Sunday, 16 May 2021

It's In The Bag - Semi Portable Music System

Strangely, although I've been using this system for probably 6 or 7 years, I've never written about it here.

When away for 1 night and travelling light, I use a FiiO X3 and a pair of Beyer Dynamic IEMs. Sometimes I'll add the Chord Mojo DAC to improve the sound.  If its a couple of nights or more and I'm on the train or flying I'll add Audioquest Nighthawk headphones for a particular good sounding travel system.

But if I have the car and I'm away for a couple of nights or more then I'll take the semi portable system.

When I first set this up I had a Trends TA10.1 T-Amp to boost the sound from the FiiO X3, which still features as the source.  Later the Trends was replaced by the amazingly versatile Project MaiA DAC / integrated amp.  The Trends was a little more dynamic, but the MaiA is a little more refined and suits the use case better, particularly as it has a weightier bass and less strident top end - perfect to complement a very small pair of speakers. I managed to pick up the MaiA in a sale for £225, a considerable saving on its usual £380-400 price mark.  Its quite a solid bit of kit, so adds weight over and above the Trends, but that was a very simple device with only analogue inputs.

The MaiA allows connection of any standard analogue component using RCA phono sockets - the FiiO DAP, a phone, a TV or whatever.  It also allows a digital source to be connected to its internal DAC by coaxial, optical or USB cable plus I use it to connect my phone over Bluetooth for Tidal or Internet radio listening, particularly late at night so I can control music and volume from the bed - too lazy to get out of bed to switch it off! Carry a 3.5mm to dual phono cable and some hotel rooms will allow connection to the room TV too. A feature that I don't use but that adds to the value is a moving magnet turntable input! Other cables are very standard 42 strand speaker cables fitted with 4mm banana plus, a USB charger and cable and a USB cable in case I want to set up the laptop for some TV catch up or YouTube videos.

Is the FiiO DAC and analogue output superior to using the DAC in the MaiA? I would say that they are on a par, but different.  The MaiA is a little clearer but lacking solidity, the FiiO a bit better with timing and rythmn. Horses for courses.  For sure, adding the Chord Mojo between the FiiO and the MaiA is the best result, but that's more to carry and more time to cable up.  Talking of which, it takes about 5 minutes to set up and about 10 minutes to tear down and pack into the carry bag. Ideal.

Speakers are a pair of Tangent EVO.  I don't know much about the brand but they were about £80 from Richer Sounds around 2010, probably no longer available.

Complete system, a great size for many hotel room desks

The multi-input MaiA amplifier. The Tangent EVOs are fitted with soft foam feet to reduce transmission of energy into the surface - typically a hotel desk.


    
A UK pound coin gives you a good idea of just how compact this system is

The final component of the system is perhaps its most important attribute.  OK, its a very large camera bag, but the whole thing slots perfectly into a padded Lowepro so it can be slung over a shoulder and carried out to the car very easily.


What about how it sounds?  Well, its not a miracle from that point of view, but keep your expectations within reason and its very capable.  Bass goes a little deeper than you might expect and the system goes far louder than I ever need whilst not annoying other guests. There is no doubt the Chord Mojo /  Audioquest Nighthawk is a far superior listen, but the freedom to move around the room and lie in bed without the restrictions of headphones compensates nicely.

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