I have gear that works well, in some cases superlatively, but is nonetheless annoying because it is stuck in old-think, hasn’t kept up with the changing world.
It isn’t all about sound quality. I recently moved back into my house after a remodel, I had spent a lot of effort on getting the design and furnishings just right, I wanted a calm, zen vibe — and then the electronics looks like a dumpster fire in a hardware store.
I will illustrate these problems in the context of my Chord stack (M-Scaler and TT2), which I otherwise love for its sound quality, I have gushed about it in these pages. But the issues are widespread, it isn’t just about Chord.
Three issues that conspire to create the mess
- No network input
It is still rare in high end equipment to find integrated network input — not as rare as it was, but too rare. This has created the product category of external streamers that translate from a network connection to USB or SPDIF. But I have used only network since I got my Sooloos (and then it’s successor Roon) over ten years ago, near the turn of the century. I use USB only to connect to the streamer (!), and I haven’t used any of the many SPDIF variants since I got networked.
Today, network should be the first consideration. Advanced systems today are beginning to support optical network (Linn Klimax DSM). And of course WiFi.
You wouldn’t buy a printer with SCSI (look it up). Or a TV with S-Video.
The need for an external streamer box feeds into the next issue:
- External power supplies, too many boxes
The Chord DAC is already two boxes, the DAC itself and the upscaler. But it does need the external streamer. So there are three boxes, the two Chords and a MicroRendu.
And all three have an external power supply. In fact, the MicroRendu has an external power supply that needs an additional power supply!
And of course these need cables.
Two Chord boxes and a MicroRendu, plus four power supplies — counting the Ethernet in and the two interconnects to the amp, seven boxes and thirteen cables! It’s a rat’s nest.
- IR remotes instead of WiFi
And the Chord has IR remote controls (two!). I already have an iPad in my lap, I don’t want to have to rummage around for other gadgets. The world is networked. Everything else in the house is on WiFi, the thermostat and the lighting and the alarm system and the garage door openers. And the alarm clock and the camera the shades. And the fridge and the washer and dryer.
And IR is line of sight, so the whole rat’s nest can’t be tucked away out of sight.
In summary, this is an architectural problem, these devices are stuck in a previous generation of technologies, and the result is an unsightly mess.
And it forces us into tweaks and remediations. Which streamer has the best sound quality? Which power supply is the best upgrade for the streamer or upsampler or DAC from a sound quality and noise perspective? Which is the best USB cable between the streamer and the upsampler or DAC? If I use Roon DSP volume control I get iPad remote instead of WiFi, but that’s digital domain, is it as good as what’s built into the DAC or preamp, is Roon’s dithering algorithm good enough? All these have been discussed here.
There are lower end products that solve these problems. Why are the higher end products more old fashioned?