ESI Juli@ Soundcard
This modestly priced soundcard was the clear winner of our eight-way soundcard shootout in Issue 209. The oddly named Juli@ features a reversible plugin board that is fitted with RCA jacks on one side and balanced TRS jacks on the other. The Juli@ illuminated the music with unprecedented clarity, focus, and resolution. Complex timbres were rendered effortlessly, with an unsurpassed ability to convey the dynamic and harmonic growth and decay of each note over time.
Logitech Squeezebox Touch
If you haven’t dipped your toes into wireless and computer audio, the Logitech Squeezebox Touch would be an excellent craft for your maiden voyage. For less than the cost of a one-meter pair of interconnects, you can enjoy your digital music files, even 24/96 files, anywhere in your home. Let’s face it: Early adopters aren’t usually thought of as thrifty types, but, considering its price and capabilities, a Squeezebox Touch may be one of the most cost-effective buys they’ll ever make.
Logitech Squeezebox Duet
The Duet is the radio king. Through it you can listen to almost any FM radio station in the world. Its full-color remote can leap through tall buildings with a single bound and it even doubles as a nice digital clock. The sound quality and ergonomics of the Logitech Squeezebox Duet make it worthy of installation in even the most exalted high-end system. It also doesn’t hurt that it is ridiculously inexpensive.
Slim Devices Transporter
The Transporter is a versatile product whose flexibility may be its best and worst trait. It can be used as a music server, DAC, or stand-alone digital preamp, so many users employ it in all three ways, preventing it from sounding its best. If you are thinking of buying any $2000+ DAC, you absolutely must consider it. It’s simply that good.
Music Vault II
MusicVault II 500, $1485; MusicVault II, $1725; MusicVault II, 1500, $1920; MusicVault II 2000, $2265
If you peruse the Internet you will discover that NAS hard drives can be had for as little as $100. If you buy the right one and have the skills, you can conceivably cobble together a device that has nearly all the capabilities of a Music Vault II. But your home-brew unit will not have the same customer service and ergonomics as the Music Vault II.
Bryston BDP-1 Digital Player
The astonishing new BDP-1 Digital Player is a technological tour de force that bridges generational divides: between the Old World CD player and the New World of highresolution files and musiclibrary management. The BDP-1 performs the same function as a CD transport, but plays data files from removable USB storage media at their native resolution and in a multiplicity of file formats. As with dedicated CD transports, the BDP-1 offers only digital output, in both S/PDIF and AES/EBU formats, for connection to an external DAC. The Bryston BDP-1 doesn’t merely “sound better,” the experience of hearing music through it is qualitatively different. It plays music with unprecedented purity.