The downsides? Well, it’s pretty basic – just a mini USB input (rather than the USB-B connector preferred by audio cable makers) and one single lock light. People wanting to connect Ethernet devices or CD players running AES/EBU are left out in the cold. It’s also not going to deliver the highest of high‑resolution audio; if your computer’s hard drive is brimming over with DSD files, the Henry Audio is not your go-to DAC. Although, thanks to the open source nature of the DAC and the relatively open-ended design of that AK chip, the 192kHz limit could evolve in time; it may already have evolved, as someone’s written firmware for 32bit, 384kHz processing on one of the forums!
Perhaps the biggest downside though has nothing whatsoever to do with its basic design, and instead comes down to credibility with the credulous. It’s not in a box eight times larger and fifteen times heavier. It’s not got the word ‘Reference’ in its title, and the company name doesn’t sound like pig Latin.
It’s not powered from the wall, necessitating a cable that cost more than your first, second, and third cars combined. It doesn’t have balanced connections that you decided you would never use but like the concept of. It doesn’t come with the design intervention of someone who looks a little like Methuselah’s older brother. It doesn’t have a tube in the output stage, and it doesn’t have a big fluro display. Most importantly for a certain kind of DAC buyer, the Henry costs about one-twentieth as much as it should for a converter to be taken seriously. But as I said, audio is a world bound by its conventions, and for companies like Henry Audio to break those conventions mean that some people won’t be happy with the results. More fool them!
It’s hard to separate price from performance with the Henry Audio USB 128 mk II, but in a good way. Henry Audio joins a small – but growing – list of companies that make products that overturn the status quo in audio, making products that surprise you in making a sound that good for that little money. It proves there has never been a better time to be a music lover, because the tools that make that music sound great are both better, and often cheaper, than ever.
It’s a crying shame that so much of the audiophile’s gaze is directed upward at ever more aspirational products; while they are great, we need to periodically get back in touch with our roots, and the Henry Audio USB 128 mk II does just that. I never thought I’d use the B-word in audio, but this really is a bargain!