• Sonic Studio's Amarra, Bel Canto's USB Link and More

    I think it's time to catch up a little bit on what's happening here at Computer Audiophile. Everyday I'm on the phone and emailing several people around the world about high-end computer based audio. Some of the discussions have to remain private until an official press release but the other stuff I'm going to start sharing with everyone when appropriate. Much more to come in this area. This week I received the Sonic Studio 304 / Amarra system (see photo) and picked up the Bel Canto USB Link (see photos) at Bel Canto headquarters in Minneapolis, MN. I also setup my fabulous sounding and cheap music server that I'll be sharing with everyone very soon. I've had the formula in my head for a while, but I wanted to listen to the system a bit more before I told the world that it works excellent. Also in the Computer Audiophile news, CA's first birthday, Apple's Remote application 1.1.1 update, and some equipment reviews waiting to be published.
     

     

    Let's start off with Sonic Studio's Amarra and the Model 304 FireWire interface. This hardware & software solution is still in beta and does not have the look of the final production version, but I want to give everyone a tiny glimpse into this application and the associated hardware. This solution was used by VRS Audio Solutions at RMAF and has been used by a beta test site in Northern California. Computer Audiophile can now be added to that short list and the Computer Audiophile readers have a view at what's to come from Sonic Studio. Here are some photos of this solution.


     

     




    Sonic Studio Amarra Model 304
    Pre-release slimmed-down version of Amarra software interface.


     

     


    Sonic Studio Amarra Model 304
    Sonic Studio Model 304 Pre-release version


     

     


    Sonic Studio Amarra Model 304
    Sonic Studio Model 304 Pre-release version


     

     

     



    Friday, November 14th I took a trip over to Bel Canto Design and had lunch with John Stronczer the Founder and Chief of Design for Bel Canto. I saw plenty of very nice Bel Canto components being built in this somewhat small facility. There is a pretty neat atmosphere at Bel Canto. It's definitely not one of those large production line facilities. The components are built by a small group of talented people that obviously take pride in their work. The facility is in an old building in Minneapolis with a great loft look to it. The floors are all wood, even in the production area, and the ceilings are very tall. In a way it reminded me of the movie Big with Tom Hanks. Anyway, very cool place and people. I spent some time listening to components in various states of design. My lips are sealed for now, but I will say you can expect big things from Bel Canto in the future. Before I left I picked up the new USB Link from Bel Canto. For those unfamiliar with this component it's a full 24/96 USB to S/PDIF (coax) converter. The unit handles native 24/96 via USB without drivers and works with Windows and Mac OS X. I haven't tested the device on my Linux computer just yet. So far so good in terms of sound quality. The USB Link passes the data bit perfect to your DAC of choice. Of course Bel Canto would prefer everyone use its DAC3 or other integrated amps with built in DAC, but the USB Link works equally as well with any DAC. This component is a really great way to get into the high resolution game via USB output. As usual many more details of the USB Link will follow and a full review should be cued up fairly soon. For now here are some photos of a pre-production version of the USB Link. I believe the product will be 99% the same as this with minor changes to the screws so they are more aesthetically pleasing.

     

     




    Bel Canto Design USB Link
    Pre-release version of the Bel Canto Design USB Link 24/96 USB converter.


     

     


    Bel Canto Design USB Link
    Pre-release version of the Bel Canto Design USB Link 24/96 USB converter.


     

     


    Bel Canto Design USB Link
    Pre-release version of the Bel Canto Design USB Link 24/96 USB converter.


     

     



    Bel Canto Design USB Link
    Pre-release version of the Bel Canto Design USB Link 24/96 USB converter.


     

     

     



    Other quick notes:

    Thursday, November 20th 2008 will be Computer Audiophile's first birthday! More to come on this one.

    Apple's Remote application for the iPhone and iPod Touch has been updated to version 1.1.1. This update is supposed to clear up the problems displaying album art while playing music from an Apple TV. I know some CA readers have written about this issue in the forums. Please let us know if this update resolves the problem.

    My over much hyped cheap, but awesome sounding music server has been fully tested and is ready to be unveiled to the CA readers. The system is composed of widely available components and is really not a secret system. I am just so excited that the performance is spectacular and the price is even better. Full details to come shortly.


    Some equipment currently at Computer Audiophile at one stage or another in the review process: April Music Aura Note, Cambridge Audio DacMagic, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC, Focal Electra 1007 Be speakers, T+A Music Player and Power Plant (currently en route), Bel Canto 300 series integrated amp (coming soon), and quite a few others in the works. Let me know what you guys would like to see reviewed here at Computer Audiophile.

     

     

    That's it for tonight. Back to listening to the new Tracy Chapman through the Sonic Studio Model 304 / Amarra solution.

     


     
    Comments 38 Comments
    1. jeroen020's Avatar
      jeroen020 -
      Hi Chris, <br />
      <br />
      Thank you for the update. Exciting stuff you are working on. I just can't wait for the coming reviews, and the specifactions of your "budget musicserver."<br />
      <br />
      I bet PS Audio is on your target list, but I am really curious about the PWT and the Ultralink. Looking at their site only the Ultralink wil have the so called bridge (network interface). That would be a pity since the PWT could be both a perfect player & musicserver (connected to a NAS) and then connected to an external DAC. Correct ?<br />
      <br />
      Kind regards, <br />
      <br />
      Jeroen<br />
      <br />
    1. chilest's Avatar
      chilest -
      Chris, it sounds like this will allow me to run 24/96 from my MacBook Pro into the Bryston external DAC via the USB output on the Mac and to the S/PDIF (coax) input on the Bryston, thus over coming the 16/44.1 limit of the USB input on the Bryston? <br />
      tom
    1. catastrofe's Avatar
      catastrofe -
      Jeroen, I may be wrong but I believe the PS Bridge will also be available as a stand-alone unit for those that want to use the PWT with a different DAC. <br />
      <br />
      Chris, I would also like to see more DAC reviews. Not all of them have USB input, but with the Bel Canto USB Link becomming available I wouldn't want to exclude them from consideration. Here's a list that should keep you busy for awhile:<br />
      <br />
      PS Audio Ultralink (maybe you could get a Beta unit)<br />
      UltraFi<br />
      Van Alstine Ultra DAC<br />
      Audio Horizons TD 3.0<br />
      Audio Zone DAC1<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      Thanks,<br />
      <br />
      Bob
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Tom - Exactly!
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Jeroen - The new PS Audio products are very interesting for computer audiophiles. I certainly will be working with PS to get something in here as soon as I can. Since the final production versions of each compnent are not complete I really hate to guess about capabilities and features.
    1. chilest's Avatar
      chilest -
      Chris, <br />
      Just a note to say thanks for a great resource in computer audiophile. While we can debate forever the strengths and weaknesses of equipment reviews, an additional and, I believe, unique "service" that your web site provides is keeping all of us updated on software and equipment that is in the pipeline and/or soon to be released. This helps me in making purchasing decisions. Case in point, your recent update on the Bel Canto USB converter. Like many items you post, I actually had no idea that such a device was in the works, which could support 24/96 files via USB. This will provide users of MacBook Pro computers like myself an alternative to the Toslink connection for sending 24/96 files to an external DAC deviod of a USB input (or containing a USB input that does not support 24/96, like the new Bryston DAC).<br />
      <br />
      Thanks again.<br />
      <br />
      Good luck with year two<br />
      tom
    1. kent's Avatar
      kent -
      Chris,<br />
      <br />
      Your website is very helpful to my computer audio journey. It provided with one-stop resource center which save me from visiting multiple website and cutting down major leg works. I thank you for that!<br />
      <br />
      On the other hand, I am dying to read your review of the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha Dac especially comparing it to the Weiss Minerva. I am having a hard time deciding which one of these top notch dac to go with. I understand you prefer Berkeley, but I would like to know more about its characteristic. Does it work better in the Full tube warm sounding system or a extremely neatral solid state system.....etc.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks<br />
      Kent
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Tom & Kent - Thank you very much for the kind words and appreciation of what's going on around here and the work that goes into this site.<br />
      <br />
      Kent - I somewhat agree with you. I'm dying to review my Alpha DAC! It will be the easiest review I've ever done because I listen to the DAC every day. I just need to put my fingers to the keyboard. One other thing that delays the review is the fact that I have other equipment that needs to go back to the manufacturer. Whereas my Alpha DAC is mine and here for good. I can always put off the Alpha DAC review knowing it will be sitting here in my system for the foreseeable future. Anyway, thanks for the little nudge on the Alpha DAC review. Feedback noted and priorities changed :-)<br />
      <br />
      Plus, I have to beat Robert Harley's upcoming review in the Jan issue of TAS. The Dec issue alluded to his use of the DAC for 24/176.4 content, and a review of the unit.
    1. kent's Avatar
      kent -
      Chris,<br />
      <br />
      Do you have any pricing information on the Bel Canto?<br />
      <br />
      Thanks<br />
      Kent<br />
      <br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Kent - I believe the price will be around ~$500.
    1. weiss2496's Avatar
      weiss2496 -
      Funny you mention the new CD of Tracy Chapman, Chris. Hope you like it. <br />
      Tracy Chapman has been recorded for that CD by famous Engineer Helik Hadar with the help of our ADC2 A/D Converter.<br />
      (Helik Hadar also recorded "River: The Joni Letters" by Herbie Hancock, with our ADC2 unit at Avatar Studios New York, and received two Grammys for Best Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Jazz Album).<br />
      <br />
      Daniel<br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Very cool Daniel!
    1. joeinid's Avatar
      joeinid -
      Hi Daniel, Hi Chris,<br />
      <br />
      I am trying to find out the price and availability of this unit (Weiss Engineering VESTA Firewire AES/EBU interface). Any pricing yet? Great site Chris, keep up the good work. Thanks.<br />
      <br />
      Joe<br />
      <br />
    1. weiss2496's Avatar
      weiss2496 -
      Hi Joe<br />
      <br />
      The Vesta is available. Where are you based?<br />
      <br />
      A list of our distributors can be found here:<br />
      http://www.weiss-highend.ch/representatives.html<br />
      <br />
      Suggested retail price is about US$ 3600<br />
      <br />
      Daniel<br />
    1. 6sigma's Avatar
      6sigma -
      ...is of great interest. It's really difficult to sort through various forum discussions (AudioAsylum, Audiogon, Stereophile, etc.) to determine which PC subsystem among many (sound cards, power supplies, memory, CD drives, cables) is most likely to offer material sound improvements.<br />
      <br />
      For those wishing to take their first steps with a music server, your advice will be welcome!<br />
      <br />
      Thanks for your work.
    1. tube06's Avatar
      tube06 -
      Hello Chris,<br />
      I'm very interested in the Bel Canto Design USB Link 24/96 USB converter which would allow me to connect a MacBook laptop to my Jadis DAC (24/96 only but I'll meet the Jadis chaps here next month & ask them whether they're planning a 24/192 upgrade in the near future) using a length of coax cable. You write: "This component it's a full 24/96 USB to S/PDIF (coax) converter." Yet, looking at the pics, I think that I can see a BNC "output" connector a la Wadia. Did I see right?<br />
      Thanks,<br />
      GM
    1. glancy's Avatar
      glancy -
      Chris, <br />
      I am looking forward to hearing from you on the Amarra, and where it stands relitive to the Lynx solution.<br />
      Well maybe not so patiently waiting. I think I am on the list to hear it next month in So cal.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      GM - You are 100% correct. It is BNC.<br />
      <br />
      glancy - patience is a virtue :-)
    1. tube06's Avatar
      tube06 -
      ... seldom found in a woman, always in a man! €:-)<br />
      GM
    1. tube06's Avatar
      tube06 -
      Hello Chris,<br />
      Now that I've caught the CA bug, I'm thinking about moving from my "old-fashioned" set-up ie CD drive + DAC + Preamp + Amp + LS to CA gear viz MacPro W/Lynx Card + DAC + AM + LS. That's getting rid of both drive & preamp.<br />
      I've seen it mentioned in a thread but it dœsn't seem very clear to me. What sort of preamp is in the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC? We don't want to lose bits with the volume control like the previous Wadias used to do. To prevent that happening, they've implemented a proper digital preamp + two DAC's in the new Wadia 9.<br />
      So, what's in the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC?<br />
      Thanks,<br />
      GM<br />
      <br />
      PS: titbit of info: I'll be listening to the Sooloos gear in a shop here on Dec. 6th & 7th with Jadis front end + DAC and amps + Genesis LS. Same week-end, same place, Jadis will be launching their factory-tweaked 25th Anniversary preamp & amp.