• Bolder Cable Squeezebox Duet Modification Review

    Does your Logitech Squeezebox Duet go to eleven? Mine does! As some of you know I'm not a big fan of Squeezeboxes. I consider them a convenient mid-fi product that serves a purpose but doesn't sound very good. Recently I was contacted by the Bolder Cable Company about its modified Squeezebox Duet. After numerous hours and listening sessions I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the modified Duet versus the stock Duet. The Bolder Cable Company has managed to squeeze every ounce of performance out of the Squeezebox Duet.
     

    Squeezeboxes are not on my list of audiophile must-haves. Of course this is only one opinion. I'm sure Logitech has millions of happy customers who'd attemp to change my mind given the chance. But, as I always say, if it sounds good to you then it is good. Plus now you have a way to go from good to great.

    The Bolder Cable Company offers a number of modifications to the Squeezebox Duet and a very nice upgraded power supply that makes the stock PSU look like a toy. Along with a stock SB Duet Bolder sent me for comparison I received a unit with both the digital and analog modifications and the upgrded linear power supply. Customers can chose either one of the options or they can just get it all done by going with the Duet Full Mod. The Full Mod includes the following overhaul.


    "This mod replaces the reservoir power supply capacitor with one of higher quality. The output coupling capacitors are replaced by a blend of BlackGate and Sonicap Gen2 caps. Upgrades are available using Sonicap Platinum or V-caps. The output connectors are replaced with Cardas RCA with the option for WBT NextGen RCAs."

    "We also remove everything in the digital signal path and run a 75 ohm coax direct to a WBT NextGen RCA. The mods will improve the dynamics, lower background "noise" levels and extend both the low and high frequencies with more detail."



    The Linear power Supply upgrade looks like this:

    "We replace the noisy, switching power supply with a large, linear power supply. It is housed in the same case we use for out Ultimate PS. I uses a LARGE E-core power transformer. There is a total of over 60,000 uF of Nichicon Muse filter and reservoir capacitors used. Sonicap Gen2 and BlackGates are also involved. A discreet, full wave bridge is used to rectify the AC current. The power supply is fully regulated."


    Putting its best foot forward The Bolder Cable Company sent me a fully modded Duet with the Linear Power Supply upgrade. Going in to this review I was highly skeptical that Bolder Cable could really produce something from nothing very little. I connected the stock SB Duet and the Bolder Cable modified SB Duet to my system via coax digital out from the SB Duets into a Benchmark DAC1 PRE. Using my MacBook Pro music server I served nothing but uncompressed AIFFs to the two boxes. I did connect the modified Duet to a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC briefly to insure bit perfect digital output. It was nice to get visual confirmation, that the stream was bit perfect, by illuminating the HDCD indicator on the Alpha DAC whenever I played an HDCD track. Then it was back to reality and a more "normal" setup through the DAC1 PRE. After the first few listening sessons with the modded Duet I wasn't all that thrilled. I was only getting about a 5% improvement over the stock Duet at the time. I even sent an email to Jeff Dorgay the Publisher of TONE Audio Magazine to ask him if he had any experience with Squeezebox modifications. Before I received a reply the tide started to turn ever so slightly. I listened to some tracks that set the modified Duet apart from the stock Duet. Stanley Clarke's Bad Asses from his newest album The Toys of Men is a fabulous song loaded with bass solos. The modded Duet had slightly tighter bass than the stock Duet on this track. I followed Stanley Clarke with Steely Dan's "Decade" Ultimate Master Disc, ripped to uncompressed AIFFs. The highs on the stock Duet were far too harsh for listening any longer than necessary. The Bolder modified Duet really smoothed out the rough edges and made the album much more palatable. While certainly not a reference component by any means, the modified Duet did improve the sound of the Duet's digital output.

    What really set the Bolder Duet apart from the stock Duet was its analog performance. I must clarify this statement by noting the digital output through a good DAC is far better than the analog output. But the difference betwen the stock and modded Duet is less pronounced when listening via the digital outputs. Along with plenty of other albums, I punched up the same Stanley Clarke and Steely Dan tunes to playback through the internal DAC of both squeezeboxes. The difference between the two SB Duets certainly wasn't night & day, but I will say the the Bolder modifications and Linear Power Supply squeeze an extra 25% worth of sound quality from the Duet. The Bolder Duet's better performance is more evident in the highs and lows just as it was via the digital output. But, the difference in performance between the Duets is much more pronounced through the analog outputs.

    Current satisfied Duet owners will likely increase their satisfaction of the unit through a Bolder Cable modifcation. If you're not a big Squeezebox fan the modification certainly is not going to make you love the product or do wonders for your system. The stock Duet is a convient niche product with decent mid-fi sound. The Bolder Cable modifications take that sound up a notch or two by squeezing every ounce of performance possible from the device. Simply put, if you like the Duet now you'll like it even more with the Bolder mods. Infact the Duet with Bolder Cable Company modifications may rival the more expensive Logitech Transporter.

    Full details, pictures, and pricing available from the Bolder Cable Company website.
    Comments 18 Comments
    1. Gonzo1's Avatar
      Gonzo1 -
      The Squeezebox got me interested in using a computer as a source, so for that I'm grateful. The sound is very good for what it costs. However, I have a large number of various artist box sets that simply made the database impossible to use.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Thread thanks for the comments. I could have clarified this a little better in the review. This was not a review of the Squeezebox itself. It was just a review / comparison of the stock v. modded Squeezebox.<br />
      <br />
      The digital outputs sound better in the modded SB v. the stock SB. I agree 100% that the digital outputs blow away the analog outputs of the squeezebox. No matter what version we talk about. Where I saw the biggest difference between the stock v. modded SB was in the analog to analog comparison. The modded version pulled away and squeezed that extra performance out of the SB whereas the stock SB was very mid-fi im my opinion. <br />
      <br />
      Let me know if I explained this any better than in the review. I'm pretty sure we are on the same page, but my less than perfect verbiage got in the way :-)
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Gonzo - Thanks for your input on what the SB did for you. As I stated in the review, I'm sure Logitech has millions of happy customers. I hope it came across correctly when I said this product is as good as each individual thinks it is.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks for the comments!
    1. Gonzo1's Avatar
      Gonzo1 -
      I agree, the Squeezebox is a great product and for the money its a huge bargain. I also had one of the power supplies for the SB3 from Bolder and it too was fantastic.
    1. kana813's Avatar
      kana813 -
      IMO, the Bolder mods are way over priced, especially the linear PSU. <br />
      <br />
      Off the shelf linears are available for a lot less money. The Duet receiver only pulls .5 amps.<br />
      <br />
      The WBT NextGen RCA on the digtal output is waste of money. A true 75ohm BNC connector is the way to go.<br />
      <br />
      If anyone is interested in getting their Duet or SB3 upgraded, they should contact Pat at: <br />
      amplifiers@analogresearch-technology.net<br />
      <br />
      BTW- IMO, the Duet's stock digital output sounds much better than<br />
      SB3. Great product for money.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hey Kana - As usual you're not one to hold back your opinions :-)<br />
      <br />
      Thanks for the tip on another source for upgrades!
    1. cubbie5150's Avatar
      cubbie5150 -
      I in no way want to star a flame war, but Logitech software also leaves a lot to be desired (it's endemic to Logitech software in general, IME). I know it's merely anecdotal, but I have several friends who have had nothing but multiple problems w/ SqeezeCenter (or whatever it's called now). That's why for me it ultimately came down to Mac Mini vs. Sonos vs. Apple TV; I opted for ATV for many reasons, even though it isn't high up on the list for the vast majority of folks looking for a music server solution. For those who have had no issues w/ SB, congrats, and I'm happy you have a solution that works for you!!
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hey Cubbie - I agree 100%. The software is a huge issue for Logitech. I suppose if we didn't have anything to compare it to like iTunes, JRiver, MediaMonkey etc... then the SB software interface would be fabulous :-)
    1. carlseibert's Avatar
      carlseibert -
      Hi Gonzo and Chris, <br />
      <br />
      I've noticed that the metadata in the CDDB for various artists albums is all over the place. I haven't really made much of an effort to straighten out the mess. I just switch to folder browse and play what I want. Someday, I will try to normalize the metadata on these things. <br />
      <br />
      What was your various artists issue and how did you solve it? <br />
      <br />
      Chris - I'm a little surprised the DAC-1 saw much of an improvement when fed by the modified Duet, given that the DAC-1 is pretty jitter-resistant. On the other hand, I'm always up for a good mod. What exactly do they do to the digital section? The description on Boulder's website is a wee bit vague. <br />
      <br />
      -Carl
    1. Gonzo1's Avatar
      Gonzo1 -
      Carl: No real solvable problems, just when I entered about 20 discs of various artists I ended up with another 300 or so artist names. So scrolling became a bit of a hassle and the search is obviously clunky. I'm using a Macbook now instead with Toslink out to my DL III then McIntosh C500/MC252 and Sonus Faber Cremona Auditors. I really have no complaints with the Squeezebox though for what it is.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hey Carl - Considering just the digital output of the modded Duet the improvement was about 5% over the stock digital output. I think concentrating on jitter and jitter resistance too much can lead us down the wrong path. Yes, jitter is a critical factor, but many other things go into the sound of a component as I'm sure you are well aware. If we took two components with the same jitter specs, but totally different design I am sure they would sound very different. <br />
      <br />
      Also, the DAC1 is pretty good with jitter, but is not by any means jitter resistant. <br />
      <br />
      I don't really have much more information about the digital mod than is already provided. Sometimes I like to discuss the very technical aspects of a component, but for the most part it bores me :-) I suggest emailing Bolder about the mod. They are very nice to work with and should send back an answer fairly quick.
    1. carlseibert's Avatar
      carlseibert -
      Hi Gonzo, <br />
      <br />
      Yeah, that's one of the things I saw. Sometimes the Artist field for each song has the name of the artist. Sometimes it's "various artists", or a variation on that, and sometimes it's "Alligator Records Various Artists" or the like. <br />
      <br />
      I can't think of any more elegant solution that to pull up all my various artists albums into EZTag and start cutting and pasting. But what sort of scheme to do is the question. I could put the artist names in the Title field. Or I could prepend the Album Title with some string, or I could do the same thing in the Artist field. Maybe prepending Artist" with "various_" would do the trick. <br />
      <br />
      At least I was clever enough to put all the "various" in one folder, so it will be easy to work on them when I decide on something workable. I was not so clever with classical. Those albums are also a mess, with fields used differently on different albums. But they're scattered all over my collection. <br />
      <br />
      Maybe just having those categories in their own folders is really good enough. That allows browsing at least on the level of my physical record racks. I never really complained about the database schema when I was only thumbing through LPs. <br />
      <br />
      If anybody has a great way of dealing with this, I'd love to hear from you.... <br />
      <br />
      -Carl
    1. carlseibert's Avatar
      carlseibert -
      Hi Chris, <br />
      <br />
      If I start thinking in serious terms about having them do the mod, I'll drop them a line. I'd feel creepy about asking them about their mod and then deciding to do one myself. <br />
      <br />
      Did you compare the two different power supplies using the digital outs? I've wondered if there was something to be a gained on the digital side with a better power supply. (Obviously, improving the power supply will show benefits on the analog side, but as you've already rather vividly pointed out, this isn't high-end DAC, so unless somebody had a power supply already built and unused for anything else, I would think that worth the bother.) <br />
      <br />
      Or maybe I should just be upgrading and bypassing capacitors in my amp and headphone amp. There's probably more return per soldering iron burn there anyway. <br />
      <br />
      -Carl
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hey Carl - I didn't run a test with the same power supply connected to each unit while using the digital out. I considered the whole package modded v. stock. <br />
      <br />
      I think you have the right idea though.
    1. 1975DCS's Avatar
      1975DCS -
      Hi Chris,<br />
      <br />
      Just to be sure I've read this correctly: <br />
      Is the soundquality of the Bolder digital out worth the term "Audiophile" when connecting this to a DAC (providing you have a good DAC?), or is this also mid-fi?<br />
      <br />
      DaniŽl
    1. 1975DCS's Avatar
      1975DCS -
      Hi Kana,<br />
      <br />
      Your quote: "BTW- IMO, the Duet's stock digital output sounds much better than<br />
      SB3. Great product for money." could be worthy to me: before I thought the Duet was the cheaper (and therefore not so good), but maybe the newer design, a lesser DAC and bigger production numbers gives the Duet the benefit of the doubt... Funny enough Bolder only has one digital upgrade available for the Duet, while there are two for the Classic. And the one for Duet is cheapest also...<br />
      <br />
      DaniŽl<br />
    1. 1975DCS's Avatar
      1975DCS -
      Hi Chris,<br />
      <br />
      How can you tell if a DAC is jitter resistant? How could I find out how good (or average?) my Accuphase DAC-20 is?<br />
      <br />
      DaniŽl
    1. dointhefish's Avatar
      dointhefish -
      Hey Chris,<br />
      <br />
      I'm new to your site and I'm learning A TON about computer audio so thanks much for that.<br />
      <br />
      I've been using the SB3 digital out for a couple of years and as my system improves with upgrades I thought the SB3 was ready to be tossed. But one thing I did notice is that it seems to do music streaming from the Internet much better than from my computers. My various MP3, Apple Lossless and FLAC files never sounded that great through the SB3. Just when I was about to blame my network and give up on the SB3 I made 2 major upgrades with an Airport Express and an Audio Research DAC7. Serving through the AE was a total breakthrough, MUCH better than the SB3, eliminating the network as an issue. However the Internet streaming through the SB3 with the DAC7 was STUNNING! It now occurs to me that perhaps the Squeezebox is fine for uncompressed digital sources but once it's file format specific firmware kicks in the performance becomes, as you say, mid-fi. <br />
      <br />
      I'm in total agreement on their software BTW. It's RATHER lacking.<br />
      <br />
      Just my 2 cents.<br />
      B-well