PS Audio AirLens

hfncommended The AirLens is a ‘network bridge’ between your choice of Roon, Audirvana, JRiver, Tidal Direct, Spotify, your NAS or any DLNA-compatible server, and PS Audio’s top-end DACs

For a company that’s embraced the digital, online world (founder Paul McGowan is well known for his regular YouTube videos), it’s a little odd that PS Audio hasn’t completely thrown itself into networked audio playback. Its AirLens streamer, newly launched at £1995, is its only networked product – unless you count the Bluetooth-equipped Sprout integrated amplifier, or its earlier Stellar Strata integrated [HFN Mar ’21], now superseded by the (non-networked) Stellar Strata MK2.

Even without the new design language that sees PS Audio’s standard fascia given a swooping, two-tone layout, the AirLens would still stand out from the Boulder, Colorado brand’s lineup. Not part of the Stellar or PerfectWave series, it’s currently a one-off model and has a singular focus, which is to act as a bridge between your networked audio and a partnering DAC. Ethernet/Wi-Fi are its only inputs – there’s no provision for onboard music storage or connection of external drives.

Protocol Predicament
An absence of local playback isn’t unusual for a network streamer around this price point, but there’s plenty more about the AirLens which is unconventional. Firstly, it offers two output choices, neither of which are USB. There’s an I2S out, via HDMI, to handle digital files to 352.8kHz/32-bit PCM and DSD256, or an S/PDIF (coaxial) output limited to DSD128 (DoP) and 192kHz PCM. With there being no guarantee that the AirLens’ HDMI output will work with all I2S-equipped DACs outside of PS Audio’s own Stellar Strata MK2, Stellar Gold DAC [HFN Jan ’24] and DirectStream DAC MK2 models [HFN Jun ’23], this will curtail the unit’s appeal to some prospective buyers.

The reason for this? As McGowan explains, the development of the AirLens ‘during the parts pandemic’ meant a USB solution couldn’t be sourced, so PS Audio opted not to delay the streamer’s arrival by possibly another year. I2S is its preferred connection, and ‘because USB is such an inferior protocol to I2S and even coax, we decided to launch the piece without it’.