GeerFab Audio D.BOB digital breakout box

This unique device is a solution to a problem that previously couldn't be solved.

There are, of course, any number of little boxes that can extract audio from the HDMI video bitstream; they began to appear on the market to fill a need for a way to route audio from a player's HDMI output In the recent past, you could buy a good-quality—even audiophile-grade—universal player and listen to SACDs via its good-sounding analog outputs. But good-sounding universal players are becoming scarce. People still want to play their discs, though, now and into the future, even after their current player fails, which of course it will do sooner or later.

As disc players have become fewer in number, they have also become less flexible. The market is dominated by mass-market "universal" players, and these have been shedding output options: Multichannel analog outputs have already disappeared, and stereo analog outputs are vanishing. Analog outputs that still exist usually use cheap DACs, and their output stages don't sound very good. Some disc players still have S/PDIF digital outputs, but SACD-licensing rules forbid any unencrypted digital output from DSD tracks, even if internally converted to PCM (footnote 1).

There are, of course, any number of little boxes that can extract audio from the HDMI video bitstream; they began to appear on the market to fill a need for a way to route audio from a player's HDMI output to older AV receivers (AVRs) that lacked HDMI inputs. Like cheap universal players, such boxes usually output analog audio via the cheapest, lowest-quality internal DACs and digital audio via S/PDIF, which does not support DSD because of content-protection rules for DSD and the copy-protection hurdles of the High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection system (HDCP), part of HDMI licensing.

Many universal players will output DSD over HDMI, the do-everything portal for users with HDMI-endowed AVRs and preamp-processors. However, for music-focused SACD fans who have no interest in AVRs, there was no way to extract DSD from the HDMI audio stream. Wouldn't it be nice if we could sidestep the problem and play our SACDs with the DAC of our choice? Enter GeerFab's D.BOB.

Is it legal?
The GeerFab Audio D.BOB (Digital BreakOut Box) extracts DSD from an HDMI input and outputs DoP (DSD-over-PCM) via either of its two S/PDIF connectors: one RCA and one TosLink. It can also extract and output stereo PCM signals.

Wisconsin-based GeerFab, which manufactures the D.BOB in China, asserts that their implementation is legal and compatible with HDMI 1.4b and HDCP 1.4. We're audio reviewers, not attorneys. GeerFab appears to be saying that while the D.BOB allows DSD data to be output to the DAC of your choice, that datastream is still copy-protected, so it's fine. You can play it—you just can't copy it. Consult your attorney if you want certainty—or just take your chances (footnote 2).

Out of the box and into the system
The D.BOB is a small black box with nothing but a power-indicating LED and a light-gray logo on the front. There are no controls. None are needed.

On the rear panel, we see an HDMI input, an HDMI output, and those two S/PDIF outputs. On the right is an inlet for an IEC AC cord, another for a (supplied) 12V DC power supply, a power switch, and a mini-USB jack for firmware updates. The 12V DC jack makes it possible to use a battery supply or a linear supply.

In operation, the HDMI output from your universal player (I used an Oppo UDP-105) goes to the D.BOB's input. The D.BOB's HDMI output can, if you wish, connect to your display or AVR so that you can access the player's setups and menus, but the HDMI output connection is optional. The S/PDIF output conveys stereo PCM up to 24/192 and stereo DSD as DoP to your DAC. DoP packs DSD into a PCM bitstream, identifiable as such by means of a flag; these days, most DACs are DoP-compatible.

It worked!
I loaded the Oppo with a recent SACD of pianist Romain Nosbaum playing a selection of "Saudades" by Spanish and Latin-American composers (SACD, ARS 38 287). It's a delightful hour of charming, witty music, played with panache and nicely recorded. I had been enjoying this recording in multichannel via a ripped file on my server; played in stereo direct from disc, via the D.BOB and my Mytek Brooklyn DAC, it lost a little ambience (relative to multichannel) and gained a little focus. When I compared the stereo DSD file with the D.BOB disc playback, there was little to choose between. With more complex music, such as the spritely and elegant Sextet Op.142 by Ferdinand Ries, performed by the Franz Ensemble (SACD, MDG 903 2136-6), the stereo-file-to-D.BOB comparison was still a draw.

I also made comparisons between the D.Bob's S/PDIF output and the direct connection from the Oppo to the Brooklyn with the same recordings, but since the Oppo (like other players) does not support DSD via its S/PDIF output, I was comparing the DSD tracks with the Redbook CD tracks. Even so, the differences were small once the levels were matched. I consistently felt that DSD via the D.Bob had more generous ambience and smoother treble. That's a sighted comparison leading to a subtle, subjective distinction, so I prefer the conclusion that DSD via the D.Bob was at least as good as direct CD playback and probably better.

With this box in your system, you'll probably also be using it to play audio from your CDs, DVDs, DVD-As and Blu-rays, too. I unearthed a few 24/96 and 24/192 stereo DVD-As, as well as a couple of CDs, and through the D.BOB, all of those PCM sources sounded fine.

Conclusions
Why didn't someone do this before? GeerFab's Eric Geer says it hasn't happened before because it's complicated. He had to solve three problems at once: extracting hi-rez audio, keeping HDCP copy protection intact, and outputting DoP over Coax and TosLink. It took him three years to solve it.

Some readers will have no use for the D.BOB. Some may find it expensive, at a shade under $1000. A few may be intimidated by lingering concerns over the legality of such a device.

Many, though, will pounce, knowing that the D.BOB can assure continued access, into the indefinite future, to the SACDs in their collection via the DAC of their choice. You know which group you're in.


Footnote 1: Meanwhile, higher-end players seem to be metamorphosing into streaming devices with DSD-compatible inputs—but those often leave out SACD disc capability.

Footnote 2: While it's true I'm not an attorney and so cannot offer legal advice, I've come to believe in the weeks since this article went to the printers that the legal risk, if any, is minimal.—Editor

COMPANY INFO
GeerFab Audio
173 West Bergen Dr.
Fox Point, WI 53217
(414) 446-5841
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
davip's picture

Once you've purchased the SACD then it's yours to deploy and access as you wish on 'fair-use' terms. I would not care tuppence for the legality or otherwise of the described usage, and I doubt Sony / Phillips / RIAA / Whoever would have a snowball-in-hell's chance of prosecuting. Did anyone who accessed the S-A bitstream from a PS2 to create .diff files ever get prosecuted? No. That's not to say that those corporate swine might not go after Geer, but that's another matter and one assumes that part of the three-years of 'complexity' was his making sure that he wasn't putting his own ass on the line. Well done Him, but your cautions to your readers are, I think, misplaced, and are perhaps a product of today's streaming culture where users are encouraged to adopt the mindset that they don't 'own' the music that they pay for, whether virtual- or physical-media.

My 2p-worth anyway. Once I converted the early Genesis SACDs to their .diff files and transcoded these to 24/88.2 to look at the waveforms and saw that they had all been maximised in a PCM-step, that was the end for me and I gave up on digital entirely.

Props to Geer all the same. I'm back in vinyl heaven -- and my music is Mine...

Kal Rubinson's picture

1. I lean to your perspective on this matter. I have ripped thousands of SACDs and have reported on such activities in Stereophile. OTOH, without an explicit legal opinion in-hand to support the documentation, I took a position of caution on the matter.
2. I am sorry that you had a bad experience with those SACD, most of which derive from recordings made prior CD as well as prior to SACD. The provenance and processing of such are often murky. Not all "modern" SACDs suffer from the same problem.

soundboy's picture

In the Manufacturer's Comment section, GeerFab Audio mentioned there are "roughly 6,000 SACD titles". The real total is more than 14,000. Go to hraudio.net and there are 13,401 SACD titles listed as of this post.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It was a mistake by Sony/Phillips for not allowing SACD digital data available for external DACs, from the beginning, like they allowed for CD digital data ....... That is my opinion, and I could be wrong :-) .......

jeffhenning's picture

Playing old hi-res audio discs on my BDP-103 via HDMI has worked well, but I never really bought a lot of them. The fidelity of the rock recordings was not always great, but It is nice when you get a decent surround mix.

If I owned a ton of SACD's and wanted to pull them into my Mac, this box might be worth my while. That never happened. I have a lot more Blu-rays and hi-res files.

When I do buy a UHD BD player, I'll still have to hold onto the Oppo to play the few DVD-A/SACD's I do own.

As to legal issues, is anybody really going to bother with that now?

Kal Rubinson's picture

Why?

chrisoz's picture

Hi Kal, I decided it was time to upgrade my Ayre C-5xe and purchased the D.BOB from Eric Geer in January. There was no way to buy it in Australia, I had tried online. Eric was extremely helpful even though he was attending NAMM at the time. I use it with a Chord Hugo TT2 and Cambridge Audio CX-UHD transport. The Chord TT2 accepts DSD via DoP on S/PDIF. I have also used it with a Chord Qutest. It has worked flawlessly and I'm completely happy with the D.BOB. I briefly experimented with a Bryston BDA-3 and the Cambridge CX-UHD prior to the arrival of the D.BOB, but find it and the Chord TT2 superior, so much so I no longer own the BDA-3

jeffhenning's picture

There were never all that many hi-res DVD-A and SACD discs that I was interested in. Also, the quality of the rock and fusion releases could be less than stellar.

And the whole bit with the copy protection was a bit onerous.

I'm much happier with Blu-rays and hi-res files.

Kal Rubinson's picture

OK. I found (still find) a lot with music on them that I am interested in but that doesn't include rock and fusion.

The copy protection went away.

Just wanted to know it was not just a snide remark. :-)

jeffhenning's picture

I was unaware of that. Are you just talking SACD's or DVD-A's, too? Most of mine are pretty old.

The last SACD that I bought was Count Basie "Live at the Sands (before Frank)" (MoFi) in 2014. Pretty wonderful stuff. I play it in my Oppo BDP-103 via HDMI into my XMC-1 pre/pro. The Oppo converts it to PCM. Just added it to my "to listen to" list. Got a bunch of hi-res stuff queued up on my rack since I completed the surround system a month ago.

Wonder if I can pull that Basie disc into my computer?

Kal Rubinson's picture

Of course. One can rip CD, DVD, DVD-A, SACD, BluRay, etc. Been going on for a while. I've reported on this in my recently concluded MITR series but its all over the Internet.

ri_stretto's picture

czech company www.audiopraise.com has for at least 15 years offered their vanity boards for oppo and a number of universal players. these boards replaced the stock digital outputs on oppos or were add-ons / replacements for the S/PDIF outputs on universal players.
the vanity boards picked up DSD and PCM streams from the circuit; output was/is either DSD-in-PCM in the case of SACD or PCM in the disk's native sampling rate/word length up to 192/24 when spinning red book or DVD-A. output was either BNC or RCA. alternatively the signal could also be upsampled to 192/24.
i still have an old pioneer DV-656 universal player (IIRC from around 2002 or so) with a vanity board that i use to play the few DVD-A i still have and of course all SACD.
the vanity boards for oppo players put out stereo and multichannel signals as DSD and PCM. do a google search for "audiopraise vanity" if you want to know more.

Kal Rubinson's picture

..................but can you actually buy such a device or a stand-alone convertor from AudioPraise now?

I would!!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Do you (KR) use any other built-in digital reconstruction filter(s) in the Mytek Brooklyn processor, other than the standard linear phase filter? ........ Just curious :-) ........

Kal Rubinson's picture

I don't really use the Mytek Brooklyn much these days except for testing as described in this review. The multichannel DACs suit my every day needs much better.

dial's picture

1000 bucks to do that, never been a huge fan of the so called hirez audio : are they other mixes or not ? Sometimes I feel like this is the case. & there is a new format every year after the famous HDCD now "we"'re into BRA. Most of the standards CDRB are poorly produced, begin with that !

Kal Rubinson's picture

SACD & DVDA dead? Duly noted. :-)

Dick James's picture

DVD-A has evolved into BD-A or in some cases DVD-V with hi-res audio, probably because so few players supported DVD-A, and SACD is fully alive. There are hundreds of hybrid SACDs released every year in stereo and multichannel sound.

volvic's picture

I am a very late adopter to SACD and while some of the titles coming from Japan are a little pricey, I still gulp and buy, and whatever I find in the used CD stores has allowed me to amass a small but sizeable collection. I think if SACD had launched in 1982, none of us would have turntables today. Not as good as vinyl on every release, but on others tough to ignore how good SACD is.

dial's picture

It's a niche market, of course I've forgotten the multichannel option, but in 2 ch I wasn't convinced. i.e. for B. Ferry, no new SACD since 2002... But well, if you can tell the difference by ear, OK for me. I hear from 20 to 18 000...

shib's picture

For audiophiles like me who do not care to spend the time to download files or stream, this product is useless because it still requires a physical player, whose laser or disc mechanism will die. I have the Sony SCD-1 player and was bit in the ass when Sony stopped making replacement parts. I want my "last" SACD player. I prefer it to have DAC inputs, but can live without. The manufacturer must guarantee replacement parts. The new Denons seem like a good choice, since their transport has seem to become the new industry standard. In the meantime, while I wait for my Cinderella SACD player, I'll just continue to listen to my vinyl. Forget about spending $thousands on a SACD player that will, not may, die. I'll spend that extra money on records or a new cartridge.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You could consider the Denon DCD-1600NE CD/SACD player, $1,199 :-) ........

shib's picture

Except I'm greedy and want it all. My SCD-1 was probably one of the Top 10 best built SACD players. Hard to step down mechanically. And, can't Denon throw in some DAC inputs? I do see working used lasers on eBay for my Sony. I also have a used spare that I replaced but kept. The player also needs to be recapped. I may go that route. Don't really see what the point is for me to spend a lot of $ on a new SACD player. I listen mostly to vinyl anyway.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Denon's sister company Marantz makes SA-KI Ruby CD/SACD player which also has built-in DAC ...... It is more expensive, $3,999 :-) .........

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