AMI Musik DS5 digital processor and headphone amp

10.03.2015..

Preamble

We are living in the age of the “ultra-boxes”: golden, silver, dark or whatever color. High fidelity once meant standards: rack, midi, mini etc. whit almost all the devices piled as a tower. Better if a horizontal tower, so to dissipate heat and reduce the electromagnetic interactions between the components. This is history. Later on, we have started to listen to the music seating in front of our PC and the troubles started. Ours is a passion, after all. Isn’t it? Therefore, we have to suffer.

To speculate on something interesting, I want to recall that every time a hardware or a software musical format is going to disappear, few enthusiasts resist and fight until its coming back. That happened with the vinyl records and the same seems to come about with the audiotapes. Now it is happening with the Direct Stream Digital or DSD, a trademark registered by Philips and Sony to launch on the market the new super audio CD SACD support. The patent has expired though, and the companies can make their own DSD masters headed for download. Of course, the industry exploits the trend and reprints LPs, makes low cost turntables and phono preamps, implements in the DACs the function of reproducing also the DSD, in addition to the usual PCM formats. Anyway, I do not want to talk about the superiority, real or presumed, of the PCM and DSD standards.

 

AMI Musik DS5

A first consideration. It is very useful to have an all-in-one DAC to reproduce almost everything in the digital field. At this regard, the company AMI Musik DS5 is a successful and versatile machine.

Since a while, it has been possible to reproduce DSD files with our PC - audio card - DAC systems, but this was possible only through an artifice. Our software players interpreted the flow of DSD data and then packed it in the PCM-DoP format that the converter was able to reproduce. Now, with these new DACs capable of handling immediately the DSD, it is possible to skip this passage.

AMI Musik, Audio Music Interface, is a Japanese company, although they assemble their products in Korea. I quote from their website:

 

AMI International, Inc. was founded with the goal of meeting the demand for Hi-Fi external audio devices, which we believe is the future of audio. We see significant market growth beyond the current Desktop PC space, and it is for that market that we will introduce technologies to improve audio quality. To accomplish our goal of improving audio quality beyond the Desktop PC space, AMI has assembled a team that brings decades of technology leadership and a proven track record of success. Our company philosophy is to “be passionate”. Also, we are very “open” to new ideas and as a young company, we like “speed”. All our engineers and staffs are all passionate of what we are currently doing. We are a very open company and a discussion over lunch or dinner would mostly end into new project development or improvement the next day.

When designing a product, we don’t give up “quality”. However, we think that everyone deserve the right to a good audio experience, and thus, “affordable luxury” would be our marketing motto”.

 

It is useful to indicate which would be the best contest for the AMI Musik DS5. Do you spend a lot of time in front of your PC and, at the same time, you want to hear some music in the best way? If the answer is yes, then you already have two speakers, a good amp and the headphones for the nighttime listening sessions. What is missing is a handy interface capable of translate the numeric flow coming out from your PC into an analogue signal and send it to the other components of your audio chain. It is simple, isn’t it? The DS5 offers more than the possibility of a digital interconnection: USB, coaxial S/PDIF and optical TOSLINK. The average user has to know how to deal with streaming music and the quality of the computer hardware will determine your choices. Furthermore, you have to know how to deal with the settings of your Music Player! Do not give up. After a while, you can reach a good compliance of all the parameters and enjoy… Music!

I have tested the DAC in this configuration: PC with OS Windows 7, foobar2000 music player, J.River Media Center, all set up to reproduce the DSD files via USB to the DS5.

Coaxial and optical output from several CD players to the S/PDIF and TOSLINK inputs of the DAC. Then my trusty TDY preamps and class-A power amps, with the Q Acoustic 2020i loudspeakers. Of the headphones, we will speak later on in the listening impressions.

 

Description of the product

Times change. For the audio enthusiasts it is not enough knowing how a device performs or which technology has been used. They want to know type and brand of the chips and everything about capacitors, resistances and diodes. The first technological info are printed on the box of the DS5.

 

AMI Musik DS5

 

We know, for instance, that the D/A converter is a CS4398 by Cirrus Logic, the electrolytic capacitors are by Nichicon series Audio Grade, OPAMPs by Muse 8920, the capacitors with plastic film are by WIMA and the quartzs are TCKO 1PPM.

Inside the package are the power supply, a good 1,8 m USB cable by the German Clicktronic and the CD ROM to install the program on Windows, plus a pdf with the procedure to install it on the MAC OS.

The manufacture is solid and aesthetically well done. The front side is an aluminium one-piece turned with CNC cutter. From the left: the On/Off power button –push it!-and the volume knob in line variable mode. Then the input and output buttons. If you push them at the same time, with the DAC off, they select the "fixed" or "variable" mode. There are also some white LEDs to visualize the PCM or DSD format and the USB, S/PDIF or TOSLINK input, plus the output towards line or headphone. Lastly, the 6,3 mm headphone output.

In the back, we can see the line out, the coaxial input, the optical input, the USB input, the DC input and the ground connection.

Inside, the device is very neat and of good manufacture. The choice of the components is of top level. The heat is very low also after many hours of use.

 

The Sound

The most difficult thing, I suppose, is to find a common element in all the listening sessions that can define the overall qualities of the DAC. Firstly, there is the huge choice of the formats: PCM from 44.1 to 192 kHz and DSD 64-128. I am sure that the common opinion says that the quality of the take is not determined by the bit rate. If you start from a poor base, this will remain the same also at 24/192 or at DSD128. What you can really appreciate in the high-density digital formats is a kind of cultural baggage made by time and listening experiences.

My first approach with the DACs is always a CD transport that I know very well, connected via S/PDIF. So, let’s start with the old PCM 16/44.1.

Immediately the qualities of the DS5 show up: timbrically correct and balanced. The bass are not invasive, but articulated. The mid-range is very good with male and female vocals. In the high range, there is no listening fatigue. The grain is thin and the perception of the details very good. Maybe some more softness, in particular with the dynamic attacks, would be appreciated. It has no preferences. It behaves well with hard rock, symphonic and acoustic music. Better where the high frequencies are smoother in the recording. What if we change from the CD to high-density formats, like USB? The DS5 has no deficiency or uncertainty with all the formats up to 24/192 PCM, thanks to the good drivers and the HW implementation. Hence, the DAC works…but you have to feed it with good quality!

 

It is a bit harder with the DSD files. Luckily, there are many websites where to download free samples or buy them. Unluckily, it is almost impossible to listen directly to SACD supports, since there is not available a Direct Streaming via USB.

What I can tell you, is that speaking of the DSD files, if the masters are of good quality, the listening experience is always very pleasant. They tend, if I may say, to the analogue warmth. The behavior of the DSD with this format has been good and it has maintained the tonal character said before for the DAC and for the DSD files.

 

Headphones amplifier and adjustment of the output level

What about the DS5 headphone stage? It is based on a Texas Instruments TPA6120A2 chip, specifically made to amplify headphones of good quality. Here are the specs.

 

Nothing to say about the tone. It does not mortify the good capacities of the DAC and, if you remain in the suggested range of impedance 16-300 ohm, the driving capacities are acceptable. The headphones must be “easy” to be driven. No orthodynamic or pro headphones that require strong amplifications to be at their best. You do not have to pass the maximum load of 300 ohm. A test with the AKG at 600 ohm has given a modest outcome.

Two line out modes, “fixed” and “variable", make possible to use the DS5 directly in input to a preamplifier with a “fixed” volume knob, or directly to a power amp with the “variable” mode where the stepper behaves like a passive attenuator, that is no gain. It is a very handy solution, although I believe that a pre-amplifying stage is necessary for a correct tone handling. The direct connection to a pair of power amps has given a meagre sound, linear but empty.

The manufacture, however, tells us that from the sound point of view there is no loss in quality due to the diminution of the digital resolution. I quote: “The AMI MUSIK DS5 headphone digital volume use the TPA6134 headphone IC internal volume control feature, and thus is controlled independently from the DAC volume control. This is not a digital stream process and thus does not affect the bit solution and thus, no loss in audio quality”.

 

Download

To download for free or upload DSD and PCM files, I suggest this link and among all the operators HighResAudio.

 

Conclusions

Any complain? Of course, yes. First of all the power supply. The overall value and the engineering of this DAC headphone amp deserved, in my opinion, something better than the usual switching DC Jack with external power input and a cheap cable.

 

If the price had been 20-30% less than the announced cost on the market, there would have been a great success in the sales. Its versatility, convenience sound quality and the small dimensions would have made a best buy. However, a product that will tickle the yearning of many audio enthusiasts.

 

 

SCHEME SUMMARY

top score ✳✳✳✳✳ ReMusic Sparks

Timbric: ✳✳✳✳ |Good in all the range. More fluidity and smoothness in the high range would have made a product with a great tone.

Dynamics: ✳✳✳✳ | As I said, almost all depends on the quality of the recording. The DS5 has no faults here.

Tonality:✳✳✳✳| Neutral, without any coloration. Just a minor trend to coolness in the high range.

Manufacture:✳✳✳✳ | Solid manufacture, aesthetically well done. Top components.

Headphone amplifier: ✳✳✳1/2 | To where it goes it does it well

Price/quality ratio: ✳✳✳ | With a cheaper price, it would have got a good success in the market, since it has quality, look and it is handy.

 


Official technical specifications:

 

Digital inputs

USB HS 2.0 (USB Audio CLASS 2.0 / DSD over USB PCM token FA05 / PCM, DSD Native Stream)

Support PCM 24bit 192kHz

Support DSD 64 (2.8MHz) / DSD 128 (5.6MHz)

Optical x 1EA (50Mbps/192kHz max / WM8804)

Coaxial x 1EA (75O/192kHz max / WM8804)

Analog outputs

D/A converter: Cirrus Logic CS4398 (120dB, 192kHz Multi-Bit DAC)

Dynamic range: 120dB A-Weighted (component spec)

Signal noise ratio: 120dB A-Weighted (component spec)

THD+N: 0.0005% (component spec)

Supported PCM sampling rates: 44.1 / 48 / 88.2 / 96 / 176.4 / 192 kHz

Supported DSD SCLK frequency: DSD64 (2.8MHz) / DSD128 (5.6MHz)

Matched PCM / DSD analog level out (2.2Vrms pair)

2 RCA x 1EA (2.2Vrms, gold plated RCA output)

Headphone Output

6.3mm phone jack x 1EA (2Vrms max, gold plated 6.3 headphone jack output)

Supported headphone impedance: 16-300ohm

Output level: 150mW(16ohm loaded)

Frequency response 20Hz~48kHz

THD 0.02%@1kHz

Power Supply

Type: 2.1mm DC Jack (external power input)

Maximum input: 5VDC 3A

Over voltage protection: 5.5VDC limit (shutdown operation) 

Dimensions: 150x40x140mm (WxHxD)

Package Contents

The following items are included with the “AMI MUSIK DS5″ package:

AMI MUSIK DS5 x 1

5V 3A AC-DC Adaptor x 1

Clickronic high end USB A male - USB cable (1.8m) x 1

3M bumpon x 4

Quick start guide x 1

Driver Installation & Manual CD-ROM

 

 

Official Italian dealer: to Il Tempio Esoterico website

Official current price in Italy: 699.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Mauro Cittadini’s system

 

by Mauro Cittadini
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