Soundaware A1X PRO Streamer/DAC/AMP – Big Boys Use Big Guns
Soundaware A1X PRO is the kind of Streamer that will go straight to your heart once you get to hear it, but first, we should talk about the price, which is 700 USD. This kind of price is not so huge even for DAC/AMPs nowadays, but A1X PRO is a complete streamer, with a full package. It is meant to be an all-in-one listening setup, and it will be compared to Singxer SDA-2 DAC/AMP, FiiO M11 PRO DAP, and Aune S6 PRO DAC/AMP. The pairings will include iBasso SR-2, Harmonic Dyne Zeus, and Sivga P-II.
A1X PRO is the kind of streamer that wants to do magic with your ears. The big thing here is that this is not exactly a streamer, but more of an all-in-one listening solution with a DAC, headphone amplifier, receiver, streamer, and lots more integrated in the same unit. We’re talking about the price of 700 USD being paid for what could be the ultimate listening solution for you. It has good driving power and awesome tech inside, so we will have a lot to talk about in today’s review of the A1X PRO. Soundaware is a good company with excellent support, and while they are a bit harder to find on Amazon, they are sold and fulfilled by Aliexpress. They offer great direct support, rather than relying on name and shops alone.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Soundaware. I’d like to thank Soundaware for providing the sample for this review. This review reflects my personal experience with the Soundaware A1X PRO. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Soundaware A1X PRO find their next music companion.
You can grab a Soundaware A1X PRO Streamer / DAC / AMP from www.amazon.com here: https://amzn.to/3h5xIU2
First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:
The package of the A1X is actually one of the best packages I’ve seen recently, with the main unit, but also some useful extras in the package.
We’re looking at an antenna included in the package, but also a USB Cable, and an ethernet cable. There’s a remote, which will come in really handy while using the A1X, and I remember a full blown high quality SD card being included in the package, with Hi-Res music to test and enjoy with your A1X.
Soundaware decided to go the extra mile with the package of their A1X PRO.
I love how with entry-level and mid range DAC/AMPs there’s very little to talk about, even if I wanted to, while with units like A1X, there are so many features that I just have a hard time deciding where to start even. If we’re being correct here, and starting with the face, we have a display, which has a somewhat narrow viewing angle, but we also have button controls there.
The face of the device has buttons for increasing and decreasing the volume, That’;s right above of the headphone outputs, which are two, and in 3.5mm and 6.3mm both single ended. I feel like the face of the Soundware was nailed really nicely to look beautiful, aesthetic and it has a charm to it.
The back of the unit has many digital inputs, including USB ports for external HDDs, Ethernet inputs, Hifi bluetooth antennae, and a USB Audio Cable Input. The Outputs include Coaxial, and an optical, and there is an RCA-R and RCA-L gold plated outputs for using the A1X PRO as a DAC.
There is also a cattle plug power connector, and a fuse, with an on/off switch above.
Physically, the streamer has almost 3 KG, is heavy but well put together. Nothing rattles inside while moving it (i did take photos outdoors, so I’ve been moving it a lot), and the unit has a full sized SD slot too. There are large rubberized feet on the unit, and the unit also has its own power converter. Everything is high quality on the Soundaware A1X PRO, and I had no troubles using it, except for one glaring issue. You basically need to increase or decrease the volume by 1 increment at a time. You can’t keep any button pressed, you need to click click click. That’s easily avoided by setting the volume to max and using Windows for volume adjustments, but that won’t work if using it as a streamer. You wouldn’t believe this, but Android is supported too, so you should be able to use A1X with most smartphones and an OTG adapter.
The Bluetooth experience is excellent, and A1X PRO can receive aptX signals. I experienced zero dropouts from it, and it was ok receiver with two concrete walls in between my phone and it.
You can configure and use A1X PRO to play music from the support attached to it, being it the SD card, HDD or SSD attached to it. You can also use it as a Roon Endpoint, Bluetooth Receiver and USB DAC.
In all honesty, the Streamer is very complete, the DAC chip can even decode high Resolution files, like PCM up to 384 kHz and DSD up to DSD256. Something they really tried to explain was that it uses a digital controller for an analogue volume stage. This is in the paperwork, but explained awkwardly.
Last, but not least, the driving power is excellent, if you’re using headphones, and we’re looking at 832mW at 16 OHMs, or 136mW at 300 OHMs, enough for Sennheiser HD800S, but also for HIFIMAN Arya (Dynamics and Planars). We’re also looking at an excellent dynamic range of 116 dB, and a Background noise of -120 dB, although the headphone output has a slightly high output impedance that can result in hiss with very sensitive IEMs, like Campfire Atlas. Please keep in mind that the RCA has a 1.8v RMS rather than 2 Volts. This means that at maximum, it can be a bit quieter than your average DAC, which is not great, but is much better than having distortions.
I can totally confirm that they are crazy with the way they present their products, but they are correct too. Soundaware promised no distortions up to volume 99, and that is absolutely correct. I used both Arya and Sundara for testing the A1X PRO, and I noticed zero distortions regardless of the volume. With most IEMs, there is no distortion, but with Campfire Atlas, there was some background hiss, especially if A1X PRO is turned loud.
The overall tuning of the A1X has three parts, and the tuning of the DAC sounds different from when using it as a headphone amplifier, and when using it as a Streamer. That’s only natural, and the easiest to describe for me, was the sound of it as a streamer.
A1X has the same sound, regardless of the inputs, although I did notice that it is a bit cleaner on the ethernet port and USB platform, and microSD than it is from the USB Audio port. The Bluetooth input degrades the signal a bit, and it has some dynamic compression compared to the USB input, but that’s to be expected of all Bluetooth devices.
When using the A1X as a streamer, it sounds transparent, clean, crisp. I can’t hear a large difference between transports usually, unless the DAC is really sensitive to it. Combining A1X with the DAC I Special from Sw1X resulted in a really detailed, clean and dynamic experience. SW1X DAC I Special is a bit sensitive to source in particular, and A1X sounds the best, as a transport, from everything I tested for driving the SW1X DAC I Special thus far. That test list only includes a few transports though, like iFi’s SPDIF iPurifier and FiiO M11 PRO, or other DAPs that have a Coaxial output.
I spent the most time using the A1X as a Headphone Amplifier / DAC, where I have the most experience, and I can give you the most detailed description of its sound. In this situation, the sound can be described as slightly warm, wide, expansive, detailed, clean, crisp and natural. We have no info about what DAC chips were used inside the A1X PRO, but we know that the headphone amplifier is Texas Instruments 6120A2, and that it uses Elna Cerafine and Rubycon ZLH Capacitors.
The bass of the A1X is deep and rounded, natural in speed, and clean in presentation. There is a good sense of depth to each impact, and it controls well both dynamic and planar magnetic headphones. The bass is slightly above neutral, with a slightly soft presentation to more aggressive music, while it is nuanced and perfect for Jazz and Classical.
The midrange is natural, slightly warm, wide and deep, with an excellent instrument separation. A1X sounds closest to iBasso DX220 running AMP7, but without the inconvenience of the aggressiveness that DX220 tends to have with AMP7. That’s a two faced coin, since some folks like the more aggressive take on DX220 + AMP7. I noticed a wider soundstage and more depth on A1X, as well as more driving power and control, which is a total win, since DX220 has been my reference for a long while. I also noticed tons of detail, good background details, and a natural tonality that is good for both male and female voices.
The treble of the A1X is slightly smooth, but not toned down, so it will be engaging but fatigue-free. For the price, I was expecting a more harsh and unrefined presentation, but A1X PRO is really mature, with both air and width to the sound, but without all the harshness of a bright DAC/AMP. I also noticed excellent dynamics and a good amount of punch from A1X PRO, and it is in my top three best DAC/AMPs bellow 1000 USD that I can recommend to you. A bit of a weird ostrich – camel device (romanian figure of speech), given its outputs and wide usage scenario, but they did not sacrifice the sound at all.
As a DAC, A1X PRO sounds close to the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, with some elements from the SW1X DAC I Special. It has the warmer, sweeter edge of the DAC+, but also the excellent dynamics from the DAC I Special. The detail level is excellent, with a really clean and clear presentation, and it is refined and not harsh at all.
Like any proper review, I devices to include comparisons, and the main devices I chose to compare the A1X PRO to are Singxer SDA-2, FiiO M11 PRO and Aune S6 PRO. All of those have an excellent sound, with tons of detail, and have been recommended a ton, by me, and a1X should stand up to them if it is to become your next thing.
Soundaware A1X PRO vs Aune S6 PRO (700 USD vs 650 USD) – You know and I also know this comparison ain’t fair due to A1X PRO costing more and it being more complete, but many asked me how the two compare in terms of sound. Well, A1X PRO outdoes the S6 PRO in every way I can think of. Signature alone, S6 PRO is brighter, with less bass, more treble, a more glassy sound, and with less emotion, but a more holographic presentation. By comparison, A1x PRO is far more natural, with more weight to each musical note, much better driving power, more dynamics and a more controlled sound. Honestly, there’s very little comparison between the two, sonically. When it comes to the features, A1X PRO is still considerably better than the S6 PRO, especially when it comes to the overall versatility, and support. Aune stopped offering support for their products recently, while Soundaware are going strong and growing, so there’s more than one reason to go for A1X PRO.
Soundaware A1X PRO vs FiiO M11 PRO (700 USD vs 650 USD) – Since it was easy to establish that A1X PRO beats the S6 PRO both in software, versatility and sound, M11 RO is a more fitting competitor, especially since it is both cheaper, and theoretically offers more versatility than A1x PRO. Starting with the sound of the two, M11 PRO sounds more natural, but has less driving power, where A1X PRO is more dynamic, more holographic, has better separation and overall refinement. M11 PRO is more versatile, being a DAP, but you can hear where they had to cut corners to make everything fit inside a portable, where with A1X PRO, you lose some functionality compared to a DAP, but you can still play files from an SD file, and you can still do so much more, but not necessarily more than you can on a DAP like M11 PRO.
Soundaware A1X PRO vs Singxer SDA-2 (700 USD vs 650 USD) – Those two are actually good sonically. In fact, I do think that SDA-2 is a bit better than A1X PRO in some ways, while A1X PRO is better in other ways. To explain, both are natural in sound, but A1X PRO is sweeter, warmer, harder hitting, more forward, more aggressive. SDA-2 is more gentle, more open, softer, but brighter, and less warm. SDA-2 has more driving power on the Balanced output, while A1X PRO beats the Single Ended of the SDA-2. A1x PRO is also slightly better with IEMs, at least to my ears sounding more controlled. The feature setup is vastly better on A1x PRO, but I want to be honest with you and share that I used both as DAC/AMPs for my computer the most, rather than using either as a standalone unit. Despite all the nifty features that A1X PRO has, using it as a DAC/AMP from a computer is by far the one I see myself using the most.
For the pairings part of today’s review, I picked iBasso SR-2, HarmonicDyne Zeus, and Sivga P-II. A1x can safely drive headphones as hard to drive as HD660S from Sennhesier, but also play well with IEMs like FiiO FA9, but given its shape, size and concept of being a Streamer, I figured most folks will pair it with full sized headphones the most.
Soundaware A1X PRO + Sivga P-II – (700 USD + 400 USD) – I loved the overall sound of the pairing, because A1X PRO has tons of power and tons of control over the P-II, but also manages to give them a large, wide sound, with tons of air in the treble. A1X PRO does not have EQ or tuning options to tone down P-II and their Thumpy sound, but it has enough control and overall clarity to make it less evident, and give them a more natural sound.
Soundaware A1X PRO + HarmonicDyne Zeus – (700 USD + 350 USD) – Zeus has been one of my favorite headphones since the start of this year, and it is really easy to see why. It is a headphone with a warmish sound, but tons of punch, a good treble, and although it is not ideal for very busy tracks, it is excellent for rock and metal, thanks to their more aggressive sound. The best part about this pairing is that Zeus is not only properly driven by the A1X PRO, but it also sounds more dynamic and punchier than usual. Zeus eats a LOT of power, and it is nice to see a DAC/AMP that can drive it, but the warmer sound of both combined gives a really warm presentation, which may be a bit overwhelming for some.
Soundaware A1X PRO + iBasso SR-2 – (700 USD + 500 USD) – That same warmish sound of the A1X PRO that may be a bit too much for Zeus, is just perfect for the SR-2. I always found SR-2 to be a tad too neutral for my taste, and especially the midrange tuning becomes more open and musical with the A1X PRO. The best part is the control and punch, which were softer on SR-2, but become really good with the A1X PRO driving the SR-2.
Value and Conclusion
The value of the Soundaware A1X PRO is simply excellent, with the concept, features and build quality being the best you can get at below 1000 USD. This comes at the psychological cost of the unit being made in China and being from a new company, but that’s information that’s going to be in your mind, and savings that will be in your pocket. With the extra 300 USD you saved by going for the A1X PRO, you will be able to afford the midrange headphone I liked the most this year, the Harmonic Dyne Zeus, and you will have a top-notch setup that I can guarantee will satisfy you for a long time. You can even grab all of this from Linsoul directly, and have them delivered in less than a week.
The package of the A1x PRO is everything we dreamt it would be, while the overall unit is impressive. There is not a single other device on the market at this price point that has as many features, and whether you need a Bluetooth receiver with aptX, a Roon Endpoint, USB DAC, or even a mini PC platform to play your music, Soundaware A1X will be happy to help.
The sound is great, and in fact, I loved the A1X driving my headphones so much that I will be adding it to Audiophile-Heaven’s Hall Of Fame, for being a really outstanding device. It slaughtered the competition so much, that it should be named the Soundaware Butcher DAC/AMP.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a really versatile streamer / DAC / AMP, and if you want an excellent price / performance ratio coming from a company that invested in actual quality components, the Soundaware A1X DAC/AMP/Streamer is the best I can recommend you right now for 700 USD.
You can grab a Soundaware A1X PRO Streamer / DAC / AMP from www.amazon.com here: https://amzn.to/3h5xIU2
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Full Playlist used for this review
We listened to more songs than those named in this playlist, but those are excellent for identifying a sonic signature. PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality are all revealed by those songs. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new music!
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