Audio apps and the amplifier electronics of smartphones, tablets and laptops are not explicitly designed for audiophile sound enjoyment. Instead, they reflect the state of the art technology that can be accommodated in these devices at a given size, power consumption and price.
Ultrasone’s combined headphone amplifier and DA-converter called Panther, on the other hand, actively pursues the goal of high-quality sound output for both analogue and digital signal sources. The high-quality processing device is designed for mobile use and is supplied with power via an integrated rechargeable battery. But the Panther is designed not only to provide better results, but also to enable the use of high-quality headphones, which are typically intended for home use.
The device is approximately the size of a flat 2.5 hard disk and is housed in a lightweight metal housing (110 grams). The built-in battery (3,000 mAh) allows full mobility for up to 20 hours, while the charging process or power supply is provided via a dedicated micro-USB socket.
The focus of the design is on sound quality and format compatibility. The Panther features the AKM 4490 high-quality DA converter and supports resolutions of up to 32 bit/384 kHz and Direct Stream Digital up to DSD256. Digital signal sources on the input side can be used via an OTG micro-USB connection to Lightning, USB-C and USB-A, as well as an analogue input (minijack) using the supplied adapters. The headphone amplifier itself offers 3.5 mm and balanced 2.5 mm outputs, for example for a combination with the Ultrasone Sapphire. The signal is faded in without crackling. For the amplifier, the Bavarian manufacturer specifies compatibility of 16 to 300 Ohm.
The handling is straightforward. The source device is connected analogue or digital via the supplied connection cables. The recessed volume control is used to switch the device on and off, and to select the input source, which is visualised by a multi-coloured LED. In addition, multiple clicks can be used to activate a height reduction for specific headphones. The manufacturer has also thought of an automatic switch-off function. If the level reserves are not sufficient, a fixed 6 dB level boost can be activated at the rear. In combination with a laptop, you get a flat accessory that can play high-resolution sound files of all kinds – that is, what neither a laptop, tablet or smartphone can do in this resolution. The non-stationary combination with a smartphone is less practical – Panther, telephone and wired headphones are less easy to stow away and, due to the additional wiring, can also be more difficult to transport and are more prone to errors.
The actual playing time depends on the use of the DA-converter, which consumes current in addition to the preamplifier. Digitally powered, the Panther will last about 15 hours, while the mini-jack input will actually give you the full 20 hours. In combination with a laptop, this provides the power supply via USB.
There’s nothing wrong with the sound. On the contrary, the Panther offers sufficient level reserves and can handle a wide variety of headphones without noise. I certainly can’t detect any distortion. The headphone amplifier is as neutral, transparent and low-noise as you would like it to be. In short, you hear the sound source and the intended headphones through an excellent transducer!
In addition to numerous titles on an iPhone 8, I used a MacBook Pro to play uncompressed audio files. For high-resolution files I used Audirvana (384 kHz files and DSD 256). The converter reproduces the titles without any problems or interruptions. The detail resolution is very high, the dynamics impressive – especially in the critical pianissimo. Of course, the full added value can be heard especially with high-quality headphones; in my case the Edition 15 Veritas from the same manufacturer.
The Ultrasone Panther is a headphone amplifier/DA converter that without a doubt meets audiophile requirements. Ultrasone addresses users who want to output uncompressed high-resolution sound sources via specialised streaming services and laptops. The Panther also gets along very well with smartphones and gives the devices a high-quality backend, or symmetrical headphones the necessary front end.
- Ear couplingAmplifier
- Weight without cable110 g
What's in the box
- 1 audio cable
- 4 USB cables
- Output power: >350mW (PO/32Ω), >950mW (BAL/32Ω)
- SNR: > 115dB (USB OTG), >101dB (Line-In)
- Sampling rate: 32 kHz-384 kHz/32bit
- Supported DSD: 128, 256, 64
- Impedance: 16Ω - 300Ω
- Battery: 3000mAh
- Battery life: >15h (USB OTG), >20h (Line-In)
- Charging time: 3-4 hours
- Product dimensions: 115.6mm x 55.6mm x 12mm
- Inputs: 3.5mm line-in, micro USB Charging Port, micro USB OTG
- Outputs: 2.5mm balanced, 3.5mm unbalanced
- DAC: AKM 4490
- Connection cable: AUX, lightning, micro-USB, USB-A, USB-C