Digital Processor Reviews

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Michael Fremer  |  Jul 25, 2017  |  0 comments
What? Johnny-come-lately turntable manufacturer Brinkmann Audio now makes a DAC? Are they desperate? What sampling rates does it support—162/3, 331/3, 45, and 78? I guess the vinyl resurgence is over! Why else would Brinkmann make a DAC?

If that's what you're thinking, consider that Helmut Brinkmann began designing, manufacturing, and marketing electronics well before he made the first of the turntables for which his company is best known in the US.

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  |  Jun 20, 2017  |  14 comments
For digital playback, in recent months I've been breathing some rarefied air, pricewise. In December 2016, I reviewed dCS's Rossini Player and Clock, followed in May 2017 by Meridian's Ultra DAC, and in June by Chord's DAVE DAC. The Rossini Player costs $28,499 without the Clock, the Meridian $23,000, and though the DAVE is less expensive than either at $10,588, that's still a fair chunk of change. Even PS Audio's PerfectWave DirectStream DAC, which I bought following Art Dudley's review in September 2014, costs $6899 with the Network Bridge II, which hardly counts as "affordable."
John Atkinson  |  May 18, 2017  |  21 comments
Fifteen years? Has it really been 15 years since I reviewed what was then the flagship D/A processor from English company Chord Electronics? In the July 2002 issue, here's how I summed up my review of the Chord DAC64: "While the Chord Electronics DAC64 is undoubtedly expensive, it is eye-poppingly gorgeous. . . . many listeners should find its silky-smooth highs seductive, as well as its slightly larger-than-life lows." How times and prices change—the "undoubtedly expensive" DAC64 cost only $3040! I did make a couple of criticisms of the DAC64 in my review, but according to Wes Phillips, in his August 2007 review of Chord's revised DAC64, "the Choral Blu [CD transport] and Choral DAC64 are, together, the CD player we music lovers have long prayed for"—even if, five years after my own review, the DAC64's price had risen to $5000.
Art Dudley  |  Apr 25, 2017  |  1 comments
It's the sad realization at the heart of every product review: No matter what the writer has to say, the reader may hear things—or see or feel or taste things—rather differently. I refer not only to physiological differences in hearing acuity from person to person, but also to the no-less-critical differences in the ways we process and prioritize the things we perceive. It's an oft-made point that bears any amount of repetition: In our pugilistic little pastime, the priorities of the listener who values, say, fidelity to the musical timing captured in a recording over fidelity to that recording's timbral truths are no less legitimate than those of the enthusiast whose priorities are the other way around. Both approaches—and any number of others—bend toward the sun of high fidelity.
John Atkinson  |  Apr 18, 2017  |  6 comments
As I mentioned in my review eight years ago of Meridian Audio's 808.2 Signature Reference CD player, I have long been impressed by the British company's components—in fact, ever since the early 1980s, when I purchased a Meridian 101 preamplifier, followed by my very positive experiences with Meridian's MCD Pro and 208 CD players, 518 digital audio processor, D600 and DSP8000 digital active loudspeakers, and, most recently, the Prime and Explorer D/A headphone amplifiers.
Jon Iverson  |  Feb 16, 2017  |  4 comments
Now that we've entered a world of post-disc audio (sorry, AnalogPlanet.com), audiophile streaming and file-playback products have appeared by the hundreds, and many companies are on their second, third, or even fourth-generation models.

The Chinese company Auralic Limited has been pushing bits around for seven years, releasing a half-dozen streaming and network devices. Their newest, the Altair, combines in a single package the functions of a DAC, streamer, and headphone amplifier with volume control, allowing it also to operate as an all-digital-system preamplifier. Just add power amp and speakers.

Herb Reichert  |  Jan 18, 2017  |  18 comments
Right now, I swear, Schiit Audio's Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard are sitting there in California, smugly smirking at me and John Atkinson. While JA was struggling to properly measure Schiit's Ragnarok (Fate of the Gods) integrated amplifier for my review in the May 2016 issue, I sent Moffat an e-mail: "Are you smiling?"

"Yup," he replied. He'd known in advance that the Ragnarok wouldn't look good on standard tests. But he hadn't warned us: The Ragnarok's output-stage bias program responds to music sources, not signal generators.

Larry Greenhill  |  Nov 23, 2016  |  6 comments
In the February 2010 issue of Stereophile, I reviewed Bryston's first standalone digital-to-analog converter, the BDA-1 ($1995). Five years later, Bryston released the BDA-2, which replaced the BDA-1's 24-bit/192kHz Crystal CS-4398 DAC with a pair of AKM DAC chips in balanced mode. In a February 2016 Follow-Up (footnote 1) I reported that the BDA-2 deepened and widened the BDA-1's soundstage, among other performance gains.
John Atkinson  |  Nov 18, 2016  |  3 comments
It has been 20 years since I first became aware of the British company Data Conversion Systems, which manufactures audio products under the dCS brand. Rather than use off-the-shelf conversion chips, the groundbreaking dCS Elgar D/A converter, which I reviewed in our July 1997 issue, featured a then-unique D/A design that they called a Ring DAC. This featured a five-bit, unitary-weighted, discrete DAC running at 64 times the incoming data's sample rate—2.822MHz for 44.1kHz-based data, 3.07MHz for 48kHz-sampled data and its multiples—with upsampling and digital filtering and processing implemented in Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). Oversampling to a very high sample rate allows the word length to be reduced without losing resolution, and use of a low-bit multi-bit DAC makes for very high accuracy in the analog voltage levels that describe the signal. (If this seems like voodoo, for a given signal bandwidth, bit depth and sample rate are related. To oversimplify, double the rate, and you can reduce the bit depth by one bit while preserving the overall resolution.)
Jim Austin  |  Oct 28, 2016  |  0 comments
When I moved to New York City about a year ago, I was prepared to dislike Brooklyn. Judging it by its reputation as the apotheosis of cool, I envisioned the borough full of good-looking people engaged in pointless acts of mindless, stylish conformity, from man-buns to single-origin pour-over coffee. (Anyone up for adult kickball?) As I've written before, about Portland, Maine—a hipster place much indebted to Brooklyn—I greatly prefer deeply committed idiosyncrasy to mindless conformity.
Jon Iverson  |  Oct 04, 2016  |  13 comments
"They're so damn hard to tell apart!"

So exclaimed my longtime pal and fellow audiophile Bruce Rowley when I revealed to him that T+A Elektroakustik's new DAC 8 DSD digital-to-analog converter ($3995) had arrived for review, just after I'd finished writing up the Ayre Acoustics Codex DAC–headphone amp ($1795). Bruce had recently compared his own brand-new Codex with a DAC he'd owned for a couple years, both costing about the same but built to very different designs. He was surprised that, after carefully matching levels and working to eliminate any other variables, they sounded more alike than not, and only slightly different even after hours of listening. Technically, these were two very different animals.

Herb Reichert  |  Aug 30, 2016  |  5 comments
I am a lucky person. Who gets to be an artist, an aspiring griot, and a Stereophile reporter? Who gets to stay at home in paint-smeared pajamas, draw pictures of teapots and barn owls . . . and then, on top of everything, gets paid to listen to music made by Henryk Szeryng, Eugene Hütz, and Winston Reedy? C'est moi!

I have groovy friends, too: other eccentric artists, scruffy musicians, recording and mastering engineers, beekeepers, authors and editors, art and junk collectors, tube wizards, turntable savants, DJs, Mensa-type amp designers, bat-shit-crazy poet-philosophers, and unrepentant hoarders.

Art Dudley  |  Aug 25, 2016  |  6 comments
Approximately 331/3 years after AudioQuest's first phono cartridge, the company announced two new USB D/A headphone amplifiers: the DragonFly Black ($99) and the DragonFly Red ($199). Both have circuits designed by the engineer responsible for the original DragonFly—Gordon Rankin, of Wavelength Audio—and both have the novel distinction of requiring considerably less operating power than their predecessors, so much less that the new DragonFlys can be used with iPhones, iPads, and various other mobile devices.
Michael Fremer  |  Jul 21, 2016  |  10 comments
Simaudio saw disc-based digital audio in its rear-view mirror at least as far back as 2011, when it introduced the Moon Evolution 650D and 750D—two iterations of what it called a "digital-to-analog converter CD transport." These were actually multiple-input CD players, but Simaudio was evidently so eager to distance itself from the spinning disc that it went with a product category that, in spite of its cumbersome, run-on name, drew a clean line between the disc-reading and signal-processing functions—while bestowing upon the former second-class citizenship.

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