Slim Devices Transporter network music player Page 2
Of course, as a hardworking audiophile, being merely content wasn't on the agenda—at least not for long—so I compared the files I'd ripped to my Apple G5 PowerMac, played through my network and the Transporter, with the CDs I'd ripped them from, played on my reference Ayre C-5xe universal player. Hardworking indeed—I could distinguish small differences between the Transporter and the Ayre, but we're not talking night and day, just different shades of ahhhh.
The Ayre had a tad more shimmer in the upper registers, a slightly more physical presence, if you will, and noticeably more dynamic contrast than the Transporter. Was it a big difference? Until I attempted a side-by-side comparison with the Ayre, I wouldn't have anticipated much difference—nor, I suppose, would I have noticed much if I'd rested a few minutes between the A and B portions of the comparison.
Because the Ayre C-5xe provides higher resolution than the Transporter and I make my living comparing components, I'll continue to use the Ayre as my reference. But when I'm just hanging out and relaxing, I think I'd rather spend my time listening than searching for a skootch more resolution.
Transports of joy
The more significant comparison was undoubtedly that between the Squeezebox 3 feeding an external DAC and the Transporter. While I'm sure the Transporter may convince some audiophiles of the legitimacy of networked music systems, the resistance to such systems that I've experienced in the audiophile community suggests that its more natural market might be the most discerning among the folks who already own the SB3.
I'd been using Musical Fidelity's X-DACV3 ($999) with the Squeezebox 3 ($299) in my dedicated small-speaker listening room downstairs, so I brought that combination up to the main listening room for the comparison. The X-DACV3 is no slouch—it incorporates Burr-Brown's latest chipset, the DSD1792/SRC4192/3, which upsamples to 24-bit/192kHz. Add a Stereovox XV2 digital interconnect ($149), and the Squeezebox-X-DACV3 system costs $1447—not exactly a giant step from the $1999 Transporter.
Actually, before I tried the SB3–X-DACV3 combo, I did a quick comparison between the unprocessed SB3 and the Transporter. That didn't last long—as remarkable as the SB3 is for $299, John Atkinson was correct in his assessment of both an aggressive edge and congested soundstage (September 2006). No, to really polish the Squeezebox, you have to pair it with a quality DAC.
I know I sound like an übergeeky audiophile when I say that the Transporter set the music against a darker background, but all the differences between the Transporter and the SB3-XDACV3 system sprang from that basic difference: everything from background to foreground had less grain and noise. The signal leaped from its backdrop with far more contrast and detail.
This, of course, meant that, on the Goldbergs, I heard Glenn Gould's humming and buzzing better, too. Fair enough—it's there, and if it's there, I want to hear it (I guess). I also heard more of the acoustic in Frankfurt's Jahrhundert Halle with the Grateful Dead, which means the Transporter was more like being there. And Robert Silverman's Beethoven sounded far more dynamic through the Transporter, which is to say it sounded much more like listening to Bob than listening to a recording.
Yes, the Transporter is worth the upgrade, even from an SB3 driving a high-end DAC. Most of the time, I would have to add a disclaimer like Of course, if you have multiple digital inputs, an outboard DAC may have more functionality—but the Transporter has extra digital inputs and convenient source switching to boot.
Beam me up!
Is the Transporter for you? I suppose that depends on your reaction to the phrase high-resolution network music player. Slim Devices practically had me at hello, but many audiophiles still resist the concept.
I believe Slim Devices has done an excellent job of defusing an audiophile's resistance. The Transporter is well-built and easy to use, contains top quality parts, and accommodates just about any kind of connection an audiophile might require. It does an excellent job of wresting that last little bit of fidelity from your uncompressed music data. In fact, if you have high-resolution music files, such as your own 24/96 recordings, it will play those, too.
As good as the Transporter is at recovering information from your music files, however, the real pleasure of using it is in setting it up to be your music interface. Between Slim Devices' own canny programming and its users' network of open-source programmers, you can personalize it to a greater degree than almost any other device I have ever encountered. When I look back at the clunky interface of my first audio server, it's as if the two aren't even of the same species.
Yes, the Transporter does cost $1999, a not-inconsiderable sum. However, I suspect that we have to thank our lucky stars that Slim Devices comes from the world of computers, where folks squeeze pennies until Lincoln yelps in order to preserve market share—if the company was from the high-end audio sector, there'd be a three or a four at the beginning of that price, if not an extra zero at the end. Two grand seems a fair price for what Slim Devices delivers.
Is the Transporter perfect? If you ask me, it's pretty darn close. I'm not sure I could ask for more, but I could see a market for a Transporter that offered less. Remove its DAC and source switching for audiophiles who already have a digital processor they're in love with and you might have a product that offered all things to all comers. But what do I know? I'm the guy who was an early adopter of music networking.
I'll tell you what—if music networks are turds, the Transporter definitely polishes 'em. It makes 'em shine like crazy diamonds.