Armature Oberon: a very chic and electronically elaborate DAC with amplifier
Armature Audio is no other than the new brand that the distributor Audiophonics chose to market several devices selected among the high-end products offered by its Chinese partners and suppliers. It’s the case with this DAC with headphone amplifier called Oberon, a very nice high-end device available at a very reasonable price.
When we got our hands on this Armature Audio Oberon DAC with headphone amplifier, everything led us to believe that we were in the presence of a very nice French product.
The other devices offered by Armature Audio, among which you find a USB-S/PDIF conversion interface called Hecate and two superb high-end digital-to-analog converters (Cronos and Astérion) using R2R conversion circuits mixing discrete and integrated components, also have a price tag that is clearly inferior to the ones of their direct competitors.
It’s thus the very dynamic French distributor Audiophonics who has created this brand, Armature Audio, in order to market under this name the high-end devices of its Chinese partners, which will allow these products to benefit from a two-year warranty in France.
Let’s now take a look at, thanks to this testing ground, this very nice DAC with headphone amplifier called Oberon, whose electronics are very elaborate.
We rather like the presentation of this Armature Oberon DAC, which mixes rigor and austerity. It’s a serious product; you can see it with this all-aluminum thick box, which plays off the contrast between its natural anodized brushed sides and the other black anodized elements, which are also brushed, apart from the facade.
A 6.35mm Headphone Jack is located on the left side of the large-sized blueish-white dot matrix central display. On the right, a multifunctional controller enables volume control, source selection and the activation or deactivation of the mute function. These functionalities are also handled by a small remote.
The power connection is made through a power supply equipped with a switch and a fuse drawer, while the digital inputs include an asynchronous type 3 USB B plug, two S/PDIF (coaxial and optical), and a symmetrical input on a three-pin XLR plug up to the professional standard AES/EBU.
The analog audio outputs, at variable level then, will be either in asymmetrical standard mode through RCA plugs, or in symmetrical mode through three-pin XLR plugs.
When you open the box, you can only notice that the conception is as serious internally as it is externally, starting with the use of a beautiful toroidal transformer power supply and a circuit whose setup is both rigorous and extremely clean.
The power supply uses twelve Schottky diodes accepting up to 20 A and two 4700 μF/63V filtering capacitors for the amplifying part.
The power supply regulators use transistors which are located under the circuit and are fixed on the bottom of the box which serves as a heat sink.
The USB interface possesses its own little card and uses a XMOS 5U6C5 processor which communicates with the main card with two Silicon Labs Si8641 insulators, so that the USB part and the rest of the electronics have no potential in common.
The master clocks set at 22.579 et 24.576 MHz are located on the main card and the incoming digital signals are taken care of by a Altera Max II CPLD (complex programmable logic device), next to which lies the transformer adapting and insulating the S/PDIF signals (handled by a Wolfson WM8805 receiver). These components are hidden by the USB card.
This digital part possesses its own power supply stage, as well as the two Asahi Kasei AK4396 digital-to-analog conversion chips (one per channel), that delivers symmetrical current signals.
AMP201 operational amplifiers from the manufacturer handle the current/voltage conversion, and the filtering and amplification are taken care of by Class-A transistors. The symmetrical signals are then conveyed to the XLR plugs and the Texas Instruments TPA6120A headphone amplifier circuit, while only the direct signal goes to the RCA plugs. Another circuit, whose transistors are fixed at the bottom of the box, is there to help and boost the TPA6120A2.
Our listening tests have been conducted through Qobuz Desktop on PC in ASIO mode, with our Sony UDA-1 amplifier connected to our Triangle Antal Anniversary, and to our Oppo PM-3 for the headphone output.
We soon realized that the Armature Oberon DAC offered a high-quality sonic restitution, rather dense, and obviously working toward this result, and also, according to our ears, not wanting to be artificially bright.
The sonic results are very nice to hear through the headphones, listening to several titles of the album Size Isn't Everything, where the often wide sonic moods gain a very captivating serenity and where we don’t notice any stridence in Barry Gibb’s falsetto voice; the voice even seems a bit tamed. It is worth noticing that with our Oppo PM-3, the power was more than enough, without seeming immoderate.
Still listening through the headphones, the power is well and truly there to deliver sonic levels that are more than comfortable, even unreasonable sometimes, with the cataclysmic titles North Star and Silent Space from the album Tale Of Us. There’s no loss of impetus, the bass is very solid, and there’s a clear and spacious restitution on the rest of the audio spectrum.
Listening through our speakers to Vivaldi’s Vespri per l'Assunzione di Maria Vergine by Rinaldo Alessandrini and the Concerto Italiano, we can only repeat our impressions of the classy restitution that this DAC offers, but also its tendency to tone down this interpretation by removing the chords’ bite and vivacity and dulling the treble staccatos.
On the whole, and in particular in the very catchy Tom Bowling and Home, Sweet Home, this is a very charming and slightly restrained reproduction of Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs that this Armature Oberon DAC offers, but it doesn’t neglect the triangle staccato or the cymbal clangs, nor the brass colors of the glorious Rule Britannia.
To conclude, this Armature Audio Oberon DAC is a very nice device, very skillfully designed and manufactured, and offering beautiful sound results. It’s a high-quality product in a classic but chic wrapping, and all of this at a reasonable price!
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