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.

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.
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?

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.
Dick Olsher Posted: Dec 18, 2015 Published: Jun 01, 1995 5 comments
In 1995, as the compact disc enters its second decade of commercial reality, it's fair to say that the associated hardware has come of age, exorcising at last the digital gremlins of time-base jitter and quantization noise. Digital-processor maturation is particularly evident in the design of the all-critical D/A processor. The simplistic digital circuitry of yesterday has given way to considerable design sophistication that deals directly with jitter and low-level nonlinearities.
Larry Greenhill Posted: Nov 13, 2015 Published: Dec 01, 1995 1 comments
The EAD DSP-1000 III is housed in a 2.5" high, U-shaped chassis with a brushed-aluminum front panel. The cover is made of solid, 1/10"-thick steel with a nice "powder" finish, giving the unit an expensive feel. A pushbutton standby switch sitting below a green LED indicator sits at the panel's left. Even when set to Off, power is maintained for the decoder's circuits, but the digital inputs and analog outputs are muted. To the right, three pushbuttons allow selection of one of the three digital input sources (TosLink, 750 ohm coaxial, or glass optical interface). Like the EAD DSP-7000 unit reviewed by J. Gordon Holt and Steven Stone (Vol.18 Nos.1 & 5), the DSP-1000 accepts any of the three sampling rates: 32kHz, 44.1kHz, or 48kHz. Toward panel center is a lock light that illuminates when a digital data link is established. HDCD decoding occurs automatically whenever an HDCD disc is played, causing the front-panel HDCD indicator to light. No remote is available for this decoder.
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.
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 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.
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.

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