The high-end audio world is too bound up by convention. OK, so denouncing the reactionary bourgeoisie is a bit too 1965 for my tastes (and let’s face it, that didn’t work out too well in the end), but there’s a still radical shake-up in all things audio related that’s not only needed, but also taking place right now. And it’s very much at the affordable end. The Henry Audio USB 128 mk II is one of those leading the charge.
You see, the Henry Audio USB 128 mk II began life as an open source project, built in the Philippines but with Børge Strand-Bergesen heading up the project from his home in Norway. The early iterations had Alpha Geek names like ‘The Audio Widget’ and ‘Quantization Noise Killed The Cat’ before settling on the more prosaic – but altogether more marketable – Henry Audio. Irrespective of name, the device has a solid following on the digital DIY forums and discussion groups, becauseits firmware is programmable and experimentation is encouraged (hence the ‘prog’ and ‘reset’ buttons on the rear panel).
The base specifications of the USB 128 mk II is simple: it’s based around the AKM4430 ‘all-in-one’ chip, with a Atmel AVR32 programmable microcontroller chip and ADP151 low drop out voltage regulators running at 3.3V, meaning the 5V USB limit is well preserved. The user manual informs you that the power supply is ripe for tangling with, and there are “lots of internal headers for experimenting”. Even the circuit design and pin-outs are provided in the manual for the hardcore user. Anyone with a good working knowledge of C and an understanding of digital audio works can play! Normally, we’d criticise a DAC that had exposed allen bolts front and rear for being a little bit roughedged, but as Henry Audio is going to go to a significant number of people who will open the casework in minutes, this is to be applauded. A single LED on the front panel represents the sole operational functionality. That all being said, the little brushed case is not bad; it sits on three little clear blobs so it doesn’t scratch your worksurface, and the logo on the plastic front panel sets the Henry apart from something knocked together in a shed.
If that last paragraph reads a bit too ‘DIY’ for you, the Henry’s basic DAC configuration is pretty good, too. It will run as an Asynchronous USB DAC in Class 1 or Class 2 USB Audio modes. As ever, it will support both Class 1 and 2 native in Mac OSX (and, given this is the programmer’s dream DAC, Linux), but you need to download an ASIO driver for Windows PCs. Fortunately, as an open source project, good, robust drivers are available from the site. Given its open source background, I thought the Henry might go into forced self-destruct mode if used with anything apart from Foobar 2000, but in fact it’s the perfect partner and I happily connected it to the evil empire of iTunes and not a single shot was fired in revolt.