Fujiya Avic 2015: Bulk-free ‘phone-fi from Cyberdrive


FA_2015_autumnBetter sound for everyone is something that excites me far more than the bleeding edge. Perhaps I’m an audiophile socialist? The bleeding edge shows us what’s possible but by its very nature remains the preserve of the few (and not the many). Hello DSD. Hello MQA. Hello high end headphones and desktop amplifiers. Hello multi-box stereo systems. Hello portable audio strap-ons. Technology can be its own barrier to entry but in the portable audio space, it’s the physical intrusion of appendages that shuts down take up by the broader market.

There’s a minefield of potential issues to navigate for the newcomer considering better-sounding portable audio. Going with separate DAP means less-than-stout power output. Our newcomer must therefore source a suitably efficient, low-Ohm-d ‘phone. Otheriwse a strap-on amplifier is called for to bridge the grunt gap. Smartphones provide an alternative route – they invariably offer better UIs – but with their internal DAC and headphone output stages part of their low cost design mandate, quality suffers out of the box. Once again our newcomer is back bricking it!


No matter which way you skin it, the high-end portable audio world demands a second device. Audiophiles are happy to accommodate the compromise of twice the physical pocket/bag intrusion. The mainstream newcomer less so.

At this year’s RMAF, Audeze introduced the Cypher Lightning cable for its own EL-8 headphone.

Similarly at the Fujiya Avic headphone show in Tokyo, American/Chinese company Cyberdrive could be seen touting something similar. Their Clarity IEM extracts audio digitally from a connected smartphone before feeding ones and zeroes to an in-line DAC and amplifier. An XMOS chip handles USB transactions whilst an unspecified Cirrus Logic chip keeps PCM up to 24bit/192kHz and DSD256 in the picture. An ESS chipped version is also in the works.

Price? US$50. Wallop.


At time of writing, only a microUSB-terminated version for Android smartphones was available. Cyberdrive have yet to ink the Apple MFI certification required for all peripherals talking turkey with an iPhone or iPad over its Lightning port. A prototype Lightning-connecting version of the Clarity IEM was on show in Tokyo.

With audiophile-grade D/A conversion and headphone amplification slipstreamed into the headphone cable itself, the transition to a high end portable audio is non-intrusive.

Whilst I’m unable to speak to the quality of Cyberdrive’s IEMs, their in-line solution, along with Audeze’s, shows us that it’s possible to do away with strap-on bulk when upping a smartphone’s SQ. Wave Sayonara to the Lightning USB cable loop too. With this comes far greater mainstream potential: a sonic smartphone upgrade minus the bulk. Bravo on the concept (and price) even if this jury remains out on the execution.

Further information: Cyberdrive on Amazon.com





Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
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  1. Looks potentially like another good effort at bringing good quality sound at low cost to the masses, but I sometimes worry about the future of HIFI.
    Since the heady days of the 1980’s where shops selling shiny box’s seemed to be on every high street it has become the preserve of the remaining few of us from that era and shops selling good quality gear are now few and far between. What makes me say this?
    My daughter and son in law love to listen to my system when they visit, they always say how involving the music is. My daughter has often said “if I had this I would just listen to music all the time and not go to work” both of them cuddle together listening, not talking, just enjoying the music. So what system do you think these two buy recently, you guessed it, a single box lifestyle Sonos system, not even a stereo pair!.
    My work colleagues have listened to my portable DAC and headphone amp, they say how much better it is but they continue to use their smart phones with cheap ear buds and a Sonos system for home. For f*** sake the DAC/Headphone combo is less than £250 and they still don’t invest in one.
    So if it’s low cost with outstanding quality, and even higher fidelity with a full separates system so why aren’t the under 40’s turned on by it, has a decade of *.mp3 brainwashed a generation?
    Like you I applaud the pioneering companies who are driving down the cost of good quality gear and embracing the one box lifestyle systems as a do or die philosophy but it’s nothing like an all out system is it guv. Even a good quality fully integrated networked powered speaker is easily placed in the home, how simple is that! but it’s old gits like me who are salivating with interest, not the young.
    We need the kit reviewed in these pages in more stores, like it used to be, more exposure is needed. As I said, I sometimes worry about the future of HIFI!

  2. Cool beans!!! The Pioneer product from yesterday looked awesome as well.
    There’s a few of these dongles in HF land. The Cozoy Astrapi comes to mind. While power will be an obvious limitation, several of these dongles seem to be prone to EMI and RF interference and pronounced hissing with sensitive IEMs which sort of defeats the purpose.
    But I look forward to your experience if you were planning on getting some.

  3. Good on them. My only concern with this type setup would be the fragility of the lightning port. It’s one of the most regularly reported problems on forums. Not saying it’s weak, but it ain’t that sturdy either.

  4. Fantastic concept. If the SQ on these could get close to entry level DAPs (eg AK100) I’m ditching my DAP!

  5. Hi John,
    Thank you for your report on our products at Tokyo Fujiya Avic Headphone show. ESS chip version is in the progress…