The One Has Arrived, Continued, Page 5

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Lately, I have been using the MBL 101Ds as part of a surround system, which is a really killer use for them, and I use a Sunfire Theater Grand III processor as the control hub. The TG III (now superceded by the TG IV) is one great processor and its capabilities and wonderful flexibility should put it at the top of anyone’s home theater shopping list.  I plugged one end of a 1.5 meter Nordost Valhalla Reference digital interconnect into the S/PDIF tether on the HDSP 9632 and the other end into one of the Sunfire TG III’s many S/PDIF ports.  The Nordost Valhalla Reference digital interconnect costs $2000 meter, and it’s worth every penny. So the tiny Aria/M10000/HDSP 9632 system, including drives and memory costs half as much as just a 1m Nordost Valhalla interconnect!  Was this a crazy, lopsided match-up or what?

Then I put in a CD.

What the crazy hell?! The 9632 put out a digital signal so clean, so tight, so jitter free that the Sunfire and MBLs were vaulted into audio territory normally reserved for $3000 and up high-end CD transports. Anyone who thinks that a CD transport is a CD transport just doesn’t get it, or needs to get an audio rig that lets them get it. The processor accounts for maybe 65% or so of the sound, but for the rest of the sound quality, that comes from the transport.

The 9632’s 192 kHz AD- and DA-converters and their more than 110 dB signal to noise ratio, plus the 9632’s clock section that stomps out the jitters, will simply wipe the floor with many a big name, big buck, high-end CD transport.  The soundstage was physically pushed back out and to the sides and a musical panorama opened up in a huge new audio space. In that mammoth acoustic envelope everything was precisely placed, with staggering amounts of new detail surging through the now open musical gates.

More important, the system was just so incredibly musical as the sound emerged from that much clichéd blacker than black space. The noise floor was now so low you found yourself sinking deeply into the music. The part of your high-end brain that nags at you with that, “gee guy, it sounds great, but there is still something wrong here, even if I can’t tell you what it is precisely” had finally shut up. The newfound synaptic silence was deafening.

The bass, in particular, took on a new and awesome aspect.  The MBL 101D’s are a four-way system with a 12” subwoofer that goes down to 20 Hz if you exercise it right. Well, the subwoofer got a cardio workout second to none thanks to the HDSP 9632. The bass was deep, incredibly tight and solid, and it pushed against your chest, walls, sofa, and everything else in the room. 

On movies, the S/PDIF output via the HDSP 9632 was equally awesome. The .1 LFE channel was causing seismic shock waves as far away as Siberia. Moreover, the surround sound went into another dimension as everything was much more accurately positioned and reproduced.

In the MBL surround rig I don’t use a TV. Instead I run the video output to a projector, which in turn struts its stuff on a big seven and one half foot Insta-Theater Da-Lite screen. But first, I feed the video output to the simply amazing Image Anyplace from Silicon Optix.  You can place a projector way off axis and the Image AnyPlace does extreme keystone correction. It’s also an excellent scaler.

I had originally installed the HDSP 9632 in another big rig running AMD’s new 3800 64-bit CPU for doing the RME review. Although the HDSP 9632 sounded wonderful in the AMD 3800 setup, this big PC rig, when it was plugged into the Sunfire MBL system, just didn’t sound as good as the baby M10000. So what’s the deal? It's probably because computers are hellish places that generate all kinds of electrical and RF noise that will mess up the sound. Getting rid of all this noise and grunge is one of the major challenges addressed in great high-end audio gear designs, and it is also one of the reasons why it costs so much. It usually takes some expensive wizardry to exorcise those noisy demons.

My suspicion is that the overall electrical and RF noise floor of this tiny, low watt M10000/Aria package is much lower than that of the big AMD computer, which has a much bigger power supply, a much larger size motherboard, a hot, screaming, and watt hungry 64-bit CPU, and all the rest of the noise producing hobgoblins found in your modern day PC. 

The Aria/Via M10000/HDSP 9632 unit is a true hero and is now my reference transport in the Sunfire/MBL system, which is saying a whole lot more than you can, or probably will want to believe. But believe it folks, This is The One.

For less than a measly grand, I cannot urge you strongly enough to go out and build one of these tiny Aria/Via/RME PC rigs. Digital convergence in high-end audio has finally arrived, and it has come in the most unexpected of pint-sized packages

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21st, The VXM Network,