Digital Processor Reviews

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Michael Fremer  |  Jan 04, 2014  |  First Published: Jan 01, 2014  |  2 comments
More than a decade ago, Data Conversion Systems, aka dCS, released the Elgar Plus DAC, Purcell upsampler, and Verdi SACD/CD transport, for a total price of $34,000. In 2009 came the Scarlatti—a stack of four components for $80,000, also available individually (see my August 2009 review). The latest variation on the English company's theme are the four Vivaldi components, launched at the end of 2012 for a total price of $108,496.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Dec 24, 2014  |  6 comments
A decade or two ago, I stumbled on a surprising demo room at an audio show. I don't recall most of the equipment, but I do remember a pair of Paradigm Studio 20 speakers at one end, their crossover entrails dangling free, connected to the rest of the system by a multiplicity of wires. At the other end, among the usual electronics, was a PC whose screen was a crazy quilt of graphs and menus that constantly twinkled in response to the ministrations of DEQX's Kim Ryrie. He seemed totally absorbed, but looked up and proudly offered to show me what he was doing. When I told him that I was familiar with the Paradigms, he played some music that sounded just fine. Then he clicked his mouse. The sound was transformed from the familiar to the fabulous. I was dumbfounded. "What have you done?"
John Atkinson  |  Dec 28, 2012  |  15 comments
Most reviews are straightforward. One preamplifier or power amplifier replaces another. DACs are swapped out. A new pair of speakers takes up residence in the listening room.

But some products demand a complete revision of a system's architecture. Such was the case with Devialet's D-Premier ($15,995). Not only is this French product an integrated amplifier, with phono and line analog inputs; it has digital inputs and an internal D/A section.

John Atkinson  |  Dec 05, 2013  |  3 comments
In more than 37 years of working at audio magazines, I have never reviewed an Electrocompaniet product. With this review of the company's ECD 2 digital/analog processor, which costs a dollar short of $3100, that streak of inattention has come to an end.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Feb 28, 2019  |  15 comments
For years, I've attended audio shows at which the Canadian company EMM Labs, either on its own or in conjunction with Kimber Kable and IsoMike, has displayed some of the grandest, most impressive-sounding multichannel systems I've ever heard. When everything was aligned properly, as it was at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, the sound was breathtaking.
John Atkinson  |  Dec 08, 2011  |  4 comments
If an audiophile visiting an audio show in 1991 were to have been transported two decades into the future, at first he would not be aware of any difference: A two-channel system would be playing in a hotel room. But on closer inspection, he would notice that the CD player, the ubiquitous source 20 years ago, would be conspicuous by its absence. Yes, there might be a turntable—"Good to see that people are playing LPs in the future," he would think—but why is there a PC in the room?
Larry Greenhill  |  Nov 13, 2015  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1995  |  1 comments
The EAD DSP-1000 III is housed in a 2.5" high, U-shaped chassis with a brushed-aluminum front panel. The cover is made of solid, 1/10"-thick steel with a nice "powder" finish, giving the unit an expensive feel. A pushbutton standby switch sitting below a green LED indicator sits at the panel's left. Even when set to Off, power is maintained for the decoder's circuits, but the digital inputs and analog outputs are muted. To the right, three pushbuttons allow selection of one of the three digital input sources (TosLink, 750 ohm coaxial, or glass optical interface). Like the EAD DSP-7000 unit reviewed by J. Gordon Holt and Steven Stone (Vol.18 Nos.1 & 5), the DSP-1000 accepts any of the three sampling rates: 32kHz, 44.1kHz, or 48kHz. Toward panel center is a lock light that illuminates when a digital data link is established. HDCD decoding occurs automatically whenever an HDCD disc is played, causing the front-panel HDCD indicator to light. No remote is available for this decoder.
Brian Damkroger  |  Aug 05, 2007  |  First Published: Dec 05, 1998  |  0 comments
"They're cuuuute!" Not a very professional reaction, but what can I say? When the Monster Cable folks pulled out their new Entech Number Crunchers during a recent visit to Santa Fe, I couldn't help myself. I was edging John Atkinson and Wes Phillips out of the way, using my long arms to reach over...gotta get one! There would be time later for the critical evaluation and cool, detached objectivity—first, I had to get one. The Entechs are the Beanie Babies of the audio world
John Atkinson  |  Jan 27, 2011  |  0 comments
In November 2009, I took part in an intriguing comparison between live and recorded sound. I first recorded a live piano recital in 24-bit/96kHz digital, then allowed the audience to immediately hear the recording in the same room. (See my February 2010 thoughts on the comparison here.) For playback, I used two of the mono Esoteric D-01VU D/A converters locked to the ultra-high-precision Esoteric G-0Rb "atomic" master clock. I was very impressed by the sound of this cost-no-object digital system, so when I visited the Japanese company's room at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show and saw their new, relatively affordable D-07 D/A processor ($4800), I asked for a review sample.
Bob Katz  |  Mar 29, 2012  |  First Published: Mar 01, 1988  |  0 comments
Many years ago I bought the first model of the Audio/Pulse ambience synthesizer. Like many audiophiles, I was convinced (and still am) that the standard two-speaker stereo experience provides an unsatisfying concert-hall impression. But the Audio/Pulse didn't remain long in my stereo system. You see, at best the unit provided a fair reproduction of the sound of my upstairs bathroom, topped off with a nasty flutter echo. I already get that sound every morning in the shower.
Robert Harley  |  Jul 25, 1996  |  0 comments
Let's say you play a CD on a poor-quality CD transport and store the digital audio data in a massive computer memory. You then repeat the process, but this time play the CD into the memory from the finest CD transport extant (say, the Mark Levinson No.31). A week later you feed the two sets of data from the massive memory into a digital processor and listen to the music. Would the CD transports' sonic signatures be removed from the signal? Could you hear a difference between the transports a week later?
John Atkinson, Wes Phillips  |  Apr 23, 2006  |  0 comments
In his bimonthly column, "The Fifth Element," John Marks has tried to identify pro-audio components that would be of interest to audiophiles. In his June 2005 episode, John wrote about Grace Design's m902 D/A headphone amplifier ($1695), the Colorado company's replacement for the 901, which had long been a favorite of his. Changes include: the handling of single-wire sample rates of up to 192kHz; unbalanced analog outputs, controlled by the front volume control, to allow the unit to be used as a preamplifier; a cross-feed processing circuit licensed from www.meier-audio.de; power-supply revisions; and the provision of a USB digital input, in addition to S/PDIF, AES/EBU, and TosLink.
Herb Reichert  |  May 23, 2019  |  3 comments
Every time I review a digital-to-analog converter, my memory drifts to the spring of 1983, when the first Compact Discs arrived at Tower Records in New York City. They appeared in the opera section. Sitting next to big, thick boxed sets of opera LPs, these new discs looked truly compact. A few months later, boxed sets of popular opera LPs, in almost untouched condition, began selling in the Tower Annex for $1/disc.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Dec 19, 2019  |  46 comments
What kind of creature is this? Gryphon Audio Designs' new Ethos ($39,000)—pronounced EE-toss by its Danish manufacturers—is marketed as a CD player and digital-to-analog converter. It's decidedly au courant in that it includes two 32-bit/768kHz ES9038PRO Sabre DAC chips—one for each channel—with each holding eight individual DAC chips; offers optional upsampling to either 24/384 PCM or DSD128; and decodes up to 32/384 PCM and quadruple DSD (DSD512) via its USB input, or up to 24/192 (and no DSD) via AES/EBU or S/PDIF.
John Atkinson  |  Jul 27, 2012  |  First Published: Aug 01, 2012  |  16 comments
When it comes to getting audio from a PC via its USB port, the buzzword du jour is asynchronous. This cryptic term refers to which device has control over the timing of the audio data being streamed from the computer: the computer itself, or the device receiving the data. It might seem logical to have the computer control the timing, but this is not so. When digital audio data are converted to analog by a D/A converter, control over exactly when each dataword is converted is critical for the best quality of sound. Any uncertainty in that timing manifests itself as analog distortion, aka jitter.

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