… Can we all agree that high(er) performance audio is valid?
In anticipation of Dan Wright’s latest and greatest work of
electric art, the “Truth” modified Transporter by Slimdevices, I spent some due
diligence cruising around the various mainstream forums and sites. My plan was simple as it was cunning:
snooping around the forums, I attempted to discern any anticipation such a
crossover product was able to muster with the iPod generation at large.
As I have said countless times over the past five or more
years, the time has finally come when audiophiles are beginning to embrace the
thought of physical free media playback.
Yep, after 25+ years, CD’s are finally passé. Oh sure, they are still selling them at Walmart, Costco,
Fingerprints and Amoeba, but the word is out: the compact disc’s days are de
When I first reported on these guys oh, four or so years ago, I new they
had a winner on their hands.
Squeezebox 3 changed the game almost single handedly as it offered
perfectly reasonable sound for $299.
Think of the Squeezebox being your iPod’s front end; bring your own hard
disk or NAS drive and voila, you are being served. The SB3
took off like a bat out of hell.
Literally! Most of us believers postulated that SB3 might also act as the hook for
non-audiophiles to further embrace high performance audio. This is where the fun part and raison
d’être for this healthy dose of Freibier begins.
The guys at Slimdevices were very smart: enlisting the help
of the open-source community, forums and people generally enthused about the
prospects of SB3, they created a worldwide network of free publicity, free tech
support and hordes of faithful adopters.
Naturally, Slimdevices new that more could be squeezed out of the Squeezebox system and thus began work on
the ultimate network music player: Transporter.
Transporter was billed from the ground up as the “audiophile” version of
the SB3, which already had enjoyed more than an inkling of interest by
respected modders, Vinnie Rossie,
Boulder Cables, etc. While you could
take the SB3 to level ultimate, you were,
at the end of the day, limited by the unit’s inexpensive design
fundamentals. After all, SB3 was
manufactured to a price point: 300 bills!
Transporter on the other hand was an altogether different, state
of the art beast. AKM’s latest and greatest DAC’s, a Walt Jung designed power
supply and regulation, premium overall parts quality all make up the beast that
is Transporter. Sean Adams,
Slimdevices designer, is no doubt proud of his accomplishment, as well as he
should be. Look at it this way,
the Transporter is perhaps the first true premium crossover music player
designed by a mass-market consumer company specifically for the audiophile market! Sure, we had top of the line Denon, Sony and Onkyo players
before, but this is different: Squeezebox is a phenomenon much like the iPod on
an even larger scale.
Indeed, browsing the company’s online forums you almost
immediately notice how audiophiles quickly established their own sub-forum and
presence. Of particular interest
was the highly anticipated crossover effect:
would people hooked on SB3 drop the gauntlet and become big spenders, err
audiophiles? Slimdevices found
itself in a unique position of catering to both mass-market consumers and audiophiles at the same time. Then again, Transporter is no $300
music player; it commands a more premium price for its high-end pedigree:
The results I fetched after countless hours of forum
sprawling and reading were predictable if ultimately uninspiring. Non-audiophiles mingled with
audiophiles, sort of like a cheetah stalks its prey: in essence and for the
most part, the mantra is that SB3 is good, but Transporter is ultimately state
of the art. So far so good; if you
left it at that premise, the world of high-end would indeed be that much better
off. After all, when was the last
time that someone in the mainstream agreed with
the notion that better parts quality, more careful and optimized design leads
to an overall superior audio experience?
Alas, disappointment quickly reared its ugly head with full
swing. You see, some fool decided to proclaim that his recently acquired
Modwright “Truth” modified Transporter ripped the stock model a new one. Wait a minute, did you say a tube
modified TP improved upon the
solidstate cousin? Gee, what a freak! Nonsense!
You crazy audiophile! You poor schmuck, you’ve bought into audiophilia
nervosa hook, line and sinker! Back to the Circus! You get
the picture. Op-amps in the stock
model are already reference quality,
tube output stage be damned. And
why does a guy charge $2000 for a “simple” tube output stage design in first
place – rippoff!?
But wait a minute: I thought Transporter sounded better than
SB3 precisely because of its audiophile
pedigree? If that is indeed the consensus
(oh boy, do I love that word!), than surely
a Transporter further modified by
clever men would almost by definition have to qualify as being even
better. No? Nein? Ne?
This is exactly why we face such an uphill battle when it
comes to converting the masses.
For some reason belief in a product’s superiority quickly turns to
disbelief when said product is further optimized, with a tube output stage no
less – or is it because of the tube
output stage? How come? Why? I mean I really, truly don’t get it. It’s as though there’s a missing link
somewhere that is simply not being communicated to the masses, which by the way
do agree with the central message
in first place! The masses have no
problems accepting $30k watches, 100$k rocket motorcycles, or $20k Hermês saddles. I
sincerely doubt anyone in the equestrian alumni sits there and says, “Oh may,
these Hermês guys really did a superb job with the double-stitching here”.
Why is it that high performance audio is so grimly looked
upon with this same group of spenders?
Why is it that people in the mainstream can proclaim low-res mp3’s, XM
Radio or (gasp) (shock) (aw) HD Radio as
definitive and get away with
it? I do remember a time of say
thirty odd years ago when people were truly excited about new technological
advances, etc. for the betterment
of the experience. Today, all we
seem to care about is ultra-low quality garbage be it in movie delivery or
Which brings us right back to the point of this volume’s Freibier: I
firmly believe that we have to establish the very premise that better designed
components yield better fidelity, in the most simple of terms. Second, we have to change the perception
of high performance audio from being looked
upon as sound geeks to people genuinely interested in premium quality products that happen to be audio components. Really, no different from Gucci,
Hermes, BMW, Ferrari, Audemars-Piguet, etc. The foundation appears to have been laid down at least partially
– clearly, if most people on the Slimdevices forum agree that Transporter
offers superior sound quality to SB3, than it shouldn’t be that much of a leap
for them to accept that a modified
Transporter (tubes and all, op-amps be damned) should yield further improvement
still. Now if only folks in the
mainstream press would agree… hence, we are back at square one.
SonicFlare clearly has a lot of work to do. Tune in next month for another edition
of Freibier right here at the ‘Flare.
PS: Look for a full in-depth scoop on Dan's Truth Transporter right here @ the 'Flare... goodie, goodie!