When it comes to mobile audio, the sound of your phone and headphones is sometimes just not enough. This can be especially true if you prefer a set of wired boxes above all wireless. To get the ultimate sound on the go, you probably need a high-resolution player or a portable digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and amplifier combination. There are a number of options already on the market, but today in-depth audio and video technology companies THX are adding names to the list. With its first consumer hardware, Onyx, the company is adding a small, powerful alternative to traditional DAC amplifiers.
Like much of the competition, the Onyx is a USB dongle with a cord at one end and a headphone jack at the other. The USB-C plug is magnetic, curls around and attaches to the main body of the audio accessory when not in use. The company suggests that you use it to keep the headphone cable wound to keep everything tidy. On the front, a trio of LEDs indicates the quality of the sound you are listening to with options for standard, high resolution, Direct Stream Digital (DSD) and Master Quality Authenticated (MQA). The device comes with a USB-C to USB-A adapter, so if your laptop is not equipped with the former, you can still use it with the latter.
Inside, Onyx has a THX AAA-78 amplifier chip. Not only is this the highest powered mobile THX Achromatic Audio Amplifier configuration, but the company says this is the first portable DAC / amplifier to use the component. THX explains that AAA-78 makes Onyx as powerful as a desktop DAC or amplifier setup, but it is much smaller. The chip reduces three types of distortion by up to 40 dB and maximizes the output power for more dynamic range and sound pressure level (SPL). Of course, it also ensures pristine sound quality – or as THX put it, “extremely loud sound.” An ESS ES9281PRO DAC also provides a hand with heavy lifting, a component known for its ability to offer studio-like sound quality.
THX has designed Onyx to support the aforementioned MQA or master quality sound. Masters includes all the original details of a recording, or how the music was tracked in the studio or during a live performance. MQA tech captures and authenticates the sound before “folding” it to a streaming-friendly file size (MQA literally calls it “Music Origami”). Onyx has an MQA renderer on board to reproduce all the intricate sounds by “unfolding” encoded files from a service like Tidal. That streaming service, for example, offers millions of MQA tracks as part of its more expensive Hi-Fi subscription.
Onyx is compatible with all devices that have a USB-C port or USB-A connector if you click the adapter. It includes PC, Mac, Android and iPad. The device also works with an iPhone, but you need Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter to use it. Finally, you need a PC running Windows 10, as Onyx is only compatible with that version of the operating system.
THX Onyx is available today for $ 199.99 (€ 209.99 / £ 199.99) from both the company’s website and Razer, who previously worked with THX to certify Opus headphones and Hammerhead Pro True Wireless earplugs sound. In addition, THX explains that Onyx can also increase the sound quality for games and movies, which means that it should connect nicely with Razer laptops.