LATEST ADDITIONS

John Bamford and Paul Miller  |  Sep 02, 2011
It doesn’t seem that long ago since D-to-A converters featuring USB sockets were something quite rare. How times have changed in just a few short years. Today pretty much all standalone DACs – including models from UK specialist manufacturer Chord Electronics – have them. Computer audio is ubiquitous in modern households, after all.
Steve Harris and Paul Miller  |  Aug 08, 2011
Though outwardly unchanged, a serious internal makeover has brought Karan's cool-looking pre/power duo up-to-date. But how do these revised models sound? here must be many audiophiles who are torn between valve and solid-state amplification. If you are attracted to the sound of valves, but hesitate to take the plunge for practical reasons, you’ll be interested in solid-state products which try to offer the best of both worlds. And that’s part of the promise held out by the Karan amplifier line, which is built in the Republic of Serbia and has been gathering a following in several other countries since around 2000.
Ed Selley  |  Aug 08, 2011
Designed to mimic the design of the Mac Mini, the CEntrance has wider appeal If you’re planning to use a Mac mini as your audio computer (and it’s a good choice given that it is small, smart, quiet and you can always use a Windows OS if you prefer) then why not have a DAC of similar appearance? That’s the USP of the CEntrance DACmini CX, which doesn’t quite pull off the imitation (there are joins in the case at either side) but even without a Mac mini as partner has the benefit of being likewise compact and sleek. That volume control knob on the front panel might suggest that the DACmini, like the Benchmark, Electrocompaniet and Antelope models, offers variable output level but it’s deceptive. The volume control actually adjusts the level of the headphone output only, via the nearby 1⁄4in jack. The rear panel analogue outputs are fixed.
Ed Selley  |  Aug 08, 2011
A very capable design with the added benefit of wireless connectivity Electrocompaniet’s new PD-1 is the largest DAC here and would be the most traditional in appearance but for its touch-sensitive display panel. It’s solidly enough built – although the review top plate on the review sample did rattle against the fascia. The PD-1 is unique in this group in two respects. First, it is supplied with a remote control, which allows the input source, output volume setting and display brightness to be adjusted.
Ed Selley  |  Aug 08, 2011
A crossover from the pro sphere with an extensive feature set Antelope Audio is better known in the pro audio industry than in the audiophile world, although its attendance at the recent Munich high-end show is evidence of its desire to bridge the divide. A glance at the Zodiac+ suffices to confirm its pro heritage. Not only does it describe itself as an ‘HD Mastering D/A Converter’ on the fascia, at the back there are unusual features such as balanced analogue inputs on 1⁄4in jack sockets, a word clock input and de-jittered digital outputs for daisy-chaining to other devices – none of which many audiophile buyers will ever have cause to use. The fascia is dominated by a central volume control that adjusts output level on the balanced and unbalanced analogue outputs.
Ed Selley  |  Jul 08, 2011
Well thought out and far more than simply a 'budget' product Designed by The Audio Partnership in central London and manufactured in large volumes in the Far East for distribution worldwide (including an exclusive deal with Richer Sounds in the UK), Cambridge Audio products have become synonymous with good performance at a competitive price. The Azur component range was revamped substantially a couple of years ago. Soon after its introduction we featured this Azur 650C player alongside its partnering 650A integrated amplifier in our Nov ’09 Group Test. To recap, while a bit more expensive than the 640 models they replaced, they featured a fresh-up and wholly improved design with wrap-around casework and substantial alloy fascias that belied their (still modest) price tags.
Ed Selley  |  Jul 08, 2011
A sophisticated design with many likeable features Although the most affordable player in this Canadian specialist’s Moon range of components, the CD. 5 nevertheless is a solidly built machine with a sculpted front panel and sturdy metal casework enhanced by fluted detailing in the side cheeks. Its PCB has pure copper tracings and gold plating, and while the digital and analogue audio circuits are mounted on a single circuit board the company is at pains to point out that is in order to minimise signal path lengths – and each has its own respective ground plane to reduce interference and signal degradation. Simaudio claims its proprietary CD drive system comprises hardware and software developed in-house, while the DAC employed is a 24-bit/192kHz-capable Burr-Brown PCM1793 with 8x oversampling digital filter.
Ed Selley  |  Jul 08, 2011
A svelte Swede with performance to back up the looks Replacing the CD31, this new CD32 has been designed alongside the I32 integrated Class D amplifier [HFN Jun ’11]. Sweden’s Primare company has always had an eye for handsome design and while the appearance of these latest 32 models is broadly the same as the products they supersede, each component has been enhanced by the inclusion of a white-coloured, variable-brightness organic electroluminescent display (OLED) panel that adds real finesse. The CD32 is housed in an alloy/steel chassis and is beautifully finished; balanced outputs match the balanced inputs of its partnering amplifier. Separate PCB modules featuring SMDs are used to isolate signal paths while keeping them as short as possible, a regulated power supply employing an R-core transformer with separate windings for mechanical, analogue and digital audio circuits, while a separate switch mode supply powers the player’s microprocessor.
Ed Selley  |  Jul 08, 2011
The Danish brand continues to be as unconventional in sound as appearance Danish company Densen has updated its top CD player, the Beat 440, to include a coaxial digital input, so that its internal D-to-A converter and output stage can be used for an external source ‘like a Sonus system, a Squeezebox or another digital source’, to quote the company’s recent announcement of this latest B-440XS model. Despite its slim profile and svelte cosmetic design, the player is quite a heavyweight at 8kg. Under the brushed aluminium casing its regulated power supply employs a 300VA transformer alongside substantial reservoir capacitors. Densen states that the digital and analogue stages, microprocessors, and front panel dot matrix display all have individual supply arrangements designed to avoid interference.
Ed Selley  |  Jul 08, 2011
Technically accomplished and extremely insightful North Star Design is an Italian company but there is little evidence in the USB dac32 of the flamboyant design features that often distinguish that country’s audio products. There’s no gratuitous use of wood and no eye-catching metal sculpture. On the contrary, the USB dac32 is positively staid in appearance, albeit chunkily built and surprisingly heavy at 5kg. Operationally it’s as simple as can be.

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