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COMPUTER AUDIO REVIEWS

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Al Griffin Posted: Feb 14, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $249

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Impressive sound quality for Bluetooth
Audiophile-friendly look
Pain-free setup
Minus
Pricey

THE VERDICT
It might not be high-rez or high end, but Mass Fidelity’s Bluetooth receiver is a great option for casual listening.

Bluetooth gets a bad rap in the hi-fi world, and for good reason: In contrast to other wireless audio technologies that let you stream uncompressed CD-quality audio from a PC or portable device, Bluetooth subjects the signal to lossy compression. If you’re an audiophile with a reputation to uphold, the story pretty much ends there.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 06, 2014 5 comments
Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Inexpensive
Compact
192-kHz capable
Minus
Potential dynamic limits
Runs warm

THE VERDICT
Though not ideal for more demanding headphones with challenging music, this is a highly affordable way to improve computer audio.

Bits are helpless prisoners trapped on the hard drive of your computer. If you plug your headphones (or desktop audio system) into the computer’s analog output, you can faintly hear their cries for help, but not the true timbre of their colorful voices. It takes a USB DAC (digital-to-analog convertor) to truly liberate them. And the good news is that USB DACs—especially those suitable for headphones—have gotten so small and unintrusive that you hardly notice their presence. A product like Cambridge Audio’s DacMagic XS is no bigger than a USB thumb drive. But the difference it can make to your computer audio listening life is very big indeed.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 25, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Enhances computer audio
Sleek design
High-end build quality
Minus
No headphone jack
Ambiguous indicators

THE VERDICT
The Director is the best USB DAC we’ve heard yet.

I will never forget the moment when I first heard digital audio in 1985. It was a profound disappointment. I had just bought my first CD player and played my first Compact Disc. The sound was harsh and alienating. How could that be? CDs offered perfect sound forever. There must be something wrong with my ears, I thought. It took years to trust my senses and rethink my digital signal source.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 15, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Supports lossless formats
Great-sounding headphone out
May be used as standalone DAC with a PC
Minus
Rudimentary touchscreen DAC use limited to 96-kHz or lesser files.

THE VERDICT
The AK100 successfully ventures beyond the iTunes universe to open a world of high-resolution portable playback.

Is Apple the biggest obstacle to progress in portable audio? The iPod has been around a full dozen years, and the iPhone for half that, yet even today the Apple ecosystem fails to support 24-bit audio file formats. All Apple-supported file formats—even the best of them, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV—are limited in iOS to 16 bits. That’s not high rez, that’s mid rez. Forget about playing your growing library of 24-bit FLACs. Leaving the Apple ecosystem can be painful because the company’s touchscreen and clickwheel devices are so ingratiating. But leave you must if you want better sound in your pocket, and the Astell & Kern AK100 may be on your list of destinations.

Daniel Kumin Posted: Oct 08, 2013 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Fine performance and sound
Elegant looks
Clear value
Minus
No mute control
Limited detail in volume readout

THE VERDICT
As an integrated amplifier/DAC combo for serious listeners, the D 3020’s audio quality and value are unmistakable.

Audio types old enough to have viewed Chevy Chase’s pratfalls live rather than on demand may remember an unprepossessing integrated amplifier from an unfamiliar brand. The NAD 3020, despite a power rating laughably modest even in 1978 (20 watts per channel) and next to no features, gained notice because, as the lore went, “it sounded great.” And it did—thanks to intelligent amplifier design, a conservative power rating, and the value—widely underappreciated, then and now—of dynamic headroom.

John Sciacca Posted: Jul 03, 2013 0 comments

As a custom installer, I hear a lot of requests, andone of the things people ask for most is wireless audio. Sending music around the home without the hassle, cost, or mess associated with long runs of wire is the modern American audio dream.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 10, 2013 5 comments
Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $299 At a Glance: Computer-friendly USB DAC • Headphone amp • Clean and precise sound

Do you have a pack of cigarettes on your desk? If so, try this. Connect a USB cable between the pack and your computer. Then connect a line-level cable between the pack and your desktop-powered speakers or amplifier. Finally, replace the cigarette pack with a Meridian Explorer USB DAC. There: Your life just got a whole lot happier and healthier. And your music is smokin’.

Michael Berk Posted: May 29, 2013 0 comments

As you might have gathered from the headphone roundup we did a couple of weeks back, there's probably never been a better time to be into personal audio. With a whole new breed of enthusiast listeners out there, rabidly interested in headphones and the accessories that make 'em a better experience and willing and able to upgrade given the relatively low cost of admission, a host of audio firms new and old have been churning out new and innovative 'phones and accessories so quickly that it's been a little difficult to keep up. Taking a look at the landscape of affordable (let's say under $500), you'll find that afistful of new headphone amps and DACs are bringing once-esoteric features to the masses, at down-to-earth prices.

Al Griffin Posted: Apr 05, 2013 1 comments

[*Note: After sending me an Explorer, Meridian quietly introduced a running change into its production.

Al Griffin Posted: Apr 05, 2013 0 comments

Housed in a billet-like slab of aluminum, the HRT microStreamer’s clean, utilitarian design tips you off right away that it means business. In this case, that biz is performing the same basic tasks as the Dragonfly, including decoding files with up to 96 kHz/24-bit resolution. And at a mere 2.5 inches, it checks in for work in a similarly compact form factor.

Al Griffin Posted: Apr 05, 2013 0 comments

I've had a DragonFly revolving in and out of my desktop setup ever since I first checked one out for S&V's 2012 Holiday Gift Guide, so I was already very familiar with its capabilities.

Al Griffin Posted: Apr 04, 2013 0 comments

When Audioquest released its DragonFly USB Digital-Audio Converter back in 2012, the tiny USB-stick DAC quickly found a niche with audiophiles seeking to improve the sound quality of music played on their laptop computers and listened to via headphones or desktop speakers.

Geoffrey Morrison Posted: Mar 31, 2013 0 comments

There is no audio company in the world more revered, feared, disputed, or discussed than Lirpa Labs.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 14, 2013 2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $1,299 At a Glance: DAC, headphone amp, preamp for digital sources • Asynchronous USB input • Makes your audio files sing

The Wadia 121 calls itself a decoding computer. While the term DAC (digital-to-analog converter) also fits, Wadia understands that nomenclature is destiny. This product just may be destined to change forever the way you hear high-resolution music files, signaling a new chapter in audio history that no audiophile can afford to ignore.

Geoffrey Morrison Posted: Feb 13, 2013 0 comments

I think you can file most video enthusiasts into two broad categories: Purists and Bestists.The Purists want accurate color, bit-for-bit accuracy from Blu-ray, original aspect ratios, and so on. Bestists want the image to fill their screen, and to see a picture with hyper-detail (and maybe hypercolor). Which brings us to Darbee’s Darblet video enhancer. While a Purist might dismiss the Darblet as something a Bestist would want, I couldn’t say for sure that both camps won’t be curious. It is … interesting.

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