When many of us are busy building a new gaming rig or blasting our friends to bits, it is unlikely many of us give our audio much thought. Just like many of our readers, the team here at MMORPG puts a heavy focus on the last few feet of audio delivery. You’ll find a plethora of headsets that we love, but today we are going to look at something a little different. This is the Cyrus Soundkey DAC Gaming Edition, the solution to the dodgy middleman in your audio experience.
What Is DAC?
Before we delve deep into the Cyrus Soundkey let’s get to grips with what we are looking at. A DAC is a Digital Analog Converter. It is an essential piece of equipment that takes audio and converts it from a digital signal into noises the human brain can decode. Digital music is generally a construct called PCM, that takes a sample of the current track’s amplitude at a very specific point in time. Measured to a certain degree of bits, this sample rate is normally in the tens or hundreds of times per second. Every CD player, MiniDisc, Mp3 player, mobile phone, or PC contains a DAC. Without it, these devices would not be able to turn this sample of binary data back into sound that your headphones can play.
As many of us know, however, you tend to get what you pay for when it comes to hardware. Buy a solid gold certified PSU and you are buying quality components and reliability as opposed to the fly by wire experience you might have with something in the budget range. DACs are, unfortunately, pretty far down the list of priorities for anybody building an integrated audio solution and have a history of being cut back to the bare bones. Outside of those audiophiles that splash out on some amazing soundcards, many of us are left with fairly flat middleman lodged between our games and our favorite headsets.
Cyrus is looking to change that situation with the Soundkey Gaming Edition. Taking their award-winning external DAC and tuning it for PC gaming, the UK team behind this pocket-sized piece of kit are ready to bring music to our ears. Before we begin let’s take a look at the technical specifications of this device.
- Size 23.6mm x 7.8mm x 53.4mm
- Weight 19g
- Connectors USB and 3.5mm audio jack
- Power Consumption 50mA
- Supported Formats: Audio files up to 24bit/96kHz
- Output Power: 2 x 138mW into 16 Ohms at 1% THD+N
The Soundkey is a sleight device that comes in a compact package. The key itself, a travel pouch, USB lead, manual, a microphone cable splitter, and 3.5 mm audio cable all come securely packaged in foam and surrounded by a premium cardboard packet. Upon unhooking the magnetic hinge, the Soundkey is revealed to be a slight device that is no larger than the average USB key. Aside from the Cyrus logo emblazoned across the key’s aluminum housing, a single micro USB port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a reset button speak to the Cyrus Soundkey’s functionality.
The Soundkley is intended for use with wired 3.5mm headsets, and setup is a simple plug and play operation. The Soundkey is connected into any available USB port and should show as an available output option. Once a headphone jack is inserted into the other side of the Cyrus Soundkey, this dedicated DAC takes over the job of converting all audio output.
This is not just for PC gamers either, the Soundkey purports to work with compatible Android OTG ready devices, iOS 7 or later devices, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 devices. If the console clarity is anything like our PC tests then the Syrus Soundkey will blow you away.
Initial tests with the Cyrus Soundkey showed an instant improvement in sound quality. Just like top end sound cards, the Cyrus Soundkey bypasses the onboard hardware and cuts out a whole host of audio interference. The clarity of incoming footsteps, approaching artillery, and even reload actions is astounding. Explosions that might initially sound like a deflated bang suddenly have presence. The mid and high-end frequencies seem to open up in range and cars creeping up on the inside are far easier to identify, long before they appear on the screen. Funneling the noise from games like Grip: Combat Racing, Just Shapes & Beats, and even the Battlefield franchise truly allows gamers to appreciate the richness of the world they are about to enter and get a step ahead of the competition.
This Soundkey might be tuned for gaming, but its impact is not limited to fragging friends. The difference when plugging an average stream or online album is an appreciable change in the clarity of audio. The Soundkey really comes into its own when presented with high-quality streaming, lossless music and Flac files. Even after toggling the switch for Spotify’s own 320 kbps streaming option the Soundkey easily unravels the limitations of its onboard counterparts. As with gaming scenarios, the Soundkey allows an audience to hear a fuller frequency range and enjoy the musical experience in its fullest form.
The Cyrus Soundkey is not, however, without its issues. Coming in at around £99, the Soundkey is in the same price range as a number of similar Soundblaster DAC modules and soundcards making its size the killer feature. However getting the flexibility of such a small device is somewhat undermined by the plethora of connector cables required to tether a slightly unelegant appendage to your more mobile computing devices. Connecting the Soundkey to an Android device, for example, requires an additional OTG cable on top of the key’s packaged cables. Despite this, it has to be said that the Cyrus Soundkey is the sort of item you’ll never know you need until you jack in. Like the Office Depot discount chair that you’ve been sitting on for years, your onboard audio does well enough, your ears are opened. The Cyrus Soundkey doesn’t seem particularly imposing when it is first pulled out of the box but I was wrong, it has utterly changed the way I look at audio. You can find out more about the Soundkey at the offical Cyrus website.
- Dramatic improvement over motherboard sound
- Small and unimposing
- Can provide a tactical improvement in games
- Can elevate all sound experiences, not just limited to gaming
- Slightly expensive
- Cables can be cumbersome
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of review.