Are You Ready For the Transporter?

Slim Devices, the company best known for the Squeezebox, has announced what it is billing as "the most advanced networked audio system available." At Stereophile, we hear this claim all the time, and it usually means that a computer peripheral company has added another USB port to a product aimed at the MP3 crowd.

However, since Slim Devices outfitted the WiFi-connected Squeezebox with digital outputs, which allowed John Atkinson to feed uncompressed digital audio files into his Mark Levinson No.30.6 D/A converter, making him "strain to hear [the] difference" between his audio files and the original CD using the same converter. So when the company said it had designed its new $1999 Transporter to "appeal to the most discerning audiophiles and music lovers," we had to take a look at what SD had wrought.

Slim Devices started with the AKM AK4396, an advanced multi-bit 192kHz 24-bit DAC designed for DVD-Audio, which SD praises for its "low out-of-band noise," reduced distortion, and ability to preserve phase. Slim Devices has outfitted the Transporter with a full panoply of inputs and outputs. Input: coaxial, optical, BNC S/PDIF, and AES/EBU. Outputs: coaxial, optical, BNC S/PDIF, and AES/EBU.

A word-clock input allows the user to synch to an external clock source and the unit decodes WAV, AIFF, MP3, WMA, and FLAC files with 24-bit resolution at 44.1kHZ, 48kHx, and 96kHz sampling rates.

Analog and digital signal paths are kept separate and the power to each section is supplied by three separate "super-regulated" power stages. The balanced amps use polyphenylene-film capacitors.

"Obviously, the Transporter is not aimed at people who are ripping files to 128kbps MP3 files," said Patrick Cosson, Slim Devices' vice president of sales and marketing. "That's like disposable music—what you'd listen to at the gym. There are a lot of people—people like Slim Devices CEO Sean Adams and myself—who listen to uncompressed audio files and who want them to sound as good as the systems we're playing them on can sound. And you know, some of those systems can sound pretty darn good!"

Cosson told me in an exclusive interview: "The Squeezebox is a design aimed straight at the mainstream of the market, but we're audio geeks ourselves, so we made it the first network player to have digital outputs, to accommodate lossless formats, and as a result, we got a lot of attention from other audio people. Because we are an open-source platform, we learn a lot from the people who use our products and try to make them better, so we took a lot of that feedback and looked at designing an ultimate audio device. The Transporter is our version of an automobile company designing a Formula 1 racer—it may be extreme for many people, but what we learn will affect future products and contribute to the state of the art."

There's one area where the Transporter is not looking to the future, however, and that's its front panel, which prominently displays a graphic interface reminiscent of the oversized blue VU meters of classic American hi-fi. "Oh yes," said Cosson. "That's a deliberate homage to the giants of the golden age of high fidelity. Those are the guys we revere—and , I suspect, in another 20 years or so, Sean Adams is going to be considered one of those guys, too. Specifications will continue to improve, but I think that the Transporter will be a classic."

The Transporter will be available September 18, 2006. Customers who pre-order will receive a free Squeezebox.