Argon Audio SOLO network bridge & streamer

December 8, 2021 § Leave a comment

Aurender N20 Music Server / Streamer Review

December 7, 2021 § Leave a comment

Aurender has wisely curated the features available in its Conductor application by accepting feedback and deciding which ideas don’t belong in the app. I’ve asked for some fairly technical features over the years and looking back on it now, I’m happy the team said, thanks but no thanks. I still want the ability to upload a convolution filter, but that’s a topic for another day. 

One more note about Aurender’s Conductor application. The app works very well on Apple Silicon based hardware. I run the app on my Mac Mini (M1) with Pro Display XDR and enjoy seeing more album covers on one screen that I can possibly comprehend (OK, I counted, it’s 264). It’s just nice to sit at my desk and control the Aurender from my desktop rather than wake my iPad or iPhone (I know, first world problem).

Auralic Altair G2.1 Music Library/DAC Review

November 26, 2021 § Leave a comment

It’s also as adept when growling out some driving rock as it is when playing more hi-fi-show-friendly music. This review period coincided with the demise of ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill, which almost inevitably led to a couple of evenings with me immersed deep in Texas boogie. I can tell you that from the slow-burn blues of ‘Just Got Back From Baby’s’ all the way through to the charging guitar solo of ‘Cheap Sunglasses’, this new Altair did proud the exhaustive Goin’ 50 compilation [Warner Bros 0603497851621].

Its analogue output drove the amplification, and thus the speakers, to suitably raucous effect, while still keeping those good-time rhythms rolling as the trio powered on. I even played the odd track – well all right then, quite a lot of them! – several times, just to immerse myself in all the thunder and snarl.

Bluesound’s New Powernode Review

November 24, 2021 § Leave a comment

This product pairing also taught me that even though the B600s are much more expensive than the Powernode, using them together wasn’t such an outrageous idea—because the Powernode wasn’t outclassed by the loudspeakers. Once again, it provided more than enough power for all the listening that goes on in this room in my house. That includes my wife listening to playlists of Latin music at high volume on house-cleaning day. I’m talking about volume levels such that the music can be heard in every room in the house, and high enough that the stereo can overcome the roar of the vacuum cleaner.

The sound quality from the system also took a significant step up with the B600s. For example, when I played “Pacing the Cage,” I heard quite a bit more detail in Cockburn’s singing voice than I had through the Albany IIs. The sound of his guitar was also better defined within the mix. I also heard better sound from Chemtrails Over the Country Club, as well as from every recording I played through the speakers. Chalk that up mostly to the PSB Synchrony B600s—but know that it was the Powernode driving them.

Auralic Altair G2.1 Review

November 17, 2021 § Leave a comment

Change of scenery: despite all their independence, Michael Barenboim, the “lioness” Martha Argerich and the Staatskapelle Berlin are merged into a single entity when performing Debussy‘s “La Mer”, a unity that is not often offered in such an interlocked way. Here, the Auralic convinces with a very natural reproduction of the grand piano as well as all the instruments of the orchestra. Nothing is discolored or blurred, everything is just right. Localizing the dimensions of left/right and front/back is possible thanks to a precise layout of the different elements. The size of the room, created at the mixing console, can also be understood perfectly.

Sometimes, I have to please my sense of local patriotism for my hometown of Cologne. This time, I had to go on a nostalgia trip and found what I was looking for in a live recording of the Cologne cult band “Piano has been drinkin‘”, long since disbanded. Neither “Daach sin Juwele” nor “Anfürsich es et Blues” depend on an exuberant number of details nor on richness of tonal colors. Rather, they rely on the atmosphere and the joy of playing, as well as the almost physically perceptible stage presence of frontman Gerd “Jächt” Köster with his rough and deep voice and the band‘s ability to improvise. Here, too, the Auralic presents a convincing performance, as it does with “Ruude Jolf”, where all the ingredients necessary for an emotional rendition are found, including the relaxed playing of the bass.

Fidata HFAS1-XS20U Music Server Review

October 25, 2021 § Leave a comment

TheAtrium de Musicae de Madrid’s Tarentule-Tarantelle (aka The Tarantula) [Harmonia Mundi, HMA 190379], is a collection of tarantellas that take you right back to the 15th and 16th centuries on a veritable carousel ride of bells, violin, recorder, guitar, hurdy-gurdy, drums, lute, and harpsichord, to name but a few instruments. The harmonies and melodies on The Tarantula are complex, musically dense, and layered, and the XS20U’s superb tonal exactness and timbral definition kept this sonic palette of instrumental voices finely resolved and accurately reproduced. The Atrium’s director, Gregorio Paniagua, always infuses these recordings with a real sense of fun and frolic, and this playfulness shone through with the Fidata. On La Tarantella, you could hear the “vapor trail” from the castanets as they decayed softly into the background of the recording studio, right before the definitive flamenco handclap that ends the song. This quality of reproducing the decay of notes into space is a particularly noteworthy attribute of the XS20U that really enhances the spatial and three-dimensional quality of the presentation. 

The XS20U doesn’t just shine on longhair music, either. Bryan Ferry’s Boys and Girls [Warner Bros. EG 9 25082-1] sounds every bit as sophisticated as The Tarantula, but here it’s a blast from the past, a heavily multi-mic’d studio recording from the mid-80s. “Don’t Stop The Dance” is enthusiastically kicky and energetic, and with the XS20U’s ability to resolve fine detail and reveal all the voices and complex instrumental layers, it was all I could do to keep from getting up and dancing while Ferry’s sultry voice floated ephemerally above the driving background of synth, guitars, drums, and brasses.

Antipodes Audio K50 music server Review

October 17, 2021 § Leave a comment

I listened to files on my NAS (accessed via Ethernet), the same files on the slide-in SSD, and streams from Tidal and Qobuz sourced, again, through Ethernet. Outputs included AES3, USB, and (very briefly) Ethernet. Noting that single AES3 cannot reliably transmit files >24/192 PCM or DSD higher than DSD64, I stuck with files that could be played with every combination and permutation available for testing (footnote 5).

I won’t bore you with a description of the unit’s front and rear panels; anyone who is interested in buying a music server can access for far more information than this review can hold. It suffices to say that the learning curve was steep and the time limited; the bugs and quirks of beta software, combined with the lack of a manual (which will probably be remedied by publication time), were a challenge. But in the end 

Arcam ST60 Review

September 29, 2021 § Leave a comment

Arcam has carried its decades of sonic expertise seamlessly into the streaming segment, both with and without amplification, in one box. Its proprietary software may not be exemplary, and its chassis design may not win a best-dressed award, but if you can get over that you will be rewarded with the best-sounding performer available for this money. 

If you’re happy with your hi-fi system but simply want to smarten it up by slotting a streamer next to your separates, the Arcam ST60 is a strong choice.

Cary Audio DMS 700 Streamer and DAC

September 17, 2021 § Leave a comment

Aavik Acoustics I-180 Integrated Amplifier, D-180 DAC, and S-180 Streamer / Network Player Review

September 8, 2021 § Leave a comment

I often said to myself that I was impressed by this integrated amplifier, that for a Class D amplifier, it sounded excellent. However, as I got further into the review period, I stopped thinking that it was an outstanding Class D integrated amplifier, but simply an outstanding integrated amplifier, especially at its price. I thought this true even after reinstalling it into my system after listening to my reference. Of course, I have heard better, but these amps had much less power and far fewer features than this very good-looking integrated amplifier.

The I-180’s front-panel covering red LED display was easy to read even from across the room, and the intangibles of this amplifier, as many settings can be changed by the user. I would have liked a subwoofer output, but other than that, there wasn’t much more than I would have liked.

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