Greatest Bits 2014

AudioStream's Greatest Bits 2014 represents every bit, bob, and bobble reviewed this year that has received our Greatest Bits award. I hope you enjoy this year's picks.

Digital to Analog Converters Class A

Ayre QB-9 DSD, $3,250.00
The upgraded Ayre QB-9 DSD offers much more than DSD. "I think the real story with the QB-9 DSD is how Ayre has taken an already very good sounding DAC, added more weight, body, and color along with what I'll call DSD's dimensional quality to come up with one musically satisfying DAC no matter what you play through it."Read the Full Review

Bricasti Design M1 DAC, $8,995.00
The Bricasti Design M1 is beautifully built with sound to match. This DAC has exceptional transient and resolution capabilities that place it among the finest DACs Steve Plaskin has yet reviewed. Multiple filter selection in both PCM and DSD playback allow the user to fine tune this DAC’s sound to one’s musical preference. Read the Full Review

Empirical Audio Overdrive SE USB DAC/Pre, $5,999.00 (Overdrive SE DAC/Pre and Substation AC Power Supply)
The Empirical Audio Overdrive SE takes its place in the group of the best DACs I have experienced. The Overdrive SE is very revealing with a large, very dynamic presentation. While the DAC’s volume control is quite good, it can be improved upon by using the Final Drive for direct connection with power amps. I strongly recommend that the USB Short Block filter be used with the Overdrive SE for increased detail, background silence, and soundstage size. The only caveat I have with the Overdrive SE is that it does not support OSX Mavericks at the time of my review. Read the Full Review

Esoteric D-02 Dual Mono D/A Converter, $23,500.00
The Esoteric D-02 is a dual monaural DAC that is magnificently built and physically very attractive. The D-02 is a revealing, highly detailed DAC that does a great job reproducing micro and macro dynamic contrasts. The D-02 is somewhat cool sounding, but if paired with complimentary components, can be quite stunning in its musical qualities. Read the Full Review

exaSound Audio Design e22 DAC, $3,499.00
The exaSound e22 DAC delivers detailed sound with an enormous soundstage capable of excellent resolution. Using the ASIO driver for OSX Mavericks with the software player Decibel or the ASIO driver for Windows provides some of the best DSD playback quality Steven Plaskin has experienced. Read the Full Review

PS Audio DirectStream DAC, $5,995.00
Capable of handling up to 24/192 and double rate DSD, the PS Audio DirectStream DAC offers a clear window into your music. "If you're looking for a DAC and digital preamp that is both well-built and sonically transparent, the DirectStream DAC should be on your short list." Read the Full Review

totaldac d1-monobloc DAC with DSD and Server, 23600 EUR (Approximately $32,325.00)
The totaldac d1-monobloc with DSD and server is one of the finest DACs Steven Plaskin has had the opportunity to review. The DAC is very revealing, but extremely musical. The DSD option sounds as good as the PCM performance. The totaldac server outperformed Steven’s Early MacBook Pro and is also highly recommended for its sonic performance. Read the Full Review

Digital to Analog Converters Class B

Bryston BDA-2 DAC, $2,395.00
When used in conjunction with the Bryston BDP-2, the combo excelled with bass response, resolution, and dynamic snap appeal. "With excellent dynamic snap, astoundingly full and fit bass, and plenty of resolution revealing of the most your recordings have to offer, Bryston's dynamic duo pack a lot of musical punch." Read the Full Review

Chord Electronics Hugo Mobile DAC/Headphone Amp, $2,395.00
As with Chord's QuteHD DAC, the portable Headphone amp-endowed Hugo does an amazing job playing CD-quality music while also offering PCM playback up to 24/384, DXD, and DSD 128. "If you're looking for a DAC/Headphone amp with Bluetooth capability that can go anywhere you go and do double duty in your main hi-fi while performing equally well in both scenarios with PCM data up to 24/384, DXD, and DSD 128 while making good old CD-quality truly shine, the Chord Hugo merits a serious listen. " Read the Full Review

M2Tech Young DSD DAC, $1,695.00
Listening to the Young DSD DAC/Digital Preamp was a pure, relaxing pleasure. "The Young DSD DAC is like a comfy sofa of sound, inviting you in to stay as long as you'd like and play whatever music suits your mood" Read the Full Review

Pathos Converto, $1,295.00
The Pathos Converto impressed with its analog-like ease while retaining a nice sense of resolution? "For those looking for a PCM-only DAC and headphone amp that can handle up to 24/192 resolutions and who find most digital to sound overly-analytical, too incisive, harsh or sharp, the Pathos Acoustics Converto is worth your time and a long listen." Read the Full Review

Digital to Analog Converts Class C

iFi micro iDSD DAC, $499.00
The iFi micro iDSD DAC can play back up to DSD512 as well as PCM files with sample rates to 768kHz and double rate DXD! Can you spell future proof? "Of greatest importance beyond all of the bells and whistles is the fact that it makes some nice and natural sounding music you can pass along to your hi-fi or headphones." Read the Full Review

iFi nano iDSD DAC, $189.00
The iFI nano iDSD DAC offered a rich, round sound from the get go. "It offered a lovely dimensional quality to the music it reproduced that I've come to associate with a handful of mostly more expensive DACs." and, "The iDSD offers what I hear as a more fulsome, dimensional, and all around more engaging sound as compared to many of the like-competitors on the market."Read the Full Review

Korg Audiogate DS-DAC-100 high resolution audio playback system, $599.99
The Korg combo offered a very musically satisfying presentation with PCM and DSD. "If you're interested in a DAC that sounds at once resolute, natural, and lit up without ever getting harsh or shrill, the Korg combo is worth your time." Read the Full Review

LH Labs Geek Out 1000 DAC/Headphone Amplifier, $299.00
"If you had told me two years ago I'd be reviewing a $299 DAC from Light Harmonic that can play up to DXD, 32/384, and double rate DSD while doubling as a headphone amp I'd have asked you what color the sky is your world. But here we have it, the Geek Out 1000 and it delivers a healthy helping of great sound." Read the Full Review

Integrated Amp/DACs Class A

Devialet 120, $6,495.00
The Devialet 120 sounds as good as it looks, maybe even better. "The Devialet 120 appears to have inherited the lion's share of the D-Premier's genetics delivering a hugely compelling sound picture as finely detailed as you're likely to hear while also providing rich musical warmth all in a package that's very easy to love." Read the Full Review

Integrated Amp/DACs Class C

Bluesound POWERNODE, $699.00
The Bluesound POWERNODE packs a 50W amplifier along with a full fledged Network Player into its cubed form factor along with a 24/192-capable DAC so you can plug, play, and power your speakers of choice with network, Internet, wi-fi, and Bluetooth device-enabled music sources. The Bluesound devices also function as a team so you can play the same music to each Bluesound device or play different music to each all from within the same app. Read the Full Review

Sony UDA-1, $799.00
I was very impressed with the sound quality of the little Sony UDA-1. "If you're a Mac user and can live with using Sony's app for playing back DSD files, as well as its relatively low output power, you may very well live happily ever after." Read the Full Review

Network Players & Streamers Class A

Bryston BDP-2 DAC, $2,995.00
The Bryston BDP-2 offered excellent performance all around with especially taut and deep bass response. It made for a fine pairing with the Auralic Vega or Bryston's own BDA-2. "With excellent dynamic snap, astoundingly full and fit bass, and plenty of resolution revealing of the most your recordings have to offer, Bryston's dynamic duo pack a lot of musical punch." Read the Full Review

Naim SuperUniti All In One Player, $6,495.00
The Naim SuperUniti impressed with what it can do combing a network player, DAC, integrated amp, and headphone amp and how it does it (all). "From a wonderful sense of control, to gobs of dynamic slam, to a lovely way with CD and better quality recordings, I can recommend the SuperUniti without reservation for anyone looking for a one box solution for their listening pleasure." Read the Full Review

Primare NP30, $3,750.00
The Primare NP30 delivers what you'd expect of a network player including the ability to stream from your NAS, USB storage, Internet Radio, streaming services, and adds Bluetooth for a user-friendly package. And it sounds good: "I very much enjoyed my time with the Primare NP30 network player and found it be very natural sounding and very easy to listen to for as long as time allowed." Read the Full Review

Network Players & Streamers Class B

Auralic Aries, $1,599.00
With its ability to stream up to double rate DSD over WiFi, play music from NAS-based sources, USB hard drive, Internet radio, and lossless streaming services including Qobuz and WiMP, the Aualic Aries is "one compelling package". Read the Full Review

Simaudio Moon MiND Network Music Streamer, $1,300.00
The Moon MiND takes your computer out of the file-based playback chain and it does so very musically. "For people looking to take their computer out of their computer audio, the Moon MiND should be considered a serious contender." Read the Full Review

Network Players & Streamers Class C

Bluesound The Vault, $999.00
The Bluesound Vault is much more than a Network Player incorporating 1TB of network storage, a DAC, a slot drive for ripping your CDs, and a digital volume control all in one. "For those people looking for a nice, simple, convenient and good-sounding one box/one app solution for ripping CDs, playing your ripped and downloaded files, streaming music from Internet radio, Rdio, Slacker Radio, and Qobuz, and purchasing music from HighResAudio, the Bluesound Vault has got your number and its one of one in today's' marketplace." Read the Full Review

Bluesound POWERNODE, $699.00
The Bluesound POWERNODE is also more than a Network Player packing a 50W amplifier into its cubed form factor along with a 24/192-capable DAC so you can plug, play, and power your speakers of choice with network, Internet, wi-fi, and Bluetooth device-enabled music sources. The Bluesound devices also function as a team so you can play the same music to each Bluesound device or play different music to each all from within the same app. Read the Full Review

Media Servers Class A

Aria Music Server, $6,995.00
The Aria delivered what I'd expect form a high end music server. "Sonically, I found little if anything to fault, the Aria clearly bettering my MacBook Pro in important areas. The Aria app is a pleasure to use and classical music lovers should fall in love with its ability to deliver extended meta data making classifying and finding your music a breeze." Read the Full Review

Aurender S10 Music Playback and Storage Solution, $6,990.00
The Aurender S10 delivered some of the least digital sounding music I've heard. "For those people who feel that 2TB will hold their current music libraries while leaving adequate room for expansion, the Aurender S10 comes very highly recommended." Read the Full Review

Media Servers Class B

Aurender X100L, $3,499.00
"The Aurender X100L incorporates many of the features and performance of its bigger and more expensive brother the S10. While you don't get the S10's last word in resolution and flow, you do get an additional 4TB of storage and a server that handily outperforms a Mac laptop." Read the Full Review

Storage & Network Attached Storage (NAS) Class B

QNAP HS-210, $289.99/diskless
If you're looking for a well-built, silent, fanless dual-bay NAS that looks more like an audio component than a mailbox, check out the QNAP HS-210. Read the Full Review

Synology DS412+ NAS, $599.99/diskless
The Synology DS412+ is a four-bay NAS capable of housing up to 20TB of storage. Even though it has dual rear-mounted fans, I found the DS412+ to be a silent runner and the newest version of the Synology DSM (5.0) software a pleasure to use. Highly recommended. Read the Full Review

Storage & Network Attached Storage (NAS) Class C

Bluesound The Vault, $999.00
The Bluesound Vault is much more than a Network Player incorporating 1TB of network storage, a DAC, a slot drive for ripping your CDs, and a digital volume control all in one. "For those people looking for a nice, simple, convenient and good-sounding one box/one app solution for ripping CDs, playing your ripped and downloaded files, streaming music from Internet radio, Rdio, Slacker Radio, and Qobuz, and purchasing music from HighResAudio, the Bluesound Vault has got your number and its one of one in today's' marketplace." Read the Full Review

Desktop Speakers Class A

Fujitsu Ten Eclipse TD-M1 Wireless Speaker System, $1,300.00/pair
The stunningly transparent TD-M1's include a 24/192-capable DAC and are AirPlay compatible. With USB Type-A/B inputs and a 3.5mm analog input, they are also ready to attach to multiple devices. "What's more, and more remarkable as well as being highly useful, is they sound equally engaging even at whisper levels." Read the Full Review

Desktop Speakers Class B

Tannoy Reveal 402, $280.00/pair
If you like your music fit and fun, the Tannoy's deliver big time. "If you're looking for active desktop speakers in the Tannoy's price range, I would highly recommend adding the Reveal 402s to your shortest of lists. At their price they strike me as a veritable steal." Read the Full Review

Desktop Speakers Class C

Focal Alpha 50, $299/each
If you're looking for big sound for your relatively small desktop, the Focal Alpha 50s provide with punch and power. "If you are looking for a desktop speaker in the $600 range and you want them to fill your space with rock solid near full range sound, the Focal Alpha 50s deliver." Read the Full Review

Cables & Accessories Class A

IsoAcoustics SO-L8R155 Speaker Stand, $99.99
The IsoAcoustics stands not only lift and separate your speakers from your desktop, they provide improved sonics including better bass control, greater image definition, and greater resolution. And they do all that for a relative song. See the Full Review

JCAT USB Cable, $349 EUR
The JCAT USB cable offers an excellent combination of detail and harmonic richness that results in a very musical cable. The high quality of the aluminum connectors adds to what is overall a very competitive USB cable at its price of $349 EUR for a 1 meter length. See the Full Review

Synergistic Research Atmosphere, $2250; $495/each Atmosphere Tuning Module
The Synergistic Research Atmosphere is a room / system acoustic enhancement device that improves the perceived sound by radiating ULF and LF RF into the room. Soundstage and many aspects of the sound are controlled by an IPad app. Adding an ATM (Atmosphere Tuning Module) adds additional settings and control of the music. Steven Plaskin was very enthusiastic about the Atmosphere as it significantly improved his musical experience. See the Full Review

Synergistic Research Galileo LE USB Cable, $2,000/1m
The Synergistic Research Galileo LE USB cable is the first USB cable that Steven Plaskin has declared as his Reference. The Galileo LE applies Synergistic Research’s new Uniform Energy Field Technology to achieve spectacular results in low noise, detail, soundstage, and overall definition while maintaining a relaxed presentation. Simply put, the Galileo LE USB cable delivers performance commensurate with its price. See the Full Review

Synergistic Research ECT-Electronic Circuit Transducer, $299 for 5 Electronic Circuit Transducers; $75 each
These extraordinary little devices can transform the sound of your DAC or other components by placing them on D to A chips, fuses, near vacuum tubes, capacitors, transformers, op amps, and analog and digital cables. External case placement was also found to have a significant positive influence on the sound. You will need to do a little experimenting to get the most out of the ECT, but you will be rewarded for your efforts. See the Full Review

Shunyata Research Hydra DPC-6 Digital Power Distribution Center, $3995
The Shunyata Hydra DPC-6 accomplishes its goal by acting as a firewall to prevent digital components from contaminating a systems AC line. Steven Plaskin found a significant improvement in the sound of his system when his computer and hard disc arrays were connected to the DCP-6. While not inexpensive, the DPC-6's overall build quality is very impressive. [Replaced by Hydra DPC-6 v2] See the Full Review