Hi-Fi+ Awards 2016: Digital Audio

Disc players,
Digital-to-analog converters,
Music servers and computer audio
dCS Vivaldi Version 2.0,
Hegel Music Systems Mohican,
Innuos ZENith Mk II,
Linn Klimax DS

Network Player of the Year

dCS Vivaldi ‘Version 2.0’

We are no strangers to the dCS Vivaldi four-box system, comprising CD/SACD transport, upsampler/streamer, clock, and DAC. We’ve been impressed by it since it first arrived in 2012. But recently, the upgradable architecture received its first main face-lift in its ‘Version 2’ firmware (and a streaming board replacement for the upsampler). With TIDAL and Roon end-point upgrades and more enhanced app control, Version 2 makes controlling the system better than ever, but the real changes are in the sound quality. Compared to the original Vivaldi, Chris Thomas felt the upgraded system, “offers greater instrumental separation, more dynamic independence, and a much more attractive picture of the music in the sense that the soundstage itself seems to have grown; in scale and three dimensional space, plus tauter bass, and a more extended and comfortable high frequency performance.”

Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 141

Server of the Year

Innuos ZENith MkII

Innuos has made a name for itself in a surprisingly short time, with the range of ripping music servers first appearing in 2014. Originally intended for the custom install market, the Zen range of music servers quickly found their way into the homes of people wanting high performance music servers without having to compromise and build something from off-the-shelf parts. The ZENith Mk II is the top model in Innuos’ three-strong server range, and features a linear power supply (rare in computer-side products, but good for sound quality), built-in ripping capabilities, and an architecture built around the robust, much lamented, and still widely supported Squeezebox platform. In listening, Jason Kennedy was deeply impressed, stating that, “This revealed that the ZENith delivers a highly coherent, vibrant, and engaging sound that hangs together very well indeed. It delivers instrument timbre, reverb, and more importantly does so in such a fashion that it sounds like musicians playing together. This is not something that streaming systems do as a matter of course.”

Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 139

Disc Player of the Year

Hegel Mohican CD player

Of all the product categories in audio, one might be forgiven for assuming that the good old-fashioned 16-bit, 44.1kHz CD player had all but disappeared. After all, who is going to be interested in a player that has no capacity for processing 24-bit, 192kHz or DSD128 files, has no digital inputs, and steadfastly eschews upsampling or any other concession to post-1980s digital audio technology? They’d have to be mad, right?

Well, Hegel clearly embraces audio’s mad side with its Mohican CD player. Faced with ‘end-of-life’ cancellations of key components in its existing CD players, Hegel chose not to simply walk away from the spinning disc, instead choosing to make the best CD-only player it’s possible to build at this time, using the last, best hope in CD mechanisms coupled to a digital circuit derived from Hegel’s own top-notch HD30 DAC, the Mohican might just be the last CD player the company ever makes, but it’s also by far its best.

In our test, Alan Sircom felt that “There is a depth and projection to the sound of CD through the Hegel Mohican that struggles to make it past the output stages of most players.” He added that, “The Mohican also treads that thin line between being controlled and controlling, giving music played through the CD a natural sense of order, not imposed order,” and showing, “just how much it challenges the need for high-resolution audio.”

For those still convinced there is lots more entertainment to be extracted out of the spinning silver disc, Hegel’s last of the Mohicans is the best thing that happened in 2016. Is this the start of the Compact Disc revival?

Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 139

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