Exy audio excellence: Denon’s DA-300 USB headphone amp reviewed
3.9Overall Score

Price (RRP): $799
Manufacturer: Denon

If you love sound as much as we do, chances are your headphones never sound quite as good as you want them to, but a new product from Denon aims to correct this, you’ll just need a decent amount of cash if you want to play.

What is it?

There are those of us who really love our sound. I’m talking obsessive about it, as in we’re fully aware that Apple’s earbuds aren’t just mediocre, but that they’re also terrible, and we’d never put them near our ears even if you paid us to do so.

For many people, these freebies just won’t suffice, and there are much better options out there to make your music sing.

The best options, though, aren’t made to be used with your smartphone or tablet. They’re made, instead, to be used with a HiFi amp, powered by that device and allowing the headphones to pick up on the little nuances that only a heavy amp with high-end audio processing and signal decoders can provide.

But as sound starts to become more digital and we rely more on our computers for sound rather than just the standard compact disc (CD) player, Super Audio CD player (SACD), DVDs, Blu-rays, and even the traditional vinyl record player, the HiFi amp needs to shrink, too, working better with our computers, which are more supportive of modern high resolution audio standards and easily upgradeable with more storage.

Enter Denon’s DA-300USB, a desktop-based headphone amplifier that plugs both into the wall and into a spare USB port to provide a USB sound card capable of delivering up to 192kHz and 24-bit playback, with noise isolation circuits, and the same AL32 processor Denon uses in its SACD players.

Inputs are provided through both the computer-connected USB port, as well as one coaxial input and two optical input ports, while the output can be sent to either a pair of speakers using the rear red and white composite ports, or alternatively the 6.25mm headphone port up front.

The DA-300USB is built in plastic and can be setup either horizontally or vertically with the help of a desk stand. There are three physical controls on the small amplifier, with a power button, an input selection button, and the volume knob next to the headphone jack up front.

A small OLED screen on the front provides information about what device you’re pulling input from, as well as the volume you’re set at, although this is reported in decibels.

Performance

Anyone who loves their sound will know that a good pair of headphones requires a good headphone amp. Unfortunately, you can’t just plug a pair of quality HiFi headphones into a computer and hope for the best, as they need a little bit more oomph to make them shine.

Whether that’s a new sound card or an external amp, it’s something, and is likely going to provide a better output experience than the 3.5mm headphone jack your computer normally carries.

That’s where Denon’s DA-300 comes into play, making the amplifier into a sound card for your PC or Mac.

In the flesh, it’s a good looking little box that feels more substantial than it looks. While the DA-300 carries a $799 price point, the silver casing is plastic when it should probably be metal. That said, there’s a good solid heft to the box, so while we wouldn’t suggest carrying it with you from point A to point B, leaving it on your desk and plugging it in when you need it should be fine.