Monthly Archives: April 2011

Roy Gandy’s Rega Research has a stellar record of producing fine source components, often combining high performance with innovative physical design at a relatively modest price point. Many readers will be familiar with the pioneering Rega Planar 2 and Planar 3 turntables from the 1970’s (now supplanted by a whole range of turntables), the ubiquitous Rega tonearms and cartridges, and in the digital sphere, the Apollo, Saturn and Isis CD players. Now joining this army of source components, and building on technology from the current range of CD players, comes the smart looking new Rega DAC, priced at an affordable $1095.

   A DAC is pretty much a set-it-and-forget component, unless you are feeding it from multiple sources. There’s no volume control, remote control, start/stop or any of that nonsense. It’s usually a fairly small component and you don’t need much by way of status panels. What you do need is a set of suitable inputs and outputs on the back panel, compatibility with the digital sources at your disposal, the ability to reject signal born jitter, a good mechanism for converting digital signals to analog and a good analog output section. There’s lots of competition so you’ll need to excel in some special way to make much of a dent in this market. Does the Rega DAC have what it takes?

   The Rega DAC comes with three controls – one to select the active input and one to select the filter, plus the obligatory on/off switch. Generously Rega offers five digital inputs and five filter options. It will accept a signal fed through its isolated USB input (FLAC, WAV, ALAC), two Toslink SPDIF inputs or two 75 ohm Coaxial inputs.  When the input is locked an LED indicator lights up, otherwise the output is muted. There are four LEDs to indicate the frequency of the digital input signal – 32 kHz, 44.1-48 kHz, 88.2-96 kHz and 176.4-192 kHz. Unbalanced RCA outputs are offered, but there are no balanced or headphone outputs. The filter selections depend on whether the signal is low frequency (up to 48 kHz) or high (88.2 kHz and up). The settings are shown in the table below.

Filter Setting                    Low frequency input                      High Frequency input
1                                      Linear phase half-band                  Linear phase soft-knee
2                                      Minimum phase soft-knee          Minimum phase soft-knee
3                                      Minimum phase half-band          Linear phase brickwall
4                                      Linear phase apodising                  Minimum phase apodising
5                                      Minimum phase apodising           Linear phase apodising

   The observed differences between these options are quite small, and for most of my listening I preferred the apodising minimum phase setting, with linear phase soft-knee being a close second. These settings seemed to be a little more musically satisfying than the others. This is not an up-sampling DAC. It works at whatever frequency the input signal dictates, and the sound improves with higher input frequencies, as you would expect. Opinion is sharply divided on the issue of up-sampling – some believe it makes a significant difference, other say that cannot possibly be so. Rega is firmly in the no sample rate conversion camp, throughout its range of digital products.  

   This DAC does not offer an asynchronous input, a popular feature on many new DACs trickling down from higher-end DACs into the mid-price DAC sweet spot. Perhaps more significantly, the USB input is limited to 32, 44.1 or 48 kHz/16-bit, unlike the other four inputs that can take up to a full 192/24 signal. I am disappointed (not just with Rega but with the industry in general) that there is such a mishmash of connection standards for DAC inputs. I would prefer to see USB inputs matching the range of frequencies from the SPDIF inputs, and I’d like to see the option of BNC connectors and AES/EBU inputs so I could feed in digital signals from the NAIM and EMM Labs source components I have in my component rack. At this price I would also like to see balanced outputs.

   So, some care is needed when you buy a DAC to make sure it will be plug compatible with the digital source you are planning to use to feed it. Rega has clearly made the choice here to limit the flexibility of its new DAC (extra flexibility would cost more) and to concentrate its efforts instead on getting the best sonic performance for the price. They have selected very fine components and designed very stiff power supplies to optimize performance. We’re talking dual Wolfson DACs (WM8742), high speed rectifier diodes and high audio grade capacitors. The USB section, receiver, Phase Locked Loop and high performance clock each have their own power supplies, all fed by a heavy duty low noise toroidal transformer.

   The power connector uses a C5 clover leaf (or Mickey Mouse) connector, so I was not able to try the Rega DAC with the various high-end power cords at my disposal. More and more components are switching to this connector which is considerably smaller than the standard power input. Completing the picture there is also a coax and optical digital output on the back panel. The DAC is available in two different colour schemes, black satin or silver satin, and both feature a glass panel over the front face. On my black pre-production sample it was tough reading the settings due to low contrast, and from the pictures I’ve seen, the silver unit is much more legible.

   Let me jump ahead of myself and tell you that based purely on sonics, Rega’s design team knows exactly what they’re doing, and if this DAC has the specifications you need, you’ll be very happy with the performance, as you would expect from Rega’s excellent reputation. I was very hard pressed to differentiate the performance of this DAC fed by the excellent Meridian G08 CD player from the stellar analog output of the G08 itself. The G08.2, today’s equivalent, retails for over $5000 in Canada. Yes the Meridian does throw a bigger soundstage, has slightly more definition in the bass and detail in the treble and is more coherent when there are a lot of different things going on, but the Rega is close on all counts, as if the Meridian had been the reference Rega’s designers set out to match. When listening to vocals it was a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes the Rega pulled ahead, as it did with Joan Baez in Diamonds and Rust, where the Meridian sounded more etched and ultimately less realistic than the Rega. But the Meridian turned the tables on The Northwest Passage where Stan Rogers was less chesty and Garnet Rogers, David Alan Eadie and Chris Crilley were better located and differentiated in tone.

   So if the Rega DAC is nipping on the Meridian’s heels, where does that place it on an absolute level? Well, streets ahead of almost all comers in the sub $3000 CD player market and also in comparison to other DACs in the $750 to $1200 range. It throws big images, away from the physical dimensions of the speakers, and it has a warm and yet very dynamic sound, with bold leading edges and delicate patterns of musical decay. Distortion is never a factor, while the level of detail is quite high. Above all it passes the smell test of being fully musical. No digititis here. It is only when you compare it with far more expensive components such as the Chord QBD76 DAC ($6495 US) or the EMM Labs DAC2 ($9500 US) that its limitations become apparent. These devices reveal much greater depth in the soundstage, greater precision in locating voices and instruments, more accurate instrumental tone, subterranean bass and open treble, and effortless dynamics. When you put all these things together you get a much more relaxing yet immersive experience, more like the real thing. But not only are such components much more expensive, they will require partnering equipment of equivalent sonic performance in order to strut their stuff effectively. Unless you are into megabuck systems, the Rega DAC will do very nicely thank you.

Rega Research Limited
www.rega.co.uk

Distributed in Canada by Plurison
www.plurison.com
1-866-271-5689

Rega DAC
Price: $1095 CAD

Specifications
Inputs: 32 kHz to 192 kHz at 16/24/32 bits
Digital filter: 5 user selectable options
Jitter reduction: Synchronous clocking the digital data with receiver Phased Lock Loop
DAC chips: Twin Wolfson WM8742 driven by a buffer stage
Case: Custom steel and aluminum
Finish: Black satin or silver satin
Weight: 4 kg
Size: 21.5 cm x 27 cm x 8 cm (wdh)

HARMAN Revel has just announced that it’s shipping its Architectural Series loudspeakers.  The series comprises 21 in-wall and in-ceiling speakers.  The loudspeakers have been designed to integrate with any décor and have a patented RollerLock tool-free installation mechanism.

The 21 models are broken down into: 11 in-wall models, from a 6.5-inch-woofer 2-way to a 9-inch-woofer 3-way speaker, and 10 in-ceiling models from a 4-inch-woofer 2-way to a 3-way LCR speaker.

The RollerLock mechanism accommodates a wide range of wall thicknesses and construction methods.  All the speakers have Zero-Bezel magnetic grilles that attach magnetically.  In-ceiling models come with round and square Zero-Bezel grilles, which can be painted.

Revel Architectural Series speakers incorporate aluminum-dome tweeters with Revel’s CAI waveguide, designed to provide a more seamless blend between the tweeter and the woofer.  Woofers are constructed using Micro Ceramic Composite (MCC) cone material – that involves deep-anodizing an aluminum core for greater performance.  Premium components are used in the crossover network to facilitate transparency. 

All in-ceiling models (excluding the C540) are currently available. All in-wall models will be available in June 2011.

Look for more details at: http://www.revelspeakers.com

As you may have already read in the pages of CANADA HiFi, two 3D TV formats are currently available in stores – one which uses active LCD shutter glasses and the other which uses passive polarized glasses (similar to those in a movie theatre).  3D TVs with active shutter glasses were the first to hit the market last year, with this type of 3D tech now widely available in TVs from companies like Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba and LG.  And now recently, LG introduced a line-up of LCD 3D TVs which use very inexpensive passive polarized glasses.  The only trouble with the passive polarized tech is that it cuts the vertical resolution by 50 percent, compared to active shutter systems.

Nevertheless, LG has began strongly promoting its 3D TVs with the passive glasses in a campaign of TV commercials (at least in the US).  And Samsung quickly responded by significantly reducing the pricing on its active shutter glasses and by offering special packages to new 3D TV buyers.  Again, all of this is taking place in the US, but it will surely follow very quickly here in Canada as well.

This is an excerpt from an article posted on www.hdguru.com:

“Beginning May 1st, Samsung will reduce the price of its standard, battery-operated, 2011 3D glasses from $129.99 retail to $49.99 each,  a 61% price drop. In addition, beginning April 24th, Samsung will offer 2 free pairs of its 3D glasses (model SSG-3100) with the purchase of any Samsung 3D HDTV including the entry level D490 720p and  D590 1080p plasma series, which are currently priced from $699 on Amazon with free shipping.

Samsung is also expanding its free 3D “Starter Kit” offer to include LED series D7000 and D8000 models and plasma series D6500 , D7000 and D8000. The package includes: 3D Blu-ray discs Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, 2 pairs of Samsung 3D Active Glasses (model SSG-3100), and mail-in coupons for Shrek Forever After and Megamind 3D Blu-ray discs.

The free 3D Starter Kit offer begins on April 23rd. It’s an “either/or” deal, meaning consumers that get the free “Starter Kit” are ineligible for the other “free two pair of glasses” offer.

With either deal and the price drop, a family of four can now get four pairs of active glasses for under $100 retail, down from $599.96.

Samsung also announced it will reduce the price of its wrap-around rechargeable 3D glasses, which are currently $199.99. The new price will be announced soon.

LG’s passive 3D glasses start at $10, however its FPR technology reduces vertical resolution by 50% compared to active 3D TVs.”

Cary Audio is just releasing their new Cinema 12 preamplifier-processor (pre-pro), which is the successor to their well received Cinema 11a processor.

The Cinema 12 pre-pro builds on the Cinema 11a feature list, while increasing performance as well as flexibility. Available with a black or silver brushed aluminum faceplate, the new pre-pro has four HDMI v1.4a inputs, together with a full suite of audio connections. A RS-232 connection, IR command codes and a 12VDC trigger for on/off switching are in the feature set. The Cinema 12 offers Burr Brown 32 bit/192 kHz surround DAC chipsets. All circuitry in the processor is fully differential-balanced to take advantage of the improved noise reduction and increased processing power. The Cinema 12 includes a new full-function, programmable universal remote control with extensive macro capabilities.

The Cary Audio Cinema 12 will ship this April, 2011 at a MSRP of $4,995 U.S.

More details are to be had at: http://www.caryaudio.com

Just in time for the warmer weather, Kevro International, the North American distributor for Monitor Audio, has announced the shipping of the new Monitor Audio Climate Series of outdoor speakers.

The new Climate range promises true hi-fi quality sound in every all-weather environment and is engineered for easy installation and versatility.
The range is comprised of three, two-way satellites, all with complementary passive radiators, contributing to improved bass punch in open spaces, as well as one single driver model.

The CL50, CL60 and CL80 use 5″, 6″ and 8″ C-CAM bass drivers. The fourth CL all-weather monitor (CL60T2) is a single stereo 6″ driver design, with a 6″ C-CAM woofer and dual 1″ C-CAM tweeters. 

Highlights of the new series include:

  • C-CAM Woofers and Tweeters (protection circuit on tweeters)
  • All weather enclosures, grilles and mounting hardware
  • 180 degree positioning – horizontal / vertical
  • Corner mounting
  • 15 degree wedge supplied for downward vertical ‘aiming’ or horizontal ‘toe in’ 

The prices for each model are as follows: Climate 50 ($429/pair), Climate 60 ($629/pair), Climate 60T2 ($349/each) and Climate 80 ($799/pair).

For more info, please visit www.monitoraudio.co.uk

Chord Electronics just announced their new Chordette Maxx stereo amplifier with DAC.  Good things come in small packages – well, that could possibly be the case with this little but deceivingly powerful 30 wpc stereo amplifier.  The Chordette Maxx includes an A2DP, Apt-X Bluetooth receiver, USB input and gain control.

This integrated amplifier can easily connect to a computer via USB to utilize it’s built in DAC up to 48kHz sampling rate, as a source for use as an integrated amplifier or possibly as a DAC feeding a larger audio system.  The Chordette Maxx is also a Bluetooth receiver for connection to devices such as computers or mobile devices.  Utilizing a MOSFET Class AB amplifier configuration and a four transformer 500 kHz power supply and delivering a signal-to-noise ration of 103dB, the Chordette Maxx promises high quality performance.  Two pairs of high quality gold-plated loudspeaker binding posts are provided.

Price is yet to be announced.

More information can be found at: http://www.chordelectronics.co.uk

Not to be left out without a piece of the tablet game, Sony is the latest company to launch its own tablets.  Both of Sony’s new tablets promise the perfect combination of hardware, content and network with seamless usability for a high-quality, engaging entertainment experience.  Sony is currently developing two tablets including the S1 (codename) which is optimized for rich media entertainment and S2 (codename) which is ideal for mobile communication and entertainment.  Both tablets will become available this fall.

The Sony tablets are equipped with Android 3.0 which is designed for devices with larger screen sizes, particularly tablets. Both models are WiFi and WAN (3G/4G) compatible and users can not only browse the internet or check e-mail but they can also smoothly access digital content including videos, games and books through Sony’s premium network services and more, on-the-go at any time.

S1 has a 9.4-inch display for enjoying the web and rich content on a large screen. Its off-center of gravity design realizes stability and ease of grip as well as a sense of stability and lightness, offering comfortable use for hours.

S2 has two 5.5-inch displays that can be folded for easy portability. In contrast to existing tablets, its unprecedented dual screen presentation and usability allows its displays to be combined and used as a large screen or for different functions such as playing video on one screen while showing control buttons on the other.

Other highlights of the Sony tablets include:

• Through Qriocity music and video services, users can enjoy rich video and music content. Also, through PlayStation Suite, users can immerse themselves in high quality first generation PlayStation titles. Additionally, users can easily download ebook content from Reader Store and use both tablets as digital reading devices. The integration with various services allows users to take their entertainment experiences on-the-go.

• Through the tablets, users can control home entertainment devices as well as enjoy content in new ways. S1 uses infrared technology and works as universal remote controls for a variety of AV devices starting with Sony’s BRAVIA devices. Users can perform functions like turning on their TVs, changing the channel and adjusting the volume. Also, through DLNA functionality on the tablets, users can “throw” personal content to large screen televisions or music to wireless speakers.

For more info, please visit www.sony.ca

Nintendo has just announced that it is planning to replace its Nintendo Wii console with a new model in 2012, as the company tries to stay competitive with the Xbox 360 and PS3 systems.  The company is expected to show a playable prototype of the new console, dubbed as Project Cafe, at the E3 Expo, which runs from June 7-9, 2011.

Speculation and reports suggest that the Wii 2 console with offer a 1080p output and a built-in Blu-ray drive.

Stay tuned for more info when the more details become available this June.

Resonessence Labs has just introduced their new Invicta stereo DAC. The DAC is relatively compact, at 5cm X 22cm X 28cm and can be rack mounted.

The Invicta is ASYNC 1.0 (not 2.0) USB Audio compliant. USB Audio 2.0 and ASIO drivers are in development and the Invicta will support this eventually. Three rear BNC connectors are electrically isolated, with two being programmable as input or output. Customers can choose to have Word Sync, Clock and Data with a simple software upgrade. A HDMI connector is incorporated for a future upgrades.

The employed hardware set allows for: I2S over HDMI, HD OSD output and HDMI Audio input. Two headphone jacks and a CD card slot are present on the front panel and the back panel includes high speed USB audio, TosLink, BNC and AES. The front display will indicate the sample rate, with all common sample rates currently supported by the Invicta. Analog outputs include unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR. As per the growing trend in displays, the Invicta sports a large OLED screen for high definition display of settings and information.

The MSRP is $3995 U.S.

More details can be sought at: http://resonessencelabs.com

It looks like Bryston is about to announce a new headphone amplifier called the BHP-1.  The ‘leak photo’ above just began surfacing on the Internet.

We’ll post the details about the unit as soon as the official press release is out.  Stay tuned…

For more info about Bryston, please visit www.bryston.com.

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