The Compact All-in-One AMI MUSIK DDH-1 Audio Music Interface Page 2

AMI_MUSIKDDH1_Photo_Rear

Listening
The DDH-1 was used in my desktop rig connected to a Windows 7 PC over USB. Though not specific to AMI, I have to say how much I like the XMOS USB implementation. A key reason is their excellent software support—across a wide range of systems and devices, I've yet to experience any issues with their Thesycon drivers. It's a claim I can't make for competing chipsets, where I've seen hangups, dropouts, and generally odd behavior, likely caused by driver issues. XMOS seems to really have their stuff together and I'm pleased AMI chose their chipset for the DDH-1.

Over the course of my evaluation I swapped various active speakers in and out of the setup. First was my "affordable reference", the Serene Audio Talisman. Next came the exceptional Adam Audio F5 monitors which just might overtake the Talisman as my new favorite (look for that review shortly). I was also able to work in the somewhat unusual Edifier Spinnaker set which, thanks to on-board DSP, requires a digital signal for optimum results. The DDH-1 having a Toslink output was ideal to accommodate that particular set, which is not something that can be said for most all-in-one devices.

The DDH-1 did an excellent job in all three scenarios. Starting with the single driver Serene Audio model, the DDH-1 seemed to impart more bass grip than the little Audinst HUD-mx2 ($279) I had been using. There was better impact and texture down there, evident on everything from Gary Karr to Crystal Castles, taking full advantage of the not-so-bass-heavy but very articulate Talismans. Switching to more straight forward, vocal oriented music, I noticed a distinct improvement in clarity. I hesitate to use the old "veils lifted" cliche but it almost works here. Nancy Bryan, Corinne Bailey Rae, and Luciana Souza all sounded more lifelike and "real", for lack of a better word. Ditto for Billy "albums are a dead medium" Corgan on the 2012 Smashing Pumpkins release Oceania. Billy may be contradicting himself by releasing an actual album after making all those comments, but it's a great collection of music, and the DDH-1 really brings it to life. Don't get me wrong... the Audinst HUD-mx2 is an excellent compact unit for a great price, but it's simply outclassed by the AMI DDH-1.

I switched to the Adam Audio F5 monitors and noticed more of the same. Better definition, improved clarity, and superior imaging. I know it's not really fair to pit the Audinst against the twice-as-expensive AMI product, but that actually helps prove my point to some degree—there aren't a lot of competitors in this range, and the Audinst was the only thing I had on hand (out of at least a dozen others) that was small enough and full-featured enough to act as something of a direct competitor. The rest of my gear with similar features ends up being quite a bit larger. A few inches in each dimension doesn't sound like much on paper, but on my desk it's enough to exclude a lot of these units from being used at all, no matter how good they might be. Thankfully, the DDH-1 is not merely good for its compact size; it's just good, period. In fact the DDH-1 plus Adam F5 combo is probably one of the best desktop setups I've heard in the ~$1,000 neighborhood. It's strikingly detailed but not annoying or peaky, with a good sense of scale, excellent low level detail retrieval...and that bass impact. Wow. I'm not implying the DDH-1 sounds anything other than ruler flat in terms of actual frequency response...it's just that it reproduces kick drums, pipe organ, double bass, and various EDM warbles with such authority that it kind of grabs your attention and refuses to let you focus on anything else for a while. Eventually you get around to hearing the rich midrange and smooth yet fairly detailed highs, but those come later.

If we stopped right there, we'd have a very nice product on our hands, one that would easily justify the price tag. But AMI didn't stop there, because they added a reasonably high quality headphone amplifier into the mix as well. Like a lot of integrated DAC/amp units, AMI went with the Texas Instruments TPA6120A2 chip amp for the final driver stage. Which is not meant to imply the DDH-1 sounds identical to others using that same chip—that would be tantamount to claiming all valve amps using 6SN7 or 12AX7 tubes sound the same, or all solid state devices with the same output transistors are indistinguishable from one another. As expected, this implementation has its own unique flavor which separates it from others using the same chip. In this case the sound signature is somewhat on the darker, richer side of the tonal scale—not an extreme coloration but definitely noticeable when directly compared to more neutral or bright offerings. It continues the tendency of the DAC section to highlight the low frequency performance, which again is very well done. There's definitely a bit of smoothing going on up top—which can be a boon to poor recordings but somewhat hampers the ability of better music to really shine. But then again some people really like that sort of thing. I wouldn't go so far as to call the amp "rolled off" but it does seem to have a softness up there which will make or break it for some users.

For me, it was a bit hit and miss depending on the headphone used. AMI follows the Texas Instruments recommendation of 10 ohm output impedance for stability, so the DDH-1 is not really ideal for low impedance headphones. This is more of an issue with IEMs using balanced armature drivers where wild impedance swings are common. I tried a few of my entry level armature based custom IEMs such as the 1964 Ears V3 and the Lear LCM-2b, and both sounded a little "off" in various ways. Definitely some frequency response interactions going on. Noisefloor was quite respectable though, and channel tracking was good at all but the lowest volumes; two areas of concern with any device like this built to a price point. IEMs based on dynamic drivers had an easier time than their BA counterparts. The RHA MA750, despite being a poor match on paper due to the claimed 16 ohm impedance, sounded excellent driven through the dedicated 1/8" jack. Great tonality, deep bass impact, and non-fatiguing highs. Very nice.

Big headphones, thankfully, are less of an issue. I used the AKG K550 and V-MODA M100, both of which have low but flat impedance characteristics. These are good real world examples of headphones likely to be used with the DDH-1, and both sounded fairly good overall. The damping factor is a bit low which means bass can feel a tad loose or sloppy at times, but this didn't jump out at me as much as I might have anticipated. The Sony ZX-700 do exhibit a bit of a mid-bass weirdness which spoil an otherwise very enjoyable pairing—I find these headphones a little sharp at times, and the smooth top end of the DDH-1 is very welcome in this case. Sennheiser models like HD598 and HD600 sounded surprisingly good—both were very nice matches that I'd highly recommend with this unit. The HD650 was decent as well but I preferred the tonal balanced of the older HD600 since the DDH-1 is already warm enough as it is. I stopped short of trying top tier models like Sennheiser's HD800, since those are pretty far outside the target market of a device like this.

Throughout the wide range of headphones used, I consistently got the impression of the DDH-1 being better for some music than others. Forgive the terrible anthropomorphism, but I'd say this device is a laid back fellow who likes to party. He may not be the brightest, but has a multitude of other talents which come in handy, making him good to have around. He's not bad to look at either. I'll stop there before the analogy gets too creepy.... What I'm getting at is the DDH-1 seems more comfortable with Uriah Heep or A Perfect Circle or Death Cab for Cutie than it does with "audiophile" stuff. Not that it doesn't still sound great with Norah Jones or Jacintha (most gear does) but the character of the device seems a better fit for Random Access Memories than Rachmaninov, if that makes any kind of sense at all. So while the amp section may not be the absolute best out there to capture the nuances of Bartok or Debussy, it certainly is adept at grabbing the senses with most rock and electronic fare. If that makes up the bulk of your listening, the DDH-1 should be on your radar for sure.

I wish I still had the Parasound ZDAC on hand to compare, as it seems like a good competitor on sonics if not features. Both would fall into the "musical" camp as opposed to being labeled "analytical", and both have good headphone sections which can be picky about what they pair with. The ZDAC offers balanced outputs, but AMI otherwise walks away in terms of options. From memory, the ZDAC is a bit more balanced sounding, with the warmth being more hinted at than directly spoken. The Parasound may have an ever so slight sonic advantage but I'd need it here for a back to back comparison. However, the ZDAC is larger, with less inputs, no preamp feature, no DDC functionality, and no support for USB tracks above 96kHz. So you pick your battles I suppose.

CONCLUSION
In sum, the AMI DDH-1 is a fantastic little box full of great features, engaging sound, and did I mention solid build quality as well? All for a highly attainable price. I've seen plenty of stand-alone amps, DACs, preamps, and DDCs which by themselves cost as much as the DDH-1, yet don't outperform it by any significant margin. Based on that alone, this device is a clear winner. Even if you only have use for a few of the features at the moment, you never know when you might need the rest. The DDH-1 is a killer value and an easy recommendation.

COMPANY INFO
AMI International, Inc.
Level 9, Ariake Frontier Building Tower B
3-7-26 Ariake
Koto-ku, Tokyo 135-0063, Japan
amisales@amimuse.com
+81-(050)-8886-4557
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
XVII's picture

Till it would be great if you found new Desk Of Fame with categories like:

Portable DAC

Portable AMP

Portable DAC/AMP

Desktop DAC

Desktop AMP

Desktop DAC/AMP

So we could follow your recommendations easier without digging through Other Product Reviews))

 

By the way if it possible could you please rewiew some realy inexpensive DAC like this NuForce uDac-3.

John Grandberg's picture

It's something I've considered but never quite hashed it out with Tyll yet. Need to get on that I guess. 

Not sure about your definition of "inexpensive" but I do plan on covering the $350 Resonessence Labs Herus DAC/amp. 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I wanted to get some time under our belts reviewing stuff here, but I think we're probably at the point where we can begin to develop WoF categories for amps, DACs, and portable boomboxes. We'll take it up soon.

Merck's picture

A Wall of Fame for other audio products would be nice.  I just ask that you don't go the same route hometheater.com has gone.  Their Top Picks section pretty much consists of the majority of products they review.  One only has to scroll through a few pages of articles to see that they are adding new items to the list almost every other review.I have a hard time trusting that section anymore after seeing very poor choices being made.  I haven't yet lost faith in this site though.

John Grandberg's picture

Most of the stuff us contributors review will get a "Stuff We Like!" rating. Tyll only has so much room/budget for submissions, so it makes sense to use it highlighting good stuff. Once in a while something is interesting enough or high profile enough to deserve a writeup, even though we don't end up recommending it. Most of the time the coverage of "bad" stuff will come from Tyll himself (he has a gift). 

The Wall of Fame is reserved for the best of the best. So among a bunch of stuff we might try, only the good ones deserve reviews, and only the best of those make the WoF. I hope that makes sense. 

Three Toes of Fury's picture

@XVII: your timing is perfect!   between Tylls recent reports from headphone/amp conventions and postings like his article today,  i was planning on requesting an Amp Wall-o-Fame.   You not only did that,  but provided some great categories!

Tyll:  if you do end up doing an Amp wall-o-fame,  please set it up like you've done for headphones...namely offering a nice price range (low to high) of offerings per category. 

Peace .n. Living in Stereo

3ToF.

PS:   whats the street date for the Ultimate headphone guide?  I cant wait to pick it up!!

John Grandberg's picture

...will keep it ordered by segments. No use lumping a $200 amp with a $2,000 one. 

Last I heard, the Ultimate Headphone Guide is printing now and should be ready to buy some time this month. Not sure exactly when though. I have a hunch Tyll will post about it when it happens. 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Plan on posting about it Monday. I believe the guide should be on newsstands now. Just trying to get word about where folks might look, but it seems it's not quite as simple as one would think. The guide goes into distribution and then it's sort of lost relative to where it will actually show up. 

I've got some paper copies now though, and am totally stoked this will be out there.

paul's picture

Good review and thank you for not plugging in the HD800's.

The ATH-M50's and its brothers could use a shake-out at this price point.

jherbert's picture

I do not quite understand why anybody would care for a highend Headaphone Amp based on the TPA 6120A2. While it is easy to implement its output impedance of 10 ohms means its a nogo for anybody using inears or phones with an impedance of less than 70 ohms.

I also have a hard time believing there are audible differences between the various implentations of this chip. 

John Grandberg's picture

I doubt the target market for this device would buy it with the assumption they are getting a true "high-end" amp as part of the deal. It's good, but not amazing. At $550 for amp, DAC, preamp, and DDC, I don't even see how that's possible. 

That said, the TPA6120A2 certainly has potential. The specs are excellent. I recall amp guru Kevin Gilmore referring to this chip as sounding "mighty good indeed", and felt it was superior to opamps/buffers (the context there was portable amps but a compact all in one desktop unit isn't so different). He liked it more with higher impedance cans and I mostly feel the same way. 

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