Review: Sybasonic Utha Vacuum Tube DAC/Amp

Firstly I would like to thank Peter at Sybasonic for sending this sample for review, I have reviewed for them before and always found their products to be very well made and sound excellent, yet they do not have a very large following. As always I will try to write an honest review, this amp/DAC received over 100hrs of burn-in due to the tube.

Gear Used: HP Laptop > Utha > Grado SR60e Wood / MrSpeakers Aeon and others


Tech Specs:
Model: UTHA
Power: USB/12VDC adapter
Input/output: USB Type-B, 6.3mm headphone out, 3.5mm headphone out, 3.5mm stereo out/Toslink out
Control Combo: volume knob/power ON/OFF
Streaming resolution: DSD 5.6MHz 1-bit, DSD 2.8MHz 1-bit, PCM up to 384KHz 32-bit
Stereo Crosstalk: >-100dB
Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 112dB (A-Weighting)
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD+N): 0.003% (A-Weighting)
Vacuum tube: 12AU7
Control IC Audio processer Codec: Savitech Bravo SA9227 / Cirrus Logic CS4392
Headphone driving Ability:16-600ohm
MSRP: $399

Packaging, Build quality and Accessories:
The Utha comes in a plain brown cardboard box, I am unsure if this is the retail packaging as there is no info on the box itself. The item is held tightly in place in the box by cardboard inserts, the thing I like about this is all the material is recyclable, no plastic is used in the packaging.

The Utha is similar to other Sybasonic products in build, basically it is built like a tank, except this one has a tube poking out the top. The main casing is thick metal, all the sockets are tight with no play and the tube has a plastic protector that is easy to remove allowing you to roll any 12AU7 tube you like. It may not be the prettiest device, but it is strong and I prefer that.

Accessories included are good, you get a USB cable, multi country power supply and a high quality 3.5mm to RCA jack for using the amp/DAC with active monitors or into a separate amp. Simple but everything you need is included, you even get a CD with the driver and a copy of Jriver software on it.


Functions:
The Utha is a DAC/Amp combo with tube buffer, it only accepts USB input and can play DSD, it has an optical output so can be used to convert USB to optical. The Optical output socket is also an analogue output which acts as a pre-amp out, and is controlled by the volume pot. This is handy for using with active monitors, or hooking up to an external amp.

On the back you have the power socket, USB socket and 3.5mm/optical output. On the front you have a 3.5mm and 6.3mm headphone output, and the volume pot which is also the on/off switch.

Under the tube there is a blue LED, I personally think this always looks really cheap and chose to cover it up so I can see the natural tube glow. Being a tube hybrid amp this uses the tube on the input stage and let’s separate op-amps handle the output. This allows for tube and op-amp rolling, it comes with a Chinese 12AU7 tube and LM4562 op-amps, the tube would be the first thing to upgrade as the LM4562 op-amps are good.

The unit does not get overly hot but does get warm to the touch; it is also very small and compact.


Sound:
The Utha being hybrid won’t have the typical liquid like sound of a full tube amp, but is does add a little bit of tube warmth to the sound. First off the Utha is easy to setup and get working, it has very high gain and I had to actually turn windows volume down to 40% to get usable levels with my Grado’s.

This device is not for ultra sensitive headphones, it works better with full size harder to drive headphones. To me the Utha is a fun sounding DAC/Amp, it is detailed, clear yet has a smoothness to it that some more objective amp’s lack. Yes it’s made for enjoyment, not for measurements, it lets you get lost in the music rather than pick it apart.

The bass is full with excellent extension, it is impactful and can keep up with all genres, and the bass doesn’t dominate the sound.
The mids are beautifully textured and organic; they have a lushness to them that makes them so pleasing without smearing the finer detail.
The Highs are well extended and don’t roll off, they have the detail from a solid state amp but are not harsh or glaring.

The Utha’s sound can be described as effortless, slightly warm and euphoric but without smearing details or taking away extension at either end, this amp doesn’t artificially boost anything, the soundstage is accurate and not boosted, imaging on the other hand is superb.


Conclusion: The Utha is a well built DAC/Amp, I personally would have liked it to have an analogue input to be able to use it as a pure amp but it is small and punches well above its size in sound. It is easy to setup and use, and the sound is just so fun and easy to listen to that you don’t end up analysing the sound coming from it. It is a good hybrid, bringing the speed and detail of a solid state, with the warmth and smoothness of tubes.

This would make a great DAC for active speakers, and also a great office or simple home setup for fairly hard to drive headphones. It does not work well with sensitive headphones (some audible noise), so maybe dual gain would also be a good feature for it to have.


Sound Perfection Rating: 7/10 (damn fun, but very high gain leading to noise with sensitive headphones)

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