You Can Take it With You: A Survey of Portable USB Headphone Amp/DACs TTVJ Slim
TTVJ Slim ($399, replaced by new model)
The good news: I really love this amp/DAC. The bad news: It's not available anymore (although you can find it used). The moar good news: A new and improved iteration called the Apex Audio Glacier (available at ttvjaudio.com) is available now. So why the hell am I reviewing this one? Well, because (a) it's the one I currently have; (b) a great way to build a bang-for-the-buck rig is to seek out quality used equipment, and, accordingly, reviews about older amps are helpful; and (c) the more reviews, the better, right? Right.
The TTVJ Slim is indeed slim, like a pack of flattened playing cards. It is encased in black aluminum. The USB and analog (amp only) inputs are located on the back panel, as is the gain switch (0, -10, -20 dB). The TTVJ Slim can be charged via your laptop or the supplied USB charger. The front panel includes the headphone output (1/8"), a thumb dial volume control/power button and a really neat little LED that tells you charging status and approximate volume depending on its color. And the colors range from blue to magenta. Really a neat idea. But that's to be expected from the mind of Pete Millett, who knows his way around an amp design.
I am a big fan of the TTVJ Slim's warmish tilt. It has a lush sound without being sloppy, which makes for an excellent combination with an IEM like the JH13, which I think can use just a little bit of warmth. This amp provides ample and solid bass and sweet mids. It does not give the sparkle up top that some will associate with the last word in detail or clarity. Portable amps are about compromises. I am glad that this amp is tipped toward the warm end, rather than the splashy treble end. Others will disagree. Regardless, this is a quality amp that will easily satisfy anyone looking for high-quality sound reproduction in a portable device.
I am less enthralled with the DAC. It is serviceable, but has a bit of a hard edge to it that does not exactly complement the lushness of the amp section. The DAC is not a deal breaker; it just is not as good as the amp section. It's still a vast improvement over the DAC in my MacBook. And the good news here is that the new version has a new and improved DAC. I've heard it, albeit only for a few minutes, and it sounds very promising.
The TTVJ Slim is a well thought out device that is a pleasure to use. Though not tiny, I am a fan of the ergonomics. More importantly, I am a huge fan of the sonics. This one is well worth seeking out on the used market. And I have high hopes for the new version, as well.