A Decoding Computer
Wadia is the father of the decoding computer. Their first, the 2000 Decoding Computer, hit the market in 1988 and the company has continued to innovate introducing the digital music listener to the notion of the separate D/A converter (decoding computer), glass fiber-optic links, algorithm-based filters, and the concept of jitter to name but a few. The subject of today's review, the 121Decoding Computer, is Wadia's newest assault on the state of computer-based music playback and I like the way it thinks. Even better, I like the way it plays.
In our continuing look at the world of HD downloads that began with my Q&A with David Chesky of HDtracks, one of AudioStream's readers and frequent commentors, kavon yarrum, mentioned Bruce Brown and his "Pro-Audiophile Forum" on the What's Best Forum website as a valuable resource. Indeed this is the case and I recommend anyone interested in exploring and discussing these issues to have a look. I also thought I'd reach out to Mr. Brown to see if he'd be interested in this Q&A and his answer is...obvious. While Bruce gives us a nice concise overview of what goes on in Puget Sound Studios, it's also worth noting that they have done work for HDtracks among many others.
Great news for non-USA HD download lovers, Linn Records has added Universal Records to its roster of HD downloads that includes records from John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, and Bob Marley to name just three. Linn calls their HD downloads "Studio Master..." which are offered in FLAC and WMA formats. In Linn land, a "Studio Master" appears to be any recording delivered with a bit depth of 24 and sample rates from 48kHz up to 192kHz.
If you browse the Linn Records website, you'll also notice a lack of 'provenance' information for these "Studio Master" recordings which is a hot topic around these parts. Hmm...Did I miss the 'where's my HD download provenance outrage' aimed at Linn?
Domino Records has teamed up with DRIP.FM to offer customers a monthly subscription plan that gets you 2 albums in WAV format from the Domino/Weird World/Double Six/Ribbon family of labels for $9.99/month. Now that's a price I can sink my wallet into. Thanks to reader Martin O. for pointing me/us to this Domino delivery deal.
During my recent interviews with David Chesky, I spoke to the ever-genial Lisa Hershfield, Press Contact/Customer Service Manager of HDtracks, a number of times. Lisa was kind enough to ask me if I'd like to participate in HDtracks "Critics' Picks" which is nearly exactly what it sounds like—critics, like Steve Guttenberg (the Audiophiliac and contributing writer for among others InnerFidelity) and Gilbert Hertherwick (former President of Sony/BMG Masterworks & General Manager of Angel / EMI Classics), are asked to share some of their favorite records. While I don't consider myself a music critic, I can certainly be critical and I do have favorites.
A Simple Black Dress
Alingsås, Sweden based Bladelius Design Group makes a fairly full line of products including amplifiers (six models), preamplifiers (three models), a phono stage, integrated amplifiers (three models), CD/DVD Players (four models), the Embla Media Player, and from the A-Line our little block of DAC the aptly-named Bladelius USB DAC. If you've seen any of the Bladelius products, or if you've visited their website and taken a gander at their likenesses, you'll have seen some clean, unfussy, and fairly spartan stuff. To my eyes this approach is a breath of fresh Nordic air and I recall the first time I laid eyes on the Bladelius USB DAC thinking—that's a nice chunky mini-monolith-looking hunk of DAC. I hope it sounds as good.
If you've read my review of the Halide DAC HD, you'll know I liked it. And I liked it a lot. I still wonder if I communicated the degree to which I enjoyed listening to music through the Halide DAC HD clearly enough. Sometimes I think I played it a bit too safe and tempered my enthusiasm for it a bit too much. At $550 (when reviewed) including cables on both ends, USB and RCAs, the DAC HD, which is an asynchronous USB DAC that uses Gordon Rankin's Streamlength™ technology and supports up to 24/96, is another entry in my virtual Recommended Components or Things I Really Really Like List.
I recently highlighted the new Neil Young & Crazy Horse record Americana which is available as a FLAC download from Neil Young's website. I also referred to Mr. Young as a hero of sorts and perhaps a better word would be Spokesman seeing as he's spoken out for better sound quality and what I like to think of as the death of the paid MP3. But after downloading Americana, I see we still have a way to go and our spokesman needs to speak to his people.
Fresh off the production line, the AudioQuest DragonFly USB DAC just landed here at AudioStream HQ. No, its not shy its blushing magenta indicates that I'm listening to a 24/96 file and it may be blushing a brighter shade since that file happens to be from Isaac Hayes Hot Buttered Soul and we all know this music is about more than music. Just in case you're curious, it'll glow green for 44.1kHz, blue for 48kHz, and amber for 88.2kHz.
Based on the comments from Part 1 of our Q&A with David Chesky of HDtracks, I sent along some additional questions. I should say that this process is not perfect and David's answers are obviously to a large extent a reflection of my questions. That being the case, David has offered to continue this dialog so consider this a work in process.