THX Onyx Review Rating
The THX Onyx is a superb premium USB dongle DAC that can easily compete with the best options on the market. It is insanely powerful and can drive anything you throw at it with ease.
Overall - 80%
- Excellent form factor
- Extremely powerful
- Reference sound with good transparency
- Headset microphone support
- Quite expensive
The THX Onyx is the first time THX has produced consumer hardware with them traditionally just certifying products. However, the brand was acquired by Razer back in 2016, and they have started to expand their horizons. It will be interesting to see if THX expand their product range, Razer already has an extensive audio peripheral product range, including headphones, earbuds, speakers, and soundbars. It seems feasible that THX could expand into these products categories acting as a high-end version of the Razer audio division.
For now, though, we have the THX Onyx, an MQA DAC for headphones that is primarily aimed at mobile devices.
- THX Achromatic Audio Amplifier (THX AAA)- the first mobile device with the hi-fi THX AAA-78 for ultra-low distortion and noise, and has comparable power to entry level desktop headphone amps, but in a smaller package
- Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) renderer to reproduce digital master recordings
- ESS ES9281PRO DAC for flagship studio sound quality
- Cross-platform compatibility for convenient plug-and-play
- Magnetic cable management to keep headphone wires neat and tangle-free
- Cross-platform compatibility with PLUG and PLAY-easy connection with PC, Mac, Android, and iOS
- File support: 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD128, MQA
- 3.5mm headphone output
- Naitive microphone support for headphones and earbuds
- USB-C to USB-A adaptor
- Patented feed-forward error correction topology that nulls conventional distortion mechanisms
- Reduction of harmonic, intermodulation, and crossover distortion by up to 40dB, resulting in a realistic and fatigue-free listening experience
- Effortlessly drives difficult headphone loads at high current without distorting
- Low output impedance to prevent the headphone driver from distorting the audio
- Minimal bias current and highly efficient power management to optimize and extend device battery life
- Flexibility to match the required fidelity, output power, and distortion elimination from nearly any audio content
MQA Audio Compatability
Master Quality Authenticated is an audio codec using lossy compression and a form of file fingerprinting intended for high fidelity digital audio streaming media and music download.
MQA captures the original performance from the studio master recording, then ‘folds' it into a file small enough to stream or download. During playback, the MQA file subsequently ‘unfolds' and, according to device capability, delivers the best possible listening experience.
Tidal is the leading service that provides MQA audio and is currently the only streaming service that offers it. However, you can go the old fashioned route and buy your music, with a handful of sites offer MQA music files.
There does seem to be some debate on the quality of MQA over lossless FLAC, but with this review, everything was tested using TIDAL MQA streaming, which I imagine is the normal scenario for users nowadays.
In Use – Sound Quality
Sadly I don't have a huge number of amazing headphones to try this DAC out on. I primarily used:
- Meze Audio 99 Neo Headphones
- Etymotic ER2XR Earphones
I then tested the DAC against:
- Creative Sound Blaster X4
- Creative Sound Blaster Play! 4 USB-C DAC
- FiiO K5 Pro Desktop DAC
- Poco X3 Pro (3.5mm jack)
There is not much to do to set the Onyx up; there is no software, you plug it in and away you go. It is worth noting that the built-in USB cable with magnetic attachment makes this a little more convenient than many other similar products.
When you play music, the Onyx will detect the sample rate and indicate the quality via the indicators. Blue is the lowest, which is what you get with most basic streaming services, while pink is Master Quality Authenticated.
Within the box, the THX has a warning card telling you to turn the volume, mainly because most devices will default to max volume, but also, the DAC is capable of pushing things very loud. As I sit here using the Onyx attached to my windows PC, the volume is at 10/100. THX claims this has a comparable output to a desktop amp, switching between the THX and the Creative Sound Blaster X4, I'd estimate it is approximately right, if anything, the THX is more powerful.
Neither my in-ear or over-ear headphones are particularily difficult to drive, so the Onyx had no problems at all, and it should be able to drive the most difficult of headphones.
The THX Onyx offer a more neutral sound with excellent transparency compared to the other devices I tested against and was able to provide more detail in the things I listened to which not only included music but movies and gaming.
I prefer a slight bass emphasis with my music, and I have been enjoying the Meze Audio 99 Neo. Using the THX Onyx with them works well. Bass reaches nice and low while remaining tight and controlled.
I have used Tidal with the Bluesound Pulse MINI 2i speaker previously and enjoyed the improved quality you get with MQA audio. Signing up to Tidal again and using it with the Onyx and headphones has been even more enjoyable, allowing me to appreciate music in even more detail without the acoustics of my house ruining things.
Price and Alternative Options
The THX Onyx is priced at £199.99, and it would appear that Razer is selling it exclusively in the UK.
It is quite a competitive market with some excellent choices, many of which are cheaper, including:
- AudioQuest DragonFly Red – USB-A, Bit rate 24-bit/96kHz, ESS ES9016 DAC, MQA support– Around £170 from Amazon
- AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt – USB-A, ESS ES9038Q2M DAC, MQA support, Bit rate 24-bit/96kHz – £230+ available from Amazon
- Astell & Kern AK USB-C Dual DAC Cable – No MQA, no iOS, CS43198 Dual DAC, CS43198 Dual DAC– Around £119 available from Amazon
- Cyrus SoundKey – 24bit/96kHz support – Around £80 available from Amazon
- EarMen Sparrow – ES9281PRO with MQA – Around £189, out of stock at Amazon
- HiBy FC3 – Uses ES9281pro DAC, supports MQA – Around £60 (likely need to import it)
THX Onyx vs AudioQuest DragonFly
THX have provided a comparison table with some popular devices. I am not sure why they felt the need to include the Apple and Google adaptors, which cost around 95% less, but it does highlight some key advantages over the two popular AudioQuest DragonFly dongles while being the same price or cheaper.
One thing is worth noting, the THX Onyx has headset microphone support. This is featured on the cheap lower quality adaptors from Apple and Google, but it is not featured on the AudioQuest and most other good quality portable DACs. You, therefore, don't have to mess around disconnecting things if you need to take a call.
The THX Onyx is a superb DAC that offers an excellent reference sound with high resolution and MQA compatibility. It is capable of driving demanding headphones and is incredibly powerful.
It is certainly not cheap, but the world of high-end audio tends to be incredibly expensive, and this isn't the most expensive option on the market. I haven't used other high-quality DAC dongles like this, but THX makes a compelling argument for the Onyx over the popular AudioQuest DragonFly models, and it is similarly priced vs the EarMen Sparrow, which has a similar specification.
Overall, if you have a high-quality pair of headphones and want something equally as good to drive them and the price tag doesn't make you squirm, then the THX Onyx is a superb portable dongle DAC.