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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.

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’.

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.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 03, 2012 4 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $249 At a Glance: Size of USB thumb drive • Up to 24/96 resolution • Minijack analog out

The AudioQuest DragonFly USB digital-to-analog converter ($249) and the B&W Society of Sound music download service ($59/year) arrived in my listening room at about the same time. They were made for each other: B&W’s 24-bit FLAC files gave the DAC a better chance to strut its stuff than any CD-quality or lossy audio file at my disposal. And the USB DAC enabled the high-resolution files to do an end run around the awful soundcard in my PC.

Fred Manteghian Posted: Dec 06, 2010 0 comments
Price: $1,595 At A Glance: CD quality, or better, in an easy-to-use iTunes wrapper • iPhone or iPod touch remote control not included

From Air to iTunity

I used to say, “Disk is cheap,” even back in the ’80s when, let’s be honest, it really wasn’t. A 40-megabyte disk drive—go ask your dad what a megabyte is—went for $400 and was about enough to store a 4-minute CD track. Today, I have a pair of 250-gigabyte external drives that ran me half that amount even a few years ago. Together with my laptop, I’ve got a system that easily fulfills my every iTunes fantasy—except one. I still have to rely on an iPod and iPod docking station to get music from the computer rig to my main system across the room. If that’s been bugging you too, check out the Micromega AirStream WM-10. It’s an 802.11n wireless router that your iTunes library can connect to, all for a price that—well, there’s the rub. This thing ain’t cheap.

Chris Chiarella Posted: Jan 26, 2007 0 comments
Griffin Technology's multichannel gift to fruit lovers.

Hey, Mac users: Does it ever feel like your PC-loving "friends" are having all of the 5.1 fun? For you, Griffin proposes the FireWave External Sound Card ($99.99), an outboard Dolby Digital decoder and more, specifically for OS X 10.3.9 and above.

Chris Chiarella Posted: Jul 24, 2006 0 comments
The fruit takes root in the living room.

A while back, we Home Theater drones were all on Macs, and life was good. Then, one day, the powers that be told us that the bulk of us were switching to PC, and that was that. I had a few annoying differences to work through, but I eventually forgot my first real computer. And then the Mac mini showed up for review in its pretty white cardboard box, and it reminded me of the experience of bumping into a friend from the old neighborhood: familiar, sure, but with a lot of catching up to do.

John Sciacca Posted: Dec 25, 2012 0 comments

Remote controls can essentially be clumped into three categories: low-, middle-, and high-end. At the low end are DIY models that offer basic “all-in-one” control functions and are meant to replace lost or broken manufacturer-issued remotes. High-end models require professional programming and provide powerful automation features, IP and RS-232 control, and radio-frequency operation.

Michael Berk Posted: Aug 08, 2011 0 comments

Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and X6D Limited (the folks behind the XPAND 3D glasses system) today announced the "Full HD 3D Glasses Initiative," a move towards bringing some much needed universality to both RF- and IR-coupled active 3D technologies.

Geoffrey Morrison Posted: Feb 13, 2012 0 comments

There is a way to make your music sound better. Well, OK, there are LOTS of ways to make your music sound better. If you're looking to improve your digital music, beyond new speakers, amps, and so on is a bit of technological wonder called the DAC, or Digital/Analog Converter. This is what turns your music files into something analog you can actually hear.

Receivers these days tend to have built in DACs, but just because they're there doesn't necessarily mean they're any good. A great sounding DAC can smooth out your digital audio, making it sound more natural and realistic.

Firestone Audio's tiny ILTW packs a lot into a tiny frame, for not a lot of money.

Doug Newcomb Posted: Jun 06, 2012 0 comments

Summer’s here, and it’s time to hit the road. Automotive entertainment used to be restricted to radio and whatever you brought onboard in the form of prerecorded music — from 8-tracks to discs and later iPods. But now that smartphones and tablets have made Internet connectivity possible in the car, a whole new world of content has opened up on the road.

We gathered five of the coolest connected- car gadgets and took them out for a shakedown cruise.

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