Meanwhile, the D2 seems to lend a new sense of 3D space and rich orchestral detail to the Karl Boem recording of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, creating a sound that could be truly epic in one breath, elegant and restrained the next. I hesitate to say that the difference is night and day, but it's certainly close, and while best appreciated with FLAC or WMA Lossless files, it's still apparent with 256K and 320K MP3 files and even - hurrah! - Spotify.
Before we get too carried away, I should note that the benefits aren't so pronounced if you're already equipped with a high-quality sound card. Switching to my desktop system with a Creative X-Fi Extreme PCI audio card installed, I'd still say that the D2 produced a warmer, richer sound with enhanced clarity and mid-range presence, but it's a difference I'd be less inclined to pay £165 for.
If you're a serious audiophile who has invested hundreds of pounds on headphones, then your opinion will probably differ. Don't your HD650s or RS1s deserve better when you're listening to your CDs?
Indeed, when compared to the competition the D2 is actually good value for money. Unfortunately I was unable to source a Graham Slee Grand Voyager for direct comparison, but while that amp is renowned for its superb sound and excellent value, it's heavier, uses chunky 9V batteries and doesn't include the D2's DAC. When you consider that dedicated headphone amps can cost anywhere between £100 and several thousand pounds, the D2 does well in straight bang-for-buck terms.
Does that necessarily mean that you need one? No. If you just want to make your iPod sound better then the FiiO E5 will do the job for under £20. Or why not ditch your iPod and buy a better sounding player from Sony, Samsung or Cowon, and spend the cash you've saved on headphones?
If you want better audio from your PC or notebook, then a new internal or external soundcard would seem a more cost-effective solution, albeit one that won't provide you with the same kind of quality. But trust me, ‘need' has nothing to do with it. Find some good headphones and give the D2 a spin and you might not need one, but you'll definitely want one. I have, and unfortunately for my bank balance, I do.
A great sounding portable headphone amp that doubles as an outboard DAC for PC listening. Try it with the right cans, and you'll never want to listen to your headphones without one out again.