USB insanity

September 30, 2009

To Doug Schneider,

Re: Synergistic Research Tesla Tricon USB Cable

I was very surprised to see any USB cable -- let alone a $550/meter one -- in a glowing review on a legitimate audiophile website. I have to strongly suggest that you do a real blind-panel comparison (or even double-blind) between this cable and a standard USB cable. I think some real scientific due diligence is in order here.

USB is a way of transmitting digital data between devices. It does not make sense that a cable transmitting digital data would make any difference in the end sound quality. This is physically impossible. Either the DAC is receiving the data intact, or it's not. If bits are dropping out, you would hear a very noticeable chirp or gap in the output (similar to a CD skipping or really harsh sounds found in ripped songs from CDs without using error correction). So if the sound output is not full of chirps, skips, gaps, etc., then you will get exactly the same sound quality regardless of the cable.

The whole idea of this quantum tunnelling is ridiculous. It's a real phenomenon but it has nothing to do with USB data transmission.


Bryan Donovan

When I heard about the price of this cable, I raised my eyebrows, as you probably did. Intrigued, I went over to Colin Smith’s house and listened to his system for myself. I can tell you this: With the Synergistic USB cable in place, there was a noticeable, consistent improvement in the sound quality we heard. It was subtle, but identifiable and could readily be heard on whatever music he played. What exactly accounted for this difference, I can’t tell you. I also don't know if it would perform the same way with every setup. Whether the improvement is worth $550 to someone else, I also can’t say. But I can say that I heard it and, in fact, it was significant enough for me to realize that all USB cables don’t perform the same, at least not in Colin Smith's system. I plan to do some more experimenting myself. . . . Doug Schneider

CEDIA commentary, download controversy

September 28, 2009

To Doug Schneider,

I read your commentary on the future of downloading. I don't disagree, except for your projected timeline. I've had broadband (cable) Internet since 2000, and, after nine years, the overall speed has doubled (and it hasn't changed in four years). The big difference is that my current provider puts a bandwidth limit of 80GB on my account. My account is the fastest and best service offered. An 80GB limit pretty much precludes the downloading of DVDs.

Between the fact that download speeds haven't changed much in the past four to five years, and more providers are limiting bandwidth, I think your estimated timeframe for the downloading of DVDs is way underestimated by a factor of three or four.

Or at least that's my estimate. Only time will tell.

Keep up the good work.


Ethan Wood

Stello CDT100 and Bel Canto CD2

September 25, 2009

To Tim Shea,

Hello from Perth, Western Australia!

I just read your review of the Bel Canto CD2 and its companion DAC3. I'm currently in a dilemma/search for a source upgrade for the second time to replace my current valve-based Sheng Ya CDS10CSII CD player. I am largely interested in the strengths and weaknesses you noted in comparing the CD2 against the Stello CDT100. I've been reading reviews on this unit since late last year and been struggling to find a write-up that focuses solely on the CDT100 transport (every review seems to only analyze the DAC companion).

I understand that we are comparing two transports with a large price difference (the Stello CDT100 retails here for AUS$1299 and the Bel Canto AUS$3990); but would you still consider the Stello CDT100 a much wiser buy for the money? Considering that I already have the DA100 Signature -- I was wondering if this would be the best direction to go.

I also have in my inventory a custom NOS Lite Audio DAC-AH (passive output) which I do use from time to time for its lush, musical sound. I was wondering if the Stello transport (bearing its own signature in mind) would be a good match with the more fluid, less digital sound of my NOS DAC.

Apart from all the positive reviews I've read for the Bel Canto, one thing I do find interesting is the transport can only be powered via the 12V external switch-mode power supply, which impairs a bit of the sonics. I've been unable to find any pictures online of this power supply that comes with the player. Is there a standard IEC socket on it so that a different cord can be used?

My setup is for headphones only, which I regularly switch between Koss ESP950 electrostatics and my dynamic-cans setup that consists of a Lehmann Black Cube outputting to either the Audio-Technica W5000 or Alessandro MS-Pro.

Thank you once again for the reviews on the Bel Cantos and the Stello duo. I specifically wanted to hear more of your insight on the Stello transport since you wrote the review prior to the Bel Cantos.

Cheers, and kindest regards,

Andrew Wiguna

Thank you for taking the time to read the review. First, yes, the 12V power supply for the Bel Canto CD2 does have a standard IEC socket so other power cords can be used, although I only used the stock cord during the review so cannot comment on potential sonic benefits that may be had there.

As to the CDT100 vs. the CD2, it is like comparing apples and oranges if you're considering cost because the CD2 also functions as a standalone CD player whereas the CDT100 is strictly a transport. I only used both as transports with the Bel Canto DAC3 (there were just too many combinations of DACs, transports, and preamplifier functions to test every possible configuration), but judged strictly in that scenario, the CD2 offered significant performance advantages as noted in the review. The major caveat is that there may have been synergies at work between the CD2 and DAC3 that magnified the CD2's sonic advantage in this particular setup, and I don't know if or how that advantage would translate when used with other DACs.

I will say that when I reviewed the CDT100 and compared it to my Oppo DV-970HD used as a transport into the DA100 Signature, there was a meaningful improvement but not nearly as big as the improvement I heard when switching from the CDT100 to the CD2 as a transport with the DAC3. The advantages of the CDT100 over the Oppo were much more in line with what I've typically experienced when comparing digital components in that the differences were small on an absolute scale, but meaningful considering the benefits to the music -- everything was a little cleaner and a little more coherent, and there was slightly better imaging and depth. You did not mention what type of performance parameters you were looking to change or improve, but if those are the types of characteristics you’re looking to address with a transport when partnered with your Lite Audio DAC, the CDT100 may well be worth an audition.

All that said, with the added cost of the CD2 comes a much more noticeable overall performance improvement versus the CDT100/DA100 Signature combo that goes beyond parsing details as it delivers a much grander and tonally more robust and dynamic listening experience. Again, whether it’s an improvement over your current player, given your particular tastes, is impossible for me to say, but it’s certainly worth an audition to find out. And the prospect of adding the DAC3 now or later is an extremely intriguing option to have. Driven by the CD2, the DAC3 produced, by far, the best digital sound I’ve heard in my room. Of course, that pairing would set you back something on the order of seven times the asking price of just simply adding the CDT100.

So I guess if I were to sum up, I would say in my experience that adding the CDT100 could yield some minor but meaningful improvements, whereas something like the CD2 at considerably more expense has the potential to be more of a game changer. Whether or not you like the new game or which may be a "wiser" purchase is, as always, a personal decision. But I hope this information helps at least somewhat, and best of luck in your journey. . . . Tim Shea

Summit X upgrade

September 15, 2009

To Howard Kneller,

I have been enjoying your reviews on SoundStage! greatly. I own MartinLogan Vantages (main), Stage (center), Vistas (surrounds), and Depth (subwoofer). When I auditioned the original Summit, it did not compel me to upgrade. After reading your review of the Summit X, I might be inclined.

I did like that a professional reviewer used the same front stage as me. I have really enjoyed my Vantage/Stage combo up front and think they work well. Now I must go check out the Summit X as I have heard from a few friends that they are indeed something special.



Equipment update

September 10, 2009

Can you please tell me what review will be published on September 15. I am anxious to see the Revel Ultima Salon2 review. I am also hoping that you'll provide NRC measurements for it.

Timothy Greely

We are just getting ready to start our CEDIA Expo '09 coverage, which you will be able to find on our A/V Tour 2009 special show site. Because of the time needed to create the show report, there won't be a September 15 review published. We will begin publishing reviews again on October 1. We plan to publish the Revel review in November -- and we will be providing measurements done at NRC. . . . Doug Schneider