The DAC section of the PAW Gold is based on a Burr‑Brown PCM1792 DAC chip ably supported by a stable and accurate clock promising <5ps of jitter. The DAC supports decoding for PCM files from 16-24 bits/8kHz-384kHz, as well as decoding for DSD64 (2.8 MHz) and DSD128 (5.6MHz) files. Next, a dedicated Blackfin 514 DSP device supports the player’s extensive EQ and tone-shaping options. Then, a Texas Instruments LME49600 headphone driver device supports the PAW Gold’s very powerful 500mW headphone amplifier section. Last but not least, a stonking 6,000mAH lithium-polymer battery gives the Lotoo 11 hours (or more) of playback time, which is impressive considering the player’s formidable output capabilities.
Lotoo has packed an awful lot of player in a very small package. The longer I used the Lotoo, the more capable and satisfying it seemed to be. In particular, I found myself drawn to the fact that—unlike many DAPs—the PAW Gold has more than enough output to drive relatively power-hungry planar magnetic headphones. Headphones and CIEM’s I used with the PAW Gold during my listening tests included the Audeze LCD-3, HiFiMAN HE 1000, and Oppo PM-1 planar magnetic headphones plus the JH Audio Roxanne, Noble Kaiser 10, and Westone ES60 custom-fit in-ear monitors. Here is what my listening tests revealed.
The overall sonic character of the PAW Gold falls somewhere in between the precise and almost hyper-pure sound of the Astell & Kern AK380 (as reviewed in issue 127) and the detailed but also warm and highly organic sound of the Questyle QP1R (reviewed in this issue). Frankly, a solid case could be made for choosing any one of these players purely on the basis of one’s listening tastes or personal voicing preferences. However, the Lotoo is far more powerful than either of the other two players referenced here, which gives the PAW Gold certain qualities of sonic self-assurance and dynamic swagger that few other portable players can match. When you consider the PAW Gold’s middle-of-the-spectrum voicing characteristics and abundant dynamic clout, it may just be that rare bird that fits most listeners and most listening applications, most of the time.
To hear what I mean, try listening to the O-zone Percussion Group’s ‘Jazz Variants’ from Musik wie von einem anderen Stern [Manger test CD] as played through a set of HiFiMAN HE 1000 headphones driven by the PAW Gold. The ensemble features a veritable potpourri of percussion instruments that, on this track, are heard at everything from subtle and delicate on up to ‘blow-the-roof-off-the-house’ volume levels (and everything in between). Faced with an admittedly challenging track and a set of very revealing and somewhat power-hungry headphones, the Lotoo did not flinch or stumble, but rather rolled up its sleeves and went to work with the sort of finesse and gusto I have usually have heard only through powerful, full-size desktop amp/DACs.
On ‘Jazz Variants’, then, the Lotoo caused transient sounds to be carved with plenty of leading-edge energy, snap, and speed, while instrumental timbres sounded pure and were highly differentiated. In particular, it was satisfying to hear the Lotoo render the energetic ‘pop’ of snare drum notes with fierce authority and vigour, while at the same time capturing the distinctive and fleeting ‘rattle’ of the snares ringing forth from the undersides of the drums. It was also a treat to hear the PAW Gold reproduce the sharp initial ‘ping’ of notes sounded from chimes (or perhaps tubular bells) and then to hear how the voices of the instruments seemed to ‘bloom’, then sustain and slowly decay within the reverberant acoustics of the recording space. Finally, the attack, sustain, and intensely modulated ‘skin sounds’ of the giant concert bass drum strikes heard on the track were simply mind-blowing owing to their impressive combination of raw power and unexpected subtlety. Throughout the track, the Lotoo made dynamic contrasts stand out in a vivid way—effortlessly conveying information about the shapes and dynamic envelopes of notes in a way many expensive loudspeaker-based hi-fi system would have found difficult to capture.
In terms of detail and resolution, I felt the Lotoo Gold was essentially on a par with the Astell & Kern AK380 and Questyle QP1R players mentioned above, although the sonic presentations of the three players can at times sound significantly different. As I noted above, the AK380 emphasises sonic purity, clarity, and detail, where the also finely detailed Questyle delivers a more naturally warm and organic sound. The Lotoo, for its part, falls somewhere in between these two, with a sound that is somewhat brighter and more overtly transient-orientated than the Questyle, but that is perhaps not quite as purity, clarity, and detail-centric as the Astell & Kern.