Computer Audio | Emm Labs DAC2X | Kimber Kable Select 2436 Ag USB
This entry was posted on Thursday, September 4th, 2014 Authored By: Robert Entenmann
We all started out in the digital realm with the advent of Compact Discs taking the place of the then popular Audio Cassette Tape. The CD was unique in that it offered great sound quality in a compact digital format. Qualifying great sound quality is not the job of an amateur however. Years ago, I thought Bose 901 direct reflecting speakers hooked up to a Yamaha receiver with Monster Cable was “good sound quality.” And at that time, it was! The litany of audiophile terms such as imaging, sound staging, and dynamic range, that have now become an integral part of my vocabulary, eluded me. There are times I wish I could go back to that place, where ignorance was bliss, and the music was all that mattered.
When the iPod hit the market at the turn of the century, digitized music would take a significant leap backward in terms of sound quality. The simple explanation for this is compression. In order to fit an entire library onto a device that weighs well under a pound and fits in your pocket, it was necessary to significantly compress the digital music files. The standard protocol for an MP3 file size is 128kbit/s or roughly 1/11th the file size found on a CD, 16bit. This dramatic shift in file size completely alters the way consumers now listen to music. The aural affects of compression are not trivial, and in fact change the way we listen to music entirely. A strong parallel is the way broadcast television used to look before everything migrated to HD and the way it looks now on our beautifully sleek and low profile High Definition sets. Would you ever want to go back? In the music world, that’s precisely what we did when the overwhelming majority of the consumer market switched from using CD players to iPods.
The obvious answer is convenience. iPod’s are compact, contain your entire music library, and you can switch from track to track, or even album to album with just the touch of a button. People have compromised quality in the name of convenience. I would argue that convenience is overruled if you have to solve a pain point with creating more pain. And in this instance the grounds for dismissing convenience is predicated on selling people bad dope. The goods were in the CD, and the consumer should demand progress in technology, not the cleverly marketable and diluted form of music named MP3. The fact of the matter is even CDs are far from perfect with their modest 16bit/44.1kHz sample rate. Today, the gold standard in the digital world of formatting options is 24bit/192kHz. Studio masters may supersede this standard, however as end users we should only be concerned with what our D/A converters are capable of disseminating. On that note, all digitized music must go through the process of D/A conversion, or in long form, digital to analog conversion. Because we listen to music in analog waveforms, this conversion is a necessary process if we are to listen to digital music. Otherwise, we’d be stuck with the digits themselves, ones and zeroes.
Without getting into the process of how music is actually converted from numbers to an analog wave form, I will say that the way in which the process is executed will determine the quality of the output (better D/A converter = better sound). This brings us back to the argument against listening to MP3 quality music when superior CD quality is easily accessible. Taking a close look at the D/A conversion process, CD players in general, have better quality DACs than MP3 players such as an iPod, iPhone, Droid, etc. This means that you’re not only listening to a dumbed down version of the recording, but you’re also listening to a poorly converted version to boot. Unfortunately going back to the CD player, for those of us who have become accustomed to the ease and comfort of having our entire music library at our disposal (with immediacy), is not a tenable option.
Hope is not Lost! Computer Audio is the answer to the restrictive medium of listening to music offered by CD players. The beauty of computer-sourced audio is that there is no compromise in quality while maintaining the familiar database where your music library is stored, typically iTunes. Whether you’re on a Mac or a PC, both offer equal versatility in terms of sourcing your favorite tracks. From a practical standpoint, you’ll find yourself listening to a greater percentage of your music collection. And, the concern of scratching CDs or even worse, loosing them, is no longer relevant. In some instances there are advantages to listening to CDs on top-flight source components, however these instances are becoming increasingly ineffectual as more high-resolution music becomes available to the consumer market. Quasi studio master files are now being offered for direct download from websites such as HDtracks and Acousticsounds, among others. Downloading is as easy as selecting an album and clicking a button. The albums, or tracks if you choose to buy a´ la carte, can be uploaded into your iTunes library for easy cataloging. There is an increasingly large inventory of Classical, Jazz, R&B, etc., music available at the aforementioned websites. The benefit of downloading high-resolution tracks/albums is the ability to experience what the artist intended you to hear when they recorded the album.
The only product necessary to make your computer a fully-fledged high definition source component is a quality USB cable. I recommend and personally use Kimber Kable’s KS2436 Ag in HFDG’s reference system. Hand crafted in Utah to military grade specifications; KS2436 Ag annihilates the Chinese made competition that is unfortunately the industry standard at the moment. Let’s just say that diamonds and cubic zirconium are often times mistaken for one another… Everything from the geometry of the solid core silver conductors to the dielectric and sheathing of the KS2436 Ag USB are of the highest quality. Finished with Kimber Select’s signature wooden USB connector, the cable’s aesthetics are just as superior as its sonics over the competition.
When reproducing digital audio the D/A converter, as mentioned earlier, is arguably the most important component in the system. The reason is simple: we listen to music in analog, so the more faithful the reproduction of ones and zeros into an analog waveform is, the better our experience of listening will be.
The DAC chips, analog output stage, and power supply are the primary constituents insofar as qualitative analysis in reproduction is concerned as it relates to the conversion process. And no DAC gets the job done better than the EMM Labs DAC2x. Hailed for his expertise in digital audio, dating back to the inception of the medium itself, Ed Meitner has pioneered technology and revised industry standards to reach increasingly high levels of performance.
The DAC2x is a culmination of Mr. Meitner’s thirty plus years in the field and incorporates one of his most notable achievements, a technology he co-developed and arguably the most significant feature of the component: the ability to disseminate DSD. This function allows end users to experience a near replica of the studio master. There are many arguments for and against DSD, which I will leave for another article. Whether it’s 24bit/192kHz PCM (pulse-code modulation) or 1bit/2.8224MHz DSD (Direct Stream Digital), the quality of the recording is going to be the deciding factor between the two.
The DAC2x is particularly utilitarian in its design, however the machined aluminum chassis and distinctive isolation feet are nothing to overlook, lending to the component’s understated elegance. What’s under the hood is more salient for the purpose of this article. For the sake of brevity I highly recommend referring to Chris Connaker’s review on his forum, Computer Audiophile, for a detailed overview. I can personally attest that he is not alone in his emphatic description of the musical nature of the piece. The ultimate goal of a DAC is just that, to be musical! Overly analytic DACs tend to introduce significant coloration, consequently diverging from a musical sound producing hyper-focused images that detract from the foundation of a musical composition, coherency and harmony between instruments. If music is truly all that matters, then the faithful reproduction of the fundamental elements of a musical composition, accurately translated by the DAC2x, is sure to bring listeners countless hours of non-fatiguing and captivating aural pleasure.
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