Digital Sources – A Baker’s Dozen from Munich High End 2016

Disc players,
Digital-to-analog converters,
Music servers and computer audio,
USB interfaces, clocks, and soundcards,
Digital Sources – A Baker’s Dozen from Munich High End 2016

The Munich High End show is massive and my assignment(s) this year involved several key product categories, one of which was digital source components. Since I visited nearly 110 different manufacturers over the course of the show, a brand-by-brand report was out of the question (it would have been about the size of a phone book for a small town!). 

So, as an alternative, Hi-Fi+ Editor Alan Sircom and I hatched a plan whereby we would each report on a ‘baker’s dozen’ of key components in each category that particularly caught our eyes and/or ears.

What follows are my descriptions of thirteen noteworthy digital sources seen in Munich. Please note that my selections in no way reflect any lack of merit in the many components I’ve left off this list. Rather, the list is in a sense a concession to space and time constraints and gives some indication of the sheer richness and inventiveness of our industry.

AURALiC ALTAIR wireless streaming DAC/preamp

In the past, AURALiC has received critical acclaim for its VEGA digital audio processor (DAC) and for its ARIES and ARIES MINI wireless streaming bridges, but for Munich the firm introduced a new class of product called the ALTAIR that combines elements of all three of these illustrious predecessors.

The ALTAIR is a wireless streaming DAC/preamp that features TIDAL, Qobuz, AirPlay, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi compatibility and is based on the latest version of the firm’s Lightning DS firmware, which provides a Multi-Zone mode, memory playback features, and MQA integration, complete with a proven app for iPad controls.

The ALTAIR, which will sell for USD$1,900 or €2,000 does not replace the VEGA or ARIES, Which remain AURALiC’s flagship models, but rather is targeted toward audiophiles seeking “efficient audio” that offers extreme versatility and a taste of top-tier performance at a very cost-effective price.

Ayre QX-5 Twenty streaming DAC

Ayre’s new QX-5 Twenty is a very high performance, Roon-ready, network-capable streaming DAC, but perhaps a more accurate way to view the component would be to consider it as a versatile, multi-input digital hub. The QX-5 Twenty not only features Ethernet connectivity, but also a Streamlength asynchronous USB inputs, three forms of S/PDIF connectivity, and connections for NAS devices and thumb drives.

On the ‘push-the-performance-envelope’ sides of the equations, the QX-5 Twenty is the first component on the market to use ESS’ new ES9038PRO DAC and it also incorporates an ultra-high performance crystal oscillator developed by Morion (a firm whose crystal oscillators have found use in such applications as guidance for the International Space Station). The QX-5 Twenty will be priced at USD$8,950 or €9,980.

Brinkmann Nyquist DAC

Some of the best digital sounds at the show came from an analogue brand. Brinkmann’s first recent foray into digital audio – the modular, MQA, DXD, and DSD128 compatible, Roon-ready, and fully upgradable Nyqvist – is expected to launch in stores at the end of this year, at an expected retail price of €12,000. This is not the first DAC from Brinkmann - that honour goes to the company’s Zenith converter - but it is the first converter launched the turntable-oriented company since 1986.

CAD GC1 Ground Control

Most Hi-Fi+ readers think of CAD as a firm that makes highly desirable DACs and purpose-built computers-on-steroids-like disc transports, but Munich the firm took a new approach toward improving digital performance in the form of its GC1 and GC3 Ground Control noise reduction devices. The sonic result, says creator Scott Barry, is more dramatic than you might think, because—as always—less noise equates to more perceived resolution and more music. The GC1 will sell for £1,400 with the GC3 (which is roughly equivalent to three GC1’s) will sell for £3,300.

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