Digital Processor Reviews

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 27, 2016 29 comments
Like all men, I learned at an early age to resist the allure of a pretty face.

Okay—I learned that I should try to resist the allure of a pretty face.

Okay, I confess: I have never been able to resist the allure of a pretty face. Which is why, when I first clapped eyes on the Mojo D/A headphone amplifier from English company Chord Electronics, at an event hosted by Manhattan retailer Stereo Exchange, I had to borrow a sample for review.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Dec 29, 2015 5 comments
I eat bits for breakfast. Lunch is a simple bit-sized snack. And dinner is the analog to real food. This has been my routine these past four years as editor of AudioStream.com, where we digest all things computer audio.

In that time I've reviewed over 100 digital-to-analog converters, ranging in price from $60 to over $12,000. This adds up to roughly 150,000 words spilled on DACs. You'd think my pen would be running dry—especially if you feel, as some do, that all DACs sound pretty much the same. If that were the case, I could have written just one review, for that very first DAC, then cut and pasted it for all the rest. What was I thinking?

Art Dudley Posted: Dec 29, 2015 6 comments
I don't know much about horses, but I've been given to understand that dead ones don't respond to even the severest beating. In light of that, I'll make only this brief statement—Even with the best playback gear of my experience, I don't derive as much pleasure from CDs as I do from LPs.—and move on to a simpler truth: Regardless of what I think, CD players are still a necessity for most music-loving audiophiles.
Jon Iverson Posted: Dec 22, 2015 0 comments
Apogee Electronics Corp. has been in business for 30 years, and I've always thought of them as one of the pro-audio companies responsible for moving digital in the right direction. They've made their mark in recording studios around the planet with digital-audio interfaces and master clocks that have long been considered some of the most technically and sonically advanced, and that were probably used in a high percentage of the recordings in your collection. So when I saw Apogee pop up at the consumer end of the market with a technically unique product, budget-priced at $295, it got my attention.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Nov 05, 2015 4 comments
Unless something is broken, the bits from your computer will be delivered to your DAC intact; the claim behind three new products I recently listened through is that each can reduce noise within the DAC—noise that could otherwise corrupt the analog signal and thus make our music less musical. This notion is not based on audiophool woo-woo, but on the basic electronics of mixed-signal systems: Although its input is digital data, a DAC's output is subject to all the noise problems of analog circuits.
Michael Lavorgna Kalman Rubinson Posted: Nov 04, 2015 7 comments
UpTone Audio's USB Regen is a powered, single-port USB 2.0 hub that takes the USB signal from your computer, regenerates (ie, reclocks) the data, provides cleaned-up 5V power from a built-in, ultra–low-noise regulator, and sends an impedance-matched signal to your DAC. The Regen is designed to sit as close to your DAC as possible; UpTone supplies a male/male USB A/B adapter—a solid, double-ended plug, which they recommend over the 6"-long male/male USB A/B cable they also provide.
Jon Iverson Posted: Oct 21, 2015 3 comments
The British company Chord Electronics has always seemed to me to be audio's crazy uncle: Crazy like a fox, maybe, but definitely marching to their own tune. Their casework design often borders on the gratuitously provocative, challenging audiophiles' ideas about good taste. Yet many of my audio pals swear by the sound of Chord components, and I've heard them shine in many respectable showrooms.
John Atkinson Posted: Sep 03, 2015 19 comments
I got an early start on computer audio. At the end of the last century I was using WinAmp with first a CardDeluxe PCI soundcard, then a similar card from RME, to play files on a Windows PC. After I became a MacPerson, I used FireWire audio interfaces from pro-audio company Metric Halo and an inexpensive USB-connected ADC/DAC from M-Audio. But it was with the USB version of Benchmark's DAC 1 that the computer began taking over from physical discs for my music listening. At first I used iTunes au naturel, but as I acquired more high-resolution files, I began using Pure Music to handle all the tedious audio housekeeping, assigning as a dedicated music server a G4 Mac mini I'd bought in 2006.
Jon Iverson Posted: Jul 29, 2015 8 comments
I've spent the last month recording songs for a pal's upcoming album. His act consists of powerful female and male singers, acoustic and electric bass, and acoustic guitars and mandolin. Jay-Z is funding the project, which is destined to transform the entire hip-hop/rap beat-driven pop landscape into an acoustic-music wonderland.

Okay, I jest about that last part.

Michael Fremer Posted: Jun 26, 2015 4 comments
Stereophile normally doesn't review audio systems. We review individual components. We've made an exception for the Bel Canto Black system because it deserves to be evaluated as such. It consists of three dense, almost identically sized cases of black-anodized aluminum. One, the ASC1 Asynchronous Stream Controller, is what in a conventional system would be called a "preamplifier." The other two, a pair of MPS1 Mono PowerStreams, would in a conventional system be called "monoblock power amplifiers."
John Atkinson Posted: Jun 11, 2015 2 comments
Aurender was a name new to me when I encountered the company at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, where they displayed a range of music servers designed in California and manufactured in South Korea. But what caught my attention in Aurender's suite was their Flow portable D/A headphone amplifier ($1295). This handsome, battery-powered device, housed in a machined aluminum case about twice the size of a pack of playing cards, offers optical S/PDIF and USB 2.0/3.0 input ports and a single ¼" stereo headphone jack. Two features distinguish the Flow from the pack: Its USB input can be used with iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android smartphone sources, and it can accept an mSATA drive (not included in price) of up to 1TB capacity for internal storage of audio files. Visually, the Flow's distinguishing feature is its round LCD display, which stands proud of the faceplate; the bezel encircling the display acts as a velocity-sensitive volume control operating in 0.5dB steps.
Art Dudley Posted: Dec 24, 2014 1 comments
There may have been a time when vacuum tubes and microprocessors seemed strange bedfellows. But nowadays—given the countless digital processors with tubed output stages, and an even greater number of tubed amps and preamps whose insides are crawling with the latest solid-state devices—we're more or less used to the idea. Here as elsewhere, hybrids are no big deal.
Kalman Rubinson Posted: Dec 24, 2014 6 comments
A decade or two ago, I stumbled on a surprising demo room at an audio show. I don't recall most of the equipment, but I do remember a pair of Paradigm Studio 20 speakers at one end, their crossover entrails dangling free, connected to the rest of the system by a multiplicity of wires. At the other end, among the usual electronics, was a PC whose screen was a crazy quilt of graphs and menus that constantly twinkled in response to the ministrations of DEQX's Kim Ryrie. He seemed totally absorbed, but looked up and proudly offered to show me what he was doing. When I told him that I was familiar with the Paradigms, he played some music that sounded just fine. Then he clicked his mouse. The sound was transformed from the familiar to the fabulous. I was dumbfounded. "What have you done?"
Jon Iverson Posted: Dec 16, 2014 0 comments
I've enjoyed having one of Cambridge's integrated amps in my office system for years, and the company boasts that the 851 series, designed in the UK and manufactured in China (like the rest of their line), is the best they've produced so far. After spending the last year listening to domestically manufactured DAC-preamps costing $6000 and up, I was curious to hear how a product costing only a quarter of the bottom of that range might stack up.
John Atkinson Posted: Oct 05, 2014 2 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."

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