Digital Processor Reviews

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John Atkinson  |  Jul 20, 2002  |  0 comments
Such is the pace of development in digital technology these days that it is hard not to become convinced that digital playback is a solved problem. The measured performance aberrations are so low in absolute level—and, more important, so low compared with the typical threshold of human hearing—that it is difficult to see why digital components should sound different from one another.
John Atkinson  |  May 18, 2017  |  15 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.
John Atkinson  |  Feb 25, 2020  |  63 comments
The idea of using digital signal processing (DSP) to convert digital audio data sampled at 44.1kHz or 48kHz to a higher sample rate is not new. I first heard the beneficial effects of upsampling at Stereophile's 1998 hi-fi show in Los Angeles, where a pro-audio dCS 972 digital-to-digital processor was being used to convert 16-bit/44.1kHz CD data to a 24/192 datastream.
Jon Iverson  |  Oct 21, 2015  |  4 comments
The British company Chord Electronics has always seemed to me to be audio's crazy uncle: Crazy like a fox, maybe, but definitely marching to their own tune. Their casework design often borders on the gratuitously provocative, challenging audiophiles' ideas about good taste. Yet many of my audio pals swear by the sound of Chord components, and I've heard them shine in many respectable showrooms.
John Atkinson  |  Jan 27, 2016  |  29 comments
Like all men, I learned at an early age to resist the allure of a pretty face.

Okay—I learned that I should try to resist the allure of a pretty face.

Okay, I confess: I have never been able to resist the allure of a pretty face. Which is why, when I first clapped eyes on the Mojo D/A headphone amplifier from English company Chord Electronics, at an event hosted by Manhattan retailer Stereo Exchange, I had to borrow a sample for review.

John Atkinson  |  Dec 27, 2018  |  57 comments
Back in the mid-1990s, I believed that the design of D/A processors was fundamentally a solved problem. The resistor-ladder, multi-bit DAC chips of the 1980s, with their linearity errors, had been replaced by sigma-delta types that had minimal linearity error down to the lowest signal levels. All that remained for the designers of PCM D/A chips was to increase resolution and dynamic range to the theoretical limits, and to improve the mathematical precision of oversampling digital filters to match the performance of the 20- and 24-bit recordings that had just begun to be released.
John Atkinson  |  Aug 31, 2012  |  First Published: Sep 01, 2012  |  5 comments
I was setting up for some musical demonstrations I was to present for a Music Matters evening at the ListenUp! store in Boulder, Colorado, in May 2011. For these events, an audio store invites manufacturers (and the occasional journalist) to demonstrate to local audiophiles the musical benefits of high-end audio playback. In Boulder, I was to share the store's big listening room with Dave Nauber, president of Classé Audio, who had set up a system with B&W Diamond 802 speakers, a Classé stereo amplifier, and a preproduction sample of Classé's new CP-800 preamplifier ($5000), all hooked up with AudioQuest cable. I unpacked my MacBook, with which I was going to play the high-resolution master files of some of my Stereophile recordings, and looked around for a DAC. There wasn't one.
Robert Harley  |  Feb 06, 2018  |  First Published: Feb 01, 1995  |  24 comments
Someone interested in buying a digital/analog converter today must make tough choices. Not only are there several competing technologies to choose from—multi-bit, 1-bit, hybrid—but every converter also has its own musical signature. When someone buys a converter, they're locked in to both the technology and the sound.
Bill Sommerwerck  |  Jun 10, 2021  |  First Published: Aug 01, 1987  |  5 comments
As ALF would say, "There's more than one way to cook a cat." We've been so overwhelmed with linear pulse-code modulation (PCM) recording, we forget there are other ways to pass from the analog domain to the digital.

One of these is delta modulation. The Greek delta (which in its upper-case, block-letter form, looks like an equilateral triangle) is the mathematical symbol for the difference between two quantities; accordingly, in delta modulation, we record not the absolute value of a signal sample, but the difference between successive samples.

Jonathan Scull  |  Feb 27, 1999  |  0 comments
I've heard it all a thousand times before:
Jim Austin  |  Oct 03, 2019  |  21 comments
The Vivaldi—the four-box flagship product from digital audio specialists dCS—is, in my opinion, misnamed. Vivaldi the composer was an asthmatic priest who worked in an orphanage for 30 years and died in poverty. The Vivaldi stack dedicates four separate products to converting into music digital code stored on silver discs (although you can play music—very well I am sure—on just one box, the Vivaldi DAC, footnote 1). Together, those boxes weigh about 148lb and cost some $115,000. The most expensive is the CD/SACD transport; leave that off and you can save 51lb and $42,000.
Michael Fremer  |  Jan 21, 2011  |  0 comments
Don't have $80,000 to drop on dCS's four-component Scarlatti SACD stack that I reviewed in August 2009, or $17,999 for their Puccini SACD/CD player that John Atkinson raved about in December 2009? Even if you do, the new Debussy D/A processor ($10,999) might be a better fit for your 21st-century audio system. Sure, you don't get an SACD transport—or any kind of disc play, for that matter—but the odds today are that you already have a player you like that's got an S/PDIF output that can feed the Debussy.
John Atkinson  |  Jul 27, 1997  |  0 comments
Things are changing rapidly in the world of professional digital audio. After a decade of stability, with slow but steady improvement in the quality of 16-bit, 44.1kHz audio, the cry among audio engineers is now "24/96!"—meaning 24-bit data sampled at 96kHz. Not coincidentally, DVD offers audiophiles a medium with the potential for playing back music encoded at this new mastering standard.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Nov 30, 2017  |  35 comments
John Atkinson asked me to review the dCS Network Bridge ($4250), which was designed to be paired not just with the dCS Vivaldi DAC ($35,999) running the current v.2.02 software, but with any DAC. This meant I was forced to endure several months with the state-of-the-art Vivaldi as a replacement for my reference dCS Rossini ($23,999). Oh, how I suffered.
John Atkinson  |  Dec 14, 2009  |  0 comments
It's now 10 years since the launch of the two high-resolution audio disc formats, SACD and DVD-Audio. Yet, perhaps partly because both were hobbled in various ways to please the record industry, perhaps partly because too many supposed hi-rez releases sounded no better than CD, and perhaps partly because record retailers weren't sure how to display the formats to their best advantage, neither took off in any substantive way. DVD-A disappeared, and SACD survived only as a niche format for high-quality classical releases in both two- and multichannel forms. As we got deeper into the same decade, digital technology, despite various sparks and flashes, went into the doldrums. Mainstream digital technology was increasingly concerned with squashing the music into fewer and more portable bits, not with increased sound quality. Even the concept of "CD sound quality" began to seem an unattainable goal, as MP3 files became the dominant music carrier.

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