Digital Processor Reviews

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Robert Harley  |  Jul 03, 2020  |  First Published: May 01, 1995  |  3 comments
Spectral is a bit of an enigma in the high-end audio world. Although nearly 20 years old and one of the founders of the American high-end audio industry, Spectral isn't a name that comes quickly to mind when considering the best of the best in high-end.

Spectral's low profile is of their own choosing. They advertise very little, their products are demonstrated in a small number of stores, they almost never send products to magazines for review, and they are very quiet about their accomplishments.

Wes Phillips  |  Apr 02, 2009  |  First Published: Apr 02, 1995  |  0 comments
"Dinner's fried chicken, honey."
Jonathan Scull  |  Nov 08, 2019  |  First Published: Apr 01, 1995  |  2 comments
As the sides of the slim-line Timbre Technology TT-1 DAC are radiused rather than flat, it's elegant compared to its typical boxy competition. While the TT-1's handsome shape stands out more than your average audiophile device, its curved sides help create a stronger, less resonant shape than the usual box, and serve as just one of the many elements contributing to a high degree of mechanical integrity and damping.
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.
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  |  May 28, 2019  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1994  |  7 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.

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.
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.
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.

Robert Harley  |  Sep 12, 2019  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1992  |  1 comments
The $799 Theorem was originally shown at the 1992 WCES in a very small chassis that prohibited adding features or upgrades. Sumo has since become more ambitious, putting the Theorem in a full-sized chassis and offering several upgrade options that would have been impossible in the truncated version.

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