Tuesday, September 24, 2013

First Impressions: Carot One Ernestolone DAC/Headphone Amp with the Cardas Audio EM5813 Ear Speakers

Tha Carot One Ernestolone arrived first thing this morning, so now I get to start experimenting with computer audio and DACs once again. Carot One is an Italian company that offers a full line of tiny tubed integrated amplifiers, digital-to-analog converters, headphone amplifiers and earbuds, all at extremely affordable prices. (It is manufactured in China, but it's designed and tested in Italy.) The Ernestolone, sort of the flagship of the line, is all of these products combined--DAC, headphone amplifier and even a 15wpc integrated amplifier--in a package small enough to fit in one hand. It weighs less than a pound, even though the chassis is made from fairly thick aluminum. Most importantly, it comes in a gorgeous anodized orange-copper color that is even more beautiful in person.

Why the Carot One? First of all, it was recommended to me by Aleks Bakman, the man who created the world-class ONEDOF turntable. Aleks tends to champion those who brands that meet his very high engineering standards, and these diminutive and fun little amplifiers fit the bill. Second, I needed a headphone amplifier to evaluate the Cardas earbuds, as well as a pair of the new Furutech headphones which are being sent my way as I write. I also need a DAC...badly. Unison Research is introducing a DAC and a headphone amplifier in the next few months, but I need something to help me play music at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest next month.

So for the next few weeks, I'll be playing with the Ernestolone in a number of different configurations. I'll hook it up to laptop and use the DAC to listen to the handful of high-rez FLAC and WAV files I've downloaded over the last couple of years. I'll hook it up to a pair of efficient speakers, like the 90dB My Audio Design 1920S, to see it how it performs as the center of a conventional home hi-fi system. For today, I hooked the Ernestolone directly to my Unison Research CDE CD player using Cardas Audio Clear Light interconnects and listened through the Cardas Audio ear speakers.

I started off listening to Janelle Monae's new CD, The Electric Lady, and was immediately impressed by the deep bass and the big soundstage inside my head. Both the Carot One and the Cardas earbuds need breaking in somewhat before I start commenting on the ultimate sound quality--a caveat I always make when I write on of these "First Impression" blogs. There was a little congestion through the midrange, something that will obviously open up after a few hours. But this is a relative warm, smooth combination, which is essential to good headphone listening. Who wants to stick something that sounds harsh and screechy deep into their ear canals? Smooth is gooood.

What's amazing about this combo is that it's very affordable and it's already achieving decent sound. The Cardas Audio EM5813s are $425, and the Carot One Ernestolone was 499 Euros, which I think wound up costing me about $650 delivered to my door. That's a shade over a grand for a well-engineered and very attractive duo.

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