Clicking on the Ultrasone website is an unexpectedly pleasant experience that plunges the browser by way of video on a fly-by journey into the sunny green countryside of Bavaria. The score to The Sound of Music might as well be playing as you float above green hills, farmhouses, grazing cows, and then through a quaint boulevard in the local mountain town. Ultrasone is certainly going for an effect here to introduce themselves, but don’t get too comfortable with the expansive scenery because with its new headphone amp/DAC combo offering called the NAOS, Ultrasone is about to flip the script and go ultra-compact to the point where the NAOS makes your car’s keyless entry in your pocket look big. By way of the minute NAOS headphone amp/DAC combo Ultrasone is looking to do nothing more than solve an unavoidable existential quandary of our modern audiophile existence. The quandary goes something like this: “Sure, I have my prized hi-fi set up waiting for me when I get home from the office, but I am stuck at the [pick one: bus-stop, post office, airport, etc.]. What am I going to do until I get back home?”
One answer the NAOS provides to this frustratingly familiar audiophile lament is to attempt to revive that smart phone in your pocket that you left for dead in regards to quality music playback. The versatile NAOS is not just pigeon-holed to mobile phones mind you, the NAOS’ larger mission is to bring all your downloaded and streaming music files up to par in a one-size-fits-all powerhouse small enough to get lost in your jeans pocket. The NAOS steps out boldly front and centre to meet its competitors priced at an affordable £199, which means if inclined most of us have no further excuse for leaving it up to Samsung or Apple to convert and amplify our source files behind a black curtain of secrecy and profit enhancing built-in cheap components.
The NAOS is covered in an inconspicuous brushed aluminium housing and measures 46mm long × 18mm wide x 6mm thick. At this small size, and weighing in a negligible 6 grams you can be sure that if you are hooked up to your mobile device the size of the NAOS will not affect any of the lifestyle activities you were planning like going for a walk, a jog, or a bike ride. Not only is the NAOS tailor made for portability, Ultrasone has gone the extra mile to make the device friendly to any platform be it Apple, Android, PC, high quality source, or low quality source. This catch-all use it anywhere, anyhow mentality is further bolstered by the number of attachment components that comes with the product in its simple black carrying case. From the Ultrasone website, “NAOS works with smartphones, tablets, notebooks and desktop computers. To this end, it comes with cables for micro USB, USB C, Lightning, and USB A. NAOS uses the connection not only to transfer data, but the compact DAC also draws its power using the same cable, so no additional power supply is necessary. NAOS works with iOS, Mac OS, Android (USB OTG function) and Windows (driver installation). Laptop, smartphone, desktop PC or tablet. Included with the NAOS are corresponding cables for micro-USB, USB-A, USB-C, and Lightning connections. “
The digital to analogue converter residing in the NAOS allows a listener’s digital files or streaming source to be converted up to a resolution of 192 kHz and a word depth of 24 bits. After NAOS’ runs its conversion process, the new analogue signal is run through the NAOS’ high-performance amplifier where it is said to be ‘optimised’ for use among a wide range of headphones. I was able to put some specifics to Ultrasone’s claim by auditioning many sets of in-ear and over-ear headphones, but more on this later. It is a good bet that the majority of potential NAOS users will find the smart phone the most appealing device to use with the NAOS, but please note that it can also be easily plugged into your home base computer or with your loudspeakers system up the signal chain from even a robust power amplifier. Ultrasone is certainly not worried about the NAOS swimming in the deep end of the pool.