Messenger's Masterpieces

What's the best products Paul Messenger has used recently?

Messenger's Masterpieces

I might be well stuck in the past myself, but I am not entirely unaware of the devices that today’s youthful consumers use for music listening. The £70 Frankenspiel FS-1 is just such a device. It’s incredibly tiny, looks very cute, comes with rechargeable battery amplification (via USB), and operates wirelessly via Bluetooth. Best of all, a pair only cost £140 (and will automatically operate as a stereo pair!).

Assuming your Bluetooth is up to it (my MacBook Pro lap-top is a real problem here, but the Apple iPad tablet works very well), these little speakers incorporate some very clever BMR (balanced mode radiator) drive units that deliver a fine tonal balance alongside decent off-axis dispersion.

Such a small loudspeaker is bound to have serious bass limitations, and a measured rolloff of 10dB per decade below 200Hz seemed to tie in pretty well with their perceived sonic behaviour. In other words, the bass is severely restricted, but the importance of this will always depend on the material being played: bass-heavy stuff is severely compromised, of course, but speech sounds very good indeed. They will certainly go loud enough, though I did find the means of controlling them a trifle unpredictable, and I reckon taming them will take a bit more practice.

The pocket Bluetooth speaker system has become something of a minor revolution in very low cost home audio. The Frankenspiel goes some way to explain why, even to a curmudgeonly old audiophile.

I normally run a conventional and largely analogue hi-fi system, but I am increasingly finding it necessary to accommodate various digital sources, such as the computer, the hard drive, and the TV display. Many alternative strategies can be adopted to deal with this situation. One can of course use a different DAC for each source, but that tends to mean using up too many analogue inputs. Nearly all CD players incorporate a DAC, but only the more recent examples provide the socketry and switching to provide external access to it.

What one really needs is a digital pre-amplifier, which is where Arcam’s £400 irDAC comes into its own. It has plenty of digital inputs, including USB, and S/PDIF on electrical or optical, a remote handset to select between them, plus a stereo analogue output pair. If the feature roster sounds just right, the good news is that the sound quality is pretty good too. It is of course possible to spend much more on a DAC, but this little Arcam device does a very decent job in sound quality terms, as well as only needing to use one input on the main analogue pre-amp. The only bad news seems to be that it uses a switch-mode plug-top power supply, though this didn’t seem to cause any interference with my main system.

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