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    The Computer Audiophile

    Audiophile Style Products of the Decade

    We started this decade at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, where manufacturers were just getting on board with Asynchronous USB interfaces. Wavelength, Ayre, and dCS all had them before anyone else, but at CES Mbl, and Resolution Audio introduced their own async interfaces and many manufacturers were working on deals to license async technology. Shortly after CES we launched the first C.A.P.S. Server. The success of the C.A.P.S. project was beyond anything I predicted. Readers must also consider the reasons for this success. The major one for me was that HiFi companies were still twiddling their thumbs wondering if this new era of digital audio was going to pan out. In the years since 2010 we released several C.A.P.S. designs before manufacturers kicked things into gear with offerings of their own. 

     

    Doing its own thing way back in 2010 was Linn, which eschewed USB interfaces for Ethernet before most companies even thought about either. UPnP / DLNA was great even back then, until it wasn't. Universal Plug and Play is the most non-standard standard, and any early adopters found this out the hard way. Sure tech geeks had Linn systems running smoothly, but the same can't be said for everyone. 

     

    Digital HiFi was a bit sketchy back in the early 2010s. Roon was still Sooloos and I first saw the initial Aurender S10 music server at the California Audio Show in 2011. Since then, many products and manufacturers have come and gone as the options grew and competition heated up. At the end of this decade we have countless ways to play our digital collections, much better quality, and we even have access to high resolution music streaming at the tap of a finger. Seriously, it's a dream come true for music lovers and those of use who also like great sound quality. Overall it has been the best decade ever to be a digital audiophile. 


    It's time to give credit where credit is due. No long drawn out cliffhanger word salad. Here are the Audiophile Style Products of the Decade for Hardware, Software, and Music.

     

     

    Hardware



    Sonore-Rendu-PoD.jpgIt's nearly impossible to think about all the products that I've heard and used over the last ten years. Many of them were and are fantastic in all important categories such as sound quality, ease of use, build quality, customer support, and value. However, one series of products stands out to me as the biggest game changer in addition to checking all the right boxes. I'd love to hand this award to a single product, but as you'll see, it only makes sense to award the Audiophile Style Product of the Decade for hardware to the Rendu series of products from Sonore. 

     

    It all started with the microRendu in 2016. This was a product that nobody had previously built. What's more, the team at Sonore and Small Green Computer, with engineering by John Swenson, took this product to a level that wasn't just necessary or sufficient, it was extreme. A custom tiny computer with a custom operating system wasn't even on the radar of most audiophiles. In fact many had to be educated on why they'd want or need such a product. 

     

    Prior to the microRendu most audiophiles had Windows or Mac computers connected to DACs via USB. This is a great way to playback a digital collection through a HiFi system, but many people wanted something different. Once the microRendu was announced, the game was changed. It enabled HiFi enthusiasts to turn any USB DAC into an Ethernet capable DAC with features that no DAC with built-in Ethernet has even to this day.

     

    After the microRendu, Sonore released the ultraRendu, Signature Rendu, opticalRendu, and my current favorite the Signature Rendu SE Optical. Sonore didn't limit updates to only hardware. It released several software updates to the Sonicorbiter operating system that brought new capabilities and features. The Sonore team is so versitile, it can turn on a dime with software changes and upgrades long before the topic has even gotten out of committee at large manufacturers. I know this because I've talked to Sonore partners who praise everything about the company.

     

    The Rendu series of products started a movement and class of products that has been copied by several high end manufacturers, but has yet to be duplicated.  

     

    Visit Sonore

     

     

    Software

     

    Roon-PoD.jpgMusic library management and playback software has come a long way this decade. I remember opening Foobar2000 and thinking I could do my taxes and listen to music simultaneously. Cheers to its developer Peter Pawłowski for keeping the product free, as in beer. For some reason many of us in HiFi latched on to MediaMonkey in the early days. I still don't know why, especially when we have JRiver Media Center as a far better alternative. Oh well, live and learn. 

     

    By far the single product that has taken HiFi by storm the quickest and has produced the largest number of fans is Roon. Roon was a game changer for many in HiFi and is the Audiophile Style Product of the Decade for software. 

     

    Since its spin-off from Meridian in 2015 the Roon Labs team has continually updated the app by adding feature after feature. While the app has grown a bit more complex over the years, it's only because the Roon user base has demanded it. In addition to consumers, the number of manufacturers who've jumped onboard the Roon train, and the speed of adoption, has been amazing. It really seems like every manufacturer in HiFi has either Roon Ready or Roon Tested devices available for purchase. 

     

    Like all products, Roon isn't perfect and isn't for everybody. Its' subscription pricing model is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the app. In addition, some audiophiles have what I call a starter home network. Running Roon Ready endpoints on such a network can be a recipe for disaster, leading some to abandon the app altogether. That said, the vast majority of Roon users have fallen in love with the app. I use it almost every day, but I also use many other platforms almost every day. 

     

    Roon has become the app by which all others are judged and the app that generates the most feature requests to competing manufacturers. I look forward to what the Roon Labs team has in store for the next decade and to see what the competition has up its sleeve.

     

    Visit Roon Labs

     

     


    Music

     

    Qobuz-PoD.jpgThis selection may be a little controversial given its recent entry into the US market, but this company started in 2008, only one year after Audiophile Style opened its digital doors (as Computer Audiophile). I challenge anyone to find a better product, with more potential, and better customer service than Audiophile Style Product of the Decade winner for music, Qobuz. Everything about the Qobuz streaming service is better than the competition, with the exception of its coverage area. Members of the Audiophile Style community in Canada are chomping at the bit to start streaming its true pure PCM high resolution audio. 

     

    Qobuz has so much going for it that the other services can't currently match. It's embedded into apps from Lumin, Aurender, NAD, Bluesound, Roon, Auralic, and more. In addition, its desktop and mobile apps are head and shoulders above the competition. The fact that we can stream bit perfect high resolution music up through 24 bit / 192 kHz and view the PDF booklet for many albums is a dream come true for many of us. This is a service created by music lovers and it clearly shows. 

     

    Above all else, the one aspect of Qobuz that the others will never match is its customer service. The Qobuz team is here on Audiophile Style answering questions daily. When there's a problem with any part of the service from music metadata to a complete outage, the team responds promptly to let everyone know what's going on. Try getting service like this from Amazon, Tidal, Apple, Spotify, or Deezer. 

     

    The Qobuz catalog in France and other European countries is currently a bit better than in the US, but I don't expect this to be the case for too long. After all, the rights holders of the music want to make money from their investments. Plus, much of the paperwork has been done with labels already appearing on Qobuz in other countries. For many it's just a matter of signing-off on the new territory 

     

    Congratulations to the entire Qobuz team, in the US and France, for winning our Audiophile Style Product of the Decade for music. 

     

    Visit Qobuz

     

     

     



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    1 minute ago, vortecjr said:

    Chris, can you clarify this for me...does our award extend to the Rendu products with Ethernet input with SPDIF and SPDIF/i2s output?

    The Rendu I reviewed back in the day with Ethernet in and S/pDIF out, wasn't anything like the current custom designed hardware and software solutions in the Rendu series I'd say the award only applies to the newer devices like this. If, you have an Ethernet to S/PDIF in a similar class to the other current Rendu product it may extend to that.

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    5 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    The Rendu I reviewed back in the day with Ethernet in and S/pDIF out, wasn't anything like the current custom designed hardware and software solutions in the Rendu series I'd say the award only applies to the newer devices like this. If, you have an Ethernet to S/PDIF in a similar class to the other current Rendu product it may extend to that.

    Understood and agree. On those products we were not able to control the vertical to horizontal and that limitation was one of the reasons for discontinuing the line. 

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    3 hours ago, vortecjr said:

    ................... we were not able to control the vertical to horizontal and that limitation was one of the reasons for discontinuing the line. 

     

    OK I'm thick: do you mean converting data packets to a data stream?

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    On 12/21/2019 at 1:20 AM, hopkins said:

     

    The one mentioned by Raimund Heubel, PSAudio I believe, and ECDesigns (the only one I am familiar with). Could be others. 

    The German company 'artistic fidelity' applies USB-to-optical conversion since 2015 when they introduced their first DDC device -  the 'afi-usb' - which uses 3 fibre optical cables to convert the USB data stream into a digital non-Toslink optical signal.

    Since then they perfected the optical interface to what they now call 'arfi-link' which in my eyes is the best way to connect their renderers 'arfi-stream' to their DACs.

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    Optical, in itself, does not seem to be the magical key to high quality audio - after all, it has been in use for years. The devil is in the details, and the implementation is key:  how the signal is generated in the source and the decoding of the signal in the DAC (and of course the ability of the DAC to transform precisely to analog all the information it is given). By addressing all those aspects, then we may see significant progress in digital audio - I believe this is what will be achieved in the coming years, and that we can finally reap the full benefits of digital audio (as I am convinced there is nothing wrong in the "data" itself and how it is stored in files, locally or on the cloud, or on CDs - recording quality being what it is). Who will get there first ? I sometimes wish all the experts in the field would just sit down together and get all this sorted out :)

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    by "source" do you mean the mastering?

     

    and what do you mean by "decoding of the signal in the DAC"?  what errors do you think are arising at that point?

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    No, I meant at whatever place the bits are transformed into an optical signal. Decoding of the signal in the DAC is relative to how the optical signal coming into the DAC gets transformmed and fed to the DAC chip. From what I understand, this process itself can generate "noise", and then there are of course jitter aspects - I am not "technical", but browsing through on-line litterature, interviews, you can get a grasp of what is going on and what DAC manufacturers have to deal with. My intention is not to generate any debates about this, I am just in a hopeful "wait and see" attitude...

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    You guys make everything over complicated, much like life. With your Asynchronous USB – DSD – Jitter - Adaptive USB - Fixed frequency clocks -Dithered digital volume control - Firmware -Bit Perfect testing – Jitter Simulator - S/PDIF, blah,blah,blah

    You should just sit back, turn everything else off & listen to a record.

     

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    4 minutes ago, Osterberg said:

    You guys make everything over complicated, much like life. With your Asynchronous USB – DSD – Jitter - Adaptive USB - Fixed frequency clocks -Dithered digital volume control - Firmware -Bit Perfect testing – Jitter Simulator - S/PDIF, blah,blah,blah

    You should just sit back, turn everything else off & listen to a record.

     

    Getting turn table to sound good is extremely expensive and like rocket science to me. Most of us don’t think about 90% of the items you mentioned. 
     

    Happy new year :~)

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    14 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Getting turn table to sound good is extremely expensive


    Chris,  that simply isn’t true ( and kind of ironic on a site that seems to champion increasingly expensive digital solutions these days).

     

     

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    35 minutes ago, Norton said:


    Chris,  that simply isn’t true ( and kind of ironic on a site that seems to champion increasingly expensive digital solutions these days).

     

     

    Agree with Chris.
    And if the turntable experts are to be believed, even many with expensive setups don't have everything with their turntable/cartridige/stylus setup correctly. Thus seminars on how to do it, even to those who are longtime users. 

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    26 minutes ago, firedog said:

    Agree with Chris.
    And if the turntable experts are to be believed, even many with expensive setups don't have everything with their turntable/cartridige/stylus setup correctly. Thus seminars on how to do it, even to those who are longtime users. 


    So you consider, for example,  that no TT that Rega produce  sounds good (as none of them, bar the not commercially available Naiad, could be described as “extremely expensive”) ?  Can I ask you and Chris what direct and recent experience you base this analysis on?

     

    My TT (not Rega btw) sounds very good indeed and it is not remotely “extremely expensive”.  
     

    Just one of the “old guard” myths that only expensive=good.

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    21 minutes ago, Norton said:


    So you consider, for example,  that no TT that Rega produce  sounds good (as none of them, bar the not commercially available Naiad, could be described as “extremely expensive”) ?  Can I ask you and Chris what direct and recent experience you base this analysis on?

     

    My TT (not Rega btw) sounds very good indeed and it is not remotely “extremely expensive”.  
     

    Just one of the “old guard” myths that only expensive=good.

    Good is an undefined term. As is expensive. 

     

    IME, a minimum price for a  high level TT setup (all inclusive) is something like $2500 at retail; and that doesn't include knowing how to actually set it up properly.  I consider $2500 and above for a front end expensive. Some TT lovers would say that's too little; others would say "good" costs much less. 

     

    You are free to disagree with the price level I've set; that's the level I think you need to compete with good digital setups that cost the equal amount or less. Disregarding whether one prefers digital or analog, IME/O that's the approximate price point where analog starts to compete with digital. Above that it's more a matter of taste as to what you like better. 

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    28 minutes ago, firedog said:

    As is expensive. 


    the phrase used was “extremely expensive” which just seems way overblown.

     

    Something like a Rega 3 +Elys + Fono  would undoubtedly sound good, and can be had for under £1k in the UK (and is not even Rega’s entry level offering) and that would include dealer setup onsite (although v little set up is actually required) 


    For me the label “extremely expensive” is more properly applied, for example, to the  DCS  DAC and Lumin player recently reviewed on this site.

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    19 hours ago, Osterberg said:

    You guys make everything over complicated, much like life. With your Asynchronous USB – DSD – Jitter - Adaptive USB - Fixed frequency clocks -Dithered digital volume control - Firmware -Bit Perfect testing – Jitter Simulator - S/PDIF, blah,blah,blah

    You should just sit back, turn everything else off & listen to a record.

     

    It's not really complicated...it is Asynchronous USB, DSD is supported, no jitter that isn't inherent, no one uses adaptive anymore, no dither here, new firmware = new features, it's bit perfect, SPDIF only as needed.

     

    I donated the few records I had to my dad's friend. He is enjoying them.    

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    4 hours ago, Norton said:


    the phrase used was “extremely expensive” which just seems way overblown.

     

    Something like a Rega 3 +Elys + Fono  would undoubtedly sound good, and can be had for under £1k in the UK (and is not even Rega’s entry level offering) and that would include dealer setup onsite (although v little set up is actually required) 


    For me the label “extremely expensive” is more properly applied, for example, to the  DCS  DAC and Lumin player recently reviewed on this site.

    I always liked my $500 Music Hall TT more than my $1500 Linn Genki (and I "Liked" the Genki).  I have not decided on the Rega P3-24 w/Dynavector 10x5.  It does not have the "Euphoric Distortion" of the MH that must have tickled some parts of my brain.  Of course I do not have the Genki anymore and have to compare the Rega to my SB Touch and whatever portable DAC I have connected.

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    6 hours ago, Norton said:


    Chris,  that simply isn’t true ( and kind of ironic on a site that seems to champion increasingly expensive digital solutions these days).

     

     

    Hi Norton, Many of my friends have turntables and I’ve lived vicariously through them with all their issues and upgrades. One has the Air Force One table. When I saw its suction of the album down on the platter, it seemed to me that this is a requirement for turntables. It makes a lot of sense. 
     

    With respect to AS, I suggest you peruse through our front page articles. The cost of them items written about is pretty low. Even in this Products of the Decade article the cost of the products is pretty low. 

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    TT & digital are apples and oranges for me. My $500 TT (which I won as a door prize at a dealer shindig!) plays my 500-600 old LPs very nicely. On some, like Tommy, because of the mastering it sounds better than any digital version I have. And I'm not going to buy digital versions even for all those that exist in digital format. So of course how else would I listen to my LP collection?

     

    For the few items I have in vinyl and digital, most but not all sound better in digital. But I enjoy both. So I don't see a problem here. 😉

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    On 12/20/2019 at 4:48 PM, hopkins said:

     

    Well, that is another interesting debate :)

    For the coming decade I believe we will see "source immunity" and "format immunity" meaning DACs capable of offering similar quality for Redbook and high res. Let's see in 10 years (if we are still around) what will be in your "products of the decade".

    God I hope not. I love my sources.  Plus, this makes no sense - every single thing in your playback chain is a "source" properly stated - it all passes along the signal to your ears - every single piece imparts its own effects on the sound you hear. Your brain is even a "source" - as the kids at ASR will remind you.  But seriously, all you're saying is that the DAC becomes your source and it becomes all the more critical which one you choose since it will be dictating how things sound - at least whatever comes before it, supposedly.  But I agree with Chris - this has not been achieved in analog so i don't see it ever happening with digital either... In fact, I have this sneaking suspicion based on following along with every trend in digital audio of the past 15 years - including the latest audiophile switches - that the deeper we go, the more we will discover that every single part of the playback chain matters and has its effects and that there is no way around it - no free lunch. Look at everything the server builders are figuring out about RAM and software and hard drive types... In other words, you build me a DAC that is magically immune to source and the new tech within that DAC will introduce a host of new issues that will need to be mitigated with new products with their own cables and PSUs and fancy clocks, etc etc etc. I know this frustrates the bits and bits guys to no end but in my experience it is utterly and completely true that everything changes something -- and you can hear it. Anyway, I know that's not exactly what you meant, but I just wanted to jump in here and warn us, as we contemplate the next decade, that as long as there has been audio, people have fantasized about the one box solution that is the perfect wire with gain. I think it's mostly a reaction to the sometimes disheartening amount of time, effort and money it takes to get things right (already a moving target) in audio. I say embrace it and if - like the products being hailed here - something gets us a step closer to that elusive sound we seek, then God bless it.

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