Digital Processor Reviews

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Kal Rubinson Posted: Dec 24, 2014 5 comments
A decade or two ago, I stumbled on a surprising demo room at an audio show. I don't recall most of the equipment, but I do remember a pair of Paradigm Studio 20 speakers at one end, their crossover entrails dangling free, connected to the rest of the system by a multiplicity of wires. At the other end, among the usual electronics, was a PC whose screen was a crazy quilt of graphs and menus that constantly twinkled in response to the ministrations of DEQX's Kim Ryrie. He seemed totally absorbed, but looked up and proudly offered to show me what he was doing. When I told him that I was familiar with the Paradigms, he played some music that sounded just fine. Then he clicked his mouse. The sound was transformed from the familiar to the fabulous. I was dumbfounded. "What have you done?"
Art Dudley Posted: Dec 24, 2014 1 comments
There may have been a time when vacuum tubes and microprocessors seemed strange bedfellows. But nowadays—given the countless digital processors with tubed output stages, and an even greater number of tubed amps and preamps whose insides are crawling with the latest solid-state devices—we're more or less used to the idea. Here as elsewhere, hybrids are no big deal.
Jon Iverson Posted: Dec 16, 2014 0 comments
I've enjoyed having one of Cambridge's integrated amps in my office system for years, and the company boasts that the 851 series, designed in the UK and manufactured in China (like the rest of their line), is the best they've produced so far. After spending the last year listening to domestically manufactured DAC-preamps costing $6000 and up, I was curious to hear how a product costing only a quarter of the bottom of that range might stack up.
John Atkinson Posted: Oct 05, 2014 1 comments
A reader recently asked if I preferred listening to loudspeakers or to headphones. There is no easy answer: Although I do most of my music listening through speakers, about 10% of that listening, for various reasons, takes place in the privacy of my headphones. I have also found that, since I purchased the Audeze LCD-X headphones following my review of them last March, I now tend to watch movies on my MacBook Pro, with the soundtrack reproduced by these headphones plugged into an AudioQuest DragonFly or whatever D/A headphone amplifier has been passing through my test lab. So when Meridian's PR person, Sue Toscano, asked me last Christmas if I'd be interested in reviewing the English company's new Prime D/A headphone amplifier ($2000) with its optional Prime Power Supply ($1295), it took me less than a New York minute to say "Yes."
Jon Iverson Posted: Aug 27, 2014 1 comments
Professional digital audio is like gravity to consumer audio's antigravity: pro gear draws music into digital files, and consumer audio releases those same notes back out again.

It's not surprising, then, that many audiophile digital-to-analog converters come to us from the pro-audio industry, which has a hierarchy similar to the consumer side: value-oriented products all the way up to ultimate-performance brands. Examples of pro-audio companies that also offer audiophile DACs for consumers abound: Benchmark, CEntrance, Grace Design, Korg, Mytek, and Nagra, to name a few.

Art Dudley Posted: Aug 22, 2014 2 comments
It's like hearing the name of an old friend and then seeing him, in your mind's eye, as he was when you were both much younger: Whenever talk turns to Boulder, Colorado–based PS Audio, I can't help picturing that company's Model IV preamplifier, of the early 1980s—most likely because that was the preamp I longed to own at the time. (Tragically, I couldn't afford to buy it, so I struggled on with my NAD 1020.)
Sam Tellig Posted: Jul 18, 2014 Published: Apr 01, 2014 12 comments
They can't sound very good—they're not big enough. As we all know, in hi-fi, big products mean big performance. Musical Fidelity's V90 series can't be any good. They don't cost enough. With your golden ears, you must pay through the nose.

The V90 components turn all this around. They are tiny. Inexpensive. Beautifully built.

John Atkinson Posted: Jul 18, 2014 Published: Mar 01, 1989 1 comments
389accu.promo.jpg$13,000! You could buy two Hyundai Excels for that kind of money. Or one 5-liter Ford Mustang. Or two-thirds of a Saab 900 Turbo. How could the purchase of this Accuphase two-box CD player be justified on any rational grounds? What if it did offer state-of-the-art sound quality? Would it really be 50 times better than a humble Magnavox? Would it even be 4.3 times better than the California Audio Labs Tempest II CD player? And would it approach the sound quality routinely offered from LP by the similarly priced Versa Dynamics 2.0 turntable?
Art Dudley Posted: Jul 03, 2014 0 comments
In the summer of 1999, Sony held a press event in New York City to mark the introduction of the Super Audio Compact Disc, then the sole domestic embodiment of the Direct Stream Digital (DSD) technology, jointly developed by Sony and Philips. The new format was hailed, in prepared remarks, by an impressive list of audio and music dignitaries: Nobuyuki Idei, then president of Sony Corporation; Steven Epstein, senior executive producer for Sony Classical; Yo-Yo Ma, appearing in a video created for the event; and Wynton Marsalis, appearing in person. All of the speeches—every single one of them—flattered SACD by likening its sound to that of the analog LP.
Robert Harley Posted: Jun 18, 2014 Published: Aug 01, 1991 0 comments
No, the $399 price listed in the specification block isn't a misprint. And yes, the Audio Alchemy Digital Decoding Engine v1.0 is indeed a full-function outboard digital processor. And since this is the August issue, not April, you can stop worrying that this review is some kind of joke.

The $399 Digital Decoding Engine is for real.

Art Dudley Posted: May 27, 2014 11 comments
Ten years ago, the average consumer was unaware that he or she needed an e-book reader. Since that time, neither those people nor the authors whose books they consume have changed very much. But the people in between have grown restless and unsatisfied, and it is they who call the tune. Consequently, many of you have gone from owning books to sort of, kind of owning books (and sort of, kind of not).
John Marks Posted: Apr 10, 2014 2 comments
Were it my place to hand out awards for "The Most Forthright People in Audio," Michael Grace of Grace Design would be at the top of the list. Years ago, after I'd given stellar recommendations of Grace's 901 and m902 headphone-amplifier-DAC-line-stage models, I asked Grace if I could audition his full-rack–size, more fully featured m904 Stereo Monitor Controller. He told me that he didn't think that was necessary, because the m904's sound was extremely similar to the sound of the smaller m902—it just had a different feature set, and he believed that the additional features were not things that Stereophile readers were likely to need. That is the only case I can recall of a manufacturer's declining an offer of additional coverage in Stereophile.
Jon Iverson Posted: Mar 28, 2014 2 comments
Back in high-end audio's golden days—for the purposes of this story, the mid- to late 1980s—my audio store, Audio Ecstasy, had a service tech named Tom Hewitt. Were he still with us (and I wish he were), Tom would appreciate the radical case design of the MSB Analog DAC. Tom loved not only to fix things, but to see what happened when things were violently stressed. He tested the limits of component construction.
John Atkinson Posted: Mar 07, 2014 1 comments
Back in the summer of 2009, USB-connected D/A processors that could operate at sample rates greater than 48kHz were rare. Ayre Acoustics had just released its groundbreaking QB-9, one of the first DACs to use Gordon Rankin's Streamlength code for Texas Instruments' TAS1020 USB 1.1 receiver chip. Streamlength allowed the chip to operate in the sonically beneficial asynchronous mode, where the PC sourcing the audio data is slaved to the DAC. But high-performance, USB-connected DACs like the Ayre were also relatively expensive back then, so in the January 2010 issue of Stereophile I reviewed a pair of soundcards from major computer manufacturer ASUS , the Xonar Essence ST and STX, which, at $200, offered a much more cost-effective means of playing hi-rez files on a PC.
Jon Iverson Posted: Mar 07, 2014 0 comments
Most folks don't even know they exist, but the Channel Islands are a chain of eight moderately sized mountains poking through the Pacific Ocean along the coast of southern California, between Santa Barbara and San Diego. The most famous of these is Catalina Island and its city, Avalon, which sit opposite San Clemente. The other Channel Islands are relatively wild and have been preserved mostly uninhabited.

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