As I’ve previously mentioned, I got a very nice pair of Grado SR80i headphones for Christmas and they’re quite superb. I had the idea a while back (inspired by this CNET article) to get together some kind of “head-fi” setup using my Airport Express as a source. I’ve gone into some detail about how the iPhone Remote app works with the Airport Express to stream music around your house, and I had been using the Grados plugged straight into the 3.5mm jack on the AE.
Me being me, of course, I knew that there were gains to be had by using an offboard DAC instead of the cheap one built into the AE so I went about researching my options. There was the “two-box” approach, involving a separate DAC in turn feeding a separate headphone amplifier, or there was the “integrated” option if I could find a combined DAC/headphone amp that I liked the look of and could afford. My preferred route was to have everything in one box – tidier, less faff, no worrying about system matching – so after much internet surfing I came across the Fubar IV, made by Firestone Audio. It has digital inputs for optical (which the Airport Express uses), coaxial and USB. I discovered that the manufacturers were offering a hefty discount (125 euros instead of 225) in their post-Christmas sale and all the reviews of the unit were glowing, so I went for it.
Just a few minutes after taking delivery, I had the Fubar IV hooked up via an optical lead from my Airport Express, with my SR80i’s plugged into the headphone socket. With the iPod Touch Remote app controlling my iTunes Lossless library, I was listening to quite amazing sound, far more in keeping with the quality of the Grados than I had been experiencing direct from the Airport Express. Most impressive!
I headed over to the What HiFi forums – where I had heard about the Fubar IV in the first place – and posted a brief review. Excerpt below:
“It’s a good warm, round sound from solid bass through to well-defined treble. It does show up poor recordings, but with a well-produced album it’s giving some excellent results. I’ve been noticing lots of extra details that I’d never really heard before, even in albums I know really well. The separation of different parts is superb, and it’s very easy to pick out an instrument and follow it through a track – but at the same time there’s a really nice cohesiveness to the sound overall. I’m used to listening to my music through my separates hi-fi, but I can honestly say that this little set-up is blowing it out of the water!”
Firestone Audio also sell a dedicated power supply for the Fubar, called The Supplier, which is supposed to bring further musical gains. I dare say that once some more funds become available, I shall be investing in one of those too! All round, it’s a brilliant little setup, and ideal for people whom a full separates system isn’t practical or realistic. I was dubious about whether “head-fi” could really be “hi-fi” but I have to say – I’m converted.