When it comes to mobile audio, sometimes the sound your phone and headphones muster just isn't enough. That can be especially true if you prefer a set of wired cans over anything wireless. To achieve the ultimate audio on the go, you'll likely need a high-res player or a portable digital-to-analog-converter (DAC) and amp combo. There are a number of options already on the market, but today immersive audio and video tech company THX is adding its name to the list. With its first consumer hardware, the Onyx, the company adds a tiny, high-powered alternative to traditional DAC amplifiers.
Like much of the competition, the Onyx is a USB dongle with a cord on one end and a headphone jack on the other. The USB-C plug is magnetic, looping back around and attaching to the main body of the audio accessory when not in use. The company suggests using it to keep your headphone cable wound to keep everything tidy. On the front, a trio of LEDs indicate the quality of the audio you're 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 isn't equipped with the former, you can still use it with the latter.
Inside, the 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/amp to use the component. THX explains that the AAA-78 makes the Onyx just as powerful as a desktop DAC or amplifier setup, but it's much smaller. The chip reduces three types of distortion by up to 40dB and maximizes output power for more dynamic range and sound pressure level (SPL). Of course, it also ensures pristine sound quality — or as THX put it, "extreme highest fidelity audio." An ESS ES9281PRO DAC also lends a hand with heavy lifting, a component know for its ability to offer studio-like sound quality.
For the extreme-est of said high fidelity, THX has designed the Onyx to support the aforementioned MQA or master-quality audio. Masters include all of 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 audio before "folding" it into a streaming-friendly file size (MQA literally calls it "Music Origami"). The Onyx has a MQA renderer onboard to reproduce all of 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 pricier Hi-Fi subscription.
The Onyx is compatible with any device that has a USB-C port, or USB-A jack if you snap on the adapter. That includes PC, Mac, Android and iPad. The device will also work with an iPhone, but you'll need Apple's Lightning to USB Camera Adapter to use it. Lastly, you'll need a PC running Windows 10 as the Onyx is only compatible with that version of the operating system.
The THX Onyx is available today for $199.99 (€209.99/£199.99) from both the company's website and Razer, which has worked with THX in the past to certify its Opus headphones and Hammerhead Pro True Wireless earbuds for immersive audio. Plus, THX explains that Onyx can boost sound quality for gaming and movies as well, which means it should pair nicely with Razer's line of laptops.