Digital Processor Reviews

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John Atkinson Posted: Sep 03, 2015 15 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.
Larry Greenhill Posted: Aug 14, 2015 Published: Dec 01, 1995 4 comments
The availability of the Pacific Microsonics High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD®) PMD100 decoder chip, manufactured by San Jose's VLSI Technology, has brought about a minor revolution in Compact Disc playback. It brings sonic improvements in imaging, soundstaging, and resolution of detail. In the past six months, Stereophile has published a number of reports on the HDCD decoder's operation, what HDCD recordings are available, and the improvements brought by the HDCD chip to specific digital audio processors (footnote 1). High-end manufacturers are incorporating the $40 HDCD chip in their newest decoders, including the $4695 Sonic Frontiers SFD-2 Mk.II D/A processor, the $15,950 Mark Levinson No.30.5, and the $8195 Spectral SDR-2000 Professional HDCD D/A Processor (reviewed in Vol.18 No.5).
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 1 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.
Robert Harley Posted: May 07, 2015 Published: Jun 01, 1991 0 comments
666wawaWadia2000.1250.jpgDuring my reviews of digital processors in the past year or so, I've made comparisons with the Wadia 2000 Digital Decoding Computer first reviewed by Arnis Balgalvis in Vol.13 No.1. I've felt that, as good as the 2000 is, other processors—many costing less than the 2000's $8500 price tag—are now superior.

However, a visiting Wadia representative looked inside our sample and used the word "ancient" to describe its circuitry in relation to current production. In addition, I was never able to audition the 2000 with a glass fiber-optical interface, standard equipment on Wadia's transports. Similarly, the $2000 Wadia X-32 had undergone a minor circuit revision, including the inclusion of the glass optical input. Consequently, a follow-up of these two excellent processors seemed in order.

Robert Harley Posted: May 06, 2015 Published: Nov 01, 1991 0 comments
In hindsight, it was inevitable that two sophisticated digital audio technologies—software-based digital filters and Bitstream D/A converters—were destined to be married in one product. The software-based D/A converters offered by Krell, Wadia, and Theta all used multi-bit ladder DACs, and Bitstream-based units have previously relied on off-the-shelf digital filters.
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?"
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.
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."
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.)
Sam Tellig John Atkinson Posted: Jul 18, 2014 Published: Apr 01, 2014 13 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.

John Atkinson Posted: Jul 18, 2014 Published: Mar 01, 1989 1 comments$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?


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