Review: THX Onyx

While usually not the main selling point, a game’s soundtrack can add a lot to the experience of playing it. Based on the sales of game soundtrack CD and vinyl along with video game cover bands like Bit Brigade, The Returners and every other Vomitron release, there are many people who value the music that accompanies their gaming. There are a number of ways to get the best audio quality from gaming, whether it’s a high-end sound card, speakers or headsets. Another way to improve sound quality is through a DAC, and the THX Onyx is one such DAC that is designed to improve sound quality through any set of headphones.

The THX Onyx is a portable DAC/amplifier that makes high-quality audio accessible to anyone through any headset. The THX Onyx is the first mobile device to feature Achromatic Audio Amplifier (THX AAA) technology and the first mobile device with the hi-fi THX AAA-78 for ultra-low distortion and noise, with fives times more output power than other similar USB DAC/Amps. It has a Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) rendered to reproduce digital master recordings and an ESS ES9281PRO DAC for flagship studio sound quality. The magnetic USB-C cable helps keep storage and travel a tangle free affair and offers cross-platform compatibility with plug and play simplicity.

These features allow for patented feed-forward error correction topology that virtually eliminates conventional distortion mechanisms, along with reducing harmonic, intermodulation and crossover distortion by up to 40dB, resulting in a realistic and fatigue-free listening experience which allows the headphones to be driven to high levels of volume without distortion. The Onyx is MQA certified and contains an MQA renderer. What this means is it allows sound to maintain the highest quality of the original recording by “folding” it into a small enough size to stream or download, and then “unfolds” to be heard in the highest level of quality the playback device is capable of producing. One of the recommended ways to test out this claim is to use TIDAL’s streaming service, which after listening to some of their available stuff through the Onyx the quality is impossible to deny. The Onyx has a power throughput of 180mW and can easily drive all headphone impedances easily, from 22 Ohms to 600 Ohms, which allows to a great dynamic range and potential loud, distortion free audio.

The THX Onyx is a black magnetic cable with a raised metal THX logo. It folds easily to make storage and travel easily with a 3.5mm input jack on end and a USB-C connector on the other, but it does also come with a USB-C to USB-A adapter to grant access to more devices. The THX Onyx is compatible with Apple products provided the user separately purchases a USB-C to lightning cable adapter, but once the adapter is procured the Onyx works great with enhancing the sound of Apple products. The Onyx doesn’t require any real set up, just plug and play with any device with any pair of wired headphones. The three LED lights on the Onyx indicates what type of quality of audio file the user is listening to. Blue lights are for 44.1 to 48kHz PCM, or standard quality. Yellow is for >48kHz PCM, or high resolution sound. Red is for DSD, direct stream digital, which is considered of higher quality and purple is for MQA render, which is the best quality.

Using the THX Onyx on a variety of devices consistently yielded positive results. Most of my time reviewing the Onyx was spent cycling through my headset collection and PC game library, and across the game library and headsets the games were louder, but they did so without any distortion while bringing out some of the hidden nuanced tracks that are often lost at low volumes or through low quality speakers. The THX Onyx doesn’t make a $50 headphone sound like a more expensive, audiophile grade headphone, but what it does is pushes the connected device to perform at the top of its game, making each headphone a bit louder while adding warmth and depth to overall sound profile. The plug-and-play simplicity makes the Onyx convenient and easy to use, and for Apple users there didn’t seem to be any loss of quality in using the USB-C to lightning adapter when listening to music or watching movies on Apple devices.

Closing Comments:

The THX Onyx is a great tool for enhancing sound quality of virtually any headphone. The distortion free volume increase, along with adding more nuance to audio by bringing up the tracks that usually lower in mix, helps increase the level of immersion with games, whether it’s the clash of two blades, an explosion or simply the musical score. Outside of gaming, the THX Onyx can be applied to streaming videos, listening to music or just about any form of entertainment that includes audio. If someone has a high-end headset or a nice set of speakers or soundcard, the necessity of a DAC is up for debate. What the Onyx succeeds at doing is enhancing whatever device it’s paired with, so while it may not be considered a necessary accessory, it is a great addition for audiophiles who want the best possible sound quality from their entertainment.