I like digital audio—the small (yes, compressed ) files stored on my phone and various hard drives as well as the digital streaming services integrated into nearly every component in my home. You’ll never find me picking through bins on Record Store Day. I like the convenience, the small size, the unlimited access, all of it. I know my analog friends would like to pummel me with tonearm counterweights, but I believe we’re in a golden digital age for audio enthusiasts.
Yet, I’ll admit that sometimes there’s something lacking. I understand the science of digital music (I just usually ignore it), and agree that there are qualities lost when low-fidelity data flows though lesser-quality electronics, even if your loudspeakers are monuments.
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When my scrambled eggs are feeling a bland, I douse them with a little salt and pepper to bring the zing back to breakfast. AudioControl has a device to do similar magic to your digital music. It’s the Rialto 400.
The Rialto 400 is a smallish device that includes the two most important elements for spicing up digital music. The first is a quality Digital to Analog Converter, or DAC. In this case the DAC is a Wolfson audiophile-quality DAC, not the run-of-the-mill DAC that you find in cheap iPod speaker docks or low-end A/V receivers. After the audio signal passes through the DAC it hits the Rialto 400’s amps, which are no slouches. The system packs 100 watts per channel into 8 ohms or 200 watts into 4 ohms.
The size and shape of the unit is reminiscent of the Sonos Connect (it’s actually closer in size to the Sonos Connect Amp). That’s because AudioControl had Sonos in mind when designing the product. As cool as the Sonos system is, some users complain about the lack of power, so the Rialto 400 offers a nice option for people who want all the streaming ease of the Sonos but need more muscle behind it. It offers almost twice the wattage of the Sonos Connect Amp, and much higher-quality connections (such as the 5-way binding posts).
On the back you get both optical and coax digital audio inputs, plus analog inputs (RCA ports), a subwoofer out, gain control, AccuBass control, a priority switch for analog or digital inputs (it has auto sensing), a 12V trigger for a control system (nice) and a set of robust-looking speaker binding posts.
Of course you don’t have to hook it up to a Sonos system. If your smart TV has Pandora and a USB jack for media files, that will work perfectly too, as will an Apple TV, Roku or, in my case for this review, a Voco V-Zone music streamer.
I connected the Voco via the optical audio input, and hooked the Rialto to a pair of Sunfire CRM2 speakers. The Rialto doesn’t have any remote for controlling volume (there’s a control to adjust the gain on the back of the unit, but once you adjust it, you leave it alone), so you need to use your source’s volume control. Streaming devices, such as my Voco or a Sonos Connect, which use an app to control volume anyway, are perfect matches for this setup.
Also attached, via a USB input on the Voco, was an external hard drive I’d filled with music files. It would be especially nice if the Rialto itself had a USB input for connected hard drives, flash drives or smart phones, but it doesn’t.
On the Voco I navigated to a TuneIn internet radio jazz station and listened to Slam Stewart’s “I’m Just Wild About Harry” which has some wonderfully, deep, gravelly moments, all of which came through with depth and detail I hadn’t expected from this little amplifier. The system uses something AudioControl calls AccuBass, which is designed to put back in some of the bass information that digital files lack, and it seems to work wonderfully. The Rialto has a subwoofer pass-through output if your speakers aren’t capable of enough bass.
My own digital files also sounded very good, surprisingly good. Alt-Rock music like Alkaline Trio, played at high volume, held together, sounding crisp all the way, while more delicate music like James Leary’s “Little Birds” maintained all its finesse and subtlety.
For what it does, the AudioControl Rialto 400 isn’t cheap. At $799 you could get a whole home theater receiver, but it wouldn’t sound like this. What I love about it is that it’s small, powerful and when connected to a digital music streamer like a Sonos Connect or Voco V-Zone, plus a hard drive full of music, and some nice speakers, you have a complete music system that hardly takes up any room.
AudioControl Rialto 400
• High power amplifier 100 watts per channel into 8 ohms
- Stable into 4 ohms (200 watts per channel) and bridgeable
• Multiple inputs for Digital and Analog sources with Input Priority switching
• Wolfson Digital-To-Analog converters
• Ideal for interfacing with Sonos, and video displays with variable digital or analog outputs
• AccuBASS optimizes bass response from compressed music
• Subwoofer/pass through outputs provides system design flexibility
• 5-way binding post speaker outputs
• From headphone jack