Listed below are the currently available hifi-advice Next Gen Audio favorites. These devices are picked for their sound quality above all, but maybe also a little for their looks, operability or plain old indefinable love. Price is not taken into consideration. In short: these are the computer audio/streaming audio devices that I like so much that I would buy them for myself.
Max 24/192. In: USB. Out:analog cinch,XLR. Brilliant USB-DAC that manages to make the computer sound like real, breathing music. Fluid, effortless, airy, subtle, smooth and with a complete absence of electronic signature. It's only lesser quality is in the bass, which is ever so slightly lightweight. But I've compared it to the Levinson no390S cd player which admittedly has very good bass and overall, I wouldn't see this as a problem, more like a different taste. Surprisingly sounds even better with full size computers than with laptops.
Retail price approx 3200 euro (silver)
M2Tech HiFace EVO USB-audio converter
An evolution over the original HiFace, this converter offers a lot more in the way of connectivity as well as soundquality. There are drivers for Mac and PC and both DirectSound and Kerner streaming. For the first time, I feel that my trusty EMU1212M PCI soundcard is outclassed in its spdif digital output. The EVO provides a wider soundstage while at once being more focused, livelier, more airy and simply more engaging. The EMU only has fuller and more powerful bass. That's it. Otherwise the EVO just beats it. Although the EVO is 4 times as expensive as the original HiFace, it is more than worth it for its added musicality and colour. Highly recommended!
Retail price approx 400 euro
Wadia 171i Transport (for iPod/iPad/iPhone)
The 171i is a so-called transport for getting audio from an i-device in a highend manner. Its digital output is special in that it is real, proper, digital audio, straight from the hard disk or memorychip inside the i-device, be it an iPhone, iPod or iPad. Other cradles only take the analog output but the Wadia deciphered the digital stream, to offer unprecedented audio from an i-device. Amazingly, it really succeeds and, given a state of the art dac, really produces state of the art sound.
Retail price approx 500 euro
Harman/Kardon GLA-55 powered loudspeakers
Onboard digital amplification, long voice coils and DSP means that these speakers go incredibly loud without distortion. They also produce remarkably deep bass, really negating the use of a subwoofer. The sound is clean, transparent, articulate, well-focused and spacious. They are quite pricey but they really perform way beyond their size and combined with their arresting visual appeal I'd say they're almost worth their asking price. I did buy them and have no regrets at all but have to admit that you could probably match the soundquality for less outlay by going for regular speakers and a decent amp but you'd miss out on this beautiful eye-catching style.
cd player/cd ripper/network player with built-in stereo amplifer. In: Analog 3x cinch, 1x DIN, 3,6mm jack, RJ45 wired/wireless ethernet, FM antenna. Digital 2x cinch, 2x toslink. Out: line cinch, subwoofer cinch, preamp out DIN, stereo speakers. Functions as CD player, FM/DAB/Internet tuner, Streamer, Ipod player, USB player, DAC, integrated 50w amplifier.
Versus UnitiQute: I cannot really decide between the two. The Uniti is more refined and more transparent. The Uniti however has more character, looks cute, costs less and is still emotionally involving.
Network player with built-in amplifier. Max 24/96. Higher samplerates are downsampled internally. In: Analog 1x cinch,1x 3,6 jack. Digital 2x coax, 2x toslink, 1x 3,6mm jack. USB 2.0 (ipod compatible). RJ45 Ethernet/Wifi. FM antenna. Out: Analog: preamp out cinch, stereo speakers, Digital: BNC coax. Essentially a Uniti without CD drive, the UnitiQute is a network player with inbuilt 45w stereo amplifier. Formats: MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, Windows Media-formatted content-9 (up to 320kBit/s), FLAC, WAV (up to 24bit/96kHz via UPnp and USB only). Control: supplied IR remote or i-app.
24/96 max. In: 2x XLR phantom powered mic preamp, 2x line/Hi-Z inputs (6,3mm jacks). Out: 2x unbalanced 6,3mm jacks, 1x headphone (6,3mm jack). Both AD and DA conversion is done at a very high level but the analogue output is single ended only. Of course it doesn't beat an Audiomeca, Levinson or Wadia dac but the Apogee sounds miles better than most internal or external soundcards. It has a full, smooth sound that is devoid of sharpness or brittleness. Also, its preamps are much better than those in most AD cards or external devices. The Apogee also has a very good user interface. The integration with the operating system is flawless and really intuitive. Only downside: it only works with Mac.
KingRex UD384 USB/spdif interface + U Power battery power supply
While the UC192 is a bit extreme in its sound and thus will appeal to people seeking a certain sound, the UD384 is a much more neutral, solid choice that will work much more universally well and it easily performs at the same level as the HiFace EVO, which costs much more. Various listening sessions, both in the main system as in friends' systems show that the UD384 sounds very open and airy and by comparison makes the HiFace EVO sound almost dark and uninspiring by comparison, even if the latter has bigger bass and a more forgiving frequency balance. For the MacIntosh camp, with the Macbook Pro, the choice is easy: the UD384, with battery power supply and using iTunes and Pure Music, is my new reference for Mac replay.
Retail price unknown
This page is continually updated as soon as new favorites arise, so please check back regularly!
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I try my best to reflect accurate information but cannot be held responsible for misprint, misquoting prices etc. Specs can and do change sometimes over the coarse of a product's availability. Prices are often approximated from the selling price in the country of origin. Due to taxes and such, prices may vary. If you find any mistakes, don't hestitate to mail me.
Network player. Max 24/192. In: RJ45 (network). Out: cinch, XLR. Formats: FLAC, WAV, mp3, AIFF. The Klimax only has one network input. No coax, no usb. But with this one input it is said to even beat the famous Linn CD12 cd player. Whether this is true I cannot confirm, as I still haven't succeeded in obtaining an affordable CD12, but I have finally decided to buy a Klimax DS/0 and it turns out that the Klimax DS did surprise me in some areas, most notably its smoothness. But after a comparison with the PS Audio PWD MKII and the Linn Klimax DS/1, I can no longer recommend the DS/0. The DS/1 is the new world champion.
Max 24/192. In: 1x toslink, 1x coaxial, 1x AES/EBU, 2x I2S, USB, ethernet. Out: cinch, XLR. Immensely flexible and high performing DAC/network streamer. The MKII upgrade literally transforms the PWD, giving it more smoothness, more fluidity, airier, more refined treble and state of the art soundstaging, pushing its performance so far that it can comfortably play in the premier league, not even being embarrased by the very best CD players I know. It is not entirely as organic as the Wadia S7i or as creamy and velvety as the Levinson 390S. But it has better soundstaging, focus, rhythm, bass solidity and sheer jump-factor than either of them. I rank it just as high as the Linn Klimax DS The PWD. They have very different characters but each has uniquely appealing qualities that make them stick out above the rest.
Retail price approx 4500 euro (including The Bridge)
The KingRex UArt USB Y-cable is the best USB cable I have heard, even without the use of battery power. When applied that way it simply excels: the music loses its electronic signature, becomes more soothing and emotional and the sound becomes room-filling, with imaging becoming both wider and deeper. You won't believe your ears.
Signature reference CD player, preamp with analog and digital inputs and Sooloos source in one. 6 stereo analog inputs, 3 coaxial and 2 optical digital inputs. 1 coaxial digital output and analog out on cinch and XLR. Fixed or variable volume control (digital/analog). After hearing the Media Source 600 I thought that Sooloos couldn't get any better. I was so convinced that I bought the unit. But the 808.3 has changed things again. Already I found the MS600 sound to be more engaging than the Linn Klimax DS/0 but from recent memory, I think it is safe to say that the 808.3 with its ID40 Sooloos card even performs at the level of the current Linn Klimax DS/1.
Network player/Endpoint for Soloos system only. All popular formats (WAV, AIFF, FLAC, Apple Lossless, AAC, mp3) are supported up to 24/192. In: Ethernet, IR eye, Meridian Comms. Out: Meridian speakerlink, Trigger, analog cinch and XLR. Control via i-app or Meridian Control 15. Not strictly integrated, but when used together with any Sooloos hard disk storage that has an Media Core built in, the system is effectively self-contained. Only works with Sooloos components.
The Meridian is capable of a majestic, lively, big and emotional sound. It provides these qualities irrespective of the kind of music you play and for the most part, irrespective of recording quality. The 818 just isn't very specific about it: it all sounds good. Well recorded music sounds brilliant, while mediocre recordings still sound good. With the 800 series, so it seems, you just can't lose. I may still do a one on one comparison with the Linn Klimax DS/1, but digging from recent memory I think that the 818 does all that the DS/1 does just as well, even beating it in terms of generous musicality, soundstage width and depth and bass fullness and articulation.
This is the single version of the Y-cable above. It removes the possibility for batter powered operation but otherwise shares all sound characteristics and packs them in a simpler, more affordable package.
Immaculately finished and sonically pure, open, airy and coherent, without tipping over to the clinical or dry. Its sound signature is almost the opposite of the KingRex uArt but nevertheless it manages to impress me now joins the ranks as one of my current favorites.
Superb Music Server at very modest cost, current HFA favorite. All popular formats (WAV, AIFF, FLAC, Apple Lossless, mp3) are supported up to 24/192. In: Ethernet. Out: USB. Control via iPad or iPod app that stores the database locally, which enables super-quick browsing- and access times.
Max 24/192. In: 1x toslink, 1x coaxial, 1x USB. Out: cinch, XLR. Unprecedented quality at the price. Clearly cut from the same cloth as its bigger brother the PWD MKII and offering a big chunk of its quality at a fourth of the price.
There are cables that sound more forward, more solid or more precise but none that I have heard to date managed to combine these various aspects into such a coherent whole as the Quad Braid does. This cable simply excells where it matters most: to convey pure emotion while avoiding any digital artefacts. This is a must-hear cable!