Computer Audio Reviews

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Kalman Rubinson  |  Jun 29, 2017  |  6 comments
It's been going on for a while now: Despite support for multichannel in audio/video receivers and A/V processors priced from as little as $200 to $30,000, there are still very few offerings that cater to the music listener. They may offer stereo-only streaming features through their USB or Ethernet inputs, but these inputs don't see your multichannel files. To handle such files, they would require you to add a music server with HDMI output. However, I know of no turnkey music servers that will output multichannel audio via HDMI.
John Atkinson  |  May 19, 2016  |  41 comments
Jim Austin briefly discusses MQA in his review of the Explorer2 in this issue, but a more complete description of MQA can be found in an article posted on Stereophile's website at the end of 2014.

MQA involves two fundamental concepts, discussed in a paper presented to the Audio Engineering Society in October 2014, the first responsible for a potential improvement in sound quality, the second responsible for a large reduction in the bandwidth required for storage and streaming of high-resolution files...

Kalman Rubinson  |  Dec 30, 2015  |  1 comments
In my last column, in the November 2015 issue, I talked about Marantz's AV8802A preamplifier-processor and two accessories: UpTone Audio's USB Regen, and a DIY battery supply for my DAC. This month's column is all about accessories, and for me that's unusual. Some items, like interconnects and speaker cables, are usually considered accessories because they're not fundamental components (eg, source, amplifier, speaker), even though they're essential to getting any sound at all.
John Atkinson  |  Dec 01, 2015  |  5 comments
The 2015 T.H.E. Show in Southern California clashed with my having to be in the office to ship our August issue to the printer, so I wasn't able to attend. But in devouring the online coverage on www.stereophile.com and its sister sites, on InnerFidelity.com I found a report by Tyll Hertsens about two new hi-rez portable players that made their debuts at T.H.E. Show: Questyle Audio Technology's QP1 ($599) and QP1R ($899).
Michael Lavorgna, Kalman Rubinson  |  Nov 04, 2015  |  8 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  |  Sep 25, 2015  |  3 comments
There are dozens of music-playback programs for computers, touchpads, and smartphones, ranging from Amarra, Audirvana, JRiver, Pure Music, and VLC, which manage libraries or work with library software, to programs that are integrated with a specific distribution service: Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, and, of course, iTunes. Still others, such as Sonos, are integrated with a dedicated hardware product.
John Atkinson  |  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.
John Atkinson  |  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.
Jon Iverson  |  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.
Sam Tellig, John Atkinson  |  Feb 14, 2014  |  First 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  |  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.
Art Dudley  |  Jun 13, 2013  |  0 comments
No history of the computer-audio marketplace could be complete without some mention of High Resolution Technologies, the California company whose Music Streamer was, in 2009, the first perfectionist-quality USB digital-to-analog converter to sell for as little as $99. One could argue that HRT's entire business model has contributed to shaping our attitudes toward the hobby: Because digital-audio technology continues to evolve at such a rapid pace, HRT has introduced a succession of newer and ever more effective Music Streamers, occasionally to the obsolescence of their predecessors; yet because those products have all been so affordable—remarkably and laudably so, given their thoroughly American provenance—we tend not to mind.
Art Dudley  |  Apr 30, 2013  |  First Published: May 01, 2013  |  2 comments
Bratty, mollycoddled, and altogether spoiled consumers such as you and I have inflicted on computer audio the same injustice that laparoscopic surgery, antilock brakes, mobile telephones, word processors, e-mail, microwave ovens, and over-the-counter proton-pump inhibitors have suffered at our hands in recent years: In less time than it takes to say "ho-hum," we've knocked it from the pedestal to which all such breakthroughs are entitled and begun taking it for granted.
John Atkinson  |  Nov 05, 2012  |  4 comments
Since its founding in 1993, Colorado-based Ayre Acoustics has made its name with amplifiers and preamplifiers based on truly balanced, solid-state circuitry that didn't use the ubiquitous panacea of loop negative feedback to produce linear behavior. Their first digital product was the D-1x DVD player, reviewed for Stereophile by Paul Bolin in February 2003, which offered unusually good video performance. The D-1x was followed by the C-5xe and DX-5 universal players, respectively reviewed by Wes Phillips (July 2005) and Michael Fremer (December 2010). But the most intriguing digital product to come from Ayre was the QB-9 digital processor. Reviewed by WP in October 2009, the QB-9 has just one input, USB, and uses Gordon Rankin's proprietary Streamlength code to give asynchronous operation, which in theory offers the best jitter suppression. "The QB-9 isn't a computer peripheral," said Ayre's marketing manager at that time, Steve Silberman. "It makes computers real high-end music sources"—a statement with which WP agreed.
Art Dudley  |  Sep 26, 2012  |  First Published: Oct 01, 2012  |  6 comments
"This product is an industry disrupter."

Thus spoke AudioQuest's Steve Silberman, VP of development, of their brand-new USB D/A converter, the DragonFly. "There are a lot of very good DACs out there," he continued. "There are even a lot of very good affordable DACs. But the problem is, people outside of audio don't want them: They don't want old-style components like that.

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