Digital Processor Reviews

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Kalman Rubinson  |  Oct 15, 2019  |  0 comments
This is the 100th and—surprise!—final edition of Music in the Round. MitR began in mid-2003, shortly after SACD and DVD-A discs made high-quality multichannel music convenient and widely available. At the time, I was convinced that multichannel reproduction was superior to stereo because it was able to reproduce the full sound of the performance—not just the performers. Stereophile's founder, J. Gordon Holt, had promoted this idea many times, but the appearance of the new media finally brought it to a wider audience.
Jim Austin  |  Oct 03, 2019  |  17 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.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Aug 29, 2019  |  10 comments
There is necessity as well as comfort in having a long-term reference recordings and, system. The necessity derives from the familiarity with the reference that allows for comparisons and contrasts with the equipment being tested. The comfort that comes from the familiarity lets me relax and enjoy recreational music, relieved from the need to focus my attention intently on the sound. I do relish getting my hands on lots of interesting audio equipment and getting to play it in my own home, but it's like a two-month one-night stand: The new stuff usually goes back even if I am impressed. I don't change my audio equipment often.
Jim Austin  |  Aug 27, 2019  |  26 comments
A DAC/preamp/headphone amp from Class A of Stereophile's list of Recommended Components, updated with streaming and network-server capabilities—and it still sells for less than $3000? If you believe that, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. (Har, har!)

Most Americans have heard that line before, but many may not know the story behind it—I didn't. George C. Parker, a real American person born in 1860, is famous for perpetrating audacious frauds, specifically sales of property he did not own and could not possibly have owned. He is reported to have sold the Statue of Liberty, Grant's Tomb, the original Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and—most famously—the Brooklyn Bridge that last one twice a week for several years, at prices ranging from $75 to $5000. Or so some say.

Kalman Rubinson  |  Jul 02, 2019  |  12 comments
As I wrote before in these pages, I have long been acquainted with French electronics manufacturer Trinnov. Years ago, at an Audio Engineering Society convention in New York, a Trinnov rep used a mastering console equipped with their processor to move, at will, the sounds of instruments around the 3D soundstage and left me thoroughly impressed. That was before my conversion from stereo to multichannel music listening, and before the blurring of borders between home theater and mainstream audio.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  May 28, 2019  |  23 comments
British digital-audio specialists dCS (Data Conversion Systems) has been on a roll. Since the September 2015 introduction of the Rossini DAC ($23,999), the single-box Rossini Player ($28,499), and the Rossini Clock ($7499), they've released a number of new products and software/firmware updates. In 2016 came network firmware updates that established dCS DACs and Players as Roon endpoints. 2017 brought improved (v1.05) software for the Rossini DAC and Player, and 2018 an update to process MQA, followed by the October 2018 introduction of the Rossini upsampling SACD Transport ($23,500—see John Atkinson's review in the May 2019 Stereophile). Then, in January 2019, dCS released their Rossini v2.0 software, which applies to both the Rossini DAC and the Rossini Player, and which is offered free to Rossini owners.
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.
Ken Micallef  |  Mar 29, 2019  |  19 comments
I first met Pro-Ject Audio Systems' founder and president, Heinz Lichtenegger, in 2016, at the US launch of the Austrian company's The Classic turntable. His passion for all things hi-fi was so intense I thought his head might explode. Gleeful in his mission to bring high-end audio to the people at less than typical high-end prices, Lichtenegger and Pro-Ject can fairly claim bragging rights for their entry-level Debut Carbon (DC) ($460 and up), one of the world's best-selling turntables.
Art Dudley  |  Mar 19, 2019  |  8 comments
The late Julian Vereker, the sharp-minded former racing driver who founded Naim Audio and designed its first products, did so because he wanted audio amplification of a quality he felt no one else was making at the time, reasoning that if he wanted such a thing, so might others. Thus came about Naim's first domestic-audio product, the distinctive NAP200 solid-state amp (1973).
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.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 31, 2019  |  40 comments
"The sound was to die for," I wrote shortly before my resurrection. I was taking notes about the sound of CH Precision's D1 SACD and CD Drive (now $38,000) and C1 D/A Controller (base price $32,000), in the demo room of Michael Woods's Elite Audio Systems, at the California Audio Show, just three months after the 2015 edition of the Munich High End show. CH Precision's L1 dual-mono, solid-state preamplifier (now $58,000), M1 dual-mono power amp ($104,000), and X1 external power supply ($17,000) had helped deliver "fantastic sound."
Herb Reichert  |  Jan 03, 2019  |  51 comments
On the first page of the owner's manual for iFi Audio's Pro iDSD tubed/solid-state multibit DAC and headphone amplifier, the British company unabashedly describes it as "a 'state of the art' reference digital to analog converter" and "a wireless hi-res network player or the central DAC in an expensive high-end home system." As if in an afterthought, it continues: "The on-board balanced headphone section means high-end headphones can also be directly connected to it." The manual doesn't describe the headphone "section" as "state of the art," so I'm deducing that the Pro iDSD is really more a fancy-pants DAC than a high-tone headphone amp.
John Atkinson  |  Dec 27, 2018  |  48 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.
Art Dudley  |  Oct 25, 2018  |  18 comments
I've never aspired to owning a BMW 7-series, or a Martin D-45, or a Rolex Submariner: BMW's far less expensive 3-series models capture my imagination by bordering on the affordable, likewise Martin's D-18—and as long as I live, I'll never understand the appeal of expensive wristwatches. Bling's not my thing.

True to form, when I visited the Mytek display at High End 2018, in Munich, my attention was drawn to the brand-new Mytek Liberty DAC and its three-figure price: for $995, one could now own the equivalent of the original Mytek Brooklyn D/A processor, without that model's phono preamp—this according to the company's Adam Bielewicz, who served as my product-line guide on that sunny May day.

Kalman Rubinson  |  Sep 06, 2018  |  12 comments
As I took my valedictory lap around High End, the immense audio show held each May in Munich, Germany, it was clear that this year's event was an exuberant flowering of mature technology. I witnessed the dominance of hardware for LP playback, as well as analog amplifiers, many of them based on tubes, and passive loudspeakers with traditional cone-and-dome drive-units. And there was no shortage of excellent and impressive musical demonstrations. Still, I experienced no revelations, and heard no announcements of any new technology that might trigger a hopeful anticipation of the near future. It was as if HE2018 were reflecting on the past with reverence and commitment, rather than striving toward the future with innovation and adventure.

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