January 5, 2011

Best Digital Gear 2010.

2010 probably marks the end of the CD player era as know it and 2011 may be the year digital media players like the Bryston BDP-1/BDA-1 combo could take over as the other dominant source. True enough, hi-rez musical software availability is still patchy at best and this may well end up as just another SACD/DVD-A like phenomenon, as the conservative British Hifi press has been predicting. I don't know what's in store, as nothing is set in stone yet, but if indicative reports coming from the industry insiders are true then, the coming C.E.S. Show in Vegas will see the launch of digital media players, coming from the stables of Weiss, and Consonance among others! The digital music land scape is changing fast, will digital media players truly take over? Only time will tell.
The Bryston BDP-1 and BDA-1 combo, digital source of the future?

The Bryston combo was easy to name as the clear class winner, due to it's stunning ability to play hi-rez files exceptionally well, and as a bonus ripped CD reproduction is good too. We are looking at possibly the future of audio source here, and the fact that the Bryston combo cost a little more than RM$17k, puts it clearly as a bargain of sorts when it comes to sound vs price performance ratio. Your audiophile lifestyle will surely change once you indulge in hi-rez done right!
Wadia 381i CD player, offers quite possibly the best performance attainable from a single box player for the now largely historic CD format, but still offers a bridge to the future by allowing a digital input to play hi-rez files up to 24/96 only.

If not for the untimely appearance of the Bryston combo above, the Wadia 381i would have surely taken top honours this year. The Wadia offers some of the best CD performance possible at any price, even if it came a little late to the party. It's future proof to some extent, with the 381i model, due to the inclusion digital input section which will decode 24/96(but not 24/192) hi-rez files. At RM32k for the Wadia 381i, one can think of it as your last CD player purchase, with the ability to add on some form of rudimentary computer audio for hi-rez or CD rips reproduction.
Esoteric X-05 CD/SACD player, sound very good but could be your last CD player purchase.

I have to admit that we got to lay our hands on this medium level Esoteric X-05 CD/SACD player a little late, but better late then never. It gives up a little of the excellent sound qualities of it's bigger X-03 brother at half it's price of RM$32k. This is a strictly disc only player with no digital inputs what so ever, so let buyer beware, that the Esoteric makes it to this list purely on sound quality performance only and nothing more.
The Apple Mac Mini computer is the most surprising entry of high end digital audio?

The Apple Mac Mini is not a hifi equipment and never reviewed before in these pages, but deserves a special mention here because it plays music beautifully. I've not heard any Windows based PC beat a Mac Mini(and I've heard enough systems to form that conclusion) for sound quality on CD rips just yet. When used in conjunction with Amarra Mini computer music player software, the Mac is capable of playing 24/96 hi-rez down loads, and partnered with any respectable firewire capable DAC, in an transparent enough system, will just edge out most sub RM$10k CD players for sound quality. All for the price of RM$2.3k for the Mac Mini plus RM$0.8k for the Amarra Mini software. Now is this really the biggest bargain in high end audio or what?

More Best of 2010 to come.


Rick said...

Thanks for your nice work on reviews. I'm going into the Computer way with my Mac. So I'm in the search for a affordable Firewire DAC but in vain. Any recommendation on your part? Appreciate your feedback.

Big E said...

Hi! Rick,

Go to the link below for firewire capable DACs on a budget. They are mostly catering to pro audio market and are extremely effective.


Rick said...

Thanks Big E, I think I will go hunt for the Apogee soon. Hopefully its within my budget.