/iPod touch amplifier, it just sounds ‘better’ for a number of genres. There is slightly more distortion in the signal and less stereo separation: no wonder it sounds great with acoustic music. With fast, deep genres such as trance and metal, the GoDAP stays sure-footed, but its midrange sweetness borders on too sweet. Not sappy, mind you, but just soft enough to wisp me out of my hard, metallic trance.

Hiss levels are just above that of an iPhone 3GS or iPod touch, which means that you can plug in just about any earphone without annoyance. And, if you have hungry monster headphones like my lovely Beyerdynamic DT880 600Ω, you’ll still be able to split your eardrums past 80dB at perfect definition through the frequency spectrum. Right, read below for a disclaimer on that front!

Now, VentureCraft have engineered the GoDAP with a high pass filter in the signal. It is not a load-induced signal roll off – it is an intentional high-pass filter. The net effect is that bass-monster headphones are tamed, slightly, and that bass-shy headphones enjoy new severity, though again, only slightly. My lovely Audio Technica ES7 is such an example. Its throaty nature is even and clean with the GoDAP, but can be a bit too intense with a stock iPod touch and sounds absolutely confused with the Hifiman. The purist in me hates the idea of a high pass filter, but the GoDAP implementation doesn’t degrade the signal, and in fact, mates lovelily with about 95% of the music I listen to.

Now, if VentureCraft hadn’t engineered the GoDAP with a built-in high pass filter, I’d be miffed. If it was a load-induced roll-off, I’d deride this ‘headphone amp’ as shortsighted, much like HiSound’s AMP3 Pro 2 portable headphone amp/music player. The truth is that the GoDAP has no more trouble driving a 16 ohm load than it has driving a 100 ohm load.

I suppose the proof is in the pudding, and since my Windows is broken, I’ll have to publish the RMAA results in a few days. Scientific tests aside, though, the GoDAP sounds fine – very fine. I don’t listen to a naked iPod touch anymore. The good ol’ midrange, perfect percussions, and smooth vocals are just so much more emotive. Like the iPod touch sound I do, but I relegate its use to hard electronic and trance. The GoDAP has me reliving my latter teenage years, and then the first couple years of university. Considering that I just ‘celebrated’ my 31st birthday, I consider that a good thing!

I’d love to award the GoDAP with a perfect kiss. It sounds great with a large variety of music and pairs well with my favourite headphones. It’s also helped put old purchases back in the listening queue. But, there are a few short sights that have gotten in the way. Namely, the fact that the iPhone 4 and a range of iPods can’t be used without a lot of brutal masking, and the fact that there doesn’t appear to be a way to use the GoDAP battery without the internal amp blazing away. Still, the GoDAP flies above all my expectations as a cost-saving, space-saving hybrid device. It will find a lot more use than other dedicated amps. All in all, the GoDAP is worth every single penny of its 199$ price.

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