Disclaimer: Valoq is on loan from Musica Acoustics. Hats off to you, Dimitri. Valoq goes for 768$. You can find out all about it here: SounDroid Valoq - Musica Acoustics.
Where to start…
If it were a garage project come to life, Valoq would reign supreme. Swappable op-amp sockets, micro-SD card expansion slot, file support out the wazoo, DSD 128 / PCM 384k/32bit, balanced output, and branded op-amps. Valoq isn't that big and there is precious little it can't do that an audiophile would want or need..
But you have to use it. Nasty ON/OFF power pops, poorly grounded outputs, and a body and hardware interface only a mother could love. The MADE IN JAPAN slogan emblazoned near its ass should be a lot smaller - that is, unless those three words mean boorish, and ill-refined. In my experience, they do not.
What I like: an easy-to-suss nested GUI, seven-second OFF-to-ON cycles, and a hardware hold button, are well implemented, if not pretty. The GUI, screen, navigation wheel-and-selector, were not designed - they were pasted on post facto. Switching Valoq on painfully pops like a nail to the ear. The hold button works nicely, though. Yay.
To be fair, if you are even remotely interested in Valoq, you can’t give a shit about function-derived design, hardware quality, or not looking like a battlefront medic. Valoq’s singular forte is signal quality (of which a few problems arise). That, and simple and nearly endless customisability. No need to buy amp cards or proprietary firmware flashes. 8-pin op-amps will do it. Dimitri supplied me two sets: Burr Brown OPA627Au (Venturecraft’s mod) and a Muses 8820.
Both its noise floor and current-to-voltage ratios vary slightly depending on the op-amp set installed, but both return a mostly-stable experience. The Muses op-amp set hisses a bit more than the Venturecraft-branded Burr Brown set. It also returns a measurably stabler signal.
My favourite audio feature is Valoq’s variable gain, which can be set anywhere between 0dB and -30dB. For earphone users, this is a godsend. For Shure SE846 and Ultrasone IQ users, it may actually save your life. Even if you’ve got something else in your ears, Valoq’s native gain increases geometrically, with very little voltage increase over 25% of the volume scale. If this genius feature weren’t overturned by a godawful ON/OFF power pop, and if the lowest setting was a true zero voltage design, I might hands-down recommend Valoq to the design-agnostic earphone user out there.
The main reason I would do this is because it spits stable signal to most loads, but not without sacrificing a bit of warmth. That signal isn’t incredibly powerful for full-size headphones - measuring roughly between an iPhone 6 and an AK380, but it commands very good control over its voltage, introducing acceptable levels of aberrations under high-voltage load.
For more information, see: RMAA: Venturecraft Valoq 24-bit.
Unfortunately, a 1 second gap invades each shift from lossy to lossy file, and improves only slightly when playing lossless. How in the hell is this still an issue, especially for hi-end players?
Somewhat offsetting the gaps and pops, Valoq’s library updates positively speed by Astell & Kern players, Plenues, and others even when using the same SD card. What doesn’t speed by anyone is interface speed. Sometimes you’ll swear you didn’t scroll. You’ll try again, only to find that Valoq simply didn’t yet register the input. Eventually it will, and with interest. How is it that such a nice and speedy library update engine gets paired with a tortoise of a GUI?
Valoq sounds good. Everything else is - and I’m sorry to end on this note - sub par.