An Audiophilia Top Ten. Number 10 in a new series. (Computer audiophile shopping list)

by admin on January 3, 2010 · 24 comments

in Audiophilia Top Tens, Sound Docks/Servers/Computer

It’s not going away. No matter how hard we dig in our heels. Computers and high end audio are getting together. It won’t be a full on audiophile love affair for some time, but audiophiles are beginning to enjoy the benefits of their computers and want some of their high end tastes down in the bits.

The following list contains ten products that will give USB and wireless fans a chance to hear their recordings in somewhat better sound than the garden variety MP3 player and laptop allow.

In no particular order. Information is from the company websites.

Neuhaus Laboratories T-2 Amplifier
MRSP $800
www.neuhauslabs.com

Times have changed, and most people have music on computers instead of CDs. CDs are already becoming an obsolete music format. You may have had the experience of connecting speakers to your laptop computer to listen to music and hearing how terrible the sound quality is. It doesn’t matter how expensive the speakers are; they simply won’t sound good, because computers are not meant to deliver superior sound quality. The sound cards on most computers are terrible. But now, neuhaus laboratories has developed the integrated vacuum tube T-2 Amplifier to bring quality Hi Fi audiophile sound to laptops and desktop computers.

NuForce Icon
MRSP $249
www.nuforce.com

The NuForce® Icon™ is an audiophile-grade Integrated Desktop Audio Amplifier featuring two 12-watt outputs, a 3.5-mm stereo input for connection to an iPod or other portable device, a USB cable for operation with a PC or Mac, and standard RCA inputs for employing the Icon as the heart of a conventional audio system. For the headphone enthusiast, the Icon also offers a high-performance headphone output. Of particular interest to the computer user, the Icon¡’s line-out functions as a PC or Mac USB-to-analog audio converter or can also be used as a connection to a subwoofer.

Bel Canto USB Link 24/96
MRSP $495
www.belcantodesign.com

The USB Link 24/96, the must-have component for computer hard disc music systems. The USB Link 24/96 converts a computer-derived USB input of up to 24 bits and 96kHz to SPDIF and outputs the signal on a 75 ohm BNC. The USB Link 24/96 includes a Stereovox XV2 BNC/BNC cable with RCA adaptor to feed your audiophile DAC of choice Significantly improves the sound of your 16-bit 44.1 kHz music files as well!

Chord Chordette Gem
MRSP $690
www.chordelectronics.co.uk

The Chordette Gem is the first in a new range of lower cost products designed to integrate within any existing HiFi system. The Gem has a unique Bluetooth Audio receiver technolgy to allow the transfer of music from a Bluetooth enabled phone, PDA or personal computer. The addition of a USB port also allows direct streaming of audio from a PC.

Peachtree Audio Nova
MRSP $1295
www.signalpathint.com

Most digital music is etched and hard. Mp3 files are almost unlistenable and through your computers sound card, even wav files are not much better. However, if you take these files, transfer them digitally to an on board digital to analog converter, run that signal through a “tube” preamp and power it with a high-current amplifier, the results are amazing! This is what you can do with a Peachtree Audio with a simple one cable hook-up. Now all the time, effort and money you’ve spent ripping CD’s and downloading music is rewarded with truly incredible sound. Although our company is a big believer in lossless encoding, even compressed MP3 files sound very close to the original CD when played through our “New Millennium” integrated amplifiers.

Olive 4 Hi-Fi Music Server
MRSP $1499
www.olive.us

Store all your CDs in hi-fi digital. In fact, you can store up to 6,000 CDs and hear each one in true hi-fi quality. That’s because your music comes to you uncompromised by typical MP3-style compression. You hear it all!

Jaybird Gear SB1 Sportsband Bluetooth headphones
MRSP $89
www.jaybirdgear.com

In addition to crystal clear stereo sound the Sportband includes an integrated microphone with Clear Voice Capture® technology for phone calls ensuring your voice comes through crisp and clear. Music from your iPod or other device pauses while you take a call, resumes when you’re done. The Sportsband also works with VoIP applications like Skype. The JayBird Bluetooth Headphones offer full music and call controls including play, plause, forward, back track, answer/reject/redial call, power, pairing and volume controls.

The HRT Music Streamer +
MRSP $299
www.highresolutiontechnologies.com

The Music Streamer + is a ultra high performance music interface that allows a computer and a home entertain- ment system to become perfect partners. With its unique topology, the Music Streamer+ provides a completely isolated path between the computer and audio system. No more audio contamination by the computer; your music will always sound its best. There are no external power supplies to worry about because the Music Streamer+ derives its power from the USB buss while completely regenerating power for all its internal circuitry using a sophisticated set of proprietary circuits.

NuForce Icon U-Dac
MRSP $99
www.nuforce.com

The NuForce uDAC is a high-performance USB Digital Audio Converter (DAC) that connects your personal computer’s audio with your home stereo, desktop sound system, or headphones. The quality and versatility of the uDAC’s performance belies its diminutive size. With its extensive power supply, filtering capabilities and charge-pump circuit as a foundation, the uDAC processes incoming data via a USB audio receiver. A D/A converter chip then translates the data to a two-volt analog signal. The NuForce uDAC¡¯s performance equals or exceeds that of a great many audiophile CD players. The unit¡¯s exemplary flexibility ¨C¨C analog RCA, digital coaxial, and high-performance headphone outputs ¨C¨C is bound to satisfy the needs of the most critical music lover.

Wavelength Cosecant USB DAC v3
MRSP $3500
www.usbdacs.com

The Cosecant v3 connects the USB controller to a DAC module connector. The USB firmware to run that dac module resides there so each module has it’s own developed code. The output of the module connector is sent directly to the 6GM8/ECC86 dual triode output tube which drives the transformer coupled output. The Cosecant has an external power supply with IEC connector to isolate the power from the DAC and it’s audio transformers. The Cosecant is also available with an optional volume control if you want to control your entire system from the computer output.

Disclaimer: Audiophilia advertiser NuForce has two products on this list.

Photo credit

{ 1 trackback }

The HRT Music Streamer II USB DAC — Audiophilia
01.03.11 at 8:00 am

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul S. 01.05.10 at 10:22 am

Is this really the kind of stuff that we will be forced to buy/use in a few years once CDs “become obsolete”? I think I will spend the next decade snapping up all the CDs that I can get my hands on.

admin 01.05.10 at 10:45 am

Hi Paul:

Thanks for your comment. I was thinking about this the other day. I had to get some music off a Sony Mini Disc (remember them?) on to an iPod. The Mini Disc is obsolete. In audiophile and musical terms, useless. And while I was transferring on my computer, I was looking at my 25 year old Audio Research SP 9 Mk III that will sound good and still be usable in 100 years.

No, I think the formats will come and go (DVD-A!), but listening to music in audiophile terms will still mean vinyl, CDs, and high quality digital transfers on music servers played through well thought out, well manufactured gear.

Atane 01.05.10 at 12:16 pm

Good list, but I think Slim Devices Transporter would make a wonderful addition to this list. It’s a solid piece of kit, supports 24/96 files and has a wonderful DAC. Fully balanced XLR inputs & outputs.

Here’s a link

http://www.logitechsqueezebox.com/products/transporter.html

admin 01.05.10 at 1:29 pm

Many thanks for the addition, Atane. I’ll be sure to check it out. Is this the one that is 2Gs?

Welcome, BTW. Cheers, a

edit: Just checked out the link. Looks good and is 2Gs. $$$$$ Hmm….would like to hear that. $500 more than the highly-regarded Olive.

Atane 01.05.10 at 4:38 pm

Thanks for the welcome.

Yes, that’s the one. The downside to the Olive is that it doesn’t read Apple Lossless files I believe. A pity if true, because it looks good.

The Transporter can be heavily modified. I know a few guys on Audiogon that have done some Modwright mods. Basically, they improve the DAC & add some tubes. I’ve heard modified Transporters, and in my opinion - the sound difference does not warrant the extra expense, but I do like the fact that it’s an option. I’m not one to tinker with things.

Here’s their (modwright) page. Good to read up on.

http://www.modwright.com/modifications/9

Atane

admin 01.05.10 at 4:54 pm

Great link. Like the Modwright gear. Cheers, a

Paul S. 01.05.10 at 8:40 pm

“listening to music in audiophile terms will still mean vinyl, CDs, and high quality digital transfers on music servers played through well thought out, well manufactured gear.”

I agree. It just seems that the steady drumbeat as of late from the audiophile press has been “CDs are going away, get used to it.” I don’t think that is the case. Sure, CDs are fading in the mainstream but they are still being pressed and will be for a very long time. I don’t understand why we can’t have it all: CD, vinyl, downloads, servers, SACD, etc all existing at the same time. Do we really have to choose? I look forward to a future where audiophiles and music lovers have choices.

admin 01.05.10 at 8:42 pm

We are audiophiles. We can, and will, have it all!

:)

Luis 01.06.10 at 10:16 am

Hi,

My home office PC has the best soundcard I’ve ever heard and I wholeheartedly recommend it as an alternative to offboard USB-to-analog conversion.

It’s an Asus Xonar Essence STX (http://www.asus.com/product.aspx?P_ID=zCDHPnfR1jymHK2f). I couldn’t believe the black silence and the quality of the headphone amp.

On the reproduction side, I use a AKG 701 headset and Dynaudio mc15 mini-monitors complemented by Dynaudio’s matching sub, the 250mc. As good as it gets, in the price/size category.

In the living room, I have a homemade HTPC (hfx case), streaming my full NAS-based CD and DVD (all ripped) collection to my HT system consisting mainly of TAG McLaren equipment (not forgetting my favourite, a SME 10 turntable with SME V arm!). The HTPC has another Asus soundcard, the Xonar D2X version (oriented for multichannel) feeding S/PDIF to the TAG AV32R-dp.

admin 01.06.10 at 10:20 am

Many thanks for your comment, Luis. And welcome!

TAG McLaren! Yum yum!!!

Thanks for sharing your system with us. Cheers, a

Paul S. 01.07.10 at 10:23 am

Speaking of Mini Disc:
“”Next up is the MiniDisc. I think the MiniDisc will return because it was a fantastic editing object.

“It’s actually the beginning of a resurgence of older technology in the same way they got rid of vinyl records and now they’re are selling more again.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8441839.stm

I just came across this article this morning. Looks like cassettes are coming back.

admin 01.07.10 at 10:34 am

That’s fabulous, Paul. You’ll be wanting to purchase mine!

;)

Paul S. 01.07.10 at 12:33 pm

LOL! No thanks. I quit cassettes years ago. Still have a big suitcase of them stored away in my parent’s attic. I never did get into Mini Disc. I do remember reading about them quite a bit in Stereophile in the late 90s. So I guess they held some weight in the Audiophile world at one point.
With everything coming back into style again I guess we are headed for a time where nothing is ever truly obsolete. Where’s my 8 tracks? :-)

admin 01.07.10 at 1:17 pm

:)

I think anything digital in the 90s got Stereophile’s attention! Actually, not a bad format. DAT is the real loss.

Matt 01.09.10 at 3:19 pm

The Neuhaus Laboratories T-2 amp looks very nice, as does the NuForce uDAC. Any chance of a review sometime soon?

admin 01.09.10 at 3:26 pm

I’m going to place an order for the Neuhaus Labs.

jimmy page 01.14.10 at 11:28 am

I ordered one of the Neuhaus Labs amps and it sounds great. Have it hooked up to my MacBook by USB cable.

admin 01.14.10 at 11:55 am

That’s great, Jimmy. Maybe jot down some specific thoughts re sound for us. And welcome.

Cheers, a

Rick 07.01.10 at 11:55 am

Interesting list. I do think that CDs are disappearing, or at least less obtainable that only a few short years ago. I do have an Olive 4 and I would recommend it highly. I personally run the Olive to an external DAC, then to my amp and out to speakers. The sound is amazing. (The actual kit, for those who really want to know, I would characterize as an entry level audiophile kit: Olive 4 - DACMagic by Cambridge Audio - Cambridge Audio integrated amp - Focal 807s).

The plus side is that the Olive plays 24 bit music (considerably better than CD - provided it is a good recording), as well as the fact that my entire music collection is now in the Server in lossless format. This means that my 400 or so CDs were sucked in as FLAC files, that my higher quality mp3s (192 and up) were brought into the server, and my 24 bit downloads as well. All playing together seamlessly. I have built playlists using my entire previously disparate collection, and can shuffle through my entire collection which brings me unreasonable joy! I did find that the external DAC went a long way to make the difference between file types less noticeable by audibly (dramatically actually) increasing the quality of the mp3s etc…as it up-samples all the music to 24 bit. It looks like Olive has since released an “HD” version of the Olive 4, with an internal 24 bit DAC, but I’m happy with my external solution at the same price difference (about $500).

To be honest, I’ve been enjoying my music so much I recently purchased the Olive 2 (a satellite version for my room).

Rick.

max 01.12.11 at 12:04 pm

I just bought the new macbook pro, and want to turn it into the best possible musical powerhouse. All the products on this page are fantastic, but I am kind of new to this scene, and am finding it difficult to pick a certain configuration for my macbookpro. I was also looking at some sound cards from creative. Given this information i was wondering if someone could nudge me in the right direction towards semi-perfection. Would i need a good sound card on top of the products listed here? What would be the best configuration? Your help is greatly appreciated and thanks for creating such a great website.

admin 01.12.11 at 1:03 pm

Hi Max. Welcome.

Sound cards? Stumped. I will ask on twitter and, hopefully, one of the gang can chime in here.

Stay tuned.

Cheers, a

admin 01.12.11 at 1:13 pm

First @Twitter suggestion. Lucid Audio.

I”ll post as they come in.

admin 01.12.11 at 1:39 pm

More suggestions.

Echo Audio
Apogee Duet

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