Today, we are going to check out the new Luxury & Precision W2. It is a portable USB DAC with headphone AMP and is part of the company’s flagship W series. Portable DAC/AMPs like the W2 have been gaining popularity since it upgrades your smartphone’s or other compatible mobile device’s audio. It turns your smartphone into a HiFi/Hi-Res digital audio player similar to a dedicated DAP. Luxury & Precision has two variants, the W1 and W2. I only have the W2 here and based on what I have seen and read on some forums and social media, the hype of this product could be real. So if you are in the market for a portable USB DAC/AMP, check out my Luxury & Precision W2 review below.
Luxury & Precision W2 Portable DAC/AMP Review – Features and Specs
Let’s start with some of the features and specs that we can expect from the W2 portable USB DAC/AMP. The W2 features two Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC chips on a dual DAC configuration. Meanwhile, the W1 only uses one CS43198, and I guess that’s the main difference between the W2 and W1. The W2 is also built with high-gate-count FPGA for EQ processing; offering “professional sound effects” and “lossless EQ” on top of parallel processing DSP.
Luxury & Precision is using a low-power MCU chip for the operation of the W2. I do not know what is the exact model of the MCU used. But it has a separate MCU so that the USB decoder chip only performs data transmission. It also offers an overall signal-to-noise ratio of up to 131dB; resulting in a darker background that is said to be “on par with TOTL flagships without multi-tone problems”.
About the CS43198 DAC chip from Cirrus Logic:
The CS43198 is a next-generation, low-power audio DAC that provides a superior system-level audio performance without draining battery life. The CS43198 features a high impedance of 600 Ω, a 130 dBA dynamic range, a THD+N rating of -115 dB, and inter-channel isolation of >110 dB. A patented on-chip DSD processor supports up to DSD256 in direct mode to preserve audio integrity by providing non-decimating volume control with soft ramp, and 50 kHz filtering as recommended by Scarlet Book. Volume matching of the analog output levels and channel mixing enable a seamless transition between the DSD and PCM playback paths.
The company also boasts that the W2 portable DAC/AMP offers an output of up to 125mw @ 32Ω for the single-ended, and up to 230mw @ 32Ω for the balanced output. That’s almost twice the level of similar products according to the company. This is one feature that got me really intrigue – “0 noise floor”. Luxury & Precision claims that the W2 offers a high output but with a very low or 0 noise floor on a tiny circuit board.
Aside from the “0 noise floor”, the LP W2 offers “incredibly low distortion. The total distortion is said to be as low as 0.00012% @ 300Ω or 0.00048% @ 32Ω. That is even lower than the claimed distortion of the CS43198 DAC chip according to the company. I don’t know how Luxury & Precision was able to achieve that, but it sounds impressive indeed.
Luxury & Precision also claims that its W2 is the only USB DAC/AMP dongle that has SPDIF output. Not sure why you’d want to use a SPDIF for this setup, but it’s there. It’s also compatible with Android and Apple smartphones/tablets. Below is a diagram showing the multi-chip architecture of the W2. After that, let’s take a closer look at the product itself.
Packaging and Closer Look
The Luxury & Precision W2 came with a small rectangular hard box. We can see an image of the W2 at the front and some information about the product at the back. Unfortunately, there is no English translation of what’s printed at the back. Don’t worry, the manual (inside) has the English translation.
Inside the box, you get the W2, a USB-C to Lightning cable, a USB-C to USB-C cable, a USB-C (female) to USB-A (male) adapter, and some reading materials. I’m not sure why, but Luxury & Precision included a white cable. A black cable would have been nice to go along with the aesthetics of the W2. The included cable is about 13cm long or about 5.12″ inches from end to end.
The LP W2 is a small portable USB DAC/AMP; measuring only 60mm x 22mm x 12.5mm and weighs around 22 grams. At the front portion, you can see the company’s name/logo, and on its left is a 0.91″ OLED display. You can’t see it from the photo above due to the lighting.
The company’s logo is also printed at the back on a carbon fiber sheet. I’m not sure if that’s a real carbon fiber or just a sheet of plastic that has a carbon fiber finish/look, but it looks cool.
LP W2 Buttons and Ports
On its sides are three multi-function buttons. The shorter one is the “enter” button and the longer one is for the volume up and down or left/right buttons. On the right-hand side are the 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced output and 3.5mm single-ended output. The 3.5mm out also serves as the SPDIF output.
On the left-hand side is a single USB-C port used to connect the W2 to the source. The W2 cannot be turned on without a source since it doesn’t have an internal battery. Once you plug the W2 into a smartphone, it will turn on right away and this will lead us to the next part of the review.
Luxury & Precision W2 User Interface
The LP W2 has a simple menu and interface. It’s quite easy to operate but it can be a bit finicky since you are limited with three buttons to operate the W2. Once you plug the W2 into a smartphone or other sources, you will be greeted with a similar look below.
How to check the L&P W2 Firmware Version?
Since the W2’s firmware is upgradeable, you might want to check the current version before upgrading. To check the W2’s current firmware, disconnect it first from the source. Press and hold the small button, and while holding it down, connect the W2 to your smartphone or PC. The current version will be displayed for a few seconds before it returns to the default screen.
EQ, SDF, Gain, and Digital Filter Menu
The LP W2 has eight main options, the first one is the EQ preset. To access these settings, simply hold down the smaller button and the “EQ” setting will appear. And simply press the small button again (don’t hold) to cycle through the different menu. To change the setting under a menu, use the left/right buttons to cycle.
In the EQ settings, you can choose from normal, game, movie, bass, jazz, classic, pop, and rock presets. I usually just leave it to normal, as I find it the most natural and pleasing output. For the SDF settings, you can choose from normal or Xelento.
For the gain settings, there are only two options – low and high. I usually just use low for sensitive or very efficient IEMs. And I use high for earphones that use dynamic drivers or hybrids, and for efficient full-sized headphones. After the gain settings, there’s the FLT or the digital filter. You can choose from Fast roll-off, Slow roll-off, Low Latency Fast roll-off, Low Latency Slow roll-off, and Non-Oversampling (NOS).
I haven’t gone deep dive into the different filters. But for this review, I use slow and low latency slow (LL Slow) since I also use and prefer Slow digital filter on my LG V40. Using the same digital filter gives me, at least, an apples-to-apples comparison. To be honest, comparing the digital filter is quite difficult (at least for me). It needs time, getting used to, and a headphone/earphone that is sensitive enough to pick up the minute and (very) subtle changes.
SPDIF, Display, HID Key, and Tune
The next menu/settings are for the SPDIF, Display, HID Key and Tune. You have the option to turn on or off the SPDIF, it’s self-explanatory. Meanwhile, for display, you can set it to manual or automatic off. In manual mode, pressing the small button will turn off the display. Set it to automatic off if you want the display to, well, turn off automatically after a few minutes.
Now with the HID key, you have to option to control the volume using the W2 or independently. When the HID key is off, pressing the volume keys on the W2 will not increase the volume output of the smartphone or source. The volume is only increased on the W2. You can still, separately, control the volume (output) of the smartphone.
Whereas, turning on the HID key, the W2 controls the volume of the smartphone or source. When turned on, the volume on the W2 DAC remains at the last value it was set to. And pressing the volume up or down on the W2 only changes the volume on the smartphone. For me, I’d rather set this off, so that I can control the volume of the smartphone and W2 independently.
The last menu is the tune option. There are only two options here, Tune 01 and Tune 02. According to Luxury & Precision, Tune 01 offers a “gentle tune”, while Tune 02 offers a “refine” output. I find it difficult to distinguish the difference between the two tunes. I just set it to Tune 02, as it is the default and it felt like the “better” tune or tonality.
L&P W2 Impressions and Subjective Listening
Now let’s talk about the sound quality and characteristics of the Luxury & Precision W2 DAC/AMP. I wasn’t really into USB DAC/AMP dongles since I was not a fan of something dangling from my phone. But the reason why I got interested in a USB DAC/AMP is that my LG V40 is about 2++ years old now. I got this when it was first released in 2018, and the 3.5mm headphone out is getting loose. In addition, most (if not all) of the latest smartphones don’t have 3.5mm headphone out anymore. If they did, the sound is most probably rubbish or so-so.
I love the sound quality of the V40, thanks to its “quad DAC”. And I think there are no other smartphones that have a good audio quality (Hi-Res/HiFi) other than LG’s V series. I could be wrong though. Too bad they are now out of the mobile business and the V60 is the last of its kind. I need something that can help me with my media consumption without the need to use a dedicated portable DAP. Not to mention, there are a lot of things you can’t do with a DAP that you can do with a smartphone. So, I just need the smartphone functionality plus the audio quality of a dedicated DAP.
Also, when testing the W2, I am using Campfire Audio’s Solaris 2020 and Andromeda (2nd gen) earphones. These two IEMs are fantastic, with excellent detail, clarity, and tonality; especially the Solaris 2020. I highly recommend them and if you’re looking for the best or one of the best IEMs in the market, be sure to try them.
Does the Luxury & Precision W2 (Really) Have A “0 Noise Floor”?
I don’t have any other portable USB DAC/AMP to compare the W2 with. So, I am going to compare the W2 to my LG V40 instead. In the course of testing the W2, I wanted to answer some questions. Is the W2 better than the V40’s Quad DAC? Is it (smartphone+W2) better than an entry to mid-range DAP? And does it really have a 0 noise floor or (dead) silent background as the company claims?
Let me answer the last question first. Yes, it does have a dead silent background. I was quite impressed since I could not hear any background noise, unwanted signals, or interference coming from the V40 at all. It reminded me of my Opus#1S DAP, which also uses two CS43198 DAC chips in a dual DAC configuration. The Opus#1S has a dead silent background, and it was better compared to the Cayin N3Pro when it comes to background noise. The LP W2 is in a similar situation, where it has a (much) better or lower background noise compared to the Cayin N3Pro.
Despite having a “quad DAC”, the LG V40 doesn’t have a “0 background noise”. I can hear some static or hiss, but it’s very minimal especially when compared to other smartphones. The noise is almost unnoticeable, especially if you are not using a (very) sensitive IEM or earphone. But when using the W2 with the V40, that noise was (instantly) eliminated.
How Does the LP W2 Sound Like? Is It Better Than Some DAPs?
I haven’t listened to the W2 extensively yet. But it didn’t take long for me to have my answers for my first and second questions. Yes, the W2 is (way) better than the LG V40’s Quad DAC. It is definitely a step up and improvement. And, to be honest, it could be even better than some upper entry-level to mid-range DAPs in the market.
Its audio output is simply very clean. The sound is like being “distilled and purified” by the W2, removing unwanted noise or hiss. To my ears, the W2 sounds transparent and revealing. It doesn’t colorize or adds emphasis on any frequency. Instead, it makes the sound richer and fuller, perhaps making the audio a bit more energetic.
For comparison, when I listened directly to the V40, the audio sounds a bit lean or perhaps a bit anemic compared to the W2. But when I listened to the W2 (connected to the V40), the audio sounds much better. It’s like turning condensed milk into a full cream one, metaphorically speaking.
I also noticed that it has much better dynamics; the bass region responds better and can do deep. It also feels and sounds well-controlled and fast. I am using normal SDF with (low latency) slow roll-off and tune 02. Using Xelento gives a different experience. It’s somewhat smooth and sounds a bit warmer or perhaps more “intimate”. Pair that with Tune 01 and it gives a totally different experience and mood.
The LP W2 doesn’t offer any “artificial sound staging or 3D imaging”. There is nothing like that on the W2, but it does offer a certain level or degree of spaciousness and imaging. It does sound like it has a (very) wide sound stage, but the audio certainly doesn’t sound cluttered or compressed.
Pairing and Power
Specs-wise, the Luxury & Precision W2 has a 125mW@32Ω for the single-ended output and 230mW@32Ω for the balanced output. I haven’t tested the balanced output yet since I do not have a balanced cable for my full-sized cans. But for me, I think the W2 is better paired with IEMs and earphones. It doesn’t have any problems driving my earphones, even the DD or DD+BA ones.
While it can drive efficient full-sized cans without any problems, you’ll have to set the gain setting to high and crank up the volume. Of course, it depends on what headphones you use. In my case, I tried Audeze’s LCD-GX and LCD-X (since I am also in the process of reviewing them). The W2 can drive them, but it drains my phone’s battery a lot faster. It’s expected since the W2 draws more power from the V40 to drive the headphone.
W2 + Full-Sized Cans Is a No Go For Me
Generally, I don’t prefer using a full-sized can with the W2. For the LCDs, the “planar magic” simply wasn’t there with the W2. When I use the LCD-X with a DAC/AMP like the Schiit Jotunheim, it sounded somewhat different. While the sound and volume are there, it simply feels or sounds “not right”.
Another example, I like the pairing of the Luxury & Precision P6 (R2R DAC) and the LCD-GX when listening to Metallica. Honestly, I was quite surprised with the pairing; and it made me listen to my favorite songs from Metallica (repeatedly). But when I listened to the same tracks with the LCD-GX connected to the W2, it sounded that it wasn’t pushed to its maximum potential. The experience was different and it felt like the “magic” is not there.
I am aware that the Jotunheim and R2R DAC on the P6 is on a different level, and are totally different animals. But I just think that using full-sized headphones with the W2 doesn’t give them justice. Now, the experience could be different for you. I’m just speaking based on my experience and the gear that I used.
Okay, for now, I’m going to wrap up this review and may update this in the future.
Pricing and Availability
The Luxury & Precision W2 portable USB DAC/AMP is now available and comes with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $299.99. Meanwhile, the W1 comes with an MSRP of $199.99. For the latest pricing and availability, check out the link(s) below:
Luxury & Precision W2 Review Conclusion
Overall, I think the Luxury & Precision W2 is an excellent and impressive portable USB DAC/AMP. Although it is too early for me to declare that it is the best of its kind; since I haven’t tested other USB DAC/AMP like the Lotoo PAW S1 or iBasso DC03/DC04. But based on my experience, it sounds like a dedicated DAP with a really low or no background noise and distortion. If I blind tested it and didn’t know that what I am listening to is via a portable DAC/AMP, I would think that I am listening to a DAP instead. That’s how good it is.
Most smartphones nowadays don’t come with 3.5mm headphone out anymore. And if they do, audio quality is usually crappy. So, depending on your use case or setup, I think you don’t have to buy an entry-level or (semi) mid-tier DAP. Your smartphone/mobile device paired with the LP W2 could be what you are looking for.
Now, there are a few things that I would like to nitpick about. Given its asking price, I’d prefer to see a much better quality (black) cable included in the package. The included cables are okay and serviceable. But they look and feel cheap and could be a weak link in the long run.
The second is I wish there is or L&P add a “memory function” where you don’t have to cycle through all the menu settings. For example, I am comparing Tune 01 and Tune 02 (the last (8th) option from the menu). After a few seconds has lapsed, it will go back to the very first menu option which is the EQ settings. And you’ll have to hold and press and press again to get back to the Tune options. At least, with a memory function, it will remain on the last menu option.
This isn’t a cheap product and it is priced higher than its competition. But I noticed that price is (very) different from the value when it comes to this (audio) hobby. L&P offers something better here that could tip the scales towards the W2’s favor. And when it comes to audio quality, the Luxury & Precision W2 certainly doesn’t disappoint.