Digital Processor Reviews

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Jason Victor Serinus  |  Dec 21, 2017  |  54 comments
A huge fuss was made over Aurender's first music server, the S10, when it premiered in 2011 at the California Audio Show. While I didn't feel that the room acoustics and setup were good enough at CAS to permit an honest appraisal, the looks and features of the S10 (now discontinued) thrust Aurender into the spotlight. So when John Atkinson, who had very favorably reviewed Aurender's N10 server in April 2016, asked if I would evaluate Aurender's new A10, the opportunity to serve so many audiophiles with a single review elicited from me an unequivocal "Yes!"
John Atkinson  |  Jun 11, 2015  |  0 comments
Aurender was a name new to me when I encountered the company at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, where they displayed a range of music servers designed in California and manufactured in South Korea. But what caught my attention in Aurender's suite was their Flow portable D/A headphone amplifier ($1295). This handsome, battery-powered device, housed in a machined aluminum case about twice the size of a pack of playing cards, offers optical S/PDIF and USB 2.0/3.0 input ports and a single ¼" stereo headphone jack. Two features distinguish the Flow from the pack: Its USB input can be used with iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android smartphone sources, and it can accept an mSATA drive (not included in price) of up to 1TB capacity for internal storage of audio files. Visually, the Flow's distinguishing feature is its round LCD display, which stands proud of the faceplate; the bezel encircling the display acts as a velocity-sensitive volume control operating in 0.5dB steps.
Art Dudley  |  Jan 23, 2018  |  1 comments
For all its faults—complex grammar, inconsistent rules of pronunciation, burdensomely endless vocabulary—English has proven itself a commendably plastic language. This is good for audio enthusiasts, in the US and elsewhere, whose choices in playback gear continue to evolve not only in substance and function but in name: Unlike many of the people who speak it, English can keep pace with the changes.
Jon Iverson  |  May 25, 2016  |  5 comments
I first spied the Ayre Codex two Januarys ago, at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, and its scrappy proletarian vibe sure made it look different from any other Ayre creation. On learning that its price would be well under $2000, I was immediately curious what Charley Hansen and his gang—makers of the $3450 QB-9DSD USB digital-to-analog converter, plus a few five-figure amps and preamps—could create when cost is an object.
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.
Wes Phillips  |  Oct 16, 2009  |  1 comments
These days, it seems you can't shake a stick without hitting a USB DAC, but Ayre's QB-9 ($2500) is something a little different. Ayre's marketing manager, Steve Silberman, was adamant: "The QB-9 isn't a computer peripheral. It makes computers real high-end music sources."
John Atkinson  |  Aug 22, 2017  |  9 comments
Throughout the summer and fall of 2016, I worked on a project with Stereophile contributor Sasha Matson, recording, editing, mixing, and mastering—for release on 180gm LP, CD, and high-resolution download—an album of works that Sasha had composed for various chamber ensembles: Tight Lines. As you can read in the article we published about this project, for the vinyl release we decided not to master the discs directly from the hi-rez files, but to create an intermediate analog tape master. Feeling that audiophiles would want an LP that at some stage was "analog," we therefore needed to choose a D/A processor to drive the Studer open-reel tape recorder we were going to use.
Dick Olsher  |  Sep 20, 2013  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1994  |  0 comments
John Stronczer, Bel Canto Design's technical spark plug, meets my definition of an electronics renaissance man, ranging as he does from designing single-ended amps that glow in the dark (the Orfeo) to digital processors (the Aida). Actually, digital circuitry is one of John's specialties, dating back to his days at Honeywell.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 22, 2018  |  5 comments
When Michael McCormick, president of Bel Canto Design, suggested that I review their Black ACI 600 integrated amplifier, I accepted without hesitation. As wonderful as my reference system may sound, its dCS digital front end alone comprises four boxes and a web of cables complex enough to send many a spider spinning. Given the choice between connecting that front end to a pair of expensive, enormous monoblocks—with their similarly expensive AC cords and equipment racks/isolation platforms—or to a single, visually elegant, 45-lb box that costs $25,000, produces 300Wpc into 8 ohms, and requires only a single power cord and shelf, I think many an audiophile, even those with lots of money, might gravitate toward the latter.
Michael Fremer  |  Jun 26, 2015  |  4 comments
Stereophile normally doesn't review audio systems. We review individual components. We've made an exception for the Bel Canto Black system because it deserves to be evaluated as such. It consists of three dense, almost identically sized cases of black-anodized aluminum. One, the ASC1 Asynchronous Stream Controller, is what in a conventional system would be called a "preamplifier." The other two, a pair of MPS1 Mono PowerStreams, would in a conventional system be called "monoblock power amplifiers."
Robert Deutsch  |  Jan 04, 2005  |  First Published: Dec 05, 2000  |  0 comments
It's hard to know what the best strategy is for digital upgrades. Maybe you bought your first CD player when you became convinced that the format was going to succeed, and it seemed that players were about as good as they were going to get. Some time later, you tried one of the new outboard digital processors, and the sonic improvement was such that you just had to have it. Then you replaced the player itself with a CD transport, so you could benefit from improvements in servo control and digital output circuitry. At this point you were generally happy with your digital front-end—until you read about how 16-bit DACs (which is what your processor had) were old hat now that 20-bit DACs were available. But alas, your processor couldn't be upgraded, and was worth maybe 30% of what you'd paid for it. So you took a loss and bought a new-generation digital processor, and things were fine and dandy...for a while.
Erick Lichte  |  Jun 21, 2011  |  0 comments
Minnesota pride is a funny thing. As Garrison Keillor points out weekly on A Prairie Home Companion, to be a Minnesotan, the first and crucial step to be taken is that of self-effacement. It is unclear to me whether this is the cause or symptom of Minnesotans ability to endure brutal winters, excel at the creation and consumption of hot dish (which the rest of the God-fearing world knows as casseroles), or their miraculous lineage from generations of Norwegian bachelor farmers. Whatever it is, Minnesotans tend to quietly get their jobs done with little more fanfare than a cup of coffee and a slice of rhubarb pie.
John Atkinson  |  May 15, 2009  |  0 comments
The speed with which audiophiles have adopted a computer of some sort as their primary source of recorded music might be thought breathtaking. But with the ubiquitous Apple iPod painlessly persuading people to get used to the idea of storing their music libraries on computer hard drives, the next logical step was to access those libraries in listening rooms as well as on the move. A few months back, I wrote a basic guide to the various strategies for getting the best sound from a computer: "Music Served: Extracting Music from your PC." Since then, Minnesota manufacturer Bel Canto Design has released a product that aims to simplify matters even further.
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.

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