Ayre Acoustics QB-9 USB DAC Page 3

Like the Ayre, the USB Link 24/96 will handle high-resolution files and uses the Texas Instruments TAS1020B chip. However, it operates the USB interface in adaptive mode using code developed by Centrance. John Atkinson's review in May (p.97) indicated a fairly high amount of jitter on the USB Link's S/PDIF output, but this will be minimized by the DAC3's data receiver circuit.

Playing the 24-bit/44.1kHz version of Rhapsody, I was hard-pressed to hear a great amount of difference between the QB-9 and the Bel Canto combination. Perhaps the Ayre let me hear deeper into the acoustic of the First United Methodist Church of Albuquerque, but the differences were slight.

On Olu Dara's "Neighborhoods," I did feel the Ayre captured the pace slightly better—and perhaps had a tad more depth and roundness in the bass. Slight advantage, Ayre.

On Gorka's "I Saw a Stranger with Your Hair," both DACs impressed me with their natural sound and true timbre. I went back and forth several times, noting very minor differences, but nothing that I felt was conclusive. Neither component had a "sound"—as should always be the case in audio but very seldom is.

I did feel the Ayre got that crackle of bottled lightning in Crosby's "Cowboy Movie" exactly right. The e.One DAC3 with USB Link 24/96 lacked a slight amount of bite—and the QB-9 showed me more of the studio in the fade-out.

On "Boulder to Birmingham," Emmylou Harris had a bit more sparkle through the Ayre, but only just. Both were digital sound I could live with happily.

And Barrios' "Cueca"? Again, I preferred the QB-9 for the impact of those soundboard raps. They were phenomenally vivid and startled me every time, even though I know this recording well.

With either the QB-9 or the Bel Canto USB Link 24/96 and e.one DAC3, a computer could indeed be a high-end music source. That's good news.

The time has come today
At $2500, the Ayre QB-9 isn't perzackly cheap, but it doesn't seem as if Ayre has gotten greedy. In fact, I'd wager the company's profit margin on the QB-9 is tighter than usual. It's well built and seems to live up to its performance claims. JA's jitter tests will tell us if it does have the lowest jitter of the USB DACs we've tested to date, but my listening impression is that if it's not the lowest, it's pretty darn close.

And while computer audio isn't as boneheaded simple as we'd like it to be, the QB-9 doesn't add to the complexity. In one respect, it made computer life easier in that it could play all of my hi-rez digital files—and it ignited a mighty lust in me to obtain more. I do not want to go back to 16-bit/44.1kHz CDs. I want long words and high bit rates!

It is a given in the High End that components approach their highest possible peak of performance after they've been made obsolete. Perhaps, this one time, we can get it right early in the game. Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?

I'm sure the QB-9 isn't Ayre Acoustics' or Gordon Rankin's last thought on getting digits out of computers, but they've set themselves a pretty darn high bar for the future. I can hardly wait.

COMPANY INFO
Ayre Acoustics
2300-B Central Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301
(303) 442-7300
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