It seems there is no end to the fabulous, tiny products from Firestone. We have talked a lot about them over the past few months and this week we audition the Fubar 3 DAC and headphone amp (which isn't f.u.b.a.r. at all...)
It can sometimes be a chore to review a product because it takes a while to get to know it and you may not use it anymore after you've written about it. Let us just say that it's moments like these that really make it all worthwhile.
There comes a time in your headphone listening career when you reach the limits of your [probably crappy] built-in DAC/headphone amp from your computer.
Some people will just go out and find some more expensive headphones thinking that the problem is there. Some will go out and get a better source thinking that is the issue. Most people do not understand the bottleneck in-between and how a good DAC and amp can make both sound better... or more themselves, really.
This has traditionally been a realm only addressed by the very high end and specifically marketed to rich, geeky snobs who could be counted on not only for deep understanding of the engineering of pure sound and the deep pockets to indulge in it, but also for the lack of social grace necessary to communicate such nuance to surrounding plebeians.
The people have risen up to thwart this elitism and a new world of perfect, somewhat affordable sound reproduction has emerged! Commoners UNITE!
So, down to some nitty gritty:
Specifications: USB DAC
- USB DAC Chip: TI - PCM2702 DAC, 16 Bit 44.1 KHz / 48KHz sampling rates
- OpAmps NS: LM4562 Output Voltage- 6 Vrms
- Output Current:100 mA
- Output Impedence: 10 Ohms
- Circuit Specific Independent regulators for digital and analog circuits, DC amp uses no coupling capacitors
- Frequency Response:10Hz~25KHz ,-1dB at 600 ohms loading, low noise -99dB(A)
Specifications: Headphone Amplifier
- Class: Class AB / DC amplifier, uses no coupling capacitors
- Output Resistance: Extra low output resistance (Zo < 0.05 ohms),high current capacity 800mA per channel
- Frequency Response: 6Hz~300Khz ,-1dB at 32 ohms loading, very low noise -110dB (A)
- Max. output: 6Vrms external gain control switch
- Headphone Impedance: 8 - 600 Ohms (See headphone matching chart for additional information)
- Size: 11cm/4.3in(L) x 8cm/3.2in(W) x 5cm/2.0in(H)
- Weight: Fubar III only 350g / 12.3oz
- Weight:Total Package 980g / 34.5oz
There is a lot to be excited about with the Fubar 3. Beyond being able to handle pretty much any headphone (with an external gain switch), it is a USB fed DAC (Digital to Analog Converter- basically the conversion of the "0's" and "1's" stored on your computer into analog sound to be later amplified by another amp) or a USB DAC + headphone amp.
Again- there is a DAC in your computer but it most assuredly is nowhere near as good as this one and if you have a USB port, you can route the original "0's" and "1's" directly to the Fubar 3.
The following will only mean something to some of you but you are also able to roll op-amps for more customization of sound. Pretty much means you can change out the basic amplification chip and swap it with another to tune the sound more to your taste.
We tried all kinds of music out with the Fubar 3 and found that while the "Little Country 3" from the same company (which is a lot more expensive and has tubes in it) is the rich and dynamic big brother, the Fubar 3 is crisp and clean with no caffeine. Sound is much sweeter and more refined than you get directly from the computer and suddenly it becomes much easier to tell whether you are listening to an MP3 or something a little more lossless.
You will find yourself re-ripping your music collection at higher bitrates to compensate for the increased clarity. A soundstage begins to emerge where there was a "ball of noise" before.
In the end, we were very happy with this high-value DAC and found that it had ample power to drive all of our headphones cleanly.
Pick one up for $229 at audioproducts.com