Five Computer Audio Classics

Sounds kinda funny, right? In our ever-changing computer audio landscape, I thought it would be interesting (fun?) to point to some stone cold classic pieces of computer audio that have withstood the test of time.

Logitech Squeezebox Touch

Released in April 2010, the Squeezebox Touch is still the networking device of choice for some hard core classic computer audio traditionalists. And for good reason—the Touch's open source software, Logitech Media Server, has meant that the Touch's development has continued long after the product was discontinued back in 2012.

It's worth noting that the Touch came after a number of earlier versions of a Slim Devices player. The first, called the SLIMP3, was introduced in 2001! John Atkinson reviewed first "Squeezebox" model in September 2009 wherein he said, "...it was the sound it produced driving a high-end DAC from its digital output that persuaded me to purchase the review sample."

TI/Burr-Brown PCM1704

The famed and fabled TI/Burr-Brown PCM1704 R2R DAC saw its commercial release way back in 1998. While many CD players and DACs have employed the 1704 over the years, there are current production DACs that still use this discontinued DAC chip including the Aqua La Voce S2.

Raspberry Pi

Every man's digital media player. The original Raspberry Pi came out in 2012 and was meant to "promote the teaching of basic computer science in schools and in developing countries." due to its low cost. The computer-savvy in the DIY audio community latched onto the Pi and with the release of the Pi 2 with its beefed up computing power in 2015, the Pi became a real media player contender (see review). The current model, Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, will run you a cool $35.00.

Sonos

Sonos, founded in 2002, owned the multi-room audio market. The company reportedly saw revenue of nearly $1B in 2015 and spent $19.3 million on measured media in 2013. Do you remember seeing their Super Bowl ad in 2014? I do. While the company has fallen on harder times of late, Sonos still owns the market in terms of brand recognition. "It's like Sonos only better."

totaldac

The basic guts of the DACs from totaldac have not changed since I first saw and heard one back in 2013 in Munich. Every totaldac employs Vishay 0.01% VAR Bulk Metal Foil resistors to convert digits to voltage which translates into "one helluva musical DAC", which is what I said when I first reviewed a totaldac back in 2013.

The R2R topology as used by totaldac is a great example of classic DAC technology that has withstood, and then some, the test of time.

Honorable Mention

Sony PlayStation 1 (SCPH-1001)

The Sony PlayStation launched in 1994 in Japan and the following year in the US. As it happens, early models, like the SCPH-1001, included RCA outputs and those outputs happen to sound great. Back in the day, I reluctantly tried one on the recommendation of friends (John DeVore and Jonathan Halpern), reluctantly because I still had battle scars from early CD replay, but the damn-thing was listenable. Make that highly listenable seeing as it replaced my Audio Aero Capitole MKII which was much...heavier. And shinier.

At the time, roughly 2004, you could pick up a PS1 on eBay for less than $20 any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I purposely did not write about how good the PlayStation served as a CD player back then because I enjoyed the undergroundness of it and the $15 price tag. Others did. I haven't kept up with the SCPH-1001 eBay market but I'd imagine it has quieted down to a reasonable price again.

COMMENTS
deckeda's picture

Just the other day I unboxed my SB Touch. Wasn’t even sure if I still had it. I wanted to see if I could use it to determine what sample rates my Marantz receiver could handle.

I generally hated running Logitech Music Server (LMS) on my Mac, but clicked the install button for it that appeared in my Synology’s interface. I’m on the fence about seeing if I can upgrade to a later (unsupported) version of LMS there. Faster scanning of the library is supposedly an attribute.

I had previously installed the EDO applet. The forum thread about that over at slimdevices is currently 273 pages long; a wealth of unusable information.

What I learned is that playing 192kHz files makes it stutter via WiFi and that getting it to connect via Ethernet was an unexpected and unusual challenge. With a couple reboots here and there, and the right audio setting in the Touch, the Marantz has never sounded better. And that’s with a cheap RCA cable feeding it.

So now I’m looking into iPeng once again, and about to try creating a stand-alone OS X application (script) that accesses (and displays) LMS so that I don’t have to use that through the Synology web app first.

I tells ya, it’s tough out here for the Roonless!

re: PS1
Anyone remember the earlier iteration of the “it’s not supposed to sound this good” CD player? It was a Radio Shack portable CD player. I forget the model.

deckeda's picture

re:
"... creating a stand-alone OS X application (script) that accesses (and displays) LMS so that I don’t have to use that through the Synology web app first."

After the second cuppa coffee I realized the URL for LMS is right there in the browser. Just dragging it to the desktop creates "the app" (a bookmark file) if you don't want to merely store the bookmark in the browser normally.

Matias's picture

R2R design is the rebirth of a classic, agreed, but not the brand. That is wishing it too far imo.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...can be upgraded to the most current version. So we're talking about a DAC that has lasted more than 6 years. In my experience, that sets the brand apart.
Matias's picture

Schiit Bifrost was released even earlier, 2011, and one can buy the latest upgrade on their website. Does it make this DAC a classic too?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Sure.
DH's picture

And there are plugins for the SBT and LMS that allow hi-res playback up to 24/192 and DSD playback from the USB outlet/inlet. None of that was implemented by Logitech, but by SBT fans who added to the open source updates.

The SBT is still a pretty good sounding source, and even better with a modest PS upgrade. I still use mine for intenet radio, music alarm clock, and multiroom.

And today you have some great tablet/iPad apps that let you run it from a tablet.

If I wasn't an obsessed audiophile, I'd have stayed with it as my source. It's better than a lot of more expensive items.

One of the biggest bargains in audiophile history.

deckeda's picture

... the main (only?) developer working on LMS helped clue me in that if I enable Synology's beta channel, the latest LMS appears there. It's great being able to run the Squeezebox server from a NAS, even a slow one like mine.

He still works for Logitech, but obviously has to work on LMS on his spare time, and dime.

deckeda's picture

... via a 3rd party plugin from Michael Herger, I'm listening to the Radio Paradise stream, losslessly (FLAC.)

For free. And it sounds as good as free flac would sound.

(But if this sort of thing falls into any sort of normal behavior for me I'll gladly donate.)

BTW, there are iPhone and Android apps from RP that play the lossless stream on those platforms, as well.

*****************

So is the Touch a "killer app?" I still don't know how long I'll stick with this, my latest Squeezebox experiment, but I do know I'm not yet a candidate from more modern (and expensive) streaming gear ecosystems.

- it gives me the "lean back" (i.e. couch) experience of selecting and controlling sound via computer or tablet

- it gives good sound, potentially excellent sound

- seems reliable and well-supported by an enthusiast community, a few of whom also provide tech help/updates

- I only very briefly tried Radio Paradise many years ago, but stopped when the novelty of listening to a stream from a web page soon wore thin. This ... this is now wholly different, regardless of whatever you may or may not think about the music they play and subsequent limitations of not being able to pick songs as with subscription services.

tulysses's picture

Thanks for the heads up on Radio Paradise. Was not familiar with it. Looks like a nice option, especially lossless.

nick's picture

+1 on the PCM1704 chip.
still my fave.

agentsmittie's picture

Agreed with the Squeezebox choice. The Squeezebox Touch is a lovely component, mind is even updated to 2010s spec with DSD/DoP and Hires support over SPDIF and USB, and more recently, even ROON support! Thanks to its open platform, the Squeezebox ecosystem kept growing despite Logitech totally wasted and abandoned the product line.

However, Squeezebox Touch is more of an anti-climax for the Squeezebox dynasty. It was the beginning of the end for the Squeezebox with Logitech totally destroyed Sean Adam's legacy.

TO me, Sean Adams is the mad genius, making computer based audio feasible, showing everyone how it should be done before anyone has any idea how powerful computer based audio can be. Without the original Slim boxes I doubt there would even be the Linn DS or the Naim NDS platform, which helped to kick start computer audio as high end sources.

To me the landmark product is my first squeezebox which is the Squeezebox 2, a compact component that is as elegant as it is sounding decent good for the money, especially after connecting to a decent DAC.

Another candidate is the Transporter, which is Sean Adam's attempt in building an audiophile component, sounding awesome with truly original industrial design, it was my all time favourite audio component. Ironically Sean Adams was a pure round earth engineer who did not really believe in audiophile myths. To him it was only a science project resulted from strong persuasion from the community.

Those were the days, I wonder where Sean Adams has moved on to after selling Slim Devices, does anyone know?

By the way, my present Devialet machines could well become a future classic.

ednaz's picture

I've still got two Transporters and a Touch in use. I still think the Transporters produce a better rendering of compressed files of all sort than my much more expensive DACs. And they're no slouch with 24/96. They're rock solid streaming 24/96 wifi - no stutter, no disconnects.

I've got the Touch in use in our bedroom - with the alternative firmware upgrade, feeding the internal DAC in a Peachtree integrated. It really suffers from not being on the 5ghz channel, being a single 2.4ghz, and must not have much of a buffer. Stutters streaming anything over 16/44. By and large I use it listening to Radio Paradise or WBGO, so that's not a problem, but I hoped it would be good solution for streaming high res.

When I installed Roon and installed the Squeezebox integration, I actually laughed out loud when I saw the Roon logo on the Transporter's screen - it's what displays when the Transporter's hibernating. That's Squeezebox integration done right!

deckeda's picture

Yeah it really seems as if a cheap WiFi access point or second router, working as a bridge to extend/strengthen your network, might help your situation.

**********

I keep meaning to integrate Internet radio better in my sound systems, and Squeezebox / LMS / iPend presets-bookmarks are the answer there. It's easier now than ever to forget about free radio, when streaming services are taking over.

Just the other day my daughter and I had a "driveway moment," what NPR refers to when you want to continue listening to the radio, but you've already pulled into the driveway.

"Daddy, do we have a radio in the house?"

Innocent question, but it made me cringe at my failings to keep such a simple audio source readily available. I couldn't even be bothered to connect the basic wire antenna to the living room's receiver. That may have to change, regardless of whatever I add to the Squeezebox mix.

ednaz's picture

Unfortunately we have the bad habit of living in rural areas too far away from major radio markets to really listen to radio as radio. When we lived in NJ we actually paid to put a big antenna on the roof so we could listen to WBGO (jazz station) in digital form, and there was one great college station. But we haven't actually had "radio" other than in our car - everything else has been streaming, and that's why we had Squeezeboxes all over the house. (I still have two really old Squeezebox units in a box I just can't toss...)

If you have Roon, you can use the Squeezeboxes for radio (streamed off the web) anywhere in the house. They've also added a streaming capability to tablets and phones, that, if used with iPeng, turns that device into a modern day Squeezebox streamer (with all the memory and cache and speed and high speed wifi capability.) I may replace my Touch with a cheap iPad that would feed the bedroom DAC, so I could stream the high def version of Radio Paradise.

JTillett80's picture

Is the Squeezebox already considered to be a classic? I'm still using it and it does the work just fine. But I have to be honest - it got a bit dirty and slow-working after all these years.
James

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