It’s the same story with instrumental timbres. Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band’s 2008 Act Your Age CD has a trumpet feature called “Backrow Politics.” In the middle section of that chart, each of the big band’s four trumpet players takes a solo, employing different styles—reggae, New Orleans second line, etc. With the Baetis SPDIF option, it’s easiest to discern the differences in the tone the four musicians produced: You can tell them apart even when, at the end of the section, they all improvise simultaneously.
Pianos provide a special challenge for recording engineers to capture just the right balance of percussiveness and resonance, to deliver the grandeur of a performance on a concert grand without slighting its lyrical aspect. The short and brutal second movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 2, as performed by Matti Raekallio on the Ondine label, has long been a reference track of mine. The USB to HDMI to SPDIF journey provided an increasing sense of the piano’s body and mass without any loss of focus. Baetis’ BNC, uniquely, gave a powerful sense of a human presence behind the sound emanating from the speakers. Differences in touch with individual notes in rapid marcato passages were more apparent.
The Revolution II’s performance with high-resolution multichannel material was a pleasant surprise, as John Mingo makes no extraordinary claims for his HDMI outputs and, of course, SPDIF can’t handle HD multichannel formats. With FLAC-encoded surround-sound recordings, the Revolution II was superior to my usual method of playing such files, which is off an external hard drive into my Oppo 93 and then on to the Anthem for D-to-A conversion. A good example was the 2L Souvenir program, music for string orchestra by Tchaikovsky and Nielsen performed by the Trondheim Soloists. The Norwegian label is known for its immersive surround-sound approach that puts a listener in the middle of the action. With the Oppo delivering the data to the processor, the experience, while thoroughly involving, could become a bit exhausting. When the Baetis took over that job, the listening experience was more reminiscent of that time in my life when I actually played in orchestras. It felt more participatory. More typically engineered multichannel material, especially DSD-sourced programs downloaded from Channel Classics or ripped from my own SACDs, manifested a relaxed spaciousness and dimensionality.
Although I do watch plenty of opera, concerts, and the occasional feature film on the 58" Panasonic plasma monitor resident in my listening room, music-without-pictures is my priority. But I can report that video quality with ripped Blu-rays—ranging from Sade to Shostakovich—was unassailable. Still, videophiles of the highest order, especially those with very large screens, should investigate the $5000 Baetis XR2, which sports Intel’s fourth-generation HD graphics engine and Core i7 processor.
The Revolution II, playing stereo HD files off an external hard drive via its BNC SPDIF output, produces the best digital sound I have ever heard in my system. How does Baetis sell this unit for three grand? There are a number of explanations, I think. You’re not paying for a DAC, and the Revolution II’s enclosure is an attractive but modest sandblasted aluminum case—black or silver, same price—favored by the DIY crowd. Of obvious importance is that Baetis isn’t taking on any new dealers. The plan is, as much as possible, to sell directly to consumers, which results in a substantially lower sticker price. (You will not, of course, pay any more if you do happen to live near one of the few dealers now carrying the Baetis line.) Mostly, John Mingo is not making customers foot the bill for his painstaking R&D, for the empiricism he finds essential to developing the finest audio computers he can make.
What’s a “Baetis” anyway? I should have known: It’s a fly-fishing reference. Baetis is a genus of mayfly, a bug popular with the trout that live in cold-water rivers in the United States. The Baetis is a “multi-brood” insect, meaning that there are several hatches per year, and each time the organism looks completely different. Says John Mingo on the company’s Web site: “This is what a Baetis computer is all about. It is a machine that will perform very different functions for different owners at differing times of the day or in different places.” After snapping a photo, a fly fisherman might return a 20-inch rainbow trout to the stream he or she caught it in. Baetis has a 90-day money-back trial period: If you purchase one of their media computers and don’t like it, send it back to Livingston. But I very strongly doubt that John Mingo will be seeing much in the way of “catch and release.”
SPECS & PRICING
Inputs/Outputs: One proprietary BNC SPDIF, one TosLink, two HDMI, eight USB (4 3.0 and 4 2.0)
Connectivity: Two Ethernet; DVI video; antennae connections for standard Wi-Fi
Dimensions: 9.5" x 4.25" x 10"
Price: $2995 (black or silver); Neutrik PowerCON DC connectors, add $200; 256G SSD , $250
428 Canyon Creek Road
Livingston, Montana 59047