COMPUTER AUDIO REVIEWS

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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 3 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: $99 (reduced from original price of $249; version 1.2: $149)
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.

Michael Berk Posted: Mar 26, 2012 0 comments

IT’S CLEAR THAT since the dawn of the iPod era, listeners and manufacturers alike have been struggling to figure out what kind of gear makes the most sense for a musical universe dominated by iTunes, and the rise of Apple rivals and music-streaming services has made matters even more confusing.

Ken C. Pohlmann Posted: Dec 14, 2010 0 comments

What is there left to say about iPods and iPhones that hasn't already been said? These are truly iconic products that exemplify what modern music listening is all about. If the compact disc launched digital audio, then the iPod raised the sails and navigated that boat to every faraway place in the world.

Michael Berk Posted: Oct 12, 2011 0 comments

S+V dropped by the Beats by Dr. Dre/Monster Cable holiday product preview last night, to check out what the company had to offer to follow up on the Beats Pro headphones we looked at in this month's headphone shootout.

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.

Brent Butterworth Posted: Dec 21, 2011 0 comments

Most headphone amps aren’t made for the way we use headphones. Even many small models are too big to slip comfortably into a pocket. And most require power from an AC wall wart or a USB port. What use is that when you’re stuck in seat 34B of a Boeing 757, miles above Enid, Oklahoma, struggling to get better sound from your smartphone?

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.

Daniel Kumin Posted: Sep 21, 2011 0 comments

We're still waiting for the future: the flying car; the self-cooking dinner. But the shirt-pocket recording studio is a reality – I have one here right now.

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