Okay, I admit defeat! Trying to get accurate prices in pounds sterling for imported, high-end goods in a time when that Pound has lost almost 20% of its value in recent weeks is 'interesting'! We normally contact manufacturers to confirm details in reviews as a matter of course. But this month in particular, when the Pound suffered its 'flash crash', it was more like a constant dialogue between distributor and page. 'E&OE' never had more resonance!
Fortunately, three of the most exciting products in our digital line-up this month have a distinct home-team advantage. And they work that advantage to the max, with products that sound astonishing or proved a level of digital flexibility that is hard to find elsewhere. What's surprising in this round-up of DACs in a way is how many of them now share the same updatable, reprogrammable architecture, something that would have been not unthinkable, but unimportant only a few years ago. A DAC was a ten year investment, and it only played digital files from spinning discs. Now, digital needs to keep pace with the changes from the internet, the idea of re-writable architecture has become all important, and companies like dCS and Chord are really taking advantage of what modern chip design can do.
I don't think we've exhausted the good quality off-the-shelf DAC in a custom board that typified digital audio design of a few years ago. But, we've had a taste of 'better' and there's no turning back. I suspect that in a few years from now, the concept of a good DAC is increasingly going to mean a good coder applying their know-how to a high-performance digital platform. In so many ways, I think this is a good thing, too. It's a sign of digital audio moving into its next phase of development, coping with the challenges raised by the Internet and downloadable and streamed music.
This new wave of extremely programmable DACs built around FPGA devices rather than dedicated audio ICs are only the beginning. The digital designer now has more tools in their arsenal than just the choice of LED colour on the front panel, and it's our hope that more companies rise to the challenge, even if the products cost £10,000. Make that £12,000...
Errors & Omissions Excepted, of course!
Our congratulations go out to Mark Kaufman, from Ohio, who wins a fantastic RIVA S Bluetooth active loudspeaker system, priced at £199! Well done!
Issue 142 (awards special) will be on sale: UK Dec 1, 2016 and within the USA on Jan 8, 2017.