VentureCraft are a Japanese company well known for their portable headphone amplifiers and amp/DAC combo units. Today, I will be taking a look at their latest offering in this category: the feature-packed SounDroid Vantam. On paper, it may just be the audiophile’s ultimate portable companion: DSD playback, balanced 2.5mm output, line/optical/USB in, line/optical out, digital upsampling and op-amp exchangeability are all crammed into its tiny aluminium chassis. Colour me impressed! How impressed? Let’s find out below.
Package and Contents
Not much to see here. Inside the cardboard box, we have the Vantam which comes in a flimsy synthetic cloth bag (I definitely don’t want to be storing/carrying the unit around in this), a USB A to micro-B cable and a warranty card that tells you to look on VentureCraft’s website for the manual (currently only available in Japanese). That’s literally all you get, which I suppose helps VentureCraft to keep the Vantam’s price as low as possible.
Design and Functionality
The SounDroid Vantam measures 66mm wide by 126mm long by 18mm deep and weighs a paltry 180g. By what black magic VentureCraft managed to fit so much tech into this thing, I don’t know, but it certainly is impressive. The construction is all aluminium, with the exception of the switches; the unit seems to be quite sturdy and well-built overall. It’s form factor allows it to stack comfortably with most modern smartphones and larger music players (iPod Touch, AK240, Calyx M and the like), although you will need to provide your own rubber bands. The provided USB cable measures about 65cm from terminal to terminal, so you may want something shorter if you aim to use this as your daily driver.
Starting with the front panel, we have the very pleasing volume/power knob which turns on/off with a satisfying and recognisable click and has a pleasing resistance as you turn it, reducing the likelihood of accidental volume adjustments. Next to it is the signal LED which will turn different colours to indicate what kind of signal the Vantam has locked on to (e.g. orange for 44.1-96kHz, purple for DSD 64 etc). The function switch to the right also doubles as a power LED and battery indicator that will turn red when the unit requires charging – how nifty is that! This switch allows you to change between use as a DAC for iOS devices, regular USB DAC and Sync with iDevices/iTunes. We also have the balanced 2.5mm output, Line in/out/optical in combo jack and 3.5mm unbalanced/optical out combo jack. Again, you will need to provide your own interconnect cables for all of these.
On the rear of the unit, we have a USB micro-B (for charging and use with PC/Mac) and USB A port (for use with portable devices).
The bottom of the unit (if you go by the facing of the text on the front) is perhaps the most interesting, featuring 6 switches which allow you to alter:
- The speed of the digital filter (for what the manual describes as either a clearer or more natural sound)
- Smartphone connectivity
- Line in or out functionality for the combo jack
- Low or high gain
- Sample rate and bit depth of digital upsampling
These switches are very shallow and contained in a recessed housing, making them difficult to flick either by accident or on purpose. You will need a pen or some other narrow object to adjust them, which I found to be annoying, although I doubt most users will be changing these very often.
The Vantam contains a 3500mAh battery, which VentureCraft quotes as providing about 7 hours of playback time. When using the unit’s amp and DAC functionality, playing 16bit/44.1kHz FLAC files, I found this figure to be closer to 4 hours – far shorter than the 10 hours we’ve come to expect of the typical audiophile player or portable DAC. You will probably need to charge the unit every day or carry a power bank with you if you plan on using it for your daily commute. I imagine that this would also make the Vantam a pain to use on long flights or while travelling. Thankfully, the unit can be charged while playing on a PC/Mac, although charging is disabled (for obvious reasons) when the smartphone switch is turned on.
Speaking of smartphones, I did have issues getting the Vantam to work with my Xperia Z1, running Android 4.4.2 – most of the time the phone would fail to recognise or output to the device at all. I’m not sure that this would be different with other models or versions of Android, but this is just my experience.
The scope of my sound test was very narrow, given the Vantam’s rather impressive list of functions; as I had problems running the device from my phone, I plugged it into my PC via USB and used it in combination with my UM Miracles and Ortofon e-Q8’s. I experienced no noticeable channel imbalance or noise from the unit and it drove these two rather sensitive IEMs very well. I was unable to verify the unit’s performance with high-res or DSD files, nor sound from the balanced output as I don’t possess the files/equipment. Nevertheless, what I heard was pretty darned impressive. The Vantam’s sound is very uncoloured and clear, with an expansive soundstage and instrument separation that is right up there with some of the best I’ve experienced. That’s not to say it’s analytical sounding though: the bass comes through with decent quantity and force and is very snappy and responsive. Mids, particularly vocals are clear without being sibilant, although positioning is perhaps a step back from what I usually like to hear. The treble provides all the detail and sparkle I’m after and is never hot or harsh.
I think it’s a sound that will be pleasing to most people, however, those seeking a particularly warm, smooth or ‘intimate’ sound may wish to look elsewhere. Another option for such folks is to try rolling in alternate op-amp units (as with the SounDroid Typhoon) sold separately by VentureCraft, which may allow you to tune the sound to your liking.
The SounDroid Vantam is truly an engineering marvel with so much functionality packed into an very portable form factor, that is decent looking to boot. Oh, and did I mention it also sounds amazing? The let-downs with the Vantam are really its short battery life and what I experienced to be finicky Android device support, although your mileage may vary on the latter. If these aren’t a worry for you, then I think the Vantam could just be your ticket to audio bliss.