Is it live, or is it Memorex? That was the big hi-fi question back in the 80s when cassette playback was on everyone’s mind. The next big audio question might become, is it wired, or is it wireless?
Today’s listening trend is a by-product of the ripping, storing and playback of music collections to and from a computer. At CES 2010 there were a number of companies joining the fray to make the transfer of those PC-based files—whether they’re in compressed form or more audiophile-friendly lossless encoded—to better listening environments.
One of those products is the AirStream WM-10 DAC (digital-to-analog converter) from Micromega, which as far as we can tell is the first of its kind to communicate wirelessly so it can tap into your wealth of iTunes and other computer-stored files. The sleek-looking, slick-playing machine ($1,595) does so via the 802.11x WiFi protocol to link wirelessly out of the box. The company even dubbed the wireless connection mode WHiFi to signify that you should be enjoying your music on a high-end setup, and you’ll get it in pristine condition at the speaker end.
I had the opportunity to tryout the transfer and playback during CES as John Bevier of Audio Plus Services, which distributes Micromega in the U.S., turned his iPhone into a an AirStream remote and plucked a selection of jazz (well, one was actually a sweet take on The Police’s Walking on the Moon), opera and classical cuts that had been ripped in Apple Lossless format to a nearby PC.
With the WM-10 (the bottom unit in the photo) combined with Micromega’s PW-400 class D amplifier and playback through a pair of $8K Focal Electra 1028 BE loudspeakers connected via Crystal Cable Piccolo wire, the wireless trick certainly revealed itself nicely. One would be hard-pressed to tell the difference—is it wired, or is it wireless? Music was warm, detailed and punchy.
Part of that trick is reducing the signal noise that you might otherwise have when connecting a computer source into a hi-fi system. The wireless aspect takes care of that. “Transmitting from a PC is quiet,” says Bevier. “You get absolutely no hiss on top of the music.”
One of the DAC’s edges over even CD playback is that it doesn’t need to incorporate error correction because the files are transferred bit-for-bit. The WM-10 also features a reclocking system to further reduce jitter.
And if you’ve downloaded some truly audiophile 24-bit/96 or 192-kHz files (better than CD’s 16/44.1 standard) you’ll be able to hear them in their full glory that you can’t through iTunes playback, for example. Yes, even audiophile-grade music is changing with the times.
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Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.