Review: ModWright Truth Transporter
by Danny Kaey on June 03 '08
ModWright Truth Transporter
Manufacturer: ModWright Instruments
Country of origin: Washington, USA
Model Name: Truth Transporter
Interfaced with: Dan Wright, President & owner
Contact: Dan Wright, email@example.com
Additional comments: Dan is a stand-up guy, who really cares for every single customer. You can always find him over at AudioCircle or better yet, send him an email
Accolades upon accolades… Dan Wright ought to be proud of his achievements. It was only a short five years ago that I first heard of “ModWright” and the company’s charming, quiet, yet impulsive front man. No, I am not speaking of some long-gone boy band either: this is the real McCoy, the real deal. You see, Dan new that growing his business from “mod” only status to a real-world meat and potatoes kind of company would take diligence, time and hard work.
No surprise then that in those five short years Dan accomplished just that: going from one man show to full on business owner with employees, a production line and real world R&D with distribution growing to reach the far corners of the globe. No more evident was this determination, nay, obsession, to be just that than during the previous month’s Munich High-End show when I had a chance to catch up with Dan, share some thoughts, laughs and beers. Make no mistake about it, I have no doubt whatsoever that Dan and his business will one day step into the footsteps of such greats as the original Mark Levinson gear, C-J, Audio Research, E.A.R. and others.
Slimserver, not Slimfast
So what’s this latest hoopla all about than? Simple: the audio world finally caught up to my predictions of those same five years ago and now is embracing in ever increasing numbers music servers as their source of choice. Of these music servers, Slimdevices’ Transporter has in fact quickly established itself as leader of the pack, ruler of them all. The reasons are simple as they are genius: relying on an open source operating system, Slimdevices utilizes a no frills, less is more approach to serving your music. Instead of relying on a complex (and expensive) self-sustaining eco system, anyone can feel at home with Transporter’s simple to use interface. Let’s face it, what happens to all these proprietary interfaces with Apple’s release of iTunes 9? Or 10? Or 11? Can you say bye-bye?
Forgoing a complex (and expensive) GUI, that’s graphical user interface to those of you still figuring out what “left-click” and “right-click” mean, Transporter can be up and running in a jiffy. You install the control software on your desktop, mobile computer or specialized NAS drive (a few are compatible) and dive head first into the world of streaming audio. iPod pimped. Audi R8 vs. Mazda Miata. No kidding, Transporter in stock form already sounds quite good actually, see my review of it right here.
$30k vs. $3600
What was I to expect of the ultimate Transporter, modified by Dan Wright? That answer came preemptively in form of fellow colleague’s Srajan Ebaen’s laudable 6moons gushing review: comparing Truth TP to Alex Peychev’s (another modder with accolades out the wazoo) ca. $30k (!) ultimate reference Esoteric UX-1 player is not something you should do with a light hand, unless you have the credibility and resulting oompf behind your name. Srajan happens to have both in spades so when he proclaimed the Truth TP to be within smidgens of the Über-machine, fancy disc-clamping 6k OEM mechanism and all, eyes, more importantly, heads were rolling. I’d say. You think? Come again?
Let’s recap: the stock Transporter’s much acclaimed fame lies in the heart of AKM’s 24bit miracle DAC’s with a Walt Jung designed regulated power supply. Add Sean Adam’s (Slimdevices chief scientific guru) meticulous finishing touches and voila, you have yourself a bona fide, cat walking superstar. Indeed, so impressive is the stock Transporter that none other than John Atkinson, Stereophile’s captain fantastic, has one in his system 24/7. What’s not to like? Fidelity comparable to much higher priced premium CD players, 24/96 playback capabilities without a so-silly, it’s plain old stupid data disc as a foundation; Transporter simply works.
Dan Wright’s haute-couture handiwork treatment of the Transporter leaves all which makes the stock unit sound so good in tact. What he does add, are exactly the ingredients, which have made Dan so famous in first place: a twin-tube output stage with tube rectified power supply. Sounds easy enough, though mucho credit and cojones needs to be given to Dan for incorporating such trickery into the stock unit’s slim line case and design. That’s right, no outboard box to add on: it all fits nicely, albeit tight and snug inside the Transporter.
Tubes and more...
Pundits may of course cry foul, after all, Dan’s Truth modified (and so passé looking) disc players always carried outboard boxes, alas, Dan’s the man, so if he says the Truth Transporter actually outperforms his previous creations, one box solution and all, I believe him. It would appear that most everyone interested in jumping on board does too, as Dan tells me that he has effectively been backordered with units since announcing them formally in January of this year. Wow. Considering that Dan now employs several technicians to manufacture his wares, that’s saying something.
The Truth Transporter in essence becomes a digital hub: it’s really three units in one. First, the Truth TP is of course a networked audio streaming device; second, it can be used as a DAC for most any type of digital device up to 24/96; third, it is the world’s most fully featured online radio player. The Truth modifications are of course totally transparent to the user, ie. you won’t be doing anything different regarding setup, use or control of this digital jewel.
In my case, I have configured Truth TP to run Squeezecenter 7 off my 2007 MacBook, accessing files through my NAS drive, attached to my Apple AirPort Extreme. In case you wondered, Truth TP is run via 802.11g, thus, even though our Mac’s all run off the faster N network, APE is configured to run in mixed mode, ie. G & N. No harm, no foul, haven’t had one hiccup ever even when streaming high-res 24/96 uncompressed wave files. All those who claim that 802.11g is not sufficient for such data throughput beware: all other things being equal and you have everything properly configured with reasonable signal strength, this is nonsense!
LAME is not lame
Now those files. As many of you know, I have written about and conducted extensive listening tests to conclude that in fact mp3’s sound damn good and in cases can even sound better than the equivalent compact disc, if encoded using LAME’s latest encoder at 320kps. I have further concluded that what most people hear as differences in sound quality between the various file formats is in fact the encoding/decoding engine itself, not the digital playback unit, all other things being equal. Thus, in order to eliminate and minimize this guessing game, I have only the original wave file and appropriate LAME mp3 file on my NAS drive. Ripping is accomplished through Poikosoft’s absolutely awesome all-in-one software, configured to run with error correction enabled. The results speak for themselves: using the latest version, 11.5, a neat error display and check-sum error reader reveal zero errors on most my rips. You won’t find a better app than this, considering you get a lifetime’s worth of free upgrades when making the full purchase.
Evaluating the Truth TP on the merits of sound was a bit of a challenge, I have to admit. It is not merely good, it’s outstanding, having the sort of quality you expect from a digital reference. Reference. My current digital reference is the stupendously good LessLoss DAC 2004, which, when fed data from its transport companion, the beltdriven CEC TL-X51, has the sort of sound you’d be hard pressed to find only a few short years ago at any price, let alone roughly the current ca. $6k asking price ($4400 for LessLoss DAC 2004 + around $1500 for the CEC). Believe me when I say that the LessLoss / CEC combo plays well north of its asking price, having favorably compared it to the emmlabs one box unit, as well as Esoteric’s stock UX-1 player. That’s saying something. Meanwhile Truth Transporter (when supplied from Dan directly) rakes in at $3600. Folks, that’s downright cheap.
Having run the Truth Transporter a good hundred or so hours, its qualities immediately became clear: what you have here is a highly resolving, dynamically extended, razor sharp focused digital slayer. A pretty dramatic difference compared to the stock player, which whilst setting the foundation for the above qualities merely only hints at them. 1:0 for the Truth TP then. If you are truly bitten by the audio virus, sending your stock unit in for the upgrade is a no brainer, as it will be followed by ever-higher levels of audio nirvana.
LessLoss & Truth Transporter... very fine indeed
Comparing Truth TP to my current digital reference, the aforementioned LessLoss DAC 2004 & CEC transport proved to be a much more difficult task as both players already are of such high quality that it really boils down to personal preferences. Where the LL / CEC combo has the slightly more cooler presentation, evident when playing say Mel Tormé’s Swingin’ On The Moon, where Mel’s vocals are just a hair more present, though in absolute terms, richer and more vibrant sounding via the Truth TP. Running the Gladiator soundtrack proved equally interesting to compare. Here, rich orchestral passages and an overall bombastic approach to engineering and recording prove similarly that both Truth TP and LL/CEC are on equal but ever so slightly different footing. Where Dan’s Truth serum gives the more dominant and present sonic aura, the LessLoss combo offer up a bit more sturm & drang; while in the lower registers Truth TP is ever so slightly more articulate in bass definition. It’s ping and pong, ying and yang. Our very own SonicCircle would pin it right along the Vivid lines. Considering that the stock Transporter fell into the Refined category, this if nothing else demonstrates the dramatic change Transporter incurs upon Dan Wright’s Truth injection.
However you wish to read or interpret my findings, keep in mind that all these minute difference are only as prevalent as the rest of your chain allows for. These differences went from being clear and present to “wait a minute, was that someone knocking?” dependent upon what amp was used in the final stages (no doubt adding different pre-amps would have perhaps even further compounded these differences, alas, I only have one pre-amp on hand). Currently, my reference transparency and resolution meter is my ca. mid nineties Threshold T400 amp, which, all other things being equal, is the most neutral and transparent amp I have in my system driving the Zu Presence & Definition 2 speakers. Replacing the mighty Threshold with the newly arrived Trafomatic Audio Experience Two (review in Positive –Feedback Online forthcoming), changed the perspectives altogether. Whereas the Threshold allows me to hear these differences rather quickly, ET makes these differences much more difficult to spot (this amp is killer by the way, perhaps the most vocal friendly I have yet auditioned in my system).
Convenience is where it's at...
We arrive at the following penultimate conclusion: Truth Transporter plays in the big league sonically (say players $10k and up), but absolutely kills when you factor in the magic of convenience, at its $3600 asking price no less. Playing disc after disc is passé – selecting tracks from different albums in an instant is what music servers are all about. Playlists? Got’em. Random play of 500 albums? Check. No disc player (I don’t care how good it is) can ever hope to achieve that goal. In addition to the benefits derived from this convenience, playing back files off a hard drive is in my opinion superior to reading those same bits off the disc through a disc transport. $6K Esoteric OEM disc clamping mechanism and all, Poikosoft and hard drive will do better. A recent thread on AudioAsylum has Gordon Rankin posting of his latest experiences playing back digital files via his MacBook (converted to solid-state hard drive) and USB. Supposedly this is the best transport he has heard thus far.
Being that Truth Transporter serves its music off hard drives, it stands to reason that following Gordon’s lead of using solid state drives would probably yield even more benefits, compared to whirling and spinning (really, really, really quickly!) magnetic drives of today. Problem is that SS discs are Über-expensive, not to mention rather severely limited in capacity. A quick peek to Apple.com reveals a solid state priced MacBook Air to ring in at a tad more than $3k, vs. $1800 for the “normal” version. I suspect that in two to three years time we will be looking at reasonably priced terabyte solid state drives going for acceptable dollars and senses.
Thus, we are at a cool 2:0 for Truth Transporter. Can we go for 3? Let’s see, how does access to over 6500 online radio stations sound? Let’s recap: these online radio stations are streaming music at anywhere from 32k to 192k lossy encoded mp3 files. Typically, I’d say that to enjoy any kind of fidelity, mp3 files should be encoded at the very least with128k. Before you skip this part thinking that 128k mp3’s sound lame, I ask that you read my article published at Positive-Feedback Online regarding my experiments with the LAME encoder.
Online Radio - way cool!
Mind you, it is at this point wishful thinking to assume that most stations you would be interested in listening to actually offer a sublime streaming experience. Much like FM, there are lots of choices for radio stations to serve their wares. Unlike most FM stations however, there are some which sound truly outstanding, far superior to anything XM could offer, fancy Magnum Dynalab tuner and all (obviously not the fault of MD, rather the lousy “HD” experience XM offers). Take for example LA’s last remaining classical station, KUSC. Streamed at 96k mp3, it absolutely kills the FM equivalent in terms of dynamics, definition and overall quality. Or try one of my top favorites, Soma FM’s Groove Salad. Chilled and grilled down tempo tunes streamed at 128k, which sound superb if you are into that sort of genre.
Then there are of course myriads of international world music stations. At the flick of my wrist, I have access to Serbian music, my favorite Austrian pop standards, or the quirky cool Virgin Radio morning show, streamed live from London. Care for music from Pakistan or Sri-Lanka? No problemo Sir, it’s all right then and there. As predicted, 3:0 for Truth Transporter.
The Big Bang...
We finally arrive at my concluding remarks. Truth Transporter is perhaps the ultimate digital boy-wonder toy box. Sonically, it plays right up there with the best of what I have heard in my system, except for the fact that it actually costs far less than any of them. If internet postings are anything to go by, Truth Transporter has replaced many a high-end disc transporter including such marques as Burmeister, not to mention far less costlier ones. Regarding USB vs. FireWire vs. 802.11g vs. S/PDIF I would caution you not to jump to conclusion all too quickly. I think that there is a ton of stuff going on there we are simply unaware of and much which I am aware of, like for example the sonic impact a decoder has on the encoded signal. Patience, patience, there’s lot’s more to discover.
The real kicker of course is the term convenience. Convenience is something you simply have to try for yourself, though I assure you, once you’ve been bitten by the bug, getting up to play a disc will not come easy. Been there, done that, now drink the cool-aid. Convenience as in you download the latest NIN album as a 24/96 wave file, place it into your music folder and press play. Voila, the best NIN sound Trent Reznor could hope for, all delivered wirelessly without any sort of configuring at your loudspeakers. This, friends, is way, way cool. Physical medium? Sure, vinyl is my name. Otherwise, welcome to the 21st century!