Performance Features Ergonomics Value PRICE $199 AT A GLANCE Plus Handles PCM, DSD, and MQA natively Second iEMatch output for IEMs USB or battery powered Minus No analog line input THE VERDICT This full-featured budget amp/DAC can get the best out of most headphones, especially in the all-important presence region. If you&rsquo;re looking for a USB amp/DAC to juice your headphones, you might assume that a couple hundred bucks would buy nothing more than a stick amp, one of those compact dongles that extends straight out from your computer&rsquo;s USB port. We live in the golden age of the stick amp, and I&rsquo;m sure not knocking &rsquo;em. But what if the same money can buy something with a little more real estate for circuitry and the always vital power supply, offering better than 96-kilohertz/24-bit resolution, DSD, MQA, and two headphone outputs with different gains, one for demanding &rsquo;phones and one for more efficient ones (including in-ear monitors, aka IEMs)? Of course, you must read on.
Performance Sound It was one of the most galvanizing live experiences of my life. The instant WNEW-FM announced Midnight Oil would be performing live on a flatbed truck on Sixth Avenue in the heart of New York City in front of the Exxon Building around noontime on May 30, 1990 to protest the mishandling of the March 1989 Exxon Valdez oil-spill disaster in Prince William Sound, Alaska, three colleagues and I sprinted the entire length of the two long city blocks from the Stereo Review and Audio offices at 50th and Broadway to get as close as we could. Success! Each of us wound up standing no more than 10 people deep from the flatbed&rsquo;s perch upon our out-of-breath Sixth Avenue arrival.
Performance Sound &ldquo;Isn&rsquo;t that amazing? I mean, there it actually is. I can&rsquo;t believe it. I lived long enough to hear it right.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s Lou Reed, lifelong audiophile, commenting to his longtime friend and producer Hal Willner while listening to the in-studio playback of the remastered version of &ldquo;I Wanna Be Black,&rdquo; from his landmark 1978 album, Street Hassle.
RED Performance Features Ergonomics Value BLACK Performance Features Ergonomics Value PRICE $199 (Red), $99 (Black) AT A GLANCE (RED) Plus Step-up USB amp/DAC For computers and smartphones Digital volume control on chip Minus No bit rates above 96 kHz No DSD AT A GLANCE (BLACK) Plus Affordable USB amp/DAC For computers and smartphones Analog volume control Minus No bit rates above 96 kHz No DSD THE VERDICT Among AudioQuest&rsquo;s latest round of compact USB amplifier/DACs for headphones, the Red has more fine-grained premium sound, while the Black is a superb under-$100 hi-res entry point. Having made tons of money as one of the pioneers of the premium cable industry, AudioQuest has little left to prove. So it came as a surprise four years ago when the company turned its attention to signal sources and developed the compact DragonFly USB headphone amplifier/DAC with respected audio designer Gordon Rankin. But the move made sense for AudioQuest, whose very existence rides on the proposition that sweating the details can make an audible difference.
Welcome back, my friends&hellip; well, you know the rest. That opening line&mdash;made famous in &ldquo;Karn Evil 9 &ndash; 1st Impression, Part 2&rdquo; from 1973&rsquo;s Brain Salad Surgery&mdash;certainly applies to the re-emergence of the remastered catalog for Emerson, Lake &amp; Palmer, the groundbreaking British progressive trio that defined adventurous recording and outrageous live performance during their 1970s heyday. Actually, ELP vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Greg Lake prefers using the word original instead of progressive to describe the band&rsquo;s signature sound&mdash;and the man does have a point.
I met singer-songwriter Amber Rubarth when she was recording her first Chesky Records album, Sessions From the 17th Ward, back in 2012. I instantly fell in love with her music and the sound of her voice, but more than that, I was amazed by how relaxed she was making an entire album in just two days. Most of the tunes were hers, and they were consistently good, but her covers of Tom Waits&rsquo; &ldquo;Hold On&rdquo; and Bob Dylan&rsquo;s &ldquo;Just Like a Woman&rdquo; blew me away. No wonder legendary record producer Phil Ramone said Rubarth was &ldquo;part of the new old-soul generation.&rdquo;
And as we wind on down the road, we have now officially arrived at the home stretch of Led Zeppelin mastermind Jimmy Page&rsquo;s master plan of reissuing all nine of the mighty Zep&rsquo;s studio offerings in Super Deluxe Edition box set form. Not only has the studio wizard&rsquo;s magic remastering wand gifted us with a plethora of bonus tracks&mdash;mainly consisting of fascinating works-in-progress outtakes and alternate mixes, as opposed to troves of unreleased songs&mdash;but Page has been adamant about going the full-on 96-kHz/24-bit route in order to &ldquo;future-proof&rdquo; the catalog for whatever audiophiliac upgrades are yet to come. (Knowing how audio formats tend to go, however, that song may not remain the same as time marches onward.)
Performance Sound &ldquo;Exciting new sounds in the folk tradition.&rdquo; So went the saying on the sleeve of the 1964 debut album by Simon &amp; Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. And how telling that seemingly innocent but steadfast declaration was, as over the course of five studio albums and one soundtrack released during those heady days of 1964-70, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel forged a singular sound that mixed the core tenets of folk with the then-burgeoning pulse of rock. The duo were masters of blending their pitch-perfect harmonies on a cornucopia of intimate tales that concerned matters of both the heart and the state. Not bad for a pair of schoolboys from Queens originally known as Tom &amp; Jerry.
Performance Features Ergonomics Value PRICE $220 AT A GLANCE Plus Terrific interface Fast and simple setup Stream shows to anywhere via Internet Minus No direct HDMI output Must add your own hard drive Long buffer time for channel surfing No “resume play” function for recordings THE VERDICT Tablo offers cord cutters an affordable option to enjoy DVR features and view TV from anywhere in the world. Cord cutting is a trend that continues to gain momentum. And why not? With low-cost/free services like Netflix and YouTube accounting for more than 50 percent of Web traffic in the U.S., it’s obvious that people are happy to get their content from any place that doesn’t require a monthly pound of flesh. Even TV networks have started accepting the streaming mentality by offering shows online, typically a day (or more) after they have aired live but still giving viewers an alternative to the traditional cable or satellite pay-to-view option.
Performance Features Ergonomics Value Price: $10/month DVR fee (Joey or second Hopper $7/month) At A Glance: 2 TB of storage &bull; Records up to six prime-time HD channels simultaneously &bull; Remote control locator I have a great deal of empathy for the cable, satellite, Internet, and cell-phone service providers. After all, this is a tough economy, and competition for subscribers is fierce. At the same time, technology keeps evolving, with startups lurking on the fringes, waiting for a chance to be the next big thing. I mean, really, my heart bleeds for the grossly underpaid civic-minded people running these companies. All they&rsquo;re trying to do is feed their families and put gas in their cars by offering the ultimate in customer service and satisfaction for ridiculously low subscription prices. You know, at the negligible rates they charge, I&rsquo;m surprised they&rsquo;re able to make any profits at all.