Listed below are the currently available hifi-advice favorites. These devices and cables are picked by myself for their sound quality above all, but maybe also a little for their looks, operability or plain indefinable love.
An evolution over the original HiFace, this converter offers a lot more in the way of connectivity as well as soundquality. There are drivers for Mac and PC and both DirectSound and Kerner streaming. For the first time, I feel that my trusty EMU1212M PCI soundcard is outclassed in its spdif digital output. The EVO provides a wider soundstage while at once being more focused, livelier, more airy and simply more engaging. The EMU only has fuller and more powerful bass. That's it. Otherwise the EVO just beats it. Although the EVO is 4 times as expensive as the original HiFace, it is more than worth it for its added musicality and colour. Highly recommended!
Retail price approx 400 euro
Wadia 171i Transport (for iPod/iPad/iPhone)
The 171i is a so-called transport for getting audio from an i-device in a highend manner. Its digital output is special in that it is real, proper, digital audio, straight from the hard disk or memorychip inside the i-device, be it an iPhone, iPod or iPad. Other cradles only take the analog output but the Wadia deciphered the digital stream, to offer unprecedented audio from an i-device. Amazingly, it really succeeds and, given a state of the art dac, really produces state of the art sound.
Retail price approx 500 euro
Naim Uniti (with built-in amplifier)
cd player/cd ripper/network player with built-in stereo amplifer. In: Analog 3x cinch, 1x DIN, 3,6mm jack, RJ45 wired/wireless ethernet, FM antenna. Digital 2x cinch, 2x toslink. Out: line cinch, subwoofer cinch, preamp out DIN, stereo speakers. Functions as CD player, FM/DAB/Internet tuner, Streamer, Ipod player, USB player, DAC, integrated 50w amplifier.
Versus UnitiQute: I cannot really decide between the two. The Uniti is more refined and more transparent. The Uniti however has more character, looks cute, costs less and is still emotionally involving.
Network player with built-in amplifier. Max 24/96. Higher samplerates are downsampled internally. In: Analog 1x cinch,1x 3,6 jack. Digital 2x coax, 2x toslink, 1x 3,6mm jack. USB 2.0 (ipod compatible). RJ45 Ethernet/Wifi. FM antenna. Out: Analog: preamp out cinch, stereo speakers, Digital: BNC coax. Essentially a Uniti without CD drive, the UnitiQute is a network player with inbuilt 45w stereo amplifier. Formats: MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, Windows Media-formatted content-9 (up to 320kBit/s), FLAC, WAV (up to 24bit/96kHz via UPnp and USB only). Control: supplied IR remote or i-app.
Network player. Max 24/192. In: RJ45 (network). Out: cinch, XLR. Formats: FLAC, WAV, mp3, AIFF. The Klimax only has one network input. No coax, no usb. But with this one input it is said to even beat the famous Linn CD12 cd player. Whether this is true I cannot confirm, as I still haven't succeeded in obtaining an affordable CD12, but I have finally decided to buy a Klimax DS/0 and it turns out that the Klimax DS did surprise me in some areas, most notably its smoothness. But after a comparison with the PS Audio PWD MKII and the Linn Klimax DS/1, I can no longer recommend the DS/0. The DS/1 is the new world champion.
The KingRex UArt USB Y-cable is the first USB cable with battery power supply I encountered. When applied it simply excels: the music loses its electronic signature, becomes more soothing and emotional and the sound becomes room-filling, with imaging becoming both wider and deeper.
Signature reference CD player, preamp with analog and digital inputs and Sooloos source in one. 6 stereo analog inputs, 3 coaxial and 2 optical digital inputs. 1 coaxial digital output and analog out on cinch and XLR. Fixed or variable volume control (digital/analog). After hearing the Media Source 600 I thought that Sooloos couldn't get any better. I was so convinced that I bought the unit. But the 808.3 has changed things again. Already I found the MS600 sound to be more engaging than the Linn Klimax DS/0 but from recent memory, I think it is safe to say that the 808.3 with its ID40 Sooloos card even performs at the level of the current Linn Klimax DS/1.
The Meridian is capable of a majestic, lively, big and emotional sound. It provides these qualities irrespective of the kind of music you play and for the most part, irrespective of recording quality. The 818 just isn't very specific about it: it all sounds good. Well recorded music sounds brilliant, while mediocre recordings still sound good. With the 800 series, so it seems, you just can't lose. I may still do a one on one comparison with the Linn Klimax DS/1, but digging from recent memory I think that the 818 does all that the DS/1 does just as well, even beating it in terms of generous musicality, soundstage width and depth and bass fullness and articulation.
This is the single version of the Y-cable above. It removes the possibility for batter powered operation but otherwise shares all sound characteristics and packs them in a simpler, more affordable package.
Superbly analog sounding Music Server that not only beats its predecessor, but also my long standing reference in digital music playback. All popular formats (WAV, AIFF, FLAC, Apple Lossless, mp3) are supported up to PCM 32/768 and DSD64, DSD128 & DSD256 via DOP capable DACs. In: Ethernet. Out: USB. Control via iPad or iPod app that stores the database locally, which enables super-quick browsing- and access times.
Max 24/192. In: 1x toslink, 1x coaxial, 1x USB. Out: cinch, XLR. Unprecedented quality at the price. Clearly cut from the same cloth as its bigger brother the PWD MKII and offering a big chunk of its quality at a fourth of the price.
There are cables that sound more forward, more solid or more precise but the Quad Braid manages to sound more magically fluid and "analog" than most. Recommended as the perfect antidote for more analytical sounding setups.
Typical Rowland but with a new found bounce in its step: incredibly well resolved, superb low level detail, smooth, fluid and airy but also very dynamic and with deep, solid bass and excellent PRAT. This is simply the best DAC I have heard to date and my new reference.
Max 32/192 PCM and 1-bit DSD64 via USB, max 24/96 using other digital inputs. Digital In: coax (2x), BNC, optical, AES/EBU. Analog In: cinch (2x), XLR. Analog Out: cinch and XLR. The SOtM sDP-1000 never fails to sound convincing and is devoid of any artifice. It doesn't have the absolute slam of the best DACs such as the PS Audio PWD MKII but it comes a long way. For me, the Rowland Aeris does it all and compared to that reference, I can honestly say that the sDP-1000 almost does it all. Given its price this is a real achievement. Add to that its connectivity versatility as well as its compatibility with DSD audio and it starts to look like a bit of a bargain.
Music server with a special twist: resampling to 432 Hz, creating a very smooth and spacious sound. Unusual as this sounds, there really is something to it. Operation is similar to the AAZ Ultra Flow, but the EVO has a character all of its own. Read the extensive review.
I try my best to reflect accurate information but cannot be held responsible for misprint, misquoting prices etc. Specs can and do change sometimes over the coarse of a product's availability. Prices are sometimes approximated from the selling price in the country of origin. Due to taxes and such, prices may also vary.
If you find any mistakes, don't hestitate to mail me.
Bettering the Harmonic Tech Pro ACII at fine detail and transparency, but not as creamy rich and forgiving. This is a fast, precise, honest, neutral and natural cable. Yet it is never harsh or agresssive. Works very well with equipment that needs a little kick in the butt. Doesn't work as well with all components though.
This review is for the current version with Furutech connectors. This cable preserves all strong sides of the first generation Pro-AC II but adds excitement and pace to the mix. The result is a smooth sounding cable with a forgiving nature that still maintains good speed and dynamics. At its price it is unbeatable, but it should't be used in very warm or overly relaxed setups.
Wireworld Gold Starlight 5 digital silver interlink
The Starlight 5 looks exactly like the Starlight 3+ and the sound is similar but there are distict differences. Most noticeable was the bass and mid. With the 5 it was faster and drier and had slightly more attack. The 3 has a more fluid and round bass and is more relaxed. Which is better? That's a matter of taste but to me, the 3+ sounds more "analog". The 5 is also no longer current but considering how much I still like the 5, I am guessing that I will still also like the 6 a lot.
The Cardas Clear XLR is a much faster, more dynamic, neutral, open and transparent cable than its forebears. But it also manages to bring back the acoustically convincing natural timbre of the Hexlink and combines this with the air and supple fluidity of the Golden Reference. The Clear is quite simply the best interlink cable I have heard.
The Neo is not only good at the price, but simply one of the most musically involving cables I've heard at any price. It takes all the virtues of The First and adds immensely to them. The Neo sounds could be described as a less romantic Harmonic Technology Pro ACII, with better speed and low level detail. Depending on the component used, sometimes the Neo works better, sometimes the HT. Together with the Harmonic Tech ACII+ this is one of my favorite cables.
Neat and versatile DAC with lots of inputs, volume control, remote control and excellent USB implementation. The DAC itself may not be a Wadia 27 or even a Wadia 25, but its USB implementation sounds much better than some USB add on boards for the high end Wadias.
The Fusion Audio Enchanter is quite simply the most impressive powercable I've heard so far, winning me over with a combination of technical excellence on the one hand and pure and delicate and unforced musical expression on the other. The Enchanter excells on every technical aspect, being neutral, transparent, lively and dynamic, and yet there's an incredible ease to its presentation and not a hint of edge or shoutyness and its low level detailing has to be experienced.
While the Enchanter uses a hybrid copper-silver construction, the Romance PC2 uses copper exclusively and true to typical perception, it also sounds more rounded, more relaxed and warmer from midbass through midrange. The Romance PC2 does however still deliver the same qualities as the Enchanter: it's still capable of portraying superb micro detailing, still extremely coherent, and still very spontaneous, just taken less to the extremes.
After introducing the Sooloos system in 2007, the people behind this industry standard setting system joined forces with Meridian to form Meridian Sooloos, later to be named Meridian MDMS, and working on the software side under the Meridian moniker. Very recently this group of people have gone solo under the name Roon Labs, and they have just realeased an exciting new software product, quite simply called Roon. This software could be what will be the next industry standard!
Retail price $119 USD per year / $499 USD for lifetime membership