AudioQuest & Marantz at Listen-Up
I mentioned in my coverage of Steve Silberman's Computer Audio Seminar that I had been frustrated by the inability of the otherwise superb Marantz Reference NA-11S1 network player that I reviewed in October to handle every file format I sent to it. Following the seminar, I bumped into Steve in one of Colorado retailer Listen-Up's rooms where he just happened to have the Marantz players, hooked up, of course, with AudioQuest cables and with a Marantz integrated amplifier driving Sonus Faber speakers.
"You have it backwards," Steve explained. "The intelligence doesn't need to be in the player's hardware but in the file-playing program used to send it data." But, I argued, surely all it takes is continuous firmware upgrades provided that the hardware is sufficiently flexible. Steve agreed but pointed out that each firmware upgrade represents a significant expense for the player's manufacturer and it wouldn't take too many upgrades to eliminate any profit the manufacturer might have made from the sale. (Unlike the PC world, the cost of the upgrade isn't spread over millions of units.) By contrast, the computer host is almost infinitely upgradable and as long as it sends the audio data to the player in a single format it recognizes, all will be well.
I am not sure I agree with Steve, but he gave me food for thought about how the tasks are shared between hardware and software in the brave new computer-audio world.