Digital Processor Reviews

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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.)
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.
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.
Sam Tellig Posted: Jul 18, 2014 Published: Apr 01, 2014 10 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.

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.
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.
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.
John Atkinson Posted: Feb 04, 2014 0 comments
Erick Lichte's review of Benchmark's DAC2 HGC D/A converter in this issue gave me an ideal opportunity to spill some ink on the company's ADC1 USB A/D converter. The ADC1 is housed in the same small case as the DAC (one rack unit high, half the rack unit width), and is offered with a black front panel with rack ears, or a silver aluminum panel without ears, either for $1795.
John Atkinson Posted: Jan 31, 2014 Published: Feb 01, 2014 11 comments
I was alerted to the new VEGA D/A processor from Chinese manufacturer AURALiC by Michael Lavorgna's rave review for our sister site AudioStream.com in April 2013: "Everything I played through the Auralic Vega was equally wow-inducing. Everything. . . . Music I've heard hundreds of times was presented with a crisp, clean, and delicate clarity that was simply uncanny and made things old, new again. . . . Its ability to turn music reproduction into an engaging and thrilling musical experience is simply stunning."
Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 31, 2014 Published: Feb 01, 2014 3 comments
I totally called this one.

In 2007, I spent time with Bel Canto Design's e.One DAC3 D/A processor. In his review of the DAC3 in the November 2007 issue, John Atkinson quoted my comparison of it with the Benchmark DAC1, which I called "the Swiss army knife of audio" and "one of the only future-proof source components you can buy these days."

Kalman Rubinson Posted: Jan 04, 2014 0 comments
In my November 2013 column, I looked at the NuForce AVP-18 multichannel preamplifier-processor ($1095) and the exaSound e28 multichannel DAC ($3299), each of which offers fresh options in its category that break with the predictability of mainstream products. That predictability is the result of market analysis that supposedly tells manufacturers which features users want most. However, it's just as true that users can buy and choose among only those components and features already offered. Many of us are more peculiar in our demands—what's generally offered doesn't always fit our needs. This month, I look at an unusual pre-pro and a multichannel digital equalizer at opposite ends of the price spectrum.
Michael Fremer Posted: Jan 04, 2014 Published: Jan 01, 2014 2 comments
More than a decade ago, Data Conversion Systems, aka dCS, released the Elgar Plus DAC, Purcell upsampler, and Verdi SACD/CD transport, for a total price of $34,000. In 2009 came the Scarlatti—a stack of four components for $80,000, also available individually (see my August 2009 review). The latest variation on the English company's theme are the four Vivaldi components, launched at the end of 2012 for a total price of $108,496.

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