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    CA’s Best of 2015 Awards

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    It’s time for the Best of 2015 Awards here at CA. To be considered for the awards, a product must have been used by me over the last year. The product doesn’t need to be released in 2015, only used in 2015. The number of products in the Best of 2015 Awards is short compared to some lists. This is because there are no participation trophies here at CA. The products below earned their places on this list. Adding a position for every component I’ve used this year would only serve to dilute the list and take away from those products truly deserving of the Best of 2015 award. There are only winners on this list. No ties, co-winners or runners-up.

     

    I'm excited to read what the members of the CA Community list as their products of the year. Please light up the comment section with your Best of 2015 selections.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]

     

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    Overall Product of the Year: Roon

     

    Roon has without a doubt been the biggest thing in high end audio in 2015. Everyone from end users to manufacturers has been talking about how it has changed their music loving lives for the better. As much as I liked the Schiit Audio Yggdrasil DAC this year, I didn’t consider it, for more than ten seconds, for the overall product of the year because of the huge impact Roon has had on my listening experience. Since its launch at the Munich high end show, the team at Roon Labs has continued to improve the product and add features. 2016 should be just as exciting for fans of Roon. Hardware manufacturers can’t wait to get out of the software business by enabling RoonSpeakers on their devices, and end users can’t wait for a bunch of devices to support Roon.

     

     

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    [video=youtube_share;u1LvfgOQ3JY]

     

    (Click on the Youtube logo to watch a much larger version on Youtube)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    DAC of the Year: Schiit Audio Yggdrasil

     

    From my full review found here (link)

     

    When a pair of industry veterans get together to create excellent products for incredibly reasonable prices, consumers win. Schiit Audio's products range in price from $79 for the Fulla USB DAC / headphone amp to its flagship $2,299 Yggdrasil DAC. Based on my experience with countless DACs and after spending a couple months with the Yggdrasil, I can say without a doubt that this DAC is very special. It's one of my favorite DACs available today. In fact, I will happily mention the Yggdrasil in the same sentence as some of my other favorites, the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS ($16,000) and the EMM Labs DAC2X ($15,500), when talking to fellow audio enthusiasts. The Yggdrasil is one of those products that subtly grabs hold of the listener, yet the listener is the one who can't let go. I couldn't stop listening through the Yggdrasil enough to write this review on time. The Yggdrasil is a musically addictive drug without the expense and potential repercussions. When something is this enjoyable and the consequences of continuing its use aren't dire, the result is a foregone conclusion. More listening. The Yggdrasil has a rare ability to reproduce acoustic music on a level with some of the best DACs I've heard. Resonating Spruce wood from a double bass sounding so realistic as to breathe new life into old music, is a characteristic of the Yggdrasil. The juxtaposition of a coarse bowed bass with a silky smooth violin playing out in front of the listener as the sound simply hangs in mid-air until it appropriately decays, is part of an experience readily available through this DAC. The Yggdrasil has a really solid yet simplistic build quality on the outside and very selective component use on the inside. However, I believe the Yggdrasil's performance has much more to do with intellectual property than any other factor. Any manufacturer can use identical hardware in a competing product, but only Schiit Audio has its closed-form filter. In addition, the amount of engineering expertise required to implement the Analog Devices AD5791BRUZ DACs in an audio product is more than many companies have or costs more time and money than they can afford. To say the Yggdrasil is a unique product that's equal to much more than the sum of its parts is an understatement. Great technology and engineering coming together to reproduce fantastic sound quality at prices unheard-of in this industry is characteristically Schiit Audio. The Yggdrasil is a disruptive product that I can't recommend enough to both new and experienced music aficionados. Add to cart and enjoy.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Music of the Year:

     

    Fink Meets the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

     

    From my article about the recording (link)

     

    Last night I had the lights in my listening room off, the Pass Labs amps warmed up and front panel lights glowing blue, and the volume on my Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS cranked up. As soon as the first note of the first track of this album came through my TAD CR1 loudspeakers, it was suddenly April 29, 2012 and I was transported to the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. I ended up listening to the album three times in a row, on repeat. When I went to bed, I queued it up on my iPhone in TIDAL HIFI, got my headphones ready, then thought, I better not burn this one out as I’ve been known to do in the past. I set my headphones down and went to sleep with the lyrics to the track Berlin Sunrise and the accompanying string section flowing through my head. When I woke up, I went back to my listening room and fired up the entire album once again. It was at this point, I stopped writing a component review, due for publication this week, and started writing this article. I felt like I had good news and I just had to deliver it to the Computer Audiophile Community.

     

     

     

    Peter, Paul and Mary - In The Wind (Audio Fidelity version)

     

    I did’t hear this album until CES 2015, when Andrew Jones used it as demonstration material. After CES the track All My Trials was used in all my reviews because I loved the music and it sounded really good. Later in the year, at Rocky Mountain Audiofest, Aurender’s John-Paul Lizars introduced me to the Audio Fidelity remaster of In The Wind and I was immediately in heaven. This version is currently only available on physical disc. I can’t recommend it enough.

     

     

    Link to purchase 1

    Link to purchase 2

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Most Enjoyable Product of the Year: Naim Mu-so

     

    From my full review found here (link)

     

    The reason all of us entered into this hobby was because of the music and how it made is feel emotionally. We didn’t start purchasing sterile HiFi gear only to find out we could play something called music through said gear. Music brings out emotion like few other things in this world. What can make the emotional experience even better for many of us is getting closer to the performers and the actual sound of the recordings through great HiFi components. In addition, the ability to share both our favorite recordings and high quality reproduction with our friends and family is hard to put a price on. The Naim Mu-so enables us to overcome many barriers to bringing music back into our every day lives. The Mu-so’s high end build quality, aesthetic appearance, comparatively small size, high sound quality, and well made remote application make it the perfect piece to place almost anywhere in one’s home or office. When tens of millions of tracks are available in high quality at our fingertips we are guaranteed to enjoy this wonderful hobby even more and share what we’ve known forever with our loved ones. Great music is one thing, but add in the element of high quality playback and the listeners can be transported to places only limited by the imagination. The Mu-so has enabled me to share more music and high quality sound with my daughter, in a short period of time, than any piece of HiFi gear I’ve used in her three years on this planet. That fact alone makes the Mu-so worth its weight in gold. As soon as my daughter asks for Pearl Jam in high resolution, the Mu-so will literally be priceless.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Most Surprising Product of the Year: AudiophileOptimizer

     

    From my experience using AO for the first time (link)

     

    Hi Guys, just a quick update from my travels this week. I’m currently flying over northern California on my way home to Minneapolis. I’ve been in the Bay Area for four days working on a couple music servers. My task was to install Windows Server 2012 R2 and Audiophile Optimizer to squeeze every ounce of sound quality from a computer. The end result surprised me very much. I had some reservations about the install and the efficacy of going to such great lengths tweaking a PC. I figured the sound would improve, but I didn’t figure it would improve by so much. This week I heard the best digital playback I’ve ever heard. Period.

     

     

    We continued to listen to all kinds of music and continued to hear incredible sound quality. Everything from soundstage to reverb trails to the ambiance of a concert hall was improved with these software optimizations. On one track the drummer struck a bell and the sound seemed to hang in the air for ever while at the same time being completely distinct from the rest of the sounds. Every instrument had its place and its space. The listening experience was truly something to behold.

     

     

     

     

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    Having spent over two months with Roon, I agree that it is one of the most important things to happen to music lovers this year. And I used to use - and still do use - JRMC. Being audio only, I don't need multimedia playback. Even then, I use Kodi + MPC-HC. Roon is so easy to use, it makes traversing a 2 TB library completely painless, the Radio is incredibly well thought out, and Focus is next-level stuff. Once it's integrated to HQP I'll try that out for the first time. I'd also suggest the Regen but that would by hypocritical since I ditched USB shortly after getting one. Still, it was a fine device and not difficult to hear the improvement it made.

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    So i guess no best digital player or best digital cable or digital to digital converter...

    Edited by ajay556

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    My list :

     

    Aurender N10

    Roon

    Stealth USB-T

     

    Since I've heard Aurender N10 I'm haunted there's nothing that I want more to complete my system. And will welcome Roon when it's implemented with Aurender.

    Another surprise was the USB cable from Stealth because made my digital setup sound so 3 dimensional and in full flesh but with all the detail I've could long for and more.

    I've heard new micro details for first time.

    Can't wait to match all these with the N10.

    Where are you Santa?

     

    And for 2016 some great dacs are on my audition short list like Nadac, dCS Rossini and EMMlabs new DA2. But I'm sure there will be more.

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    Why on earth is there no iphone app for Roon? Just trying it out now but I dont have an ipad to control it. THats dumb!

     

     

    Believe they said one is in the works for a remote.

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    Definitely agree with Roon. I have used it for the past six months and I just signed up for a lifetime subscription. Awaiting integration with HQ for purportedly improved sound. J River is much too difficult to use for the casual user like me who only wants to play back his music. All My Trials is one of my favorites. The original CD version is fabulous. Early Mornin' Rain is my favorite PP& M recording though.

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    YEP, ROON and AO is the best combination and no one can deny. and wish I can get more info about the SOtM Windows server! the windows server based on ROON and AO integration and waiting for more news! great works done!

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    Roon was the kicker that got me back into 2 channel this year after a 10yr hiatus.

    Elac F5 speakers were also key, to get my foot back in the door.

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    My list:

     

    - Bridge II for the DS DAC

    - UpTone Audio Regen

    - Daphile (thanks to Kimmo)

    - UPnP/DNLA-bridge plugin (thanks to Philippe) for LMS that makes the DS DAC with the Bridge II or any other UPnP renderer to a "Squeezebox"

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    Interesting list, especially considering all that I am being introduced to.

     

    Here are my top 5 discoveries of 2015...

     

    1. Naim Mu-so - Coming from something like Sonos this was a huge sonic upgrade and a must have without even considering the looks or features/functionality that will make it an integral part of any setup.

    2. Schiit, while I haven't heard Yggdrasil I was introduced to the Schiit sound this year. Amazing in terms of VFM they provide, they are also a huge upgrade considering every Schiit DAC punches higher than its price point.

     

    Hold on and hear me out before you start with the flames, but here are two $35 products that are true game changers all things considered.

     

    3. Chromecast Audio - Pure awesomeness when it can bring wireless streaming capability to any piece of equipment as long as it has analog and digital inputs.

    4. Raspberry Pi - Started with it only recently, but it simply blew me away with the myriad of options it provides. You can run a wireless streamer for music, a NAS, a home server, a torrent box, media center/server, and even watch/stream TV series. Speaking audiophile I heard it with both HiFiBerry DAC+ and HiFiBerry Digi+ and it blew me away on both counts. Seriously good stuff for what it costs, like $35 for the Pi, $45 for the DAC and $40 for Digi+ (which gives digital output for the Pi for bit-perfect output, and not really needed if you use some something like Chromecast Audio or similar DLNA/UPnP devices).

     

    I really don't have a 5th discovery, but if I had to pick one then I would go with…

    5. TIDAL · High Fidelity Music Streaming - Have not jumped in, I'm still on the 30 days free trial, but I'm definitely liking what I hear especially the FLAC streaming (TIDAL HiFi). I listen to a fair bit of Spotify, but it's mostly background listening while I'm working or before I go to bed/fall asleep, and it's basically a discovery tool to find new artists/music. Tidal however is serious listening and worthy of audiophile considerations. Hopefully, Chromecast support will be added soon and it will be a keeper.

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    I join the naysayers on Roon. I have over 2000 classical albums that have been carefully categorized and tagged in JRiver. Roon made a total mess of my collection. Impossible to navigate efficiently. The metadata connections, ie photos and text were sometimes interesting, but not nearly good enough to give up efficient access to my collection so I can listen to music. For classical listeners with large collections I think it is worthless. I canceled my trial subscription and removed it from my computer. I can not understand how anyone could pay for this mess.

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    For me, Tidal has been a wonderful addition to my system. Just starting to poke around with Roon integration - looks very promising. I need to upgrade my music server to use Roon/Tidal on my system proper. The CAPS gen 2 doesn't have enough processing/video capabilities.

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    I recently trialed Roon. I loved the UI and the integration with my library but I found the TIDAL integration to be spotty at best. More often than not Roon would not aggregate(?) all the albums and artists from TIDAL that are actually, well, on TIDAL. I found it a bit frustrating and not really ready for prime time. I will absolutely check it out again in the future but I will not be using it at this time.

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    Roon just released an update last night for HQPlayer integration and Squeezebox integration. They finally updated the Tidal section to include the Genres Tidal already breaks out for new releases. And the search feature finally has auto complete. There are plenty more enhancements. But for me listening to Tidal and my ALAC tracks thru HQPlayer is the biggest.

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    I understand why reviewers are blissful over Roon, but my real world experience with it is that it's not ready for prime time yet. This may be because I have an all Mac system, but the marketing does not make any caveats about Mac users.

     

    1. Roon will take upwards of 15 minutes to launch. As your library gets larger, (which can easily happen if you add Tidal albums to your favourites), the software takes longer and longer to start up. Roon tech support is only provided by a community forum--which strikes me as pretty chintzy for a $200/year piece of software--and after weeks of waiting, Roon developers had me reinstall Roon. That only starts the clock ticking to slow start up again.

     

    2. Roon has yet to see my 2 Apple Tv's, which are always seen by iTunes or any other program, including any net testing software I run. To their credit, Roon developers, via their community support forum, have claimed to fix this in their latest update after my initial query 6 months ago, but their latest update does NOT fix it.

     

    3. You really need a Tidal subscription to make Roon worthwhile, so add that cost when evaluating this.

     

    Having paid for Roon after the initial 2 week trial, you can't get out of it or get a refund. But at this point, I won't be renewing.

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    I understand why reviewers are blissful over Roon, but my real world experience with it is that it's not ready for prime time yet. This may be because I have an all Mac system, but the marketing does not make any caveats about Mac users.

     

    1. Roon will take upwards of 15 minutes to launch. As your library gets larger, (which can easily happen if you add Tidal albums to your favourites), the software takes longer and longer to start up. Roon tech support is only provided by a community forum--which strikes me as pretty chintzy for a $200/year piece of software--and after weeks of waiting, Roon developers had me reinstall Roon. That only starts the clock ticking to slow start up again.

     

    2. Roon has yet to see my 2 Apple Tv's, which are always seen by iTunes or any other program, including any net testing software I run. To their credit, Roon developers, via their community support forum, have claimed to fix this in their latest update after my initial query 6 months ago, but their latest update does NOT fix it.

     

    3. You really need a Tidal subscription to make Roon worthwhile, so add that cost when evaluating this.

     

    Having paid for Roon after the initial 2 week trial, you can't get out of it or get a refund. But at this point, I won't be renewing.

     

    I agree, it is riddled with problems. I am however working with support through PM while they extend my tiral period and fix the issues. THe patchyness of our expeirence, especially as i havent paid anything yet, does not look good though! My only qiery is why do you think integrating this with a streaming service is so important? I have 150,000 flacs

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    Why on earth is there no iphone app for Roon? Just trying it out now but I dont have an ipad to control it. THats dumb!

     

    Because the phone interface is too small to properly display the Roon UI. The Roon people don't want to put out a dumbed down version of the UI for the phone that doesn't work well. It sort of makes sense when you understand that the Roon user experience is very much dependent on the beauty/usefulness of the UI.

     

    Apparently they are about to come out with an iPhone version (in the coming weeks). It's a complete reworking of the interface for the phone, from what they've explained on their forum. My guess is that it will be more of a remote control than a complete Roon experience on the phone.

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    Roon will take upwards of 15 minutes to launch. As your library gets larger, (which can easily happen if you add Tidal albums to your favourites), the software takes longer and longer to start up. Roon tech support is only provided by a community forum--which strikes me as pretty chintzy for a $200/year piece of software--and after weeks of waiting, Roon developers had me reinstall Roon. That only starts the clock ticking to slow start up again.

     

    15 minutes? Not for me. Opens quickly. So maybe just leave it open all the time if your setup has issues.

    I like the tech support via the forum - it is quick and responsive. They do have a support email address and personal Roon email addresses that they respond to. I've gotten nothing but good service from them.

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    I agree, it is riddled with problems. I am however working with support through PM while they extend my tiral period and fix the issues. THe patchyness of our expeirence, especially as i havent paid anything yet, does not look good though! My only qiery is why do you think integrating this with a streaming service is so important? I have 150,000 flacs

     

    What I DO like about Roon is that even if you have a large library, I doubt it's as big as Tidal's. And Tidal is the only streaming service that provides CD quality. When you select "Discover" in Roon, you find not only albums and tracks from your library, but from Tidal's. Or searching for music by genre, or composer, or whatever. The Tidal integration makes Roon an extraordinarily rich. (My caveats on operating issues notwithstanding.)

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    15 minutes? Not for me. Opens quickly. So maybe just leave it open all the time if your setup has issues.

    I like the tech support via the forum - it is quick and responsive. They do have a support email address and personal Roon email addresses that they respond to. I've gotten nothing but good service from them.

     

    Wow. I have never got a response from them either on their forum or by email in less than a week.

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    I think Roon startup time is really machine dependent. It used to take 10-15 min startup on my old early 2009 iMac but now it takes about a 1-2 min on new late 2015 27" imac.

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    Revival of audiophile quality streamer technology is finally providing enjoyable digital.

     

    That is #1 for me in 2015.

     

    Anyone remember the SlimDevices Transporter? They were ahead of its time.

     

    Really is a shame we had to suffer (and many still are) through the USB nonsense, expensive and time consuming tweaking, become paying beta testers for the likes of Jriver bloatware, Amarra bugware, etc..

     

    Finally we have come full circle to 2006 when the Transporter launched.

    Edited by tranz

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    Revival of audiophile quality streamer technology is finally providing enjoyable digital.

     

    That is #1 for me in 2015.

     

    Anyone remember the SlimDevices Transporter? They were ahead of its time.

     

    Really is a shame we had to suffer (and many still are) through the USB nonsense, expensive and time consuming tweaking, become paying beta testers for the likes of Jriver bloatware, Amarra bugware, etc..

     

    Finally we have come full circle to 2006 when the Transporter launched.

     

    I know what you mean Tranz. What is your streamer of choice?

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    15 minutes? Not for me. Opens quickly. So maybe just leave it open all the time if your setup has issues.

    I like the tech support via the forum - it is quick and responsive. They do have a support email address and personal Roon email addresses that they respond to. I've gotten nothing but good service from them.

     

    I looked for these contacts and couldn't find, can you tell me where they are pls.

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