A Full Review of Clarus' CODA USB-DAC Headphone Amplifier

Manufacturer & Model
Clarus CODA Portable USB-DAC
MSRP
$300
Link
http://www.claruscable.com
Highlights
Powerful portable headphone DAC/AMP, onboard physical controls for volume and filter selection, ESS Professional Series SABRE DAC, compatibility with 32-bit 384kHz PCM and DSD up to 5.6MHz, Master Quality Authenticated track support with auto-detection.
Summary
Clarus' CODA headphone DAC/AMP is a rock-solid entry into the portable audio segment. While priced slightly higher than some of its competition, its build quality and onboard capabilities validate a $300 asking price. Simple to deploy and easy to operate, CODA gives audio fans direct access to volume and output controls, which prove to be convenient add-on features during playback and filter selection. And the device's portability allows for use with computers and phones, alike. Of course, sound quality is what you're ultimately paying for, and CODA delivers that in spades. Well done, Clarus. Recommended.
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Editor's Note: AV NIRVANA and Clarus are happy to announce a joint Giveaway opportunity. During the next three months, AV NIRVANA members can enter to win the Clarus CODA sample used in this review! For details, click here.

Florida's Clarus is best known for its range of audiophile-grade cables and power conditioners, but its latest product – CODA – is an all-new USB DAC/Headphone Amplifier that takes personal audio refinement to exceedingly high levels. Much like THX's Onyx and Helm Audio's BOLT, two competing DAC/Amps we've reviewed during 2021, CODA is portable, making it easy to transport and integrate with computers and handheld devices. In addition, the inclusion of physical volume controls and selectable digital preset roll-off filters add a unique twist to a competent device that packs a potent audio punch.

Overview
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CODA ships in a standard hanger box made of paperboard, inked with quality product images and graphics. The box houses a detailed user guide, a synthetic pill-shaped zipper case, CODA, and a flexible braided-cable USB-C to USB-A adapter. While the packaging is rather utilitarian, its featured contents are nothing short of high-quality.

CODA is sized slightly larger than a USB thumb drive, measuring 2.5" L x 0.9" W x 0.4" D, and weighs less than an ounce. Its black aluminum body and removable cap are graced by a combination of smooth and brushed surfaces, embellished with beveled edges and etched logos, making for an aggressively elegant package. The included USB adapter also features quality materials and construction, rounding out a package that satisfies its $300 price point.

The included carry case is functional but lacks the same level of sophistication as the gear it's designed to protect. The case's synthetic material falls short of a quality leatherette, though I suspect most users will ditch the case and transport CODA using its USB cap as protection.

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Much like its robust body, CODA's side-mounted volume controls feel sturdy, relaying a confident "click" when depressed. Depending on the connected device, the controls can provide up to 64-steps of attenuation, giving owners access to generous fine-tuning capabilities.

A single color-changing LED relays general sample rate information (Blue = 48kHz or less, Green = greater than 48kHz, Magenta = MQA), but also changes colors when the volume controls are used to toggle through each of the three filter modes ( Blue = Linear phase fast roll-off, Green = Minimum phase slow roll-off, Magenta = Hybrid fast roll-off). Entering and exiting the filter menu is also guided by the LED, making the process easy to navigate.

Internally, CODA's muscle is headlined by an ESS Professional Series SABRE DAC digital to analog converter with Hyperstream II modulation. Its QUAD DAC provides a 120dB signal-to-noise ratio and -112dB THD+N, while an audiophile-grade clock reduces jitter, creating a luxurious canvas for high-level playback.

The device's power supply benefits from a multi-stage high ripple rejection CMOS-based regulator, which fuels a Class G headphone amp that cranks 2.0Vms output voltage. That kind of output rivals THX's potent Onyx, which performed exceptionally well during listening tests. While the Class G amp provides plenty of spunk with low levels of power consumption, Clarus's use of high-grade, high-temperature PCB material makes for cool running, eliminating any concerns of overheating.

CODA is compatible with 32-bit 384kHz PCM and DSD up to 5.6MHz. And if MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) audio tracks float your boat, CODA auto-detects MQA files and performs the final stage of MQA's unfolding process. Whether you can hear a difference between MQA and other CD-quality (or better) Hi-Res files is up to your ears and musical sensibilities.


Installation
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CODA is designed to be a plug-and-play device for Android USB On-The-Go, iOS, macOS, and Windows (7-10) computers, tablets, and smartphones. Once inserted in a USB port (or attached to a USB adapter), that device's internal DAC and amplifier elements are bypassed, allowing CODA's refined systems to perform digital-to-analog and amplification duties.

The included USB adapter allows CODA to connect directly to a USB-C port. In my case, that meant pairing CODA with a MacBook Pro. Aside from a few simple adjustments in System Preferences, the device was immediately ready to perform. Connection with an iPhone was even simpler but requires the use of Apple's USB Camera Adapter ($30).

Clarus says Android compatibility requires a USB OTG (On-The-Go) device and the included USB-C adapter or a micro-USB to USB OTG adapter. Adapters with power cables may work, but functionality is entirely dependent on the design of the Android device in use. Similar to macOS, Windows connectivity requires a few Control Panel tweaks (users must connect headphones to CODA to make it visible in the menu system).


Performance
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While CODA is bulkier than some of its competition, it's light enough to tether to a phone and slip in a pocket. I successfully paired the device with a MacBook Pro and iMac (Big Sur OS) using a direct USB-A connection and the included USB-C adapter connector. And, for evaluation, I connected it to an iPhone 11 Pro (iOS 14.4.2 and 14.6) using Apple's USB Camera Adapter, sourcing Hi-Res music from Qobuz and TIDAL.

CODA had zero issues driving my Acoustic Research AR-1 and OPPO PM-1 reference headphones to wonderfully dynamic and robustly punchy audio levels. Power was in vast abundance across a variety of demo material, including tracks with demanding bass.

The three onboard filters were a bit lost on my ears, which told me output wasn’t too dissimilar across each of the three options. At the very least, differences weren't black and white. I ended up selecting "minimum phase slow roll-off" as my preferred filter, which sounded smoother and more controlled than the hybrid and linear-phase fast roll-off options. My least favorite was the linear-phase fast roll-off filter, as it added a hint of harshness to the presentation.

Switching filters was achieved by depressing the "Volume +" button for five seconds, followed by using the "Volume -" button to make a selection. CODA's LED light guided the process, making it easy to explore and engage each filter.

CODA’s audio was a clear step above plugging my headphones directly into a device. Bass output capabilities were certainly given a weighty boost, and presentations generally sounded more complete. High-frequencies were exacting but not overly sharp, and noise was inaudible. All being told, I used CODA during daily listening sessions for roughly two months.

Leaning on CODA's talent, I frolicked my way through favorite bass-driven tunes recorded by Deadmau5, Whethan, and Orbital. These tracks were delivered with richly layered low-end textures that begged to ride elevated volume levels. Most importantly, bass always remained healthy and vibrant as mid- and high-frequencies inhabited the soundscape. A highlight track was Orbital's "The Box: Part 2" (Insides, TIDAL, MQA), which exploded with power and complexity, showing off a notable separation of the song's various musical components. The amount of definition on display was quite impressive.

"Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran (x: Deluxe Edition, Qobuz, 16bit/44.1kHz) is a track that ventures to the bright side with a forward vocal mix. Its presentation stayed in control, allowing allowing revealing details to remain distinct. Bass, while rather light, also had a smooth delivery and presence – a great overall listen. And a romp through Radiohead's KidA (Qobuz, 16/44.1) was delicious, serving up the album’s warm and balanced attack to perfection, dishing a lovely soundscape. "Everything In Its Right Place" was the perfect proving ground for CODA's capabilities, which drove my OPPO PM-1s to exactly the right place.

Perusing through my favorite Norah Jones reference tracks, I found vocals to be spot-on, loaded with breadth and smokey textures. Similar traits were revealed with Adele's "Hello" (25, TIDAL, Hi-Fi), which gave her haunting voice the white glove treatment. Fine details, such as subtle breaths and lip smacks were audible, and Adele's stunning vocal range flowed with precision.


Conclusion
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Clarus' CODA headphone DAC/AMP is a rock-solid entry into the portable audio segment. While priced slightly higher than some of its competition, its build quality and onboard capabilities validate a $300 asking price. Simple to deploy and easy to operate, CODA gives audio fans direct access to volume and output controls, which prove to be convenient add-on features during playback and filter selection. And the device's portability allows for use with computers and phones, alike. Of course, sound quality is what you're ultimately paying for, and CODA delivers that in spades. Well done, Clarus. Recommended.

Editor's Note: AV NIRVANA and Clarus are happy to announce a joint Giveaway opportunity. During the next three months, AV NIRVANA members can enter to win the Clarus CODA sample used in this review! For details,
click here.

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Clarus CODA Headphone DAC/AMP Specifications
  • Input: USB-A
  • Operating Systems: Windows 7-10, Apple MacOS, Android, iOS
  • Amplifier: Class G Headphone Amplifier
  • MQA: Renderer
  • Max Sample Rate: 384 kHz (supports 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 352.8. Dop64 & Dop128)
  • THD+N: -112 dB
  • Amplifier: Class G Headphone Amplifier
  • Dimensions of case: 4.3” (11mm) X 2.5” (6.5mm) X 1.5” (3.5mm) Inner pocket to hold CODA
  • Dimensions of CODA: 2.5” (69mm) x .9” (21mm) X .4” (11mm) with cap
  • Weight: 8oz
 
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Comments

Juan Font

New Member
Joined
Jan 6, 2018
Messages
2
My AV System  
Preamp, Processor or Receiver
Pure Music 3.0.9c MacOS, Schiit Bifrost 4490 + SYS
Main Amp
Rotel RB-1572
Front Speakers
B&W 683S2
2 Vrms Max Output Voltage doesn't seem to be enough to drive high-impedance headphones to high levels.
 

Head_Unit

New Member
Joined
Dec 17, 2020
Messages
15
My AV System  
Preamp, Processor or Receiver
Denon AVR-X3600H
Universal / Blu-ray / CD Player
Oppo UDP-203
Front Speakers
Focal 936
Center Channel Speaker
Focal CC900
Surround Speakers
Focal SR900
Subwoofers
SVS SB-2000 Pro
Video Display Device
LG OLED
2 Vrms Max Output Voltage doesn't seem to be enough to drive high-impedance headphones to high levels.
Nope. Thanks to the reviewer for posting the picture with that spec? Is there ANY USB-stick headphone amp with more output, though?
 
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