• 2012 Computer Audiophile Product of the Year

    The Computer Audiophile Product of the Year is an award I started giving out in 2011. The first winner was WideaLab's Aurender S10 music server. The award is one way to give credit where credit is due. I don't have ten different categories with ten runners up in each category as that's a copout for those unwilling to make difficult decisions. This year I will select a hardware and software product of the year. Both products must have been reviewed or used extensively by me in 2012. The software selection was much easier for me than the hardware selection. This year my hardware selection came down to two very different products. One product is the best DAC I had heard in my system and costs $15,500. The other product is the best value I can ever remember and costs $250. The former product sounds lightyears better than the later but this award doesn't focus on sound quality only. A CA product of the year has to be much more than good souding. Groundbreaking and innovative certainly don't hurt. Neither does a product's ability to bring excellent sound quality to the masses.


    Envelope please … And the winner of the 2012 Computer Audiophile Product of the Year is …












    HARDWARE



    The 2012 Computer Audiophile Product of the Year is the AudioQuest DragonFly. The DragonFly broke new ground this year with its very reasonable $250 price tag and terrific performance. It's small form factor is great for traveling. I even bring the DF with me when visiting friends because it's so easy to carry in a pocket and enables me to expose more people to high quality sound than any previous product. At $250 the DragonFly is less expensive than most products audiophiles will ever purchase and is even less expensive than some Beats headphones purchased by the masses.

    Full review available here -> Link











    The 2012 Computer Audiophile Product of the Year Runner up is the Emm Labs DAC2X. This $15,500 DAC blew me away with its wonderful sonics. At the time of review it was the best DAC I'd ever heard in my sysytem. The DAC2X isn't cheap, but I believe it's a good value. Putting a price on the best sound one has ever heard is tough.

    Full review available here -> Link



















    SOFTWARE


    The 2012 Computer Audiophile Product of the Year is JRemote ($10). This iOS app has changed the way many of us listen to music. Available for both iPhone and iPad JRemote has enabled computer audiophiles to move away from other platforms such as Mac and Linux. These platforms no longer have the edge when it comes to remote control. Once a music server is setup the user only interfaces with his music collection via the remote application. These apps are critical to the continued adoption of computer based music and the increased enjoyment for those of us who have already taken the CA plunge.

    Full review available here -> Link

























    Comments 21 Comments
    1. esimms86's Avatar
      esimms86 -
      I'm 100 per cent in agreement with the selection of the Audioquest Dragonfly as the CA product of the year. I've never been happier with music listening on the road as I've been with the Dragonfly plugged into my laptop with a Sennheiser HD600 plugged into the Dragonfly.

      Having said that, I can't go without noting that the $15,500 EMM DAC2X, in Chris' words, "the best DAC one has ever heard" and "a good value," costs somewhere around twice what it would cost one to buy Peter St's Phasure NOS1 DAC and custom built PC together. I don't know whether or not Chris has ever heard the NOS1 so it would be unfair to draw any comparisons re: the EMM DAC2X and the NOS1 for purposes of the CA Product of 2012 selection. Still, considering the two DACs in light of the recent 6moons NOS1 review is enough to give one pause for thought.

      Esau
    1. beetlemania's Avatar
      beetlemania -
      "At the time of review it was the best DAC I'd ever heard in my sysytem. "

      So, what is the best DAC as of today?
    1. Anaksulnamun's Avatar
      Anaksulnamun -
      dCS system for er ... 1 milion Obama (USD)
      Or MSB Signature DAC IV, fully upgrade + transport (~55 grands)
    1. obt_man's Avatar
      obt_man -
      I would be a lot more interested in the product of the year that is in between $250 for Audioquest and $15K for Emm Labs. None of these products ignite my interest given that they are well beyond (both ways) my price range for DACs. With the proliferation in 2012 of excellent mid priced DACs and other relevant computer audio equipment it seems that none of them have even been considered. I hope in 2013 Chris will do more in-depth and extensive product reviews and the 2013 product of the year award will be presented for various price ranges.
    1. Snowmonkey's Avatar
      Snowmonkey -
      Quote Originally Posted by obt_man View Post
      I would be a lot more interested in the product of the year that is in between $250 for Audioquest and $15K for Emm Labs.
      On that basis, the MicroMega MyDac at least rates an honourable mention. I've got both the MyDac and a Dragonfly and good as the Dragonfly is, the $400 MyDac blows it out of the water sonically IMHO. I would go so far as to say the MyDac gives even more bang for the buck than the Dragonfly. Of course, the Dragonfly gets extra points for it's versatility and ease of use with a laptop.
    1. robbbby's Avatar
      robbbby -
      I'm a little curious how the EMM Labs DAC2X made runner up for product of they year. Did Chris not say that the "product of the year" title is based on feedback and votes from people who voted or commented in the product of the year thread? I find it hard to believe there are enough people who have actually spent time with a DAC of that caliber to make an vote. I'm sure it is deserving of such a title and i'd probably vote for it solely as a "I can dream" vote.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by robbbby View Post
      I'm a little curious how the EMM Labs DAC2X made runner up for product of they year. Did Chris not say that the "product of the year" title is based on feedback and votes from people who voted or commented in the product of the year thread? I find it hard to believe there are enough people who have actually spent time with a DAC of that caliber to make an vote. I'm sure it is deserving of such a title and i'd probably vote for it solely as a "I can dream" vote.
      Hi robbbby - Let me clear up the confusion. The thread going on right now in the forum is for the Readers' Choice award. This article is my personal picks for Product of the Year.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by beetlemania View Post
      "At the time of review it was the best DAC I'd ever heard in my sysytem. "

      So, what is the best DAC as of today?
      The dCS Vivaldi. It's not only the best DAC I've heard in my system but as of now it may be the best DAC I've heard that's available today. It's something special but the price is quite prohibitive for most of us music aficionados.


    1. beetlemania's Avatar
      beetlemania -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      . . . the price is quite prohibitive for most of us music aficionados.
      True, but I'll put the dCS stack on my short list when I start auditioning for my next $500k system ;^)
      In the meantime, I'm very thankful I can afford the QB-9, which is pretty special, too.

      BTW, I was surprised to see a near complete lack of room treatments in your space. I would think a few simple throw rugs on the front and side walls would help your sonics. I have no doubt your system sounds killer, but you can probably get even more out of it. All for less than the price of a dCS remote control!
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      I'll be working with an acoustician in the first quarter of this year :~)
    1. ccclapp's Avatar
      ccclapp -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      I'll be working with an acoustician in the first quarter of this year :~)
      ...looking forward to your process/results/commentary

      ... Would/are you ever considering convolution as part of your optimization, or do you consider that out-of-bounds??

      thanks for all you do for all of us!
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by ccclapp View Post
      Would/are you ever considering convolution as part of your optimization
      Yes, absolutely.
    1. ccclapp's Avatar
      ccclapp -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      Yes, absolutely.
      ...looking forward to your findings
    1. wgscott's Avatar
      wgscott -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      I'll be working with an acoustician in the first quarter of this year :~)
      That's going to be the kid's playroom within 2 years. 20:1 odds.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by wgscott View Post
      That's going to be the kid's playroom within 2 years. 20:1 odds.
      Ha, I love it!
    1. beetlemania's Avatar
      beetlemania -
      Quote Originally Posted by wgscott View Post
      That's going to be the kid's playroom within 2 years. 20:1 odds.
      The drivers on TAD Compacts make excellent punching bags!

      About 8-10 yr ago, my daughter and her babysitter somehow knocked one of my Thiels on its side, even with the extension feet attached. Amazingly, it missed the tile and landed only on carpet.
    1. DRCA511's Avatar
      DRCA511 -
      I am a newbie to this forum and first time post but have been reading it for years and was hoping I can get some advice about dragonfly that hasn't been mentioned yet.

      J river since version 15 was out. I use the internal volume and ditched the pre-amp along time ago as I search for minimalism now using J river 18.

      My current DAC is average but does the job in my system better than my previous 4 DAC's one being Belcanto's DAC 1.5 surprising.

      My issue is for years I am after a quality USB powered DAC (no power cable or power supply) preferred to hide it.

      Choices have been from HRT Streamers, W4S Udac, Arcam Rdac and Bladelius DAC which all had reasonable specs but was never tempted to change.

      The dragon fly has one above all of them and it is a analogue volume with a software control? (I hope I got this right)
      This technology intrigues me. It is a rare find.

      I was about to settle on W4S Udac-HD to suit my needs although it has overall better performance spec on paper higher resolution etc.

      It does not have this volume feature.

      I have never had an issue with J river internal volume so I am not sure what benefits I am gong to gain from this volume feature?

      My concern and question to this forum is this?

      I have no preamp so effectively I have direct connection to a power amplifier. - Never had a problem with this.
      Windows volume points to the TV sound and is on mute
      J river points to the DAC and is set to internal volume and volume protection
      These setting would preferrably change with the dragonfly

      When I hit the power button on my remote the system turns on "no noise, no thump, nothing at all - just dead silence"
      This is because the amplifier and the DAC are always on.

      If you go USB powered the dac will only power on at the point of turning on the PC have these USB Dac's taken into account not to output garbage on power up? so not blow my speakers?

      If the Dragonfly uses analogue volume what volume does it startup on?

      I would appreciate the feedback or any questions.

      Thanks
    1. phatoldsun's Avatar
      phatoldsun -
      Quote Originally Posted by DRCA511 View Post
      I am a newbie to this forum and first time post but have been reading it for years and was hoping I can get some advice about dragonfly that hasn't been mentioned yet.

      J river since version 15 was out. I use the internal volume and ditched the pre-amp along time ago as I search for minimalism now using J river 18.

      My current DAC is average but does the job in my system better than my previous 4 DAC's one being Belcanto's DAC 1.5 surprising.

      My issue is for years I am after a quality USB powered DAC (no power cable or power supply) preferred to hide it.

      Choices have been from HRT Streamers, W4S Udac, Arcam Rdac and Bladelius DAC which all had reasonable specs but was never tempted to change.

      The dragon fly has one above all of them and it is a analogue volume with a software control? (I hope I got this right)
      This technology intrigues me. It is a rare find.

      I was about to settle on W4S Udac-HD to suit my needs although it has overall better performance spec on paper higher resolution etc.

      It does not have this volume feature.

      I have never had an issue with J river internal volume so I am not sure what benefits I am gong to gain from this volume feature?

      My concern and question to this forum is this?

      I have no preamp so effectively I have direct connection to a power amplifier. - Never had a problem with this.
      Windows volume points to the TV sound and is on mute
      J river points to the DAC and is set to internal volume and volume protection
      These setting would preferrably change with the dragonfly

      When I hit the power button on my remote the system turns on "no noise, no thump, nothing at all - just dead silence"
      This is because the amplifier and the DAC are always on.

      If you go USB powered the dac will only power on at the point of turning on the PC have these USB Dac's taken into account not to output garbage on power up? so not blow my speakers?

      If the Dragonfly uses analogue volume what volume does it startup on?

      I would appreciate the feedback or any questions.

      Thanks
      Hi DRCA511-
      I''ve owned the DragonFly for over 2 months now and it really is great for it's price, size and features. I started using it as a DAC and Headphone amp attached to my MacBook Pro. I can enjoy high quality sound on the sofa, on the deck, in bed, in a hotel, coffee shop etc.. The value of the portability should not be under estimated.
      I just recently began using it as a DAC only, replacing an HRT Streamer II+. For a week or so now I've been swapping the HRT and DF back and forth in my office system.
      I'm on a Mac (10.8.2) using Audirvana+ and iTunes instead of Windows but...

      Yes, I use the System Volume control or Audirvana+ volume control (with DAC only setting) to adjust analog volume and it works great.

      99% of the time the analog volume is exactly were I left it when quit or shut down. The 1% time it didn't was with an older version of Audirvana+ that would mysteriously turn down the volume on its own.

      You are supposed to turn the system Volume too 100% to use the DAC/line out mode. Connected to a preamp, I've been doing that and it stays at 100% the whole time.

      I've never heard thumps, static or noise through mine.

      I haven't connected it directly to an amp. Only to preamp and Headphones.

      I've read the DF doesn't play nice with Vista on the Windows side.
    1. DRCA511's Avatar
      DRCA511 -
      Thanks phatoldsun

      If you turn your preamp volume to very high and turn your mac on/off will you than hear thumps and pops as the USB voltage leaves the DAC?

      I believe that the dragon fly has an issue with Windows Vista but not windows 7 or windows 8 and according to many they are using it without an issue.

      One huge advantage of J river is that it has a very reliable internal volume feature which also has a a feature called volume protection to avoid an issue with the volume for any reason jumping to a ridiculous level.

      If you do not use internal volume on J river you can use system volume and still use these features so it is not really a concern to me.

      I was reading on the W4S Udac HD and it may also have the same feature as the dragonfly with Analogue volume controlled by the PC? I think?

      If so it would be wise if they actually went into detail how this works but there is no literature on it at all. i thought they would be interested in selling more DAC's - these things are aimed an computer audiophiles after all.

      I still have the concern about when you are connecting direct to a power amp and you power off or on these devices what effects they have.

      I was reading one review somewhere where a audiophile removed the preamp when testing the dragonfly and connected directly to his power amp and was blown away by how good it sounded. minimal devices in the line. Unless you need to switch between a number of analogue devices its time to remove the preamp in my opinion.

      If W4S UdacHD which has a class A quality analogue output is controlled by digital volume this device being twice the price but still reasonable is a better bet for me?

      Anyone's thoughts on this
    1. Boris75's Avatar
      Boris75 -
      The reviewer for the Financial Times of London and other testers he consulted found that the Dragonfly brought no improvement over analog out from the minijack of the Macbook Air:

      Music players wired for fuller sound - FT.com