Digital Processor Reviews

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Herb Reichert  |  May 03, 2018  |  12 comments
While covering CanMania at the 2017 Capital Audiofest, I was sitting at the table of HeadAmp Audio Electronics, listening first to John McEuen singing Warren Zevon's "Excitable Boy," from McEuen's Made in Brooklyn (24-bit/192kHz AIFF, Chesky JD388/HDtracks), then to Macy Gray's Stripped (24/96 AIFF, Chesky JD389/HDtracks). I was listening through HeadAmp's extraordinary GS-X Mk.2 headphone amplifier ($2999–$3199), but midway through Gray's "I Try," I stopped, pulled the Audeze LCD-4 headphones off my head, and asked HeadAmp's head of sales and marketing, Peter James, what DAC he was using.

"Do you know the HoloAudio Spring DAC?"

John Atkinson  |  Apr 26, 2018  |  1 comments
When I asked NAD for a sample of their Masters Series M50.2 digital music player, which I reviewed in the December 2017 issue, they also sent me a Masters Series M32 DirectDigital integrated amplifier, which had also been introduced at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show. Costing $3999, the M32 offers a continuous power output of >150W into 8 or 4 ohms. The M32 is the same size as the M50.2, and its smart-looking combination of matte black and gray-anodized aluminum panels make it look identical to the player, except for the black volume-control knob to the right of the front panel's four-color touchscreen, and the ¼" headphone jack at bottom left. It even has the same eight ventilation grilles inset in the black top panel.
John Atkinson  |  Mar 29, 2018  |  0 comments
I have long been aware of English audio company Prism Sound, both from my use at the turn of the century of their excellent PCI card–based DScope2 measurement system (footnote 1), and from some of my friends' enthusiasm for Prism's SADiE digital audio workstation. Prism Sound was founded in 1987 by two DSP engineers, Graham Boswell and Ian Dennis, who had first met when working at mixing-console manufacturer Rupert Neve, in Cambridge, England. From the beginning, Prism Sound operated exclusively in the world of professional audio, but a year or so ago I began seeing their first domestic audio product, the Callia, at audio shows.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 22, 2018  |  3 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.
Kal Rubinson  |  Mar 01, 2018  |  5 comments
Merging Technologies' original NADAC Multichannel-8 ($11,500) is an impressive device. (NADAC is an acronym for network-attached digital-to-analog converter.) It has eight channels of high-resolution D/A conversion, and two more for its front-panel headphone jack; a cutting-edge Ravenna Ethernet input (based on the AES67 Audio over Internet Protocol, or AoIP); and, to my delight, a real volume-control knob on the front.
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.
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.

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!"
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Nov 30, 2017  |  31 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.
Jim Austin  |  Oct 26, 2017  |  83 comments
Much has been written about the divide in high-end audio between subjectivists, who trust their ears, and objectivists, who believe that anything not scientifically proven is fake news. I respect both sides and am skeptical of both extremes, and I like to think that's how most audiophiles feel. High-end audio is about experiencing music—that's the whole point—but scientific and technological rigor lie behind every real advance, past and future. I regret the cynical snake-oil salesmanship, bad thinking, and clumsy engineering that pervade certain parts of our hobby.
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.
Herb Reichert  |  Aug 15, 2017  |  30 comments
In equipment reports, I use the phrase forward momentum to refer to something a little deeper and more encompassing than what's meant by that well-worn Brit-fi expression pace, rhythm, and timing (PRaT). Pace refers to the speed at which a piece of music is being played, and the accurate reproduction of that speed requires audio sources with good dynamic pitch stability. (Digital folk always lord it over LP clingers for digital's superior pitch stability.)
Michael Fremer  |  Jul 25, 2017  |  8 comments
What? Johnny-come-lately turntable manufacturer Brinkmann Audio now makes a DAC? Are they desperate? What sampling rates does it support—162/3, 331/3, 45, and 78? I guess the vinyl resurgence is over! Why else would Brinkmann make a DAC?

If that's what you're thinking, consider that Helmut Brinkmann began designing, manufacturing, and marketing electronics well before he made the first of the turntables for which his company is best known in the US.

Kalman Rubinson  |  Jun 29, 2017  |  7 comments
It's been going on for a while now: Despite support for multichannel in audio/video receivers and A/V processors priced from as little as $200 to $30,000, there are still very few offerings that cater to the music listener. They may offer stereo-only streaming features through their USB or Ethernet inputs, but these inputs don't see your multichannel files. To handle such files, they would require you to add a music server with HDMI output. However, I know of no turnkey music servers that will output multichannel audio via HDMI.
John Atkinson  |  Jun 20, 2017  |  14 comments
For digital playback, in recent months I've been breathing some rarefied air, pricewise. In December 2016, I reviewed dCS's Rossini Player and Clock, followed in May 2017 by Meridian's Ultra DAC, and in June by Chord's DAVE DAC. The Rossini Player costs $28,499 without the Clock, the Meridian $23,000, and though the DAVE is less expensive than either at $10,588, that's still a fair chunk of change. Even PS Audio's PerfectWave DirectStream DAC, which I bought following Art Dudley's review in September 2014, costs $6899 with the Network Bridge II, which hardly counts as "affordable."

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