It’s not just Astell & Kern with an amp-to-go, as THX shrinks its audio technology down to something pocket-sized, too.
Even though the world of high-resolution audio is still fairly niche, we’re seeing more brands find ways to bring the concept to more people, and in portable ways, no less.
For the past decade, declaring a love for what is basically the equivalent to portable vinyl hasn’t always been easy, and may have meant carrying larger equipment. Bigger headphones were almost always a requirement, but more than that, you needed a way of playing the media needed to make high-res what it was: high resolution.
High-resolution files are harder to find, and when you do, they’re also meatier than your standard MP3, and so typically need a higher grade set of hardware. A digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) or two or four, a chipset made to handle the new formats, and the software side of things that knows what to look for with those new formats is typically it. While you can find all of that in expensive media players — and they still exist — now that everyone has a smartphone of sorts, it makes more sense to use the phone to handle the software side of things, and then plug in the hardware to make your phone that little bit better.
It’s an approach that Astell & Kern recently embraced with its Dual DAC Type C cable, which we recently reviewed, and it’s one THX is doing, as well, announcing its own take on the Type C cable coming in the THX Onyx.
Yep, it’s that THX, the one responsible for the deep note sound they play at the cinemas, back when we all made our way back to one of those.
In recent years, THX was purchased by Razer, yet has stayed somewhat independent. As such, THX worked with Razer on the Opus headphones, as well as software for gamers to transform their headphones into a more THX-style of sound, but while this latest effort will still be sold by the gaming hardware brand, there isn’t a spot of Razer branding on the device.
Rather, it’s a THX gadget that like Astell & Kern’s aims to add a better quality way of playing sound to phones and tablets. Unlike A&K’s, the THX Onyx will work on iOS, we’re told, meaning the iPad Pro and iPad Air are both supported, something we didn’t see on the competitor.
Inside the Onyx, there’s an ESS Pro DAC chip (ES9281Pro), support for Master Quality Authenticated (MQA), and a THX Achromatic Audio Amplifier-78, the latter of which reportedly features the same power as a desktop THX amp, but in a much smaller size. Remember, this thing is meant to be pocketable and attached to phones, tablets, and computers using a USB Type C port.
And it’s one that is only made for the delivery and rendition of sound over headphones, but also can be used with microphone support. Basically, it means when the THX Onyx is plugged in and headphones are plugged into its Type C cable, you may be able to talk to them, too. Most headphones for high-res sound won’t come with microphones built in, so the THX Onyx won’t add support, but if you’re using a cable with a mic and have the three-line 3.5mm jack, the Onyx will support talking through it, too.
“THX was founded on the principle that quality matters. We’ve remained dedicated for more than 35 years to innovation that ensures whatever an artist creates can be enjoyed by the audience in the manner intended,” said Jason Fiber, Chief Operating Officer of THX.
“Consumers looking for the best audio experience over wired headphones may have found the quality is compromised, so we’re stepping up with a flexible, high-quality, and affordable solution with the launch of our first consumer product, THX Onyx,” he said.
While Fiber notes that some people may find quality compromised over wired, you might not. You might be fine with what you hear, and the type of phone and headphone can change how you hear differently. Some phones put a lot of time into building out the hardware, and others don’t.
But if you have a phone with a Type C port — basically anything mid to high-end from the past six years or so that runs on Android — as well as a computer or tablet, and you yearn for high-res sound as noted by THX, the Onyx might be worth looking into.
From what we can tell, the THX Onyx won’t be made available at stores in Australia, though will be sold online for $199.99 USD at both THX’s and Razer’s websites.
UPDATE: The original article mentioned that the Onyx didn’t support a microphone. It does, and this has been amended for that.