Henry Audio USB 128 mk II DAC

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Digital-to-analog converters
Henry Audio USB 128 mk II DAC

It’s a really good DAC, too. If the ‘hax0r’ mood doesn’t take you, and you simply use the Henry as a USB converter, you are faced with a device that teases out the spirit and emotion of the music, rather than the detail. It’s an extremely refined sounding DAC; not just for the money, it’s extremely refined sounding regardless of price. It’s the kind of DAC you can happily slot into some extremely nice sounding valve amp system costing grillions, and it has that easy, unforced and slightlyback from the loudspeakers presentation, rather than the etched, up-front, in-your-face kind of detail-driven sound so many pass off as ‘high-end’. And that’s the big defining moment here. If you think of high-end as a sonic goal, one to try and reproduce the musical intent with the highest possible fidelity and produce a sound that you want to sit in front of for the longest time, the Henry is every millimetre a high-end DAC. It made a lot of sense of ‘Back Country Suite: Blues’ by Mose Allison [Back Country Suite, Prestige], which was famously covered by the Who at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. This is a track that is effectively ‘owned’ by that cover, but the Henry lets Allison win it back, thanks to the richness and sheer effortlessness of the presentation.

Putting this into context, the DAC’s unforced presentation is not that dissimilar from the performance from considerably more expensive designs, but where those more expensive designs justify their continued existence is in a greater sense of authority, image size, and detail. The Henry Audio DAC has the dynamic range and the tonal balance of the likes of the Nagra HD, but what it lacks is the dynamic shading and sheer detail that sets the top end players apart from the pack. At less vertiginous prices, what you tend to get is that detail (again), but at the expense of some or all of that expressive richness of tone.

The obvious direct comparisons with the Henry are between it and the AudioQuest DragonFly DAC – the form factor might be different, but there are more similarities than you might first think. The Henry is tonally very different; where DragonFly is ‘exciting’, the Henry is ‘mellow’. Ultimately, I marginally preferred the overall balance of the AudioQuest DAC, because it was more capable with the frantic pace of the backbeat on ‘Love Cry’ from Four Tet’s There Is Love In You album [Domino], but I also found much to like in the Henry’s sublime flow through the title track from Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, by Godspeed You! Black Emperor [Constellation], and any devices that can play that awesome slice of dark ambient wonderfulness well wins bigin my book.

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