Recommended Components 2021 Edition Disc & File Players

Disc & File Players

Editor's Note: SACD and DVD-A player ratings are based on how they sound with their respective hi-rez media, not CD.

A+

Aurender N10: $7999 with 4TB storage ★
Designed in California and manufactured in South Korea, Aurender's N10 is a computer running a modified version of the open-source Linux operating system, and is dedicated to retrieving audio files from an external NAS drive, or a drive plugged into one of its USB ports, or its internal storage, and sending the data to its Class 2 USB output port or to one of its serial digital audio ports. Internal storage comprises two 2TB Western Digital Green hard drives, along with a 240GB solid-state drive that's used to cache files before playback. Superb sound quality, decided JA, but DSD files were reproduced with a drop in volume when transcoded to PCM to play via a serial digital port. (Native DSD playback was okay.) "This server is a keeper," he summed up. In a Follow-Up, JVS described in detail his efforts to get the most from the N10. In the end, he expressed admiration for this one-box server's ease of use and its ability to connect to a DAC via USB, but noted his ultimate preference for other solutions. (Vol.39 No.4, Vol.42 No.4 WWW)

Baetis Audio Prodigy X3 server: $4800 (without options)
In spite of having more bells and whistles than its predecessor, the Baetis XR3, the new Prodigy X sells for a lower base price. That said, a number of options are available—and KR's review sample had more than a few, including a faster i7 CPU ($200), 32GB of RAM ($280), a pre-installed SOtM USBhubIN port with independent clock board ($1200), and an HD-Plex linear 400W PSU with Baetis cryo-treated DC cabling ($1220). Used with JRiver Media Center and his own exaSound e28 multichannel DAC, the Prodigy X treated KR to "marginally less noise at [the] speaker outlets," a bottom end that was "a bit tighter," and "greater overall clarity." Kal summed up the Prodigy X: "Another evolutionary step in an already distinguished line." In his "Music in the Round" column for the November 2017 Stereophile, KR noted that the Prodigy X "is now running the latest versions of Roon and JRiver Media Center (respectively v1.3/build 247 and v23.0.22)." (Vol.41 No.2 WWW)

dCS Rossini Player: $28,499 ★
dCS Rossini Clock: $8499 ★

Boasting the updated version of the company's signature Ring DAC, the dCS Rossini Player combines a Red Book CD drive with multiple digital inputs and a UPnP network player. The Rossini Player upsamples to the DXD format—PCM at 352.8kHz or 384kHz—and supports both DoP and native DSD up to DSD128. The Player is compatible with Ethernet and Apple AirPlay, and, as of the time of our review, the most recent version of its iOS app supports Roon endpoint integration. JA combined his review sample of the Rossini Player with the similarly new dCS Rossini Clock; summing up his thoughts on both, he wrote that the combo "produced what was, overall, the best sound from digital I have experienced in my system." Of his measurements, all of which incorporated the Rossini Clock, JA wrote that the Rossini Player offers performance that is "about as good as can be gotten from a thoroughly modern digital audio product." In the June 2019 Stereophile, JVS reported on dCS's Rossini software v2.0, which applies to both the Rossini Player and D/A processor. (Vol.39 No.12, Vol.42 No.6 WWW)

dCS Rossini SACD Transport: $23,500
Unlike the earlier Rossini Player, which only played CDs, the Rossini Transport uses a new mechanism from Denon that plays both SACDs and CDs. The Transport outputs audio data on twin AES/EBU links, to allow it to send native DSD data and CD data upsampled to DXD, DSD, or double DSD (these both encrypted) to a dCS DAC. JA used the Transport with a Rossini DAC and was mightily impressed by what he heard. He consistently preferred the sound of SACDs played on the Transport compared with the same data sent to the Rossini DAC over his network, feeling that the low frequencies sounded more robust. "Once these words have been laid out on the pages of this issue," JA concluded, "I'll have to return [the Rossini Transport] to dCS. It breaks my heart. (Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

dCS Vivaldi 2.0: $116,496/system as reviewed ★
The top dCS digital playback system comprises: the Vivaldi DAC ($35,999), which can decode every digital resolution from MP3 to DSD and DXD, provides 10 filter options (six for PCM, four for DSD), and offers every digital input other than Ethernet; the Vivaldi Upsampler ($21,999), which can upconvert even the lowest-resolution MP3 data to 24/384, DSD, and DXD, or any format in between; the Vivaldi Master Clock ($14,999), containing two groups of four clock outputs, which can be independently set; and the Vivaldi Transport ($41,999), a smooth, quiet, quick-booting SACD/CD drive based on TEAC's Esoteric VRDS Neo disc mechanism, controlled by dCS-designed signal-processing electronics and capable of upsampling CDs to DSD or DXD. In addition to updated casework and cosmetics, the Vivaldi products use a complete revision of dCS's Ring DAC topology, increasing the Ring DAC's available dynamic range and decreasing its jitter. Though setup was complicated, the Vivaldi components produced "a texturally supple, delicate, musically involving sound filled with color and life," said MF of the original version. On the test bench, the Vivaldi measured superbly, improving on dCS's Scarlatti in almost every way. "Wow!" said JA. In the December 2017 Stereophile, JVS wrote of the Vivaldi DAC's upgrade to v.2.02 firmware, which enables DSD128 file playback and includes other refinements; MQA compatibility, though anticipated, was not available at the time of our review. Compared to the same DAC running v.1.2 firmware, the upgraded DAC presented JVS with more vividly saturated tonal colors—"I was so impressed by the degree of color saturation that, to fully bask in the sound, I turned the lights out"—and, in place of dryness, "an iridescent clarity to timbres and textures." (Vol.37 No.1, Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

exaSound Delta: $3000 plus cost of internal storage
See KR's review elsewhere in this issue.

Grimm MU1 music streamer: $10,500 plus cost of internal storage
The MU1 is based on an Intel twin-core i3 processor running a Linux-based operating system. It incorporates a Roon Core and is fully integrated with the Roon Server app. It can be controlled by rotating and pressing a top-mounted, bronze-colored disc. (A high-precision digital volume control and other functions can be selected with this control.) While its Ethernet and USB ports can be used to send audio data from the Intel board to a DAC, the MU1 upsamples PCM data and downsamples DSD data sourced from its AES/EBU outputs, using what Grimm calls a "Pure Nyquist" decimation filter hosted in a Xilinx FPGA. (Measurement revealed that this is an ultra–fast-rolloff filter, reaching full stop-band attenuation at half the original PCM data's sample rate.) JA very much preferred the sound from the AES/EBU outputs, finding that the upsampling of CD-resolution data reduced congestion, added depth to the soundstage, and increased the separation among acoustic objects in that soundstage. JA recommended the MU1 highly as a streamer, writing that it can also operate as a network bridge with legacy D/A processors that don't have USB or Ethernet ports, and that it can be used as the sole source component with active speakers that have digital inputs. A 1TB SSD adds $225; 2TB SSD adds $430; 4TB SSD adds $805. An FM tuner function is promised. (Vol.44 No.3 WWW)

Gryphon Ethos: $39,000
Released at a time when new CD players in general are rarities, let alone ones that cost as much as a 2020 Alfa Giulia, the Gryphon Ethos entices with its user-selectable upsampling (up to 24/384 PCM or DSD128) and digital filters (seven PCM, three DSD), its USB-addressable D/A processor (up to 32/384 PCM or DSD512), its choice of single-ended and balanced outputs, and its "eye-catching and resolutely retro styling"—that last one according to JVS, who also noted that the DAC does not decode MQA and that the player does not play SACDs. JVS also found that upsampling CDs "to either DSD or PCM enhanced listening with additional air and depth . . . . I liked the upsampling feature a lot." Jason's conclusion: "The Ethos is one open, marvelously detailed, and fresh-sounding unit that makes listening an absolute joy." Measurer-in-chief JA added to that assessment: "The Gryphon Ethos offers excellent audio engineering." Because it plays only CDs, A+ rating applies only to its use as a DAC. (Vol.43 No.1 WWW)

Innuos Statement: $13,750 and up
A dedicated server from Portuguese company Innuos, the two-box Statement includes a drive for ripping CDs and features eight separate power supplies: three for each voltage of the motherboard; one for the CPU; one for the SSD storage device; one for the Ethernet Reclocker board; one for the USB Reclocker Board; and one for the USB clock. At the time of the review, Roon and Innuos were discussing how the two systems will work together, but the Statement could still be used as a Roon output device. Comparing the Statement with a Nucleus+ using USB connections to his dCS Rossini D/A processor, JVS found that the Innuos server's treble seemed slightly rounded, the presentation "a touch warmer . . . The Statement warmed the piano and smoothed out the top in a manner that some would call analoglike or tubelike." JVS concluded that "In its flagship Statement music server, Innuos has created a transparent instrument that scores big in soundstage size and depth, dynamics, and bass reach." He was less impressed by the InnuOS 1.4.3 Web app, which he felt was best described as "a work in need of progress." In a follow-up, JA found almost no measurable differences in a PS Audio DirectStream's analog output whether it received data from the Nucleus+ or Statement via USB or from the Nucleus+ via Ethernet. In a series of listening tests, JA found differences between the Innuos and Roon servers difficult to hear with many recordings but ultimately agreed with JVS that via USB connections, the Nucleus's low frequencies were outclassed by the Statement's. "Not by much, I admit," he wrote, "but enough to matter; . . . the bass line had a touch more drive with Statement sending data to the PS Audio." (Vol.43 Nos.4 & 5 WWW)

mbl Noble Line N31: $15,400 ★
Designed to play "Red Book" CDs and, via its USB and other digital inputs, music files up to 24/192 and DSD64 (DoP), the Noble Line N31 is less a digital-audio Swiss Army knife than a luxuriantly attractive, 40lb monument to the idea of perfecting the playback of audiophilia's best-loved digital formats. Built around the ESS Sabre 9018 DAC, the N13 offers a full-color 5" TFT display—the MBL player recognizes CD text and displays title information—and features an SDcard slot for firmware updates, a choice of three playback filters, and a remote handset that lights up before the person reaching for it has even touched it. Listening to CDs and even a CD-R through the N13, JA was impressed by the "sheer tangibility" of the MBL's sound, noting that, with its Min filter engaged, the N31 "gracefully reproduced" one "overcooked" track, and that the differences among its three filters was "greater in degree than with other DACs." Through the MBL's USB inputs, even iPhones and iPads, their own volume controls disarmed by the MBL's USB input, offered "excellent" sound quality. JA originally raised an eyebrow at the lack of a network port and the fact that the player's filters can't be selected via the remote handset, but both of these issues have been addressed in 2020 production with the optional Roon Ready Input Module. As with USB, the networked MBL rendered music with an excellent sense of overall drive and low-frequency impact, JA found, with low-level recorded detail well-resolved. JA concluded his original review by saying that digital sound "doesn't get any better" than what he heard from the N31. He also noted that the MBL offered 21 bits of resolution—the current state of the art of digital audio. This prompted JA the measurer to agree with JA the listener: "Digital audio engineering doesn't get any better." Price is with factory-installed Roon Ready network module. Price without module is $15,400. (Vol.41 No.2, Vol.43 No.12 WWW)

Merging Technologies MERGING+PLAYER Multichannel-8: $13,500 ★
Merging Technologies MERGING+PLAYER Stereo: $12,500 ★

Noting the enthusiasm shown by "normal" audiophiles for proprietary music players that can be controlled by a tablet or smartphone, KR hailed the appearance of the surround-soundfriendly Merging+Player Multichannel-8 from the Swiss firm Merging Technologies, whose Merging+NADAC D/A converter so impressed him (see elsewhere in Recommended Components). Indeed, the Merging+Player is essentially that very DAC plus a player in the same box, said box now enhanced with a pair of USB inputs. The user is required to supply little more than speakers, amplifiers, and a subscription to Roon, which serves the Merging+Player as user interface. The Merging+Player can handle PCM up to 24/352.8 and DSD64, and has the processing power to do so with or without EQ—although KR mused that it could benefit from more horsepower, "if only to improve the user experience." Still, KR found the standalone Merging+Player to sound no different from his reference Roon-equipped Baetis server—high praise. He described it as "a one-box system of the highest quality." (Vol.41 No.3 WWW)

Métronome c|AQWO: $26,000 Métronome t|AQWO: $24,000
A combination of Métronome's c|AQWO D/A processor ($26,000) and t|AQWO transport ($24,000), this four-box SACD/CD player—each of the two above-named units has its own outboard Métronome Elektra power supply—provides the lucky owner with a means of not only playing the hi-rez layer of an SACD but also upsampling it to DSD256 or to 24-bit/384kHz PCM, the latter transformation also available to Red Book CDs. (Refer to the full review for details on the combination's output and input options, which defy description in a brief précis such as this.) JVS enjoyed the Métronome combination and singled out the c|AQWO DAC for its "non-fatiguing, easy-on-the-ears sound that some would consider analog-like." Writing from his lab, JA noted that the t|AQWO transport's error correction was "one of the best I have encountered." Apart from "disappointing" jitter performance via its AES/EBU and TosLink connections—all was well via HDMI—the c|AQWO DAC "did well on the test bench." (Vol.43 No.3 WWW)

Pink Faun 2.16x music streamer: $20,750 as reviewed, with S/PDIF and USB I/O cards
Storage for music files is optional with this expensive, dead-silent streamer from Holland, and it has no built-in DAC, As a streamer, though, it's an all-out effort. "Its huge size and weight and [custom] Lamborghini Orange front panel shout that out loud," KR wrote. The CPU on the motherboard is liquid-cooled by copper tubes coupling it to a large heatsink on one side of the chassis. The heatsink on the other side cools five large power transistors. Proprietary, sealed Oven Controlled Crystal (Xtal) Oscillators (OCXOs), available in standard or Ultra versions, are used for the system clock, the motherboard, and each of the I/O cards. The "headless" Pink Faun is controlled by the Roon app, which can run on a tablet or laptop. KR was impressed by this streamer's performance with both stereo and multichannel files, writing that it was sufficiently transparent to permit him to hear differences among DACs and reconstruction filters. "The Pink Faun 2.16x Streamer is, sonically, as perfect a stereo source component as I have used," he concluded. (Vol.43 No.12 WWW)

Roon Labs Nucleus+: $2559 without audio file storage ★
The first hardware product from software specialist Roon Labs, the Nucleus+ combines an Intel i7 processor/NUC board with 8GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD solid-state drive, the latter hosting the Linux-based Roon Optimized Core Kit (ROCK) operating system and Roon server software. Also provided are a single gigabit Ethernet port, USB 3.0 ports for conversing with external drives and/or USB DACs, a multichannel-friendly HDMI port, a Thunderbolt 3 port, and an internal bay for an HDD or SSD drive. Use of the Nucleus+ requires a Roon subscription ($9.99/month, $699.99/lifetime). When JA tried the Nucleus+, he found he had "nothing specific to say about the sound other than that it was always excellent." KR described his efforts at pressing the Nucleus+ into service as a multichannel server. His results were encouraging, although DSP execution was a mixed bag, depending on sample rate, the operation desired, and the strain they put on processing power. Upsampling in particular "seemed to drain the tank." In a 2020 follow-up, JA found that the sonic differences between the Nucleus+ and the considerably more expensive Innuos Statement server were small. (Vol.41 No.8, Vol.42 No.3, Vol.43 Nos.4 & 5 WWW)

T+A MP 3100 HD SACD/CD player: $21,000
This impressively well-engineered, "Roon tested" hi-rez player includes AES/EBU, TosLink and coaxial S/PDIF, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and USB serial data inputs as well as a USB Type A port to play files on a storage device. It even has an FM radio tuner. A choice of four oversampling reconstruction filters allows the user to tailor the MD 3001's sonic signature. JCA concluded that "Treble tones glisten like light reflected from the facets of a diamond, and also seem especially relaxed—no digital glare. Bass, while not louder than with other digital sources, has more sturdiness and depth." On the test bench, the T+A player's measured performance was beyond reproach, though JA warned that those rare preamplifiers with an input impedance of less than 1k ohms should be avoided. (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Wolf Systems Alpha 3 server: $7195 as reviewed
Wolf Systems Alpha 3 SX server: $9295 as reviewed

Wolf Audio Systems specializes in configuring eighth-generation, six-core i7 processors for use as silent (no cooling-fan noise) music servers with prodigious computing power—leading KR, Our Man in the Round, to wonder if there existed a sufficiently powerful Wolf to meet the demands of multichannel playback (!) of hi-rez files (!!) with DSP and/or EQ (!!!). Wolf suggested he try the Alpha 3 High Fidelity Audio Server (HFAS), which supports JRiver Media Center and Roon and offers 16GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD for internal storage, and a TEAC Blu-ray transport for ripping and playing CDs. KR was impressed with the Alpha 3—and by Wolf's semi-customized owner's manual and telephone and VPN support. He noted that "the Alpha 3 never blinked, blanked, or unceremoniously rebooted itself; it worked silently and reliably." His verdict: "a great choice for playing hi-rez files of multichannel music." In his review of the premium Alpha 3 SX version—the SX stands for "Stillpoint/eXemplar Audio" and refers to grounding, vibration management, and RF/EMI rejection technology designed by those two companies—JVS wrote that "from the very first notes, the Alpha 3 SX's neutrality came as a breath of fresh air." JVS also auditioned the Alpha 3 SX with the optional Flux Capacitor USB clock card ($600). Without the clock card, he found that "the magic was lessened." With the USB clock card, depth was "quite good, if not as deep as through my reference Nucleus+ with external linear power supply." JVS felt the Wolf server was a better match with darker-toned ancillary components but summed up his review by writing "Match the Wolf Alpha 3 SX with the right components, and you may end up howling for joy." (Vol.42 No.1, Alpha 3 WWW; Vol.43 No.5, Alpha 3 SX WWW)

A

ATC CDA2 Mk2 CD player: $4249
An unexpected gem in the product line of a UK speaker specialist, the CDA2 Mk2 majors in the playing of "Red Book" CDs and minors in preamplification. As KM noted, "the beating heart of the revised CDA2 is twofold: a Chinese-made TEAC 5020A-AT CD transport . . . and [AKM's] AK4490EQ DAC chip." Preamp gain comes courtesy of op-amps built around discrete devices, and the USB receiver is an Amanero Combo 384. When using it to play CDs, KM found that "the ATC presented each as a character study of a unique sonic personality telling a singular story," and he praised in particular the player's sonic transparency. Playing files through the ATC's USB input—streaming is not supported—Ken described the sound as "very good overall, including from DSD files, but it lacked the visceral grip of CDs through the ATC's transport." Reporting from his test bench, JA praised the CDA2 Mk2's "generally superb measured performance, though its S/PDIF inputs aren't up to the standard of jitter rejection offered by CD playback and the USB input." (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

Bryston BDP-3: $4095 ★
In February 2017, Bryston upgraded their BDP-2 digital player to BDP-3 status, with refinements including an even faster Intel Quad-core processor; a Bryston-manufactured integrated audio device (IAD) in place of a soundcard; a custom Intel Celeron motherboard; a bigger power supply; and two additional USB ports, for a total of eight—three of which use the faster USB 3.0 protocol. Bryston's tried-and-true player now supports up to 32/384 PCM and DSD128. The BDP-3 supports Tidal, and can be configured as a Roon endpoint. LG sent his BDP-2 to the Bryston factory for conversion to BDP-3 status (a $1500 upgrade) and found that the new media-player software displays more album art and metadata; more important, he found slight improvements in sound over the BDP-2, including improved bass extension and clearer, more open, more detailed presentations of well-recorded choral music. (Vol.41 No.1 WWW)

Hegel Music Systems Mohican: $5000
With a name that suggests it's among the last of a dying breed and a design brief that all but sneers at present-day trends in digital source components, the "Red Book"only, physical-media–only Mohican uses a Sanyo transport and an AKM DAC chip to play 16-bit/44.1kHz discs without upsampling. A digital output (BNC) is provided, along with balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) analog outputs. Following his listening tests, HR praised the Mohican's coherence and "simple, unobstructed clarity," while noting that it didn't communicate natural textures as well as some contemporary standalone DACs. That said, he praised the Hegel player for perhaps giving "new meaning to that old cliché: future-proof." Measurer-in-chief JA observed that the Mohican "demonstrates appropriate audio engineering," his only reservation being some spuriae at and related to 100Hz. In a Follow-Up, AD commented on the Mohican's unusually study, serenely finished casework, and praised it for not tarting up lousy CDs, but rather for "giving me the arguably deeper and more enduring pleasure of hearing goodness enhanced. This is my new standard in CD playback." (Vol.40 No.5, Vol.42 No.3 WWW)

Kalista DreamPlay One: $49,000
The Kalista DreamPlay One, from French digital-audio specialists Métronome, is a two-box CD player, only one of whose halves—its Elektra power supply—is really a box at all. The other half—the DreamPlay One itself—is an exotic-looking and roughly hexagram-shaped device made of steel, aluminum, and methacrylate. Its modified Philips CDM12PRO transport is exposed and designed for use with a supplied CD puck, also exotic-looking. Both single-ended and balanced outputs are provided, but there are no digital inputs or outputs. A brilliantly executed display screen is integrated within the player's frontmost structure. Soft-touch buttons control the DreamPlay One's basic functions; the screen also assists in choosing from among the player's six user-selectable digital playback filters, differences between which AD found to be "the smallest real differences . . . I've ever heard." Far more apparent were the distinctions between the Kalista DreamPlay One and most other players of Art's experience: "I really can't recall the last time a CD player was so good that it helped change my mind about music I'd never quite favored." Art described the Kalista as "more tonally balanced" than his aging reference Sony player and raved over its abilities to convey instrumental colors, musical momentum and force, realistic scale, and realistic presence. He summed up: "the DreamPlay One is without flaw in every regard but price." Measurer-in-chief JA wrote that, apart from a trace of power-supply ripple, "the Kalista DreamPlay One demonstrates good audio engineering." (Vol.41 No.9 WWW)

NAIM ND5 XS 2: $3490
Built around Naim's proprietary streaming platform, the ND5 XS 2 player—at present the company's entry-level model—can be used wirelessly or via an Ethernet connection to the user's router or network switch. Depending on file type, the Naim supports PCM up to 32/384 and DSD to DSD128, but does not unfold MQA content. The Roon-ready ND5 XS 2 supports Tidal, Chromecast, and Spotify, with Qobuz compatibility said to be in the works. AD found the Naim sounded its best with files played from his laptop via Roon—and that was very good indeed, a beloved Beck track in particular sounding "as good and big and compelling" as he'd ever heard it. Writing from his test bench, JA noted that he was "puzzled" by the Naim's less-than-straightforward jitter performance but noted that the player "otherwise . . . turns in respectable measured performance." AD's conclusion: "a good-sounding, pleasant-to-use player that offers very good value." (Vol.42 No.4 WWW)

Sony DMP-Z1: $8499.99
Weighing as it does a little over 5lb, the Sony DMP-Z1 is less of a Walkman (as the manufacturer describes it) than a SitInTheLimoMan (as JA describes it); however it's labeled, this media player/digital processor/headphone amplifier is unambiguously a luxury product, with convenience features that include a top-mounted color touchscreen; two slots for microSD cards; Bluetooth alongside USB connectivity; MQA support; and a big, gold-plated-brass volume knob—plus user-selectable reconstruction filters and DSP functions. The Sony rewarded JA with sound with "excellent low-frequency weight" but that was a bit too mellow with darker-than-neutral 'phones such as his AudioQuest NightHawks—Audeze LCD-Xes were a better match. "An MQA-encoded classical track sounded simply glorious through the Sony." JA-the-measurer confirmed the impressions of JA-the-listener, noting "superb measured performance, indicative of equally superb analog and digital audio engineering." (Vol.42 No.8 WWW)

B

Bryston BCD-3: $3995 ★
AD, whose preoccupation with obsolete technologies now extends to physical digital media, continues to seek out The Last CD Player You'll Ever Buy, in which context he auditioned the Bryston BCD-3—a product that eschews both digital inputs and hi-rez media to focus on playback of "Red Book" CDs. (That said, the BCD-3 does have AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital-output jacks, for use with an outboard DAC.) The BCD-3 is built around the AKM AK4490 DAC chip—two per channel, in differential mode—and uses a metal-encased disc transport from the Austrian company StreamUnlimited, healthy supplies of which Bryston claims to already have on hand for future repairs. AD thoroughly enjoyed his time with the BCD-3, which did virtually everything he could have asked for: It played bluegrass music with drive and color, offered musically nuanced and pleasantly tactile playback of dense classical recordings, and even exposed the top-end glare heard on one disc as originating with his ancient Sony disc player, not the recording itself—which had "fine color and clarity" through the Bryston. AD concluded that the Bryston BCD-3 "offers very good value for the money. I could easily, happily live with it, and can just as easily recommend it." JA's measurements revealed nothing untoward—just "superb audio engineering." (Vol.40 No.8 WWW)

Pro-Ject Stream Box S2 Ultra Server: $899 $$$
This relatively affordable server/network bridge runs a customized Volumio operating system, which resides in its 12.79GB onboard memory, and can be controlled by either a Web browser or Pro-Ject's own iOS app; it can also be used as a Roon endpoint. Network connectivity is via Ethernet or WiFi (an antenna is included). Tidal and Spotify streaming services are supported, as is Shoutcast internet radio, and the Stream Box S2 Ultra supports PCM up to 32/352.8 and DSD up to DSD256. In JA's system, the Pro-Ject network bridge, controlled by its free app and with a USB-connected DAC, produced sound that was "indistinguishable from that using my [Roon] Nucleus+ with Roon to stream audio over my Ethernet-wired network. Not bad for something that costs only one-third the Roon server's price." (Vol.42 No.4 WWW)

Rega Apollo: $1095 $$$
In 2018, AD tested both the most expensive current-production high-end CD player of his experience (the $43,000 Kalista DreamPlay One) and the least expensive; the latter was the latest version of Rega's humble Apollo, a half-size (8.7" wide) player whose top-loading transport is accessed via a cleverly designed manual-lift lid, and whose DAC chip is a Wolfson WM8742. The Apollo impressed Art with its generally unfussy appearance and ease of use, and, most of all, its compelling sound quality. With a disc-dependent balance that ranged between slightly light and just right, the Rega complemented the well-saturated and -textured sound of AD's tubed electronics, and proved a reliable revealer of pitches, rhythms, and otherwise-unnoticed musical subtleties. His conclusions: "This player has a sonic brilliance—a clarity of detail and musical line, allied with a spatially up-front presentation—that enhances musical engagement. Robustly recommended." Writing from his test bench, JA noted that the Apollo's rejection of word-clock jitter was "not quite to the otherwise excellent standard of digital engineering revealed by the rest of its measured performance." (Vol.41 No.6 WWW)

Volumio Primo streamer-D/A processor: €619 $$$
This Ethernet-connected streamer may be small and affordable, but, controlled by the open-source Volumio app or by Roon via a plug-in, it offers full functionality with music libraries stored on NAS drives. (It doesn't have internal storage for audio files.) The Primo is based on the ASUS Tinker Board single-board computer, to which Volumio has added an audio processing board. When turned on, it establishes a WiFi "hotspot," allowing control via tablets or smart phones. A USB output port can send audio data to a separate D/A processor, but the Primo also offers high-quality analog outputs for those who value system simplicity. (KR reported that these outputs sounded clean and balanced, with impact and scale.) KR wrote that "the Volumio Primo is a neat little music player. Its sound was clean and balanced through any of my three DACs," though he did add that his DACs sounded more dynamic and open when the significantly more expensive Baetis or the Pink Faun players were sending the data. While the Primo's hardware was underpowered for KR's downsampling/multichannel/DSP needs, he concluded that "if your music library and streaming sources are stereo only, and you intend to use the Primo's very good ESS DAC, I can recommend it highly." (Vol.44 No.2 WWW)

Deletions
AVM Ovation MP 8.2, replaced by newer model not yet reviewed. NAD Masters Series M50.2, discontinued. Playback Designs Sonoma Syrah, not auditioned in a long time.

COMMENTS
grymiephone's picture

The Linton Heritage is not an audiophile speaker, and I will stop there, it's hard to find music it plays well

Glotz's picture

And it sounded fantastic with 'entry'-level Hegel components.

Everyone is different, and especially when one levels generalist comments.

grymiephone's picture

I had a response with more details but it was deleted.

Glotz's picture

Sorry man. I think the site had some issues a week back as well. Anything that was edited sometimes got deleted.

grymiephone's picture

Oh, well. for what's it's worth:
I tested the Linton with 5 other speakers. When I ordered it, the sales person said: be warned, it's NOT an audiophile speaker. And it didn't compare well. I wanted to love them but my 23 year old Celestions had more image and punch than the Lintons. I am sure they can sound good in a different system

MatthewT's picture

I agree with the "not an audiophile speaker" remark. I wish we could know what Art Dudley thought of them. I love them, FWIW.

Glotz's picture

I appreciate both of your insights here.

It helps me come closer to the truth. Or that's not right- The perceptions of each person lend us insights into how each person feels in their system.

I know a lot of times it's hard to speak to one's system for fear of others being critical.

Nonetheless, it does tell me what possible variances there are. I thought the double Linton's were impressive, if expensive. The dealer had them in a pseudo-d'appolito configuration, with the top speakers upside down and on top of the bottom pair.

liguorid42's picture

I agree everyone's opinion of what he or she likes is valid, and an opinion that you shouldn't like something because it's not an audiophile product is invalid. That being said, if you're a wine connoisseur you wouldn't necessarily make a buying decision on a pricey Cabernet based on the opinion of someone whose beverage of choice is Mountain Dew. And "not an audiophile speaker" can just mean your favorite reviewer has not made the sign of the cross before it, and is pretty useless without some description of what you perceive its sonic flaws to be.

Glotz's picture

I think all stereo products can have a home, but you are right it's all about context.

I was impressed with the Denton's midrange, but perhaps that's not fair given I was listening to the collective output of 2 pairs of speakers working in tandem.

mememe2's picture

PLease put this in the "useless phrases" section of your mag. Can we have good pace but lack timing -no. can we have good rhythm but lack pace - no. Can we have good timing but lack rhythm - no. This description seems to be aimed at audio prats (in the original meaning of the word).

Charles E Flynn's picture

"captures the emotion"

liguorid42's picture

Back when founding father Gordon Holt started Stereophile he tried to develop a lexicon to describe how things actually sounded--things like "liquid", "transparent", "grainy", "warm"--as opposed to how things emotionally affected him personally. Theoretically you could go to a hi fi emporium, listen to KLH Nines driven by Audio Research electronics and hear for yourself what he meant. Though he did open the door with his "goosebump test". These days terms such as you describe have made subjective audio reviewing so subjective as not to be very useful to anyone else.

Charles E Flynn's picture

Thanks for your reply.

I have always wondered how one could determine that a playback chain captured the emotion of the performers when the only evidence we have about their emotions is what is provided by the playback chain.

The reproduced sound may convey or provoke emotion, but whether what it conveys is what the performer felt is something we can never determine on the basis of only the reproduced sound.

liguorid42's picture

..in the Firesign Theater album said, "That's metapheesically absurd, mun, how can I know what you hear?"

Heck, you can't know if what you're feeling is the same as what the performer is feeling even at a live performance. Not even close would be my guess. What I'm feeling when I play the piano in private is very different from when I get conned into playing for someone. What the composer felt when setting the notes to the page, different still. I doubt a loudspeaker, let alone a piece of loudspeaker cable, has anything to do with any of this.

George Tn's picture

the Schiit Sol made it on to the list in such a high spot for its price. I've been rooting for that product and it's finally being seen for how great it is.

PTG's picture

Yup.. So happy to see Sol finally get some recognition. SOL had a very rough launch but they owned up to it and made it right ! I would love to get one but am worried about how much tinkering is needed to make it right.. Still thinking about it.... It LOOKS amazing !!!

georgehifi's picture

Same for the Aegir, a A20w Class-A stereo in Class-A Stereophile. I can only think of one similar that could/would do that, and that's the mighty 20w Mark Levison ML2 monoblocks.
https://i.pinimg.com/736x/d6/6a/cc/d66acc2c1d4fa7ea17f5a9bb9345e912.jpg

Cheers George

Glotz's picture

Yes, these components are great to see classified, but it's one person's ranking for a component. The classes also cut a large swath in performance of any one category- and within each class.

That being said, I do think the Sol is pretty-well-reviewed for the money and if my rig broke suddenly... I'd get this one to tie me over.

PTG's picture

Did I miss it or was Bluesound family of products (Node2i, Vault2i ??) totally dropped off the RC2021 list ? If yes, I wonder why...

Jim Austin's picture

On previous lists, when several Bluesound products were listed together, we put them under "Complete Audio Systems." We dropped most of them simply because they haven't been auditioned in years--indeed, no Stereophile reviewer ever tried a gen-2 version of any of the products except the Node2i, which I bought a few months back and use daily. Dropping products that haven't been auditioned in a long time is longstanding RecComp policy.

With only the Node2i on the list, it no longer makes sense to list it under Complete Audio Systems; it should be moved to Digital Processors. But I overlooked that fact when preparing the 2021 edition.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

C_Hoefer's picture

I just navigated to this page intending to point out the error in location of the Bluesound Node 2i - glad to see you already caught it! It belongs in digital players.
--CH

prerich45's picture

I'd like to see some of the other offerings tested by Stereophile. The Gustard dacs have measured well by another site. I've actually purchased one to see how it fairs to my ears - as I've already seen its numbers. SMSL,Gustard, and Topping are making some possible world beaters, it would be interesting to see this publication put them on the bench.

Fstein's picture

Lirpasound announces $79 amplifier, states previous price of $159,000 a joke no reasonable person would believe

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