If all this software talk sounds a bit too much like an exercise in computer engineering, plenty of self-contained music servers out there provide a simpler all-in-one solution. For uncompromised audio performance, Blue Smoke Entertainment’s Black Box ($6,995) is the first server that can rip and store uncompressed direct-stream digital (DSD) files from SACDs, along with full-resolution DVD-Audio files. If a whole-house audio setup is more your speed, the Olive + Thiel HD Music System ($7,900) is a high-rez music server that uses an Ethernet link to send signals to up to four separate pairs of Thiel Audio’s SCS4D powered speakers.
Britain’s Naim Audio has also been quick to embrace computer-based audio, following up its Uniti music system with the smaller UnitiQute ($1,995). Though it lacks its big brother’s CD drive, the 30-watt-per-channel UnitiQute still offers a wide array of features, including a USB DAC, networking capability, FM and Internet radio tuners, and direct-digital iPod docking.
Designed for the desktop, Peachtree Audio’s iDecco combines a 40-watt-per-channel amp with a vacuum- tube preamp. It takes a direct digital input from your iPod, and also passes on video via its componentvideo output. Other connections include analog stereo and optical/ coaxial digital inputs, a USB port, and a “Class A tube” headphone output.
The iPod has revolutionized the way many people store and listen to their music collections, but there’s no reason why you have to listen with those little white earbuds Apple gave you for free. By loading up your iPod with lossless files and playing it through a top-quality dock, your iPod can deliver highperformance sound that rivals even the best servers and CD players.
Wadia has followed up its groundbreaking 170iTransport dock with the 171iTransport ($579), which offers improved performance and iPhone compatibility. The iDecco ($999) from Peachtree Audio can take a digital signal directly from an iPod, too, and it’s also an all-in-one desktop solution with a built-in vacuum-tube preamp and 40-watt-per-channel stereo amp.
Naim Audio’s UnitiQute is an all-in-one player with an extensive features list. It offers Ethernet and Wi-Fi networking, FM and Internet radio tuners, direct-digital iPod docking, and a USB DAC. Most compressed audio formats are supported, along with uncompressed ones like WAV and FLAC. A front-panel OLED display completes the package.
ANALOG AND DIGITAL GET HITCHED
Just earlier I expressed doubt over the idea of audiophiles pursuing both computerbased audio and vinyl. But for those who might fit that profile, I have found the Swiss Army knife of audio boxes. The Furutech GT40 ($450) combines a phono stage with a USB DAC in one box, but even better, it also has an A-to-D converter so you can digitize your LPs and store the files on your computer. There’s even an analog line input and an output with a volume control so you can use the GT40 as a preamp — cool!
To a dedicated analog fanatic, digitizing your LPs might sound like the ultimate heresy, so I’m happy to report that new analog playback gear seems to be thicker on the ground than at any time since the early ’80s.
At the affordable end of things, ProJect’s new RPM 1.3 looks like a winner. This turntable has a slick-looking plinthless design and comes packaged complete with a tonearm for only $500. And Clearaudio’s new Concept turntable comes with a magnetic bearing tonearm that reminds me of an inverted version of the famous Schroeder design. But at $1,400, the complete Concept package is a whole lot more affordable than even the least costly Schroeder arm.
If it’s truly cutting-edge performance that you’re after, it will pay to check out Spiral Groove’s SG1.1 turntable ($20,000) with its new Centroid Arm ($6,000). After years spent studying the mechanical energy issues inherent to vinyl playback, Allen Perkins, the SG1.1’s designer, has created a system that provides efficient energy dissipation, which lets a phono cartridge operate minus the masking effects of stray vibrational energy. There’s one downside to the SG-1.1, though: Despite its slim appearance, it weighs in at a shelfwarping 70 pounds! —M.T.
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