In my recent review of the DEQX HDP-4, I mentioned that a USB card was going to be made available for connection directly from a computer to the DEQX unit. Audiophilia colleague, Karl Sigman, suggested the time had arrived to get into computer based digital audio. As such, I purchased a brand new machine ready for all the new digital excitement.
Soon thereafter, Al Langford from DEQX sent me the XS-1 USB Options Board upgrade package that included the board and a CD with the required programming. I’m not a technical person therefore felt more comfortable employing the help of my friend and colleague, Mike Levy, to install the new board. Once we took the chassis cover off the DEQX, it only took a few minutes for Mike to install the new card. There is also an online video of an installation to give you additional guidance.
My digital playback system is comprised of the MSB Technology Data IV Transport and Signature Power Base connected to the internal DAC of the DEQX HDP-4 PROCESSOR via an Antipodes Kokiri Digital Cable. How would the computer compare to my reference system? Using a generic USB cable, I connected the computer to the USB input on the upgraded DEQX. I ripped several CDs into my computer using Windows Media Player. I didn’t know what to expect but I was not prepared for what I heard.
My immediate impression was how more lifelike the sound was. The soundstage, which was already large and impressive, seemed to expand even further. Gains were made in transparency and three-dimensionality. The specificity of images, while already excellent showed further gains. Whether listening to Michael Bublé, Frank Sinatra, Diane Krall or Holly Cole, inner textures and sonic cues that give a live quality to the presentation had become abundantly clear.
The same was true of instruments, whether Miles or Dizzy, their horns were so palpable and alive. Another benefit provided by the card was how well it unraveled musical complexities. Because of the increase in separation, complex musical passages became more understandable and individual voices in choral groups could be heard. Dynamics, again already excellent, also benefitted from the new card. There seemed to be a little more explosiveness to the presentation, more drive available than before.
If I had to characterize the overall differences between my transport based system and the USB sourced system I would say that the USB system was more resolving, airy and transparent of the two with increased low level detail. My transport based system was slightly darker with a little more weight. Experimenting with different USB cables could potentially modify the result.
As time passed, I borrowed various USB cables ranging in price from $100 to $500 for one meter. There were differences. Two that I liked were Silnote Audio’s Poseidon and Wireworld’s Platinum Starlight. The Starlight proved to be my favorite and naturally was the most expensive. It gave a most airy and transparent presentation that was addictive.
I also discovered that USB cables should be as short as possible. Degradation of the signal is apparent as the length increases.
I think Kim Ryrie, the chief at DEQX, should produce a new product: a stand-alone DAC. What Ryrie has achieved by adding the XS-1 USB card is to create a truly outstanding digital playback experience. The man truly knows what he is doing. Anyone who owns a DEQX must get this card. It is clearly worthwhile. It takes computer sourced audio to not only a viable alternative but one that vies to be your primary source.
[It is with great pleasure that we award The Audiophilia Star Component Award to the The DEQX XS-1 USB Audio Option Board. Congratulations! - Ed]
Amplifiers: Hephaestos Audio Harpocratus Monoblocks
Speakers: Alta Audio FRM-2
Phono Preamplifier: AVID Pulsare updated to II
Digital: MSB DATA CD IV Transport
Preamplifier/Processor: The DEQX HDP-4
Analogue: Avid SEQUEL SP/SME IV arm/Cartridge: Shelter 7000
Speaker Cables: Acoustic Zen’s Absolute, Kaplan GS Mk III
Power Cords: Kaplan GS Mk II
Interconnects: Antipodes Audio KOKIRI, KOMAKO and REFERENCE, Acoustic Zen’s Absolute Copper, Morrow Audio MA-7
Accessories: Redpoint BLAKHOLE’s, Herbie’s Audio Lab Tenderfeet, Soundcare products, Acme Audio Labs wall outlets
Power Conditioning: Kaplan Alchemist
The DEQX XS-1 USB Audio Option Board
Manufactured by DEQX PTY Limited
Unit 1, 1 Roger Street, Brookvale, Sydney NSW 2100, AUSTRALIA
Tel: +61 2 9905 6277 Fax: +61 2 9905 8066
Source: Manufacturer loan