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World mail March 2013 issue
Letters are published first in the magazine, then here in our web archive. We cannot guarantee to answer all mail, but we do manage most!
Or comment in the Comment section at the bottom of each page.
Your experts are -
The Naim NAC-N 172XS we reviewed in our February issue plays high
resolution audio files from a memory stick, to give superb digital sound
quality, better than CD – and it is easy enough to understand if you are
a digit-phobe like Dave Mayer.
I read Noel Keywood’s opinion piece in December’s issue and something suddenly happened ... a cloud of despair and despondency descended over me. I realised after enjoying, buying, messing about with and generally loving hI -fi for 30 years that things had moved on ... not just moved on but actually dramatically changed over the past few years. By this I refer to the ‘download/streaming/tablet/computer' based direction that things have moved towards.
Here for me – and I’m sure thousands, possibly millions of others – lies the problem. I simply do not understand it!!! Over the past thirty years since I left school and started earning money I’ve read the mags, visited the hi-fi shows and built and upgraded to a pretty good system of separates that I’m proud of and absolutely love listening to. The most recent purchase was some Kimber Powerkords, so for me I’m just at the tweaking stages. Just as I head towards the finishing line, I look up and realise maybe I’m running in the wrong direction?
In the same issue was a letter (‘Library’, page37 from Brian) regarding MP3 downloads/USB sticks that I also found myself scratching my head at ... what is going on?
I don’t have a clue what this huge, growing and quite clearly current sector of the market is all about, how it works, the basics of the whole damn thing. Obviously, I blame myself for maybe taking a bit of an ostrich approach (head in the sand) over the years and focussing my reading etc on those reviews, articles that interested me, or were relevant to what I was looking for at the time. I have a PC in an upstairs home office, hI-fI is downstairs in the lounge, don’t own an IPhone or download music. I still buy CDs, funnily enough...am I prehistoric or what!! So what can I do in terms of linking computer audio to traditional hi-fi...and for goodness sake where do I start?
My best friend recently mentioned that he was going to buy his first decent high end hI-fI to go with his Linn Keilidh speakers. He asked me what I thought about the Naim Uniti, Linn something or other and Cyrus streamer amongst others. He may as well of been from the Planet Zog, as I hadn’t got a clue what he was on about in terms of performance, facilities, compatibility etc.
So can I plead with you as a decent hi-fi mag to put together a ‘beginners guide’ article – feature to the whole streaming/download business. How it works, what to buy, what does what, what you need, how much do you need to spend to get something decent, performance vs separates playing CD or vinyl, what download formats mean, high res, 24/192,USB, ripping, up-sampling 24/96. See what I mean?
Please help me and doubtless loads of other hI-fI enthusiasts get at least a little bit more up to speed and re-join the right race!!!
I understand where you are coming from Dave and we are discussing such a feature right now. Unfortunately, it is truly a complicated subject. Although digital is 'perfect' in theory, in real life many products are far from perfect. There is a divide between the lacklustre sound of budget portable audio, nowadays an iPod playing music (128kbps AAC) downloaded from iTunes, through headphones, and what can be achieved by improving file quality and channeling the result through a decent hi-fi, such as you likely own already.
You can read about this again further on, where Sonos say clearly CD quality is good enough for them (as it is for Samsung, Sony, Apple et al with their tablets) and what is taking place elsewhere – see our Astell&Kern AK100 review.
If you have a computer upstairs you can buy and download files from HDtracks, load them onto a memory stick (I use LaCie Whizkeys) and play them from any media player from Cambridge Audio (e.g. StreamMagic 6), Naim (NAC-N 172XS) and a host of others.
La Cie Whizkey high speed memory with aluminium screening and no
LED, lowering current draw.
Note I say nothing about ethernet, wi-fi, Bluetooth and all that (comms systems), nor about Macs, music players like Audirvana, file convertors like XLD, or any other menu adorned software headache. I don't mention internet radio either. Nor do I mention Spotify or iTunes. You can usefully keep away from all this as a newbie and are better off for doing so. Download high definition files and play them through high definition audio players.
The benefit is stunning audio quality through the hi-fi system you own and use today. No ethernet cables, no router menus, no DNLA menus, no pairing and no stuttering. No MP3 either! Just lovely sound quality, better than CD.
The drawback is cost. High definition album downloads cost as much as quality vinyl, or Blu-ray. The hardware is expensive too: up to £2k or so for a decent media player. But this is a one-off expense that, if you ensure 24/192 capability, should last many years.
I hope this gets you off to a flying start without suffering a severe headache on the way! More lurid digital detail will coming your way soon from our pages! NK
Cambridge StreamMagic 6 plays high resolution digital music files
from a memory stick.