Outboard DACs

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Paul Miller  |  Nov 17, 2009
If Pro-Ject could squeeze one of its fine turntables into the form factor of its burgeoning Box Series I’m rather sure it would. After all, it already offers TT power supplies, phono amps, pre and power amps, tuners and a USB DAC in this pocket-sized casework. Ok, so the turntable idea is a bit impractical, but another DAC well. .
Paul Miller  |  Jun 05, 2009
You may be forgiven for having not yet heard of Firestone Audio though its quirkily designed little boxes appear to be gaining something of a cult following. Made in Taiwan, there’s a plethora of components in Firestone’s range, encompassing phono preamplifiers, various solid-state and valve headphone amplifers including a battery powered model, digital-to-analogue converters and even a dinky little 8W stereo power amp dubbed Big Joe. One of its headphone amps is called Cute Beyond. Did I mention that these miniature boxes looked cute? Funny, that; Firestone calls them the Cute Series.
Keith Howard & Paul Miller  |  Apr 17, 2009
As the tone of my reviews of the Linn Majik DS and dCS Scarlatti Upsampler/DAC may have hinted, I am beginning to see hard disk – rather than optical disc – as my audio source of choice in the near future. If you have been thinking along similar lines, your mind may have boggled at all the different ways of achieving this. A single-box music server solution is not for me, if only because for review purposes I’m likely to require a component rather than integrated solution. And streaming players are out because I insist on having multichannel capability.
Andrew Harrison & Paul Miller  |  Apr 05, 2009
It seemed like a brave new world back then. It was early 1999, DVD video had been on the market for less than two years, and already audio people were seeing the possibilities – music in the home at 24-bit, 96kHz linear PCM, with the potential to knock CD audio into a cocked hat. Alongside the small flurry of music DVD discs that were released with 24/96 audio came the first outboard DACs capable of exploiting this high-resolution material. One of the very first companies to take the challenge was MSB Technology, a digital audio specialist based in California.
Keith Howard & Paul Miller  |  Feb 05, 2009
The last time I was fortunate enough to have a dCS upsampler at home it was the Purcell, which was limited to upsampling PCM to PCM. Since then dCS has become a staunch advocate of DSD – the 1-bit, 2. 8224MHz coding system used in SACD – and so the Upsampler half of the Scarlatti pairing here (the other being the Scarlatti DAC) offers upsampling to either PCM or DSD. It’s the user’s choice, with dCS’s preference being the latter.
Steve Harris & Paul Miller  |  Feb 05, 2009
There’s some controversy over who produced the first separate digital-to-analogue converter for CD users, but the honour is most convincingly claimed by Arcam, which launched its original Black Box back in 1989. By 1991, you could buy something smaller and cheaper, though as it came from California it had a grand-sounding name. The Audio Alchemy Digital Decoding Engine was the size of a small paperback, with a rudimentary plug-top power supply. In this country, Cambridge Audio wasn’t far behind, launching its original DacMagic in 1994.
David Berriman & Paul Miller  |  Jan 17, 2009
When I reviewed the CD-2 CD transport/player last year [HFN, April ’08], I liked its clean, smooth sound quality, especially when set to the internal DAC’s native 24-bit/192kHz rate. Although a CD player, it is principally intended as a transport (being built around a high-quality Pro2 CD mechanism). The DAC chip included, while good, is not a high-end device, yet Bel Canto managed to extract a very pleasing performance from it. I wondered what Bel Canto could do given a bigger budget for the processing and analogue circuits.
Paul Miller  |  Jan 05, 2009
Just one of some 20 Pro-Ject ‘Box’ series components, this little number is essentially an outboard – and self-powered – USB soundcard. Priced at just £75 and built into Pro-Ject’s now-familiar wrap-around casework, the hardware also comes with some software on a mini CD. Dubbed ‘Direct Streaming Technology’ this is an installer for Foobar2000, a media player that, on PCs at least, avoids the default Windows Kernel mixer. The idea is to stream ripped CD media over USB at its native 44.

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