Category Archives: USB

Denon Heos

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Hifi ubiquity Denon has entered the multiroom streaming scene that Logitech so abruptly left last year. While not the only Sonos alternative around, the Heos is certainly the most affordable and Denon sufficiently household to actually pose a serious competitor of Sonos.

The Heos system consists of a three self-contained speakers not unlike the Play components from Sonos. At the moment there are no reception-only units á la Sonos Connect but given Denon’s serious line-up of hifi-equipment, it would be surprising if they didn’t add a receiver to the system. There is a Heos Amp that can feed a self supplied set of speakers with 2x100w akin to the Sonos Connect:Amp. Everything is controlled by an app for Android or iOS. None for Windows Phone, alas. The Heos system operates on traditional wifi and/or ethernet connections and does not require a bridge, thus also does not ruggedise its streaming by way of a grid such as Sonos.

Supported file formats ranges the usual except high resolution audio and certain levels of DRM. Files can be fetched from network sources or from directly attached media such as USB sticks and optical or analogue inputs and from there shared across the Heos system.

Already announced, according to Recordere.dk, are extra speakers, a subwoofer and a soundbar.

Bluesound

01Canadian newcomers (and to some extent, former NAD dudes) Bluesound are going abroad with their jazzy looking 24-bit audio streaming system. A few weeks ago they appeared in Hifiklubben in Sweden and now they are available in Denmark as well. The system includes an optional server, ever so aptly named Vault, which can rip CDs in numerous formats, store them and stream them to the Bluesound players as well as act as a player itself. The satellite players come in three flavors: Node, Powernode and Pulse. The Node is a streaming client with analogue and digital outputs, natively supporting up to 192KHz sampling rates. The Powernode is akin to the Node adding a 90W class D amplifier to free it from a hifi system. The Pulse is a completely self contained system with 80W amp and speakers. In other words, a system not unlike the Sonos family; except in 24-bit resolution.

Control is done from a desktop computer or from the now ubiquitous smartphone or tablet. Presently only iOS and Android is supported.

Unlike Sonos, the Bluesound devices can access files from USB devices. It is unclear if each device can stream these auxiliary inputs autonomously, though.

Cambridge Audio Sonata NP30

Sonata NP30 Cambridge Audio have been lurking in the streamer business for years but have been hard pressed show any appearance on the shop shelves. Now it looks as if they are finally getting to a shop near me with their recently announced Sonata NP30 Network Music Player. The apparatus is neatly designed yet slightly on the conservative side of the front panel fence.

On the spec side the player offers 24-bit/96KHz playback of Flac and other formats through its Wolfson DAC, streaming from a variety of sources – wired and not.

As with everything else on this planet, the device can be remote controlled from the ever present iPad/iPod/iPhone.

Head-Direct HifiMan HM-602

HifiMan HM-602 Last year audiophile Fang Bian released a first shot at a true high-fidelity portable audio player (we can’t go around calling it an MP3 player now, can we – let alone a walkman!?) with a slightly bulky exterior boasting some really impressive specs. It even had a detachable amplifier section. Now he has gone and done it again, releasing a somewhat smaller but definitely not less impressively spec’d player. The HM-602 uses a Philips TDA-1543 dual DAC to support 24bit/96KHz Flac files as well as Ogg Vorbis. When you are not out there jogging in a crystal clear soundscape, the HM-602 can be used as a USB DAC feeding off of your computer stocked music.

It may not run Angry Birds or remote control your garden sprinkler, but at a price somewhat lower than your average iPod, this is quite an interesting piece of hi-fi equipment that does one thing and one thing only: Deliver sound.

Headroom Total BitHead

Headroom Headroom started in the early nineties making audiophile headphone amps. Today they boast a phenomenal line-up of more than 20 different DAC adorned amplifiers and aftermarket cable-upgrades for just about every serious headphone on the shelf.

The Total BitHead comes with a built-in USB port which makes it a perfect computer soundcard replacement. It should be noted, however, that the BitHead uses a 16bit D/A converter. The unit comes with velcro pads to affix an iPod or another MP3 player onto it, but quite frankly it is the USB input that makes this gadget interesting. Not an analogue line-in.

Cambridge Audio DacMagic

DacMagic The Cambridge Audio DacMagic has existed for a couple of years but has now had a sort of re-debut at CEDIA in Denver. The new version kicks some serious situpon [you cannot imagine how thrilled I am to use that word] with not only three digital inputs [one of which is USB] and a digital out; but balanced outputs and full 24bit/192KHz resolution from two Wolfson DACs upscaled from a number of resolutions up to 24bit/96KHz. A nifty little device.

Firestone Audio Fubar II USB & Spitfire DACs

Spitfire The Firestone Audio line of products is a refreshing attack on the design style of Hi-Fi equipment – not unlike the world of downhill mountain biking [the world is split into four distinct elements: peat, dirt, sight and sound]. Within the scope of this blog, two Firestone Audio products are particularly interesting: The Firestone Audio Fubar II USB DAC and the Firestone Audio Spitfire DAC. The former comes in a choice of bright red or grey and the latter just in grey.

Fubar II The Fubar II is particularly useful as an external sound card for a PC, sporting a direct USB input as well as Toslink and coaxial inputs, all for a 16bit/48KHz conversion. Big brother Spitfire does not have a USB port but does offer a highly relieving bandaid in the form of a maximum resolution of 24bit/96KHz sampling rate. That makes the Spitfire a brilliant part of a chain starting with 2L’s hiRes Flac downloads.

Incidentally, there is also a Fubar III which has a built-in headphone amplifier.

Chord QBD76 DAC

QBD76 I mentioned the Chordette Gem earlier. Now this little diamond has spawned a big brother in the Chord QBD76 DAC. The QBD76 is a truly high end DAC as you would expect from Chord Electronics. The major addition to DACs in general and its predecessor alike, is a the very same thing that makes the Chordette Gem so original – Bluetooth reception. An abundance of digital inputs, including USB, makes it a versatile hub in your audio system even so; but Bluetooth A2DP support now adds your mobile phone to the equation.

Incidentally. If you remember the old Flash Gordon comics, do you not hear Dr. Zarkov exclaim while straightening his back and pointing: “Duck Flash! That rocket ship is armed with a QBD76!”?

Chordette Gem

Chordette Gem British audiophile magazine What Hi-Fi? just released a quick news article on their web about an interesting device from Chord Electronics [otherwise known for their insanely exquisite high end audio components] – the Chordette Gem. The device is something as ingenious and yet so simple as a Bluetooth DAC. The idea is that you stream music from your mobile phone via Bluetooth. For more orthodox purposes it offers a USB socket as well.

What Hi-Fi? What Hi-Fi?

Bel Canto e.One Dac3

belcfront One of my favourite Shakespeare one liners [the better part of a verse, more like] is Juliet’s immortal outburst at Romeo; that had he been the nephew of Sid Vicious himself, he would have still been her one and only fancy… or as she put it: “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. It is obvious that John Stronczer, the chief at Bel Canto, had the core of this quote in mind when naming this DAC. Fortunately they omitted the name from the front – it looks extraordinarily slick in its purist attire.

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Like the [near half priced] Benchmark DAC1 it sports a serious back panel with balanced XLR outputs. Specs tout a a 130dB dynamic range and an optimised and unbroken signal path without capacitors. The actual conversion is done with Burr-Brown PCM1792. The 5 inputs include USB next to the mandatory SPDIF and Toslink.

For an actual review, I strongly suggest you take a look at Stereophile’s article from last November.

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