Saturday, December 7, 2013

NAD D3020 vs. Nuforce DDA-100

The NAD D3020 has received a lot of high praise. It is the entry level component of our time, possessing a compact size, good sound, and offering a host of features that are relevant to today's music listening habits. The variety of inputs from digital, to analog, to aptX bluetooth, as well as subwoofer outputs makes this a sure winner for most everyone out there. You can connect your iPhone, CD player and PC easily, and with a subwoofer output, there will be no shortage of low end punch for the end user.


NAD D3020

  • 2 x 30W @ 0.00% THD, >100W Dynamic Power @ 4 Ohms
  • aptX Bluetooth Music Streaming
  • Supports bit rate/sample rate up to - 24/192 (via Digital Audio input) up to 24/96 (via USB input)
  • Optical and Coaxial Digital Inputs, analog inputs
  • Subwoofer Output
  • Bass EQ setting
  • Separate Headphone Amplifier
  • Wireless Remote
  • Price: 499.99
Nuforce DDA-100

Features: Nuforce DDA-100
  • Power output: 75W x 2 (4 Ohm), 50W x 2 (8 Ohm)
  • Supports up to 96kHz input sampling rate
  • Built-in DSP operates at 3Gbps to oversample PCM data before applying a digital-domain 24-bit volume control.
  • Inputs (All inputs are digital, there are NO analog inputs): 1 USB (Sampling rates: 44.1, 48, and 96kHz), 1 Coax (Sampling Rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4kHz), 2 Toslink (Sampling Rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4kHz)
  • Digital Outputs: 1 Toslink
  • Wireless Remote
  • Price: $549

Features: NAD D 3020 Hybrid Digital™ Amplifier


The Nuforce DDA-100 goes about things differently than the NAD, and appears to be geared more towards the seasoned music lover. It supports only digital inputs (USB, Optical, and Coaxial) due to the unique amplifier design that was designed to keep the signal in the digital realm until the last possible moment. The advantage of this is better sound. 

In Nuforce's words:
"It doesn't require a typical DAC stage, rather, its PWM amplifier stage is modulated directly by the incoming signal, and the digital to analog conversion takes place at the speaker outputs. Effectively making this a power DAC."

So the tradeoff against the NAD is less flexibility in audio inputs for better sound. Let's see if that holds up.

I set up two listening scenarios for the integrated amps, 1. streaming music from my audio PC to the USB input of the NAD and Nuforce and 2. Streaming music wirelessly via my iPad. For this, I needed to add the Nuforce BTR-100 aptX bluetooth receiver and an optical cable.

Listening

My Reference
First, it is really difficult to go from a $9000 pair of monoblocks to a roughly $500 integrated amp. There are obviously going to be tradeoffs and glaring deficiencies in the lower priced products. I have a new appreciation for the professional reviewer who can do this quickly and not mention anything about their reference gear. Like I just did (I'm such an amateur...). So, I dealt with this by leaving the Nuforce and NAD in place over several days, slowly acclimating to their particular sonics.

So this is the associated equipment.

  • A custom built windows 8 audio PC running JRiver
  • Pranawire Photon USB cable
  • Kaplan HE II Power cord to the integrated
  • Plugged in to a Bybee Stealth Power conditioner
  • MG Audio Planus III Speaker cable
  • Vivid Audio B-1 Loudspeakers


NAD
The first test was streaming. Connecting to the NAD was straightforward. Switching the input selector to "BT", connecting it to my iPad, and away I go. The second test of streaming music from my PC didn't go so well. I had a difficult time streaming audio from JRiver to the 3020. I had initially just plugged in the 3020 to my Windows 7 OS PC and began streaming Pandora. All appeared to be well. I then shut down Pandora, and started up JRiver. It looked like JRiver recognized the NAD as it was an output option that was available. However, when I began playing music, I got about one note's worth before JRiver stopped playback. I ended up having to uninstall the driver, download the latest one from the NAD website, then reinstall the driver with the 3020 connected. All was well after that. until I tried to make use of the remote from my listening position.

The remote. Where to begin? First, the thing seems to have a narrow operating range. I don't know if this is due to a low battery, but the unit I have is pretty much new and I did not think the battery would arrive nearly dead. Second, the volume control seems to be an all or nothing operator. I either had to click the up or down volume control several times to get very incremental changes, or by holding the button  down, get large changes in the volume. I found this irritating.

The sound however was far from irritating. While not as detailed as the Nuforce, I found it more musically enjoyable in many ways. Vocals had more texture and a natural timbre. The soundstaging was decent, not extending too far beyond the speakers, but the inner imaging and detail was superb.
The Nuforce BTR-100 aptX Bluetooth Receiver
Nuforce
Setting up the Nuforce for streaming involved an additional step of connecting the BTR-100 to the DDA-100, but was as simple and straightforward as the NAD. The first part of the listening session was 16/44 and 24/96 FLAC and WAV files. 

The sound was very pleasant. The bass had impact, reasonable depth and drive, the midrange was pleasant, and the highs were good but with just a hint of splashiness (again, compared to my $9000 monoblocks). Soundstaging was forward of the loudspeakers, with good width and depth. What struck me was the amount of detail and resolution I was getting. In that, the Nuforce punched WAY above it's price class.

The Bottom Line

While the Nuforce had better bass, soundstaging and an amazing amount of detail, to my ears and in my system the sound was a bit splashy, which does not make it a long term listening choice. The NAD, while not possesing the detail of the Nuforce, having woolier bass, and that remote, still to my ears was more musically satisfying. It's a pity for Tweek Geek, as we are not NAD dealers. That, plus the sheer flexibility of inputs, and a subwoofer out makes the NAD a clear winner. Sorry Nuforce. 


Sunday, October 6, 2013

USB Cable Comparison: Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB and Prana Wire Photon USB


Joe Cohen of the Lotus Group called me on Monday. "Mike I am very excited to get a new USB cable in your hands, do you have time to give it a listen?". While not exhibiting at the 2013 RMAF, I was plenty busy recieving packages and loaning equipment to others who were. My system was not it's normal self, but hey, I never turn down an opportunity to listen to something new. "Sure, I will make time." I said, and on Thursday I received a .6 meter Prana Wire Photon USB cable.

I had also been breaking in some cables from Onda Cables of Canada (another post for another day) at the time, and they had been in the system 72 hours and were starting to settle in nicely. I was growing very familiar with their sound in my system.
The Prana Wire Photon in action. Not a small cable...


I put the Photon in the system between my PC and DAC and paid it no attention for 48 hours. I had a few hours on Sunday set aside for listening, so I selected a wide variety of tracks and also a wide variety of bit depths from 16/44 to DSD master files. The Onda Rapture Power cords, speaker cables and interconnects were giving me huge amounts of inner detail already, I had let my ears settle in to the Photon's sonic attributes, and it was time to put in the former reigning champ, the fully tweeked out Platinum Reference USB cable. This wasn't a totally fair comparison price wise, as the Prana Wire is $995 for .5 meter and the Wireworld $499. But the Wireworld was my current reference, and would make for the best comparison.

Tonally the Wireworld was neutral, with the performers and instruments mostly forward of the loudspeakers. There was excellent extension top to bottom and a nice sense of depth, height and width. the most striking thing I noticed between the Photon and the Platinum reference was the sense of compression that was occurring in the Platinum reference during complex musical passages. I had never noticed any such thing before, but after listening to the Prana Wire prior, it was now apparent that there was some compression occurring in the Wireworld cable.  I continued to listen through the list of tracks in my playlist, then went back to the Photon cable. With the Prana Wire Photon in place, the separation of instruments was greater, as were the dynamics, and this was especially evident in complex passages. My observation was confirmed.  But I was in for another surprise...The Photon had quite a bit more inner detail as well. I was hearing subtle instrumentations, ambient cues, and sound effects that were just barely perceptible or inaudible with the Wireworld.  It also appeared that the Photon possessed a little more top end extension. Color me impressed. Most of the time more inner detail and air means an artificially heightened treble response. I wasn't getting that here. I was getting neutrality and musicality.

I was skeptical about a $995 USB cable. I honestly did not think you could get much more information and better sonics than the Wireworld. The Wireworld is an excellent cable, built to very tight tolerances, and represents a very good value to someone who has $2500 + wrapped up in a USB DAC. The Prana Wire does give you more. More inner resolution, more separation of instruments, more dynamics, more bass definition and more air. It does so at a price, but to my ears, it is worth the investment in my enjoyment of music. Well done Prana Wire, I have a new reference.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cable Comparison: High Fidelity Cables CT-1 and Synergistic Research Element Tungsten

Synergistic Research Element Tungsten
High Fidelity Cables CT-1
 VS. 

High Fidelity Cables have had a lot of buzz circulating about them for awhile now, and with good reason. They have a strong pedigree (Rick Schultz, the owner and former owner of Virtual Dynamics), and are a top performing cable in their price range. Their CT-1 interconnect is their lowest priced offering, and the cable that got the buzz going.

Synergistic Research is no stranger to the cable market. They have a long history of award winning cable designs, and incorporate some very unique methodologies in achieving their results. The Element Tungsten Interconnect is the second from the top of their Element series cables. It offers a unique metallurgy, active shielding, and their proprietary quantum tunneling process.

System
For this session, we ran without a preamp. This meant we only needed one set of interconnects, connecting them directly to the amplifiers. The Lumin is quite capable of driving the amplifiers without a preamp, and having such a short signal path allowed us to more easily distinguish the differences between interconnects.




  • Lumin Network Music Player
  • Acoustic Imagery Atsah Amplifiers
  • Vivid Audio B-1 loudspeakers - Very revealing loudspeakers. Their shortcoming, if any, would be limited extreme LF. They are flat in their response to about 40hz, but can let you know if there is substantial content down into the 30hz range.
  • Bybee Stealth Power Conditioner
  • Synergistic Research Element CTS Speaker Cable
  • Stillpoints ESS Rack
  • Stein Music Harmonizer Platinum System
  • Kaplan GS MK II Power Cables
Cables
  • High Fidelity Cables CT-1 - $1600 for one meter
  • Synergistic Research Element Tungsten $2000 for one meter
Music - a selection of DSD and other high resolution recordings. Below is a sampling of tracks we listened to.
Dead Can Dance - The Carnival is over
Porcupine Tree - Buy New Soul
Diana Krall - Temptation
Seal - Color  (Acoustic)

More Similarities Than Differences
Let me just start by saying both the High Fidelity Cables CT-1 and Synergistic Research Element Tungsten are excellent cables, and very similar in many regards. In fact they are more similar than they are different. Both have exceptional low level resolution, can throw a holographic soundstage and have excellent frequency extension from top to bottom. The differences lie in the very fine details.

Where the CT-1 Stands Out
One word, dynamics. The CT-1 had more dynamic "pop" and impact. drums had more impact, and leading edge strings had more bite. At times, this could come across as a more forward upper mid/lower treble than the Synergistic Tungsten, especially on classical instruments like the cello or violin. This could give the impression of a tiny bit more steeliness to strings than what I consider normal. If your system consists of solid state gear or has metal dome drivers, this may be too much of a good thing with the CT-1. If you have a tube component in  your system, or less forward loudspeakers, this may be a terrific match.

Where the Element Tungsten Stands Out
Vocals had a touch more body to them with the Tungsten. The drivers in the B-1's seemed to integrate better as well. Mostly due to the fact that the Tungsten was less forward in that upper mid/lower treble region.  Everything was smooth and very listenable, yet still super resolving and 3D. Dynamics were not as lively as with the High Fidelity CT-1. But bass seemed a tiny (I mean tiny) bit better defined.

Conclusion
If dynamics are your thing, or if you had a tube based audio system, you will probably lean towards the CT-1, if you have a solid state system all the way through, or perhaps your speakers have a metal or ceramic dome, you may want to sacrifice a little dynamics for a smoother overall presentation. Mind you, these are the results I obtained in MY system. Before making a purchasing decision of this sized you should definitely try both cables in your own system to make the final decision.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Customer writes...

Today a customer wrote:
"I have a very high end rig which I use for CDs and vinyl (Burmenster, Metronome, Zellaton etc). I would like to use my Mac as well to stream MOG via Pure Music. I am currently using an Audioquest Diamond USB cable which is decent. In your view, would an isolation device under the Mac improve matters? How you compare three Stein Naturals to the Synergistic research Basik platform, both of which I note you carry. Any other suggestions?"

I respond:

The Synergistic Research Tranquility Basik ($995) and The Stein Naturals ($289) are two completely different products. But If you are comparing bottom line sonic improvements, then the Tranquility Basik is the hands down winner for your Mac. Currently Synergistic Research has a promotion with the purchase of the Tranquility Base ($1995), which is a step up from the Tranquility Basik. They are giving away a one meter USB Active cable valued at $595.

The differences between the Tranquility Basik and the Tranquility Base are:

The Tranquility bāsik has the folllowing: Synergistic's Level 1 Active Signal Flow Control, 7 layer laminate mechanical isolation, one set of MiG resonator footers, and one Enigma bullet.
The Tranquility Base has Synergistic's Level 2 Active Signal Flow Control, Level 1 Passive Ground Plane, 9 layer laminate mechanical isolation, two sets of MiG resonator footers, and the Synergistic Enigma Bullet tuning system.
Sonically The Tranquility base drops the noise floor even lower, and that seems to improve dynamics and soundstaging over the Basik. 
The iFi USB
Last, I know you didn't bring this up, but I am excited about this new product and feel I would be doing you a disservice If I didn't mention it. If you are streaming audio to a USB DAC, your computer is corrupting the audio signal with it's noisy switching power supplies. The USB System carries power along with audio, and there is a lot of cross contamination. The ifi USB ($199) is a super regulated USB power supply that improves the sound of the USB signal into ANY USB DAC, no matter what the cost.  I guarantee you will love this product for what it does to the sound of USB streamed audio. It totally cleans it up, makes it less thin, harsh and grainy, and brings it to a level of sound quality that you would not expect from streaming audio.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

USB Cable Comparison Part III

Synergistic Research Active USB vs. Fully Tweaked Wireworld 



This session pitted a stock Synergistic Research USB Active SE against the fully tweaked Wireworld Platinum Reference. This was probably the most economically fair comparison, as both cables push the $600 barrier for a one meter length. The Synergistic USB Active SE incorporates their quantum tunneling process, as well as their active shielding. Synergistic cables are typically very quiet, very holographic, and with a warm, rich tonal quality.

The Wireworld Platinum Starlight employs Wireworld's patent-pending DNA Helix conductor design, which uses six (solid silver) signal conductors – twice as many as other USB cables -- arranged in an innovative symmetrical geometry that provides precisely balanced 90-ohm impedance that far exceeds the official USB specification. They also keep the power separate from the signal.  Wireworld typically is very resolving and neutral to cool in their presentation. The Platinum series is very dynamic and lively, with a large, holographic soundstage. The Absolute Sound gave the Platinum Starlight USB a Golden Ear Award.

Both cables offered excellent, holographic soundstaging, a low noise floor, and good frequency extension on both ends. These are two very good audiophile USB cables. The most noticeable difference between the two was in the handling of the upper frequencies. The Synergistic USB Active SE was oh-so slightly more forgiving. It illuminates the subject with a soft glow. Warm, rich and musical. Think candle light. I found it more forgiving of poor source material as well.

The fully tweaked Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB with added Stillpoints ERS and the WA quantum cable chip was slightly more transparent, with a bit more air and high frequency extension. It digs a little deeper, is better at mining the low level detail. Transient attack is sharper, quicker, giving the music a dynamic liveliness. The downside is it isn't as forgiving. The subject is well lit under the spotlight, warts and all.

The tweaked out Wireworld was the winner here. But be prepared, it will reveal shortcomings in your music and any upstream components.

Up Next: We wrap the Synergistic USB SE with Stilpoints ERS and add the WA Quantum Cable chip to level the playing field against the fully tweaked out Platinum Starlight USB.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

USB Cable Comparison Part II

This is a continuation of USB Cable Comparison Part 1

For this comparison, I used the same model cable, The Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB, but added Stillpoints ERS Tape to the cable, as well as a WA Quantum cable chip.
Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB
The Wireworld is a reference class USB Cable. It uses six (solid silver) signal conductors – twice as many as other USB cables -- arranged in an innovative symmetrical geometry that provides precisely balanced 90-ohm impedance that far exceeds the official USB specification.  The DNA Helix design maximizes transmission speed while minimizing noise, thus reducing digital jitter to provide substantial overall improvements in sound quality. Another special feature of the cables is a power conductor that is fully isolated from the signal conductors to preserve Signal integrity.
WA Quantum Cable Chips

1. ERS'd Cable with and without the Cable Chip - I was already very familiar with the sound of the ERS'd Platinum Starlight cable, I started the session listening to it for about an hour before applying the WA Quantum Cable Chip.  I did not have to stop the music in order to wrap the chip (what looks like a piece of audio tape centered inside a foil sticker) around the carbon fiber connector at the end of the cable's signal transmission point. The result did not reveal itself right away. It took a good 30 minutes for me to realize that the track I was listening to had more low level detail than I had heard ever before. Crazy low level, beyond what my beloved Bybee Quantum Purifiers revealed within music. Now I did have the system plugged in to my Bybee Stealth AC conditioner, so perhaps the net effect was a synergy between the two. The music also sounded less "digital" if that makes sense. There was more of an organic flow to the sound.  The super-tweaked out Platinum Starlight, which was by itself one of the best USB cables available, was turned into a formidable cable indeed for about $100 more.

2. Fully tweaked Platinum Starlight USB vs. stock Platinum Starlight - The next session started out with the stock Platinum Starlight. I had this cable in my system for several days , so it was fully acclimated (as were my ears) to the sound of the cable.  I sat and listened to the stock cable for about an hour, stopped playback, and inserted the super tweaked out cable and restarted the song that was just playing. My first impression was the soundstage immediately "decompressed" and expanded. the sound was more 3 dimensional, expanding beyond, in front, and to the rear of the speakers. Inner detail was much easier to hear. The Super tweaked cable also revealed a sort of grainy harshness that was present in the stock version (or it may have simply been passing along that harshness from elsewhere in the system). Music was significantly more "musical" and less fatiguing. There was no going back to the stock version after this. But, for the sake of sanity, I did have to put it back into the system. Sure enough, the soundstage flattened, and the "digititis" returned. Gone was the magical inner detail, air and space. Back was the fatigue that had me reaching for the volume knob.

Conclusion: For about $100 you can take the already excellent Platinum Starlight USB cable and turn it into one of the best audiophile USB cables out there. The other plus is, if you already have a favorite USB cable, you can apply the Stillpoints ERS and WA Quantum cable chip to your existing cable, and get more of your music, while still remaining musical.

Part III: Super Platinum Starlight vs. Synergistic Research USB Active SE Cable

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Modwright KWI 200 + Vivid Audio B1 = Music

Every once in awhile you find audio components that simply work well together. Their sonic characteristics compliment one another to such a degree that together, their sum is greater than their individual contributions. It's called synergy, and I am writing today to share with you my discovery of (at least two) components that have this synergy.

Vivid B1
Vivid Audio B1
The Vivid Audio B1 loudspeaker is the first step up from the entry level in Vivid Audio's speaker lineup. It is by no means entry level priced, but I am of the belief that a large part of one's audio system budget should go to loudspeakers. After all, they are the end of the signal chain, and should have the capability to reveal everything being fed to them from the components upstream. Everything about the Vivid B1 is designed for a purpose. One look at the loudspeaker will tell you that it should be different from anything else in its class, and it is. Vivid loudspeakers have their heritage with the B&W Nautilus speakers. Their designer, Laurence Dickie, played a critical role in the design of the Nautilus. As the designer for Vivid Audio, he now has the freedom to take his ideas to their ultimate expression. The bottom line is, this speaker will give you everything it is fed. Good, bad, and ugly. When paired with the right components, It will reward you with dynamics, soundstaging, imaging and a tonal "rightness" that simply states "this is music". You will hear things that your current loudspeakers have veiled, but hear them in a most musical, pleasant and unfatiguing way. But be warned, if the upstream components are "sonic scalpels", then you will have an audiophile dissection of your music like nothing you have ever heard before.

Modwright
Modwright KWI 200
The Modwright KWI 200 integrated amplifier is a bit of a conundrum. It is made in the USA, yet is very competitive in its price and sonically a mind blower. It has received rave reviews from professionals and users across the board. It is a MOSFET design rated at 200 watts into 8 ohms and 400 into 4. One look inside the chassis from the top and you can plainly see a massive transformer (1.5 KVA) and several large capacitors (234,000 microfarads), which clues you in to its massive power reserves. You have 3 RCA inputs, 1 XLR input, a home theater bypass, and an RCA preamp output. There are options for a phono stage or USB DAC as well. They do add to the price.  The sound of the KWI 200 is musical. It's one of those components that makes everything sound good. It has incredible dynamic drive and punch, even at low volumes. The bass is full and tuneful at any volume level, and if you are a vocal person (meaning accurate, musical reproduction of the human voice through your audio system is essential), you are in for a superb musical experience. Heck, even if you're not a vocal person you might become one after listening to the KWI 200. The sense of control in the low frequencies I believe has a lot to do with how well the midrange and high frequencies are reproduced with the Modwright. The dual woofers on the Vivid B1's are capable of delivering every subtle nuance of bass that the Modwright reproduces. The same goes for the midrange and highs, the B1's are so revealing, and yet non-fatiguing, you really get the best of both worlds when you put these two audio components together. The Modwright needs a neutral to cool sounding loudspeaker to achieve the right balance. If you own a speaker on the warm side of neutral, it may be too much of a good thing.

Modwright KWI 200, Vivid B1, Stillpoints rack, Bybee Stealth
The Combination: music and detail
The Vivid B1's with the Modwright KWI 200 produced a sound that was in my opinion, the best of both worlds. There were musical nuances, and details revealed that I had not heard before. Even at low volumes, I found myself thinking "Wow, I didn't know that was in the recording." The next thing that captured my attention were the dynamics. Again, even at low listening levels, the dynamics were there. Then there were the vocals. Listening to male singers offered a rich, textured, simply real vocal presentation without chestiness or artificial boominess. It was captivating. Female vocals were equally captivating and real as well. They
 were filled with emotion and realism that allowed me to connect to the music on a very deep level. The soundstage from this combo was wide, tall and deep. It was placed slightly forward of the speakers and went wayyy back. Imaging was very accurate, rendering instruments in an exact location when mixed as such, with clarity of location and a really nice sense of space around the musician. The electrostat-like speed detail and dynamics of the Vivids mated perfectly with the dynamics, silky smooth mid-high frequencies and warm, tight and tuneful bass of the Modwright. These two components simply make music together without sacrificing detail and nuance.

Other Reviews

Modwright KWI 200
Vivid Audio B1


Other Recommendations

Synergistic Research cables worked very well with the Modwright/vivid setup. I really like the new Element series. The Element Tungsten interconnects and speaker cables, the Tungsten and Copper Tungsten power cables offered HF/LF extension, dynamics and a holographic soundstage. To add to that, the Bybee Stealth power conditioner allowed these components to perform at their absolute best. It lowered the noise floor to quite a degree. So much so that a great deal of low level information became easily audible.

Friday, March 22, 2013

USB Cable Comparison 1:


USB cable comparisons, and a tweek

Wireworld Platinum Starlight
Recently, I had my annual Tweek Geek open house. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate very well, dumping a large amount of snow the day of the event. Only the hardcore audiophiles with 4 wheel drive managed to show, but the smaller gathering afforded us the opportunity to do some USB cable comparisons, as well as test a a tweak that I had resurrected.

I have used the Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB cable as my reference standard for some time now, and was using it in the system we had set up. We were streaming some DSD master files (the original digital files used to make SACD’s) through the new Luxman DA-06 DAC. This was an extremely resolving and musical system, running through a Luxman M-600A Class A amplifier and the Vivid Audio G3 loudspeakers. One could hear small changes made to the system without having to strain. Luxman is manufacturing a USB cable to ship along with the new DAC, and Philip O’ Hanlon, the distributor for Luxman and Vivid, was curious as to how it might stack up against some other USB cables. Using the Platinum Starlight as the baseline, we inserted the Luxman USB Cable into the system for a listen. One thing is for sure, there is a significant difference between some USB cables. This was obvious. The Platinum starlight had far more resolution and was more neutral in it’s presentation. It went lower, and higher than the Luxman. The presentation was more forward than the Luxman as well. I thought the Luxman was a bit too recessed in it's presentation. I then reached in to my bag o’ tweeks and pulled out an old Belkin USB cable that I had wrapped in Stillpoints ERS Tape. Surprisingly this was a very good performer over the stock Belkin. It had a quietness to it that made it more resolving. It still however didn’t stack up to the Wireworld Platinum Eclipse, but was nonetheless a very nice cable for cheap. Our last comparison for the day was the Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB. It proved better than the Luxman and the ERS’ed Belkin by a small but significant margin. At the end of the day the Platinum Starlight proved the clear winner. It was simply more revealing, created a wider soundstage, better dynamics, and more extension at both ends of the sonic spectrum. This is no surprise, considering the price of the cable. The Starlight was a great second place finisher. Not quite as resolving, not quite as much low end, but for the money it was an excellent value.
Stillpoints ERS Tape

TWEEK: Adding Stillpoints ERS Tape to your USB Cable
Depending on the shape of your cable, you can wrap your cable in ERS, or in the case of a flat cable, run a strip of tape lengthwise down either side of the cable. Either way, you will still want to "dress" the cable after applying the ERS. I did this by wrapping Teflon tape over the ERS. That will keep the fabric that is the ERS tape from fraying or snagging, and unraveling. You could even go further and add tech flex sleeving over the Teflon tape for a really snazzy look.


Next Blog: The Platinum Eclipse USB with and without ERS
With the benefits of the ERS tape on a USB cable revealed, my curiosity had been awakened. I had 2 Platinum Starlight USB Cables, and decided to cover one in ERS Tape, then compare it to a stock Platinum Starlight Cable. The results? That will be my next blog post...



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The $3000 Audio System


I've been fascinated by the flexibility and performance of DSpeaker's Dual Core processor. It does so many things
  • Room correction up to 500hz
  • Digital EQ
  • Asynchronous USB DAC 
  • 24/192 processing via toslink digital input
  • Analog volume control with .5dB steps and remote control
So you get a DAC, room correction, an EQ, and a preamp in one small box. The user interface is great, and the sound quality is excellent. Really surprising once the room correction is engaged.

I was looking for a way to stream music from my PC to the Dual Core, while keeping the signal in the digital domain and taking advantage of the 24/192 capability of the Dual Core's Toslink input. I opted for the M2Tech Evo USB to SPDIF converter since it has a Toslink output. The Evo would take the USB output from my music server and convert it to SPDIF and send it to the Toslink output. The Dual core would then apply room correction, EQ (if necessary) in the digital domain before converting the signal to analog. The analog output could then go directly to an amplifier, or to a pair of amplified speakers.  The system would be super simple, and sound quality would be way beyond it's price point of around $1600.



Software used - Since my server is Windows based, and I own an iPad Mini, I chose JRiver because of the great sound and user interface on their iPad app, JRemote.



I used a Wireworld USB cable and glass Toslink cable. IMO, they offer the best performance for the money spent.

Match this system up with a high quality pair of powered monitors like the Adam a7X (heck I don't even sell these...), and for around $3,000 you have a really nice system for a small to mid size room.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

HRT MicroStreamer Review

The HRT MicroStreamer arrives hot on the heels of Audioquest's amazing Dragonfly USB DAC.  

The MicroStreamer has a USB mini-B input and two 1/8" output jacks. One is for headphones, the other line-level output is for connection to an audio system via (most likely) a 1/8" stereo mini to RCA cable. Each output is marked with icons. Sample-rate indicator lights are located on the side of the chassis. The one piece aluminum housing is simple, sturdy, and functional. 

It has asynchronous USB transfer, is capable of handling high resolution audio formats up to 24 bit 96 kHz, and has an analog gain stage that is digitally controlled.



Sound
From the moment I plugged the MicroStreamer in to my main audio system and began to listen, I was simply amazed at how good something so small could sound. The industry has really come a long way in producing superior sound in convenient packages, and at reasonable prices. The HRT MicroStreamer is the current pinnacle of this progress in my opinion.

There was really nothing missing tonally from the musical presentation of the MicroStreamer. Bass was low, tight, and tuneful. Mids were rich, layered and pleasant, Highs were extended and smooth when the source was. Soundstaging was pretty unbelievable with good recordings. The MicroStreamer painted a 3D portrait of the recording that was also very musical.  What impressed me most, was the dynamic drive and punch this little device had. It totally caught me off guard.

All in all I highly recommend the MicroStreamer for a desktop audio system, pack it in your laptop bag with a pair of good headphones for listening on the road, or use it as the foundation for an entry level audio system.

Pros

  • Something this small shouldn't sound this good. Musical, 3 dimensional, with good low end kick and top end extension.
  • Can play back on your audio system or through your headphones
  • Price: $198. It raises the bar for high performance USB DACs.

Cons

  • Does not work with iDevices
  • Requires a USB a to Mini B cable