Cozoy Astrapi portable DAC

The Cozoy Astrapi is a teeny tiny marvel. It’s a DAC that’s so small I’ve been carrying it around in the pen holder sleeve of my bag!

Overview

Cozoy Astrapi-7012073The Astrapi is a creation from some / all of the minds behind Shozy, creators of the incredible Alien DAP. I don’t know the exact relationship between Cozoy and Shozy (other than their similar names), but the Astrapi certainly shows the influence from Shozy’s brains trust. It is beautifully made from machined metal, it’s tiny, and it sounds brilliant, but I’ll get to that later.

At around $200, the Astrapi is in the same market area as products like the HRT microStreamer and Audioquest Dragonfly, but it is also a bit cheaper than both and much smaller. Those other two have some feature in their favour, but if size and price are your number 1 & 2 priorities you may not need to read any further.

Specifications

  •  Dimensions: 52mm x 17mm x 9mm
  • Weight: 10g
  • Headphone out: 40mW max
  • Headphone impedance: 16 – 100 ohms
  • Works with: PC, Mac, iPhone, Android (with OTG)

The Astrapi appears to be an iPhone DAC first and foremost. It comes with a lightning connector cable and all of the marketing materials I’ve seen show a slight emphasis on use with iPhones. As a non Apple and minimal Android user, I have used the Astrapi solely with my PC and to great effect.

Design & Build

The Astrapi is essentially a metal sheath housing a single circuit board held in place by ‘chrome’ painted plastic end caps. Despite this simplistic description, the quality of the machining and finishing of the metal makes the Astrapi feel very well made.

On one end of the DAC is a micro USB socket and the other end houses a 3.5mm headphone socket which doubles as a lineout… and that’s it. There are no buttons, no switches – nothing. The Astrapi is simple. Plug it in and listen to your tunes. The volume is controlled by the OS (either your phone or computer software) so there’s really nothing else to worry about.

Oh, there’s a spring-loaded pocket clip built into the Astrapi too. I personally wish it weren’t there (or were detachable) because it would make the device even smaller and allow it to attach easily to a phone or computer with removable adhesive, but it’s a minor gripe.

Compatibility

As I’ve already mentioned, the Astrapi is designed to work with iPhones, Androids and computers. In each case it’s a plug and play affair with no pre-loading of drivers or software required. For Android use you will need an OTG enabled device to allow the digital audio stream to exit via your phone / tablet’s micro USB socket.

When I first connected the Astrapi to my Windows 7 PC it failed to correctly connect to the device, but disconnecting it and plugging it into a different USB socket sorted it out straight away. In other words, the issue was my computer, not the Astrapi, but it’s worth being aware of this possibility if you’re a PC user. If you try an Astrapi and it fails to be correctly picked-up, just disconnect and try another socket to let your operating system catch up.

Volume Control

The volume of the Astrapi is controlled by your source which keeps things really simple. According to the documentation, the output from the Astrapi will work as a line-out when your source volume is at maximum so you can also use the Astrapi to feed your favourite portable (or desktop) amp.

I found the volume level from the Astrapi and my PC to be quite loud with IEMs and was using it at <10% with the Noble K10s. It has enough margin to work OK and the digital volume control from your source means there is no channel imbalance so it’s fine, but beware those who like extra low-level listening. Keep in mind that Cozoy clearly state differing power levels from different sources so a phone which outputs a lower voltage than a computer may result in a slightly better range for IEMs, but similarly a bit less power for hungrier ‘phones.

Format Compatibility

There aren’t any formally published lists of format (codec) or bit-depth compatibility that I can find for the Astrapi DAC so I decided to do a few tests of my own. All testing was done with JRiver Media Center outputting WASAPI to the Astrapi in exclusive mode. No output formatting was used so JRiver would inform me any time the DAC was unresponsive to the chosen format.

Bit-depth

As seems to be the standard with the Shozy designers (who are apparently involved with Cozoy), the Astrapi seems to be designed for 44.1 / 48kHz audio, but can handle 16-bit or 24-bit files with those sample rates. Hi-res FLAC files (i.e. 96/24, 192/24) wouldn’t play back through the Astrapi.

Codec

In terms of codecs, I was able to happily play APE, FLAC, WMA, MP3, and M4A so you’ll be covered for all the standard formats. As you might expect from the bit-depth section above, DSD files aren’t an option with the Astrapi.

I should note that the Astrapi isn’t useless for hi-res FLAC and DSD files, it just requires your software to resample the files in the software to output a stream at a compatible level for the Astrapi (e.g. DSD –> 48kHz / 24-bit PCM). Most computer software can do this comfortably, but I’m not sure about iPhones and Android – you may be better off resampling the music before (or during) copying it to your mobile device.

Sound Quality

The Astrapi’s sound is instantly enjoyable and quite addictive. Nothing specifically stands out from the sound – it’s just an enveloping, engaging experience that makes everything sound brilliant. I’ve done most of my listening with the venerable Noble K10s and the sound reminds me of the Shozy Alien in many ways, but it’s not exactly the same.

The Astrapi has a stronger tilt towards warmth and bass compared to the Alien’s sound. As a result, the Astrapi doesn’t have quite the same sense of space and staging that the Alien offers, but instead it provides an intimate and engaging experience that’s dynamic and fun without straying into becoming unnatural or overly coloured.

There is a definite lift in bass from the Astrapi which makes it excellent for portable and/or low-level listening because the bass levels are able to overcome ambient noise and remain energetic at lower volumes. At higher volumes it leads to some extra warmth and sense of slowness, but nothing bad – it’s ‘enhanced’, but not overblown.

Due to the intimate nature of the Astrapi’s sound, the mids are clearly defined, liquid and smooth which make the Astrapi an excellent option for vocal lovers. Vocals are all enjoyable through the Astrapi, but it may not excel at the breathiest of vocals because the treble is a little subdued.

The treble performance is likely to be the most controversial part of the Astrapi’s sound signature for many. Personally, I like it for a relaxed and fun listening session. It’s smooth and refined, a little rolled-off, but still able to convey detail and shimmer. It’s definitely smoother than neutral and with warm ‘phones it may be an issue for some, but I like the fact that I can fire up the Astrapi and relax into any track I want to listen to without any fears of fatigue or harshness.

As I’ve already alluded, the Astrapi’s overall presentation is more intimate than spacious and warmer than neutral. It doesn’t feel congested or overly busy, but it’s not throwing any significant sense of space in the way that the Shozy Alien does. The Astrapi also features a very black background so you can enjoy a hiss-free listening experience, even with sensitive IEMs

Cozoy Astrapi vs iFi Nano iDSD

OK, so on size this is a no-contest – the Astrapi is about 1% of the Nano iDSD‘s size (not mathematically calculated), but they’re in the same rough ballpark in terms of price so I thought I’d do a quick comparison. With the iDSD you’re paying more money for some extra connectivity features (digital out and separate line out) and of course it will play every digital format known to man, but it’s so much bigger and heavier, so let’s see which one’s a better overall option…

I’m pleased to say that the iDSD doesn’t run away with it, but it is clearly the better DAC and amp combo. The sound from the iDSD is much more balanced. It doesn’t have the enhanced bass of the Astrapi and the treble is clearer (less rolled-off) and therefore carries a better sense of texture and detail. However, is it worth the extra size and weight?

My work bag contains a fair bit of gear, including laptop, earphones, DAP, notepad, etc. which all take up space and add weight. For this reason, the Astrapi is especially appealing and I can see myself choosing to carry it over the likes of an iDSD (even the Nano one) despite the fact that I love the iDSD’s sound. Where things might get a bit more interesting is comparing similar products like the HRT microStreamer and the new version Audioquest Dragonfly. None of them can match the Astrapi’s diminutive size, but they come a lot closer than the Nano iDSD.

Note: this entire comparison is based on using the devices as a computer DAC so portable users may want to consider the Astrapi’s full compatibility with iPhone and OTG Androids in the equation.

Of course, if size and weight aren’t a huge concern I’d be choosing the iDSD in a heartbeat so it all depends on what you’re looking for and how you’ll be using it.

Summary

The Cozoy Astrapi is an engineering wonder that makes previous featherweight champions like the Audioquest Dragonfly seem bloated and over-sized in comparison. It’s sound is more about fun than accuracy, but it doesn’t go too far in this pursuit and therefore remains highly enjoyable with a wide range of genres and ‘phones. I probably wouldn’t recommend pairing it with rolled-off or significantly warm ‘phones, but with all others it will sound engaging and fun. As a total package, it makes a strong case for being an excellent portable companion to raise the performance of your phone and / or computer audio.

Lachlan Fennen Written by:

Facilitator, training design consultant, blogger / writer and amateur photographer

5 Comments

  1. July 6, 2015
    Reply

    After reading this review, I have half a mind to actually get myself one of these. I think it would work well as a low-overhead DAC to the laptop, for bypassing the integrated soundcard (which is pretty horrible). I tried for some time with the X3 as a DAC, but I find it’s too bulky around a laptop. A small kit like the Cozoy which could scale like a headphone cable extension seems perfect to me.

    Concerning the codecs their website says this:
    “Bit rate: DSP engine sampling at 16/44.1, all formats playable with software support ”
    ” ***all files above 16/44.1 will be replayed non-natively”

    This eerily recalls Shozy Alien.

    Now for the questions:
    – how does Cozoy fare vs FiiO X3 and vs Audioquest Dragonfly in terms of SQ? I’m hesitating between Cozoy and Dragonfly…

    – would it pair well with a pair of Grados SR225i? From the present review Cozoy seems to have a more prominent bass and subdued treble, which seems to me would perfectly balance the Grado’s subdued bass and prominent treble…

    And lastly, who is behind Cozoy and Shozy? When interacting with a Shozy marketing type they were not so subtly suggesting that there was a much bigger company behind the product. I find curious that they seem to have a direct presence on the Oyaide website: http://www.oyaide.com/cozoy/ . Could it be them?

    • July 6, 2015
      Reply

      It’s a great DAC and especially when considering the form factor. When you connect the micro-USB cable between the computer and the Astrapi and then connect your headphone cable to the Astrapi it makes for an almost seamless single-cable solution without the feeling of a big bulky box in the middle of the chain.

      Thanks for the further details from the website. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t go hunting for their web page because the documentation on retailer sites and also in the Astrapi packaging was so limited.

      I didn’t think to try my MS-1is with the Astrapi, but I think you’re right that it would be a match made in heaven with a pair of Grados. As for the comparison with the X3 and Dragonfly, I’d say the Astrapi would match and possibly out-do the original X3, but would be slightly behind the X3 2nd Gen and also slightly behind the new version Dragonfly. In both cases I’m referring to technical performance rather than enjoyment. For relaxed, but engaging listening, the Astrapi is very hard to beat.

      As for who is behind Shozy and Cozoy, I have no idea – all I know is they produce products that are almost always outstanding (I’m personally not a fan of the Magic DAC for the price)

      • July 6, 2015
        Reply

        Very informative. Thanks.

        I’m personally not a fan of the Magic DAC for the price

        I’ve always been somewhat intrigued by the Magic DAC, but this seals it for me as in “no try”.

        Re Top-flight DACs, I’ve heard some pretty remarkable things about the Centrance M8 (whether Hifi-M8 or Mini-M8, depending on your HPs hunger) from someone in the know who’s pretty much tried it all, along the lines of “hands down most impressive out of all portable DACs and daps (and combos of)”.

        Have you ever tried the M8, or considered it for a review?

      • July 8, 2015
        Reply

        On the subject of Centrance, any idea where Cozoy Astrapi would find itself compared to the Centrance DACport?

        While DACport is roughly twice the price of the Cozoy, it seems to be similarly featured and in the same product category. It’s small, just connects and plays, and user reviews are fairly exuberant. One difference is that audio level is controlled by an analog knob, instead of digitally by the source as for the Cozoy.

        • July 9, 2015
          Reply

          If you get a chance to hear the Magic DAC, give it a try, but I wouldn’t spend the cash on it without listening first.

          I haven’t had any exposure to Centrance products unfortunately so I can’t comment on either the M8s or the DACport.

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