• Gefen Digital Audio Extender Review

    Over the last year Computer Audiophile readers have expressed great interest in moving their music servers out of sight and earshot. Unfortunately the current popular options have show-stopping limitations for many of us. USB cables are limited in length to little more than sixteen feet. Mini optical cables required by MacBooks are rarely longer than six feet. The wireless Airport Express requires conversion of all files to Apple Lossless on the fly, outputs everything at 16 bit 44.1 kHz, and requires iTunes. The Squeezebox is also limited to 16/44.1 and requires use of the Logitech Squeeze Center software. Upgrading to the Transporter for $2000 gets you 24/96 capability but still leaves you with the less than stellar Squeeze Center interface. What's an audiophile to do? Pick up a Gefen Digital Audio Extender that sends digital audio up to 330 feet over a ubiquitous category 5e (CAT-5e) Ethernet cable. Bit perfect 24/96 audio at this 330 feet for $150 is very appealing.
     





     

    Here is a rudimentary diagram of how the Gefen Digital Audio Extender fits into an audio system.

    Music Server >> TosLink or coax cable >> Gefen DAE transmitter >> CAT-5e Ethernet cable >> Gefen DAE receiver >> TosLink or coax cable >> DAC / AV Receiver.

     


    It's not often that audiophiles get excited about a $150 digital audio product. However, the Gefen Digital Audio Extender is really something to be excited about. This DAE (Digital Audio Extender) provides audiophiles much more flexibility than the traditional options. The DAE package consists of a transmitter, receiver, and power supply. The power supply connects to the transmitting unit. This is really nice because it keeps a noisy wallwart PSU far away from the audio components. Both transmitter and receiver have optical TosLink, and coaxial digital interfaces. The size of the DAE units is very small at 1.25"H x 1.5"W x 3.875"D. They have surprisingly nice build quality with an all metal chassis and nice rubber feet on the bottom of each unit.

    The best thing about the Gefen Digital Audio Extender is that it's bit perfect! The DAE does not change the audio signal one bit. I was able to play HDCD tracks and illuminate the HDCD indicator on my DAC. This extender also supports 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS audio for the multi-channel fans in the audience. The second best thing about the Gefen Digital Audio Extender is it supports high resolution 24/96 audio. As long as the music server can output 24/96 via a coax or optical interface the DAE will pass it along bit perfect. One unadvertised benefit of the Gefen Digital Audio Extender is its ability to convert interfaces. During my listening sessions I connected the units via TosLink from my computer and via coax from the receiving unit to my DAC. Note, I used a 50' Ethernet cable for the duration of the review period. I also attempted to use a USB to coaxial converter before entering the DAE's coax input, but could not get any audio to pass through the units.


    I can already visualize many CA readers sitting on the sofa with their MacBook music server in hand connected only via TosLink cable to the Gefen Digital Audio Extender. Forget about remote control when you have direct access to the music server in your lap. If you place all your music on a NAS drive connected to a wireless router it's possible to have terabytes of storage all accessible via handheld music server from your listening chair. It's a pretty cool idea if you ask me. Sonically the Gefen Digital Audio Extender is really good. I spent many hours with these units in my audio system and suffered no listening fatigue. In direct comparison to my Lynx AES16e card via AES/EBU cable the Gefen Digital Audio Extender was outclassed. The DAE has nowhere near the resolution of the Lynx AES16e card, but this may have something to do with a possibly inferior optical output on my Mac Pro music server. Listening via the optical output from my Mac Pro directly into my DAC was better sounding than with the DAE in place, but the difference was not show-stopping. I was unable to test the DAE with a good coaxial output from my music server. That test may yield different results.


    The Gefen Digital Audio Extender is a little gem at $150. Bit perfect output at 16/44.1 and 24/96 at 330 feet is a great option to have in your back pocket. The DAE certainly has it's own sonic signature, but the flexibility the units provide may easily turn this signature into a minor detail for many listeners. When your significant other orders you to move the music sever out of the room, you now know of a viable option for continued connectivity. It's not a reference level component, but the DAE provides much needed flexibility. If this need arises for me I will definitely use the Gefen Digital Audio Extender without hesitation.

     

     

    DAE Front

    Gefen DAE
    click to enlarge

     

     

    DAE Front

    Gefen DAE
    click to enlarge

     

     

    DAE Rear

    Gefen DAE
    click to enlarge


     

     

    Manufacturer: Gefen Inc.
    Phone: 510-277-0512
    Email: gsinfo@gefen.com
    Digital Audio Extender: $150
    SKU:EXT-DIGAUD-141
    Purchase direct or through dealer network
    a) Product page
    b) Literature
    c) Manual


     

    Associated Equipment: Mac Pro, Lynx AES16e card, Kimber USB cable, Cambridge Audio DacMagic, Weiss Engineering Minerva, Benchmark DAC1 PRE, Kimber Select cable, Avalon Acoustics speakers, Focal Electra Be series speakers, McIntosh tube amplification, Virtual Dynamics power cables, Richard Gray's Power Company cables, Bel Canto USB Link., Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC.



     

     
    Comments 13 Comments
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Shenzi - You ask a very good question that I am in no way qualified to answer! I can only guess why different bit perfect sources sound different. Jitter is one guess I have.
    1. Labarum's Avatar
      Labarum -
      Ethernet (or WiFi) is surely the way to connect digital audio components together. The protocol practices handshaking, so error correction is assured. USB, Firewirse and S/PDIF do not, and all three have a smaller bandwidth.
    1. shenzi's Avatar
      shenzi -
      Yes, I am beginning to think a friend in the computer industry is good to have, to cast a sober eye over some of the computer offerings from the audio industry. (It works both ways - mine was explaining why higher priced optical cables are a good idea in some applications.)
    1. Lizard_King's Avatar
      Lizard_King -
      For those of you who want to use USB over a long rub, do NOT use these or any other Cat5 extenders. I have this from a Guru, Gordon R. over at Wavelenght who is a expert.<br />
      <br />
      Use USB of fiver optics. Here ios a link to help: http://www.opticis.com/english/02_product/product03_01.htm<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      Use a cat5 extender will add jitter. Use the fiber link and no jitter will be added!
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Lizard - This product does not have a USB interface so there is nothing to worry about there. While I'm sure this device isn't the best in terms of jitter, it is a wonderful solution for a lot of people. We are talking about a $150 product here, not a dCS system.
    1. Dan.m's Avatar
      Dan.m -
      http://rogueamoeba.com/airfoil/<br />
      <br />
      enjoy.
    1. Elprior's Avatar
      Elprior -
      Hi Chris,<br />
      <br />
      Excellent product and review, as usual.<br />
      I'll buy one as soon as my flat is set up with ethernet everywhere.<br />
      <br />
      In a perfect world, the same product with one usb box at one end would be a must-have.<br />
      I mean something like the trend audio box, but bit-perfect 96khz capable, and extended with the ethernet capability.<br />
      <br />
      As you said, that would make me the most powerful sofa audiophile.<br />
      Maybe you can make this happen Chris .<br />
      <br />
      Labarum ethernet(/wifi) is no protocol specification. It's just the physical path to your signal.<br />
      Unfortunately, most ethernet(/wifi) capable electronics are streaming the data, using UDP (which is a protocol) that is far from being error free (it just sends the packets, you are not even sure that they reach the other end in the correct order, or at all).<br />
      <br />
      Elp.
    1. audioengr's Avatar
      audioengr -
      "Use the fiber link and no jitter will be added!"<br />
      <br />
      Where did you get that idea? It certainly adds jitter.<br />
      <br />
      Steve N.<br />
      Empirical Audio
    1. danny71's Avatar
      danny71 -
      This looks like a pretty nice thing to try out since my Squeezebox will not support anything above 24/48. Everything over that will be downsampled to 24/48.<br />
      <br />
      Perhaps this is considered a bit off-topic, just felt that I needed to comment on the below statement though.<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <cite>The Squeezebox is also limited to 16/44.1 and requires use of the Logitech Squeeze Center software.</cite>
    1. Elprior's Avatar
      Elprior -
      Hi there,<br />
      <br />
      I finally found it, the missing box : http://www.belcantodesign.com/news_usb_link.html.<br />
      Still, have to find out if it is bit-perfect (at first glance, doesn't seem).<br />
      <br />
      Chris, have you ever heard/tested this little box ?<br />
      <br />
      Elp.<br />
      <br />
      Edit : oups, I realize you did, any new comments/listenings ?
    1. bluesky's Avatar
      bluesky -
      Very good article , thank you for your share, here I have another good share:<br />
      Tradestead , there are many kinds of lovely things ,I like it!
    1. vortecjr's Avatar
      vortecjr -
      What player do you use for the dts audio playback? <br />
      <br />
      Regards<br />
      <br />
      Jesus R<br />
      www.sonore.us
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Me and dts in the same sentence? What? :~) I don't do any dts stuff.