Review of the Helm Audio Bolt DAC
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The Review of the Helm Audio Bolt DAC
Will everyone have a Dongle DAC in 2021? I’m starting to think that during the pandemic, manufacturers got bored and decided that the world couldn’t go back to normal unless there were about 30 dongle DACs under $300 for people to choose from.
In the last 19 months, 10 of these devices have landed in my mailbox and while it’s nice to have a wide selection of portable DACs to listen to with many different headphones and desktop systems, I’m starting to feel most of them sound very similar. I was ready to move on to something else, but then the Helm showed Audio Bolt up and ruined my summer plans.
I’m lucky enough to have the AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt, THX Onyx and Clarus Coda on my desktop every morning as I enjoy my 6am post-run coffee but none of them blow up my skirt so much more.
There’s a part of me that wishes Schiit Audio would jump into the category and offer something for $120, the Thor. Stoddard and Moffat would take ownership of this market and we could all go back to something more interesting, like 8 watt SET amps.
Helmet Audio BOLT DAC/AMP Adapter
But until that happens, the Helm Audio Bolt is definitely my favorite dongle DAC available.
Not only is it very affordable, but it also provides more than enough power for many entry-level audiophile headphones, and it sounds very nice in most desktop and entry-level systems.
The Helm Bolt is a DAC for your high-res FLAC or WAV files and improves the audio quality while streaming from Qobuz, Tidal, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon and others. This small DAC supports playback of PCM files with sampling rates up up to 384 kHz, or DSD files with sampling rates up up to 5.6MHz.
In addition to being THX certified, it also supports MQA and is designed with a USB-C input and 3.5mm headphone output. iOS requires a Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.
I think what sets the Helm Audio Bolt apart from the rest of the Dongle DACs I’ve listened to so far is its inherently warmer tonal balance. It’s not a detail champ like the THX Onyx, nor does it have its vice-like grip in the bass.
But where the Helm Audio Bolt wins the day is how it handles vocals and allows all the texture and decay of notes to trick someone into believing you’re listening to the real thing through headphones or speakers.
All the other Dongle DACs punch music in your face with sharply drawn lines and the more I listen to them – the more I realize that on the other hand you have to make a lot of other compromises to achieve something that is enjoyable in the long run.
Wrap up Review of the Helm Audio Bolt DAC
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