Lynx Hilo Review. With exceptional D2A and A2D conversion the PCM / DSD capable sound quality and performance of this converter system is mind blowing in both the production or mastering studio.
Settling for the perfect reference studio or mastering quality A2D and D2A converter system can be a process that takes many years of trial and error. This unsettling process of elimination can potentially cost thousands and, almost always, leaves you with a niggling feeling of wanting more. However, it is today that we would like to present to you a feature packed system that we believe to be one of the finest converter platforms on the market today by US, California, based Lynx Studio Technologies.
Named after the idyllic Hawaiian district, ‘Hilo’ is a converter that embodies the luxury island life and sonic aesthetic. In fact the moment that Hilo arrived through our doors we were so impressed with its performance that we purchased our own unit to use as our front-
First thing to note is that the Hilo system is available in two colour variants; either with a black face, or silver face. The system that we are running with today is known as the silver face. It is important to highlight this fact as, although both systems perform identically, the black faceplate is of a different finish and therefore we are unable to comment on its finish. Now if we take a step back, the silver faceplate is aesthetically strong with a smooth multifaceted micro-
When the package arrives at your door, you will notice that the Hilo sits suspended inside using two cardboard struts and a translucent membrane acting as a physical buffer; a more environmentally friendly option. During shipping the Hilo appears to be adequately protected, although a more traditional polystyrene form would have added a higher degree of protection. Once the package is opened you will discover that there is a bound initial instruction manual, an unremarkable updated manual to go along with firmware version five, and finally a region specific kettle lead; all standard inclusions for a product of this type.
Before every Hilo is shipped Lynx have taken great care in making sure that every unit meets strict guidelines. Sat proud at the top of the box is the unique factory checklist that is assigned to your units serial number; a very pleasing addition. However, what you need to make sure you have before you even get to read this sheet is the correct system to run Hilo via USB. For this purpose you will need an Intel Mac running OS X 10.6.4, and a 1.6GHz Windows machine with 1GB of RAM operating at XP (SP3) and above. If you are using a PC you will have to install (ASIO) drivers that are available on the Lynx website but, if you are using a Mac, you will not have to install any software or driver, Hilo will operate as a Core Audio device.
With physical dimensions of 8 ½”, by 9 ½”, by 3 ¼”, Hilo can be rack mounted with a half width spare two unit space if the underbelly feet are removed. Thankfully if you require additional inputs or outputs you are able to sit two Hilo’s side by side in this configuration. On the rear of the Hilo you will notice that there is a L-
Returning to the front of the unit you will notice a single standard ¼” headphone output, a blue backlit standby button, and finally the surprisingly brilliant 4 ½” 480px x 272px ‘resistive’ colour touch screen. Whilst both the pixel density and touch screen input specifications may not sound as lavish as they could be, this is the first converter system to use an (almost) entire touch input user interface to actually compliment the user experience. With the exclusive use of this touch screen, navigation through the settings is intuitive and lightning fast, but, for when finesse is required to alter micro settings such as volume control or input/output gains, you will want to use the digital potentiometer type scrubber wheel that is to the right of the screen. This scrubber type wheel is both steady, smooth and gives measured tactile feedback in the form of clicks when navigating clockwise, anti-
Built within the simple menu system are a number of great additions that can easily be accessed once you have spent a couple of hours with Hilo. Possibly one of the most prominent software features of the Hilo system is the main VU meters and visual routing matrix page where you can adjust levels of any input or output and then route them almost anywhere you like. With three options to choose from on the main ‘Meters’ screen ‘Digital VU’ (an fast acting horizontal LED bar VU in 1dB increments from 0 dBFs to -
Within the settings windows you have access to a plethora of additional features that are certainly handy. This list includes various settings and playback formats, screen display, digital in and out status’, a test tone that can be allocated to any output channel, sample rate (for when operating outside the USB audio environment), analogue output trim settings, an assignable input and output matrix, and finally a box to enable DSD playback. Access to all of these menus is intuitive, and well presented, allowing for a flawless user experience. However, whilst many of the trim/gain settings can be configured within the user interface, if the user wishes to extend the gain to +24dBu then requires removal of the bottom panel to manually adjust the jumpers. The final feature that is especially useful is the ability to sum the signal to mono and just hear the left or right channel, something that can be its weight in gold to mastering engineers.
Previously we discussed the main features that are located on the faceplate, and now it is time to turn to the rear to have access to the inputs and outputs (I/O), amongst other factors, that make this machine one of the best A2D and D2A converter systems to date.
Judged on application, weight, and size, perhaps one of the strangest features of the Hilo converter system is the inclusion of a 9-
In the above paragraph we deliberately left out one of the main features of Hilo; the headphone amplifier. On top of all the other hardware additions, the inclusion of a built in reference headphone amplifier is mind blowing. Hilo produces a significant amount of gain that, during our tests, has proven that it can effortlessly drive headphones up to 600 Ω with precision. Whilst it is not uncommon to see built in headphone amps incorporated into the design of these systems, where Hilo comes into a world of its own is via an ultra low noise floor, concise neutral balance across the frequency spectrum, articulate handling of dynamics, and clear presentation of instruments across the stereo width.
In terms of playback, or output, Hilo uses a dedicated Spartan 6 DAC chip architecture. Made by Xilinx, the Spartan 6 is a premium integrated chipset that has become highly regarded within the audio world for its amazing sonic capabilities and, due to the cost and complexity involved, it is typically used in more discerning systems. In conjunction with a completely discreet power supply, which is physically isolated below the main PCB, the noise floor appears to be non-
As soon as you power up this groundbreaking system, you cannot help but be impressed with the realism and depth of field that is presented before your ears. However, for the Hilo to become full of life it is advisable to warm it up for thirty minutes before use. Performing this duty appears to add a subtle fine polish over transients and extends the depth of the lower frequencies.
Moving away from this initial observation, describing Hilo (as a whole) is a somewhat tricky affair without appearing blunt. On the D2A and A2D side it is undoubtedly neutral with no desire to add anything to the original ‘pure’ signal, almost acting like a ghost. Indeed, any system can be profiled as ‘neutral’, but the difference here is in the execution and bridges the gap between a definition for what may be described as ‘neutral’ and ‘natural’. For example, listening to a lossless live performance track with the Hilo is a surreal multifaceted experience. Quickly you forget that you are listening to a recording as Hilo rips away the veil that ever so often flattens playback and glides you down into a space with three dimensions. The astonishing depth, from front to back, of the stereo field is symbiotic to the panning, and when these qualities pair with both an excellent blackest black to whitest white dynamic range and indistinguishable natural frequency response, you have reached the deeply involving Hilo.
Specifically identifying the low end, the Hilo delivers an unmistakeable full-
Previously we mentioned that Hilo has a superb in-
‘Hilo’ is an exceptional A2D and D2A converter system that has the added benefit of an audiophile quality headphone amplifier built in. The novel use of a touch screen surprisingly compliments the system well and is both intuitive and perfectly detailed. This is a system that is packed full of features and performs out of this world, I have no idea how Lynx has managed to produce this unit for the current retail price, and I do not believe that I have ever encountered a DAC that comes close. Due to these facts, we (The Pro Audio Web Blog) have purchased a Hilo to use as our ‘gold standard’ front-