Digital Processor Reviews

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Art Dudley Posted: Mar 23, 2003 0 comments
Back in 1984, when I still had all my hair and began listening to digital audio (wait a minute...), I was disappointed with the compact disc. Most of that disappointment came from the format's musical performance, which was poor, but a portion of my dismay came from realizing that my days as a hands-on hobbyist were numbered: I was used to selecting and setting up my own turntable, tonearm, and cartridge, but a CD player defied such involvement. Plugging it in and playing it were all that I or most anyone else could do.
Art Dudley Posted: Mar 19, 2012 5 comments
Computer audio is more than just a pleasant distraction. For the jaded reviewer, USB digital converters and the like are an escape from that humdrum, if only because they bring with them so many variables: myriad combinations of different platforms, storage devices, operating systems, device drivers, media players, codecs, word lengths, sampling rates, connection protocols, and more. Challenging though they may be, computer-audio products are a tonic for reviewers inclined toward apathy.
Jonathan Scull Posted: Feb 01, 2001 0 comments
What's it take to compete on the bleeding edge of digital? Foresight, commitment of resources, and lots of money. Of course, it's all fundamentally about money, so we shouldn't be surprised that the audiophile's emotional needs aren't paid much respect by the large international manufacturing and marketing concerns stalking the earth today. Megaglom vs Cockroachacus. [Sigh] Where are those pesky miniature princess twins when you need 'em?
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?
Jon Iverson Posted: Oct 07, 2013 3 comments
Tubes?

In a CD player?

Century-old technology embedded in a modern digital design?

I realize that Aesthetix's Saturn Romulus is not the first disc player or D/A processor with tubes, nor will it be the last—but does combining these technologies even make sense? Are audiophiles working at cross purposes to themselves, looking for modern perfection but preferring a little old-school sweetening here and there?

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.

Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 31, 2009 Published: Jun 01, 2000 0 comments
Can a piece of studio gear find happiness on an audiophile's equipment stand? More important, can an audiophile derive satisfaction from its sound?
John Atkinson Posted: May 08, 2005 4 comments
Usually, a Stereophile "Follow-Up" follows up (duh!) a full review of the component in question. This review, however, is intended to flesh out a cryptic comment made by Wes Phillips in April's "As We See It": "When Apple introduced its AirPort Express wireless multimedia link," Wes wrote, "it even included a digital port so that an audiophile—such as Stereophile's editor—could network his system, using the AE to feed his Mark Levinson No.30.6 outboard D/A converter. 'Sounds okay,' deadpans JA."
John Atkinson Posted: Mar 31, 2011 Published: Feb 01, 1989 0 comments
As explained by Ken Kessler elsewhere in this issue, the English A&R Cambridge company made their name by producing one of the UK's most successful integrated amplifiers, the 40Wpc A60. This neatly styled model was in production for a decade or so and was the basis for a large number of good-sounding but inexpensive audio systems. These days, the company, whose products in the US sell under the Arcam banner, is a major British hi-fi manufacturer, with a product line that includes integrated amplifiers, tuners, loudspeakers, cartridges, and even a CD player. A&R was, I believe, the first UK manufacturer to obtain a player-manufacturing license from Philips, and with the product under review here, has broken new territory for a supposedly "audiophile" company in having a custom LSI chip manufactured to their own requirements.
John Atkinson Posted: Feb 06, 2013 4 comments
As I wrote in my review of the Bricasti M1 D/A processor in February 2012, it seemed a good idea in the late 1980s: upgrade the performance of your CD player by feeding its digital output to an outboard digital/analog processor. British manufacturer Arcam, one of the first companies to see the opportunities in this strategy, introduced their Black Box in 1988. When I reviewed the Black Box in February 1989, I found that its low-level linearity was among the best I had measured at that time for a product featuring the 16-bit Philips TDA1541 DAC chip set. However, that linearity still wasn't very good in absolute terms. Back then, it required heroic and expensive engineering to obtain D/A performance that did justice to the 16-bit CD. These days, however, the semiconductor foundries produce a plethora of relatively inexpensive D/A processor chips that both handle 16-bit data with ease and wrest full resolution from 24-bit data.
Sam Tellig Posted: Feb 14, 2014 Published: Dec 01, 2013 6 comments
Am I the only one who values content and convenience over sound quality?

There. I've said it. I am not an audiophile; ie, someone who's in love with recorded sound for its own sake. The search for ideal sound can leave a person burned out and broke.

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.
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.

Robert Harley Posted: Aug 17, 2012 Published: Mar 01, 1996 0 comments
With the introduction of Audio Alchemy's Digital Transmission Interface (DTI) more than three years ago, the company created an entirely new category of hi-fi product: the jitter filter. The original DTI was a good start, but didn't always improve the sound of the better-quality digital front-ends.
Robert Harley Posted: Aug 08, 2011 Published: Jun 01, 1991 2 comments
The past 12 months have seen some remarkable developments in digital playback. Standards of digital musicality are far higher than they were a year ago, both on an absolute performance basis and in terms of what you get at various price levels. No other component category has seen such tremendous gains in value for money or number of new products introduced. It seems hard to believe that since Vol.13 No.6 (12 issues ago), we've reviewed such noteworthy digital processors as the Meridian 203, Proceed PDP 2, Stax DAC-X1t, Theta DSPro Basic, Wadia X-32, Esoteric D-2, PS Audio SuperLink, and VTL D/A. Each of these converters brought a new level of performance to its price point—or, in the case of the Stax and VTL, established a new benchmark of ultimate digital performance.

Just as these units provided stiff competition for previous products, so too will they come under the assault of improving technology. The art of digital processor design is so young that we can continue to expect further improvements coupled with lower prices as designers move up the learning curve.

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