Digital Processor Reviews

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Kalman Rubinson  |  Apr 01, 2007  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1999  |  0 comments
More than a decade ago, I bought a new pair of speakers and sought to find the most suitable cables for them. After auditioning a number of borrowed sets, I enlisted my daughter to confirm my selection. She grew up in a household where there was always good music playing on good equipment, but had no active interest in either. To placate Dad, she listened to a few of her own recordings with each of the various cables and then, lo and behold, reached the same conclusion I had. In fact, she described the differences almost exactly as I would have. I was ecstatic. Not only did it confirm my opinions about the cables, but it confirmed to me that any motivated listener can hear what golden-ear audiophiles obsess about. As I tried to express my joy to her, she left the room with this parting shot: "Yes, of course, but who cares?"
John Atkinson  |  Jan 18, 2018  |  4 comments
MBL's Corona C15 monoblock has been one of my amplification references since I reviewed it in 2014, and as I've been reviewing DACs the past year or so, it was high time I spent time with one of the German company's digital products.

"Black shiny products are tough to photograph at shows, so trust me when I say the new N31 is dripping with gorgeousness not reflected in this photo," wrote Jon Iverson in his report from the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show. And when I unpacked my review sample of the Noble Line N31 ($15,400), I was indeed taken with its looks.

Sam Tellig  |  Dec 29, 2006  |  First Published: Jul 29, 2004  |  0 comments
"You want to review the MDA 1000 along with the MC 275 amplifier in the same column?" Ron Cornelius, product manager and field training manager of McIntosh Laboratory, was incredulous.
Robert Harley  |  Apr 27, 2012  |  First Published: Mar 01, 1993  |  5 comments
There are as many ways of designing a digital-to-analog converter as there are engineers. One approach is to select parts from manufacturers' data books and build the product according to the "application notes" provided by the parts manufacturers. This is the electronic equivalent of a paint-by-numbers kit.

A more creative engineer may add a few tricks of his own to the standard brew. Bigger and better regulated power supplies, careful circuit-board layout, tweaky passive components, and attention to detail will likely make this designer's product sound better than the same basic building blocks implemented without this care. Indeed, the vast range of sonic flavors from digital processors containing very nearly the same parts attests to the designer's influence over a digital processor's sound.

Sam Tellig, Robert Harley  |  Jul 09, 2006  |  First Published: Sep 09, 1990  |  0 comments
Gotta get this one written up right away—you never know with digital products. Always something new.
Robert Harley  |  Apr 12, 2018  |  First Published: Jun 01, 1993  |  2 comments
Whoever invented the adage "Good things come in small packages" wasn't into high-end audio. Most high-end products are huge and heavy, with massive power supplies, thick front panels, and battleship build quality. This dreadnought approach is justified if it directly affects the unit's sonic performance (as in the Mark Levinson No.31 transport, for example). In some products, however, the massive build can reflect a shotgun, overkill approach by the designer, or a mere fashion statement.
John Atkinson  |  Jan 01, 1996  |  0 comments
The High End is a tidily ordered world. There are CD players, transports, and processors used to play stereo recordings and drive stereo preamplifiers. There are stereo or mono amplifiers used to drive a pair of speakers. And then there is the British high-end company Meridian, run by one J. Robert Stuart, one of audio's deeper thinkers and a Fellow of the Audio Engineering Society. Meridian does it their way. They put their amplifiers inside their speakers. Heck, Meridian even puts their D/A processors inside their speakers when they can. And two speakers to play back stereo recordings? Meridian believes in re-creating the original soundfield no matter how many speakers and channels it takes to do it right. And they do it sufficiently successfully that their Digital Theatre system, which does all of the above, was one of Stereophile's joint Home Theater products of 1995. [See also the 2000 review of their Series 800 Digital Theatre.—Ed.]
John Atkinson  |  Apr 13, 2009  |  0 comments
It's been a while since I auditioned a Meridian CD player in my system. I had enthusiastically reviewed the English company's groundbreaking Pro-MCD player in early 1986, and over the years had kept up with the progress they were making in digital playback, either through my own reviews or by performing the measurements to accompany reviews by other Stereophile writers. The 508-24 player, reviewed by Wes Phillips in May 1998, was one of the finest digital products of the 1990s, I thought. But when Meridian began promoting surround sound and DVD-Audio at the turn of the century, their goals became somewhat incompatible with my own. Yes, I can appreciate what surround playback can do, but my own musical life is still solidly rooted in Two-Channel Land.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 05, 2014  |  2 comments
A reader recently asked if I preferred listening to loudspeakers or to headphones. There is no easy answer: Although I do most of my music listening through speakers, about 10% of that listening, for various reasons, takes place in the privacy of my headphones. I have also found that, since I purchased the Audeze LCD-X headphones following my review of them last March, I now tend to watch movies on my MacBook Pro, with the soundtrack reproduced by these headphones plugged into an AudioQuest DragonFly or whatever D/A headphone amplifier has been passing through my test lab. So when Meridian's PR person, Sue Toscano, asked me last Christmas if I'd be interested in reviewing the English company's new Prime D/A headphone amplifier ($2000) with its optional Prime Power Supply ($1295), it took me less than a New York minute to say "Yes."
John Atkinson  |  Apr 18, 2017  |  9 comments
As I mentioned in my review eight years ago of Meridian Audio's 808.2 Signature Reference CD player, I have long been impressed by the British company's components—in fact, ever since the early 1980s, when I purchased a Meridian 101 preamplifier, followed by my very positive experiences with Meridian's MCD Pro and 208 CD players, 518 digital audio processor, D600 and DSP8000 digital active loudspeakers, and, most recently, the Prime and Explorer D/A headphone amplifiers.
Art Dudley  |  Aug 30, 2013  |  First Published: Sep 01, 2013  |  6 comments
Those of us who groan at the appearance of every new five-figure digital source component in a massively oversized chassis—and who groan in greater torment when the offending manufacturer says his customer base insists on products that are styled and built and priced that way—can take heart: The appearance of such sanely sized and affordable products as the Halide Design DAC HD ($495) and the AudioQuest DragonFly ($249) would suggest that the market has a mind of its own.
Jim Austin  |  May 19, 2016  |  3 comments
I was lying on a mattress on the floor of an empty apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Not as grim as it sounds—it's a nice apartment, and the mattress was new, and had just been delivered—but it was hot (no air-conditioning), and my family and my furniture were still in my condo up in Maine, and I was lonely. I needed some cheering up. Which is how I rationalized the decision to buy an Explorer2, Meridian Audio's tiny, inexpensive ($299) digital-to-analog converter.
Art Dudley  |  Aug 02, 2011  |  First Published: Jul 01, 2011  |  0 comments
Blind though I am to the allure of blind testing, I can appreciate some degree of review-sample anonymity: Distinctive products elicit distinctive responses, but a plain black box encourages us to leave our prejudices at the door. It asks of us a certain . . . objectivity.

So it was with the Micromega AS-400 digital source/integrated amplifier ($4495), the anonymity of which was compounded, in my case, by a generous helping of forgetfulness: I suppose I was told, ahead of time, that this was a class-D amplifier, but at some point in time before my first at-home audition I apparently killed the brain cells responsible for remembering that fact. So I was innocent of conscious prejudice when I listened to this elegant cipher of a box and wrote, in my notes: "Dynamic, dramatic, and almost relentlessly exciting with some recordings. Imbued pianos with almost too much dynamism for the room—too much being very good!—but lacked some 'purr' in the die-away. Basically fine and fun. Wish it had a little more color and spatial depth."

Sam Tellig  |  Feb 22, 2001  |  0 comments
Sorry to empty your wallet this month, but here's a must-have if you want to get the most from your upsampling MSB Link DAC III: Monarchy Audio's Digital Interface Processor 24/96 (DIP for short).
Michael Fremer  |  Jul 21, 2016  |  10 comments
Simaudio saw disc-based digital audio in its rear-view mirror at least as far back as 2011, when it introduced the Moon Evolution 650D and 750D—two iterations of what it called a "digital-to-analog converter CD transport." These were actually multiple-input CD players, but Simaudio was evidently so eager to distance itself from the spinning disc that it went with a product category that, in spite of its cumbersome, run-on name, drew a clean line between the disc-reading and signal-processing functions—while bestowing upon the former second-class citizenship.

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