Digital Processor Reviews

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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.]
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.
Robert Harley  |  Apr 13, 2016  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1995  |  0 comments
Of all the products I've reviewed or auditioned, a select few jump out as "best buy" recommendations. Almost universally, such products are liked by a wide range of audiophiles, and seem to match well sonically to many systems. Moreover, these products all have outstanding value; they offer a higher level of musical performance than you'd expect from the price.
Larry Greenhill  |  Aug 14, 2015  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1995  |  4 comments
The availability of the Pacific Microsonics High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD®) PMD100 decoder chip, manufactured by San Jose's VLSI Technology, has brought about a minor revolution in Compact Disc playback. It brings sonic improvements in imaging, soundstaging, and resolution of detail. In the past six months, Stereophile has published a number of reports on the HDCD decoder's operation, what HDCD recordings are available, and the improvements brought by the HDCD chip to specific digital audio processors (footnote 1). High-end manufacturers are incorporating the $40 HDCD chip in their newest decoders, including the $4695 Sonic Frontiers SFD-2 Mk.II D/A processor, the $15,950 Mark Levinson No.30.5, and the $8195 Spectral SDR-2000 Professional HDCD D/A Processor (reviewed in Vol.18 No.5).
Dick Olsher  |  Dec 18, 2015  |  First Published: Jun 01, 1995  |  5 comments
In 1995, as the compact disc enters its second decade of commercial reality, it's fair to say that the associated hardware has come of age, exorcising at last the digital gremlins of time-base jitter and quantization noise. Digital-processor maturation is particularly evident in the design of the all-critical D/A processor. The simplistic digital circuitry of yesterday has given way to considerable design sophistication that deals directly with jitter and low-level nonlinearities.
Wes Phillips  |  Apr 02, 2009  |  First Published: Apr 02, 1995  |  0 comments
"Dinner's fried chicken, honey."
Robert Harley, Shannon Dickson  |  Jun 14, 2019  |  First Published: Feb 01, 1995  |  0 comments
Some high-end audio companies develop reputations for having a particular "sound." This reputation develops when every product the company makes has a similar sonic flavor. These products appeal to certain customers who like the company's sound, and who therefore tend to stay with that company's products year after year. Unfortunately, such an approach can limit a manufacturer's appeal to a broader audience.
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.
Robert Harley  |  May 28, 2019  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1994  |  0 comments
If there's one buzzword in high-end audio for the 1990s, it's undoubtedly jitter. "Jitter" describes timing variations in the clock controlling the ones and zeros that represent the analog audio signal. If that clock isn't stable to an extraordinarily precise degree, the sound quality of the digital processor will be degraded.

A CD transport/digital processor combination introduces jitter in three ways: 1) the transport puts out a jittered signal; 2) the S/PDIF or AES/EBU interface between the transport and processor creates jitter; and 3) the digital processor adds its own jitter to the clock. These additive factors are largely responsible for the great range in sound quality we hear from different transports and interfaces.

Dick Olsher  |  Sep 20, 2013  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1994  |  0 comments
John Stronczer, Bel Canto Design's technical spark plug, meets my definition of an electronics renaissance man, ranging as he does from designing single-ended amps that glow in the dark (the Orfeo) to digital processors (the Aida). Actually, digital circuitry is one of John's specialties, dating back to his days at Honeywell.
Robert Harley  |  Sep 07, 2010  |  First Published: Oct 07, 1994  |  0 comments
The arrival of the Mark Levinson No.30 digital processor more than 2½ years ago marked a turning point in digital-audio reproduction. Although the No.30's $13,950 price tag put it out of reach of all but a few audiophiles, its stunning performance suggested that much more musical information was encoded on our CDs, waiting to be recovered by better digital processors. Further, it was inevitable that this level of performance would become less expensive over time. I was more excited by the No.30 than I've been over any other audio product. In fact, its musical performance was so spectacular that it alone occupied the Class A category in Stereophile's "Recommended Components."
Robert Harley  |  Sep 11, 2019  |  First Published: Apr 01, 1994  |  14 comments
One measure of a high-end product designer's talent is the musical success of his top-of-the-line product. This is his statement to the world of what he can accomplish—a kind of "personal best" that defines the upper limits of his talent. Because he knows of no way to make the product better, the component stands as the ultimate testimonial to his skill.
Robert Harley  |  Nov 08, 2010  |  First Published: Jan 08, 1994  |  0 comments
Remember the early days of CD, when some players were touted as having the revolutionary new "2x-oversampling" digital filters?
Robert Harley  |  May 08, 2005  |  First Published: Dec 08, 1993  |  0 comments
I feel privileged to have followed the remarkable evolution of digital processors over the past four-and-a-half years. Since my first digital review—a survey of three modified CD players back in August 1989—I've been fascinated by the developments that have inexorably improved the quality of digitally reproduced music.
Thomas J. Norton  |  Mar 29, 2012  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1993  |  0 comments
When a manufacturer sets out to design and build a product, be it in high-end audio or any other field, the final retail price is usually a prime consideration. Parts and assembly are only part of the equation; there also must be enough buyers to amortize the design and development costs. If the product is to be a flagship model—something a company hopes will give a lift to its entire line—engineers will sometimes throw caution to the winds, designing a product without thought to its ultimate price, which is only set after the design is complete. When Madrigal Audio Laboratories set out to design their No.30 Reference Digital Processor, they appear to have chosen exactly this approach.

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