Thus far, the digital audio revolution seems to have restricted itself to low-res audio — that is, tracks you download from iTunes, rip from CDs and acquire off the internet. This has never been good enough for hi-fi enthusiasts, who decry the quality loss when tracks are compressed. The solution? Hi-res audio, with far higher bitrates (and, therefore, file sizes), and a whole breed of kit to rip it, store it, stream it and play it. A growing theme in the hi-fi world (and especially the entry-to-mid level segment) is single units with reliable wireless streaming via Bluetooth or WiFi. The Blue Sound family of devices, made and sold by a Canada-based “alliance of audiophiles” does just that, with the simplest solution we’ve seen to date. The Vault sits at the heart of the system; with a 1TB hard drive. Metadata (artist info, album covers, etc) is pulled off the internet, and your music is now labelled, categorised, and ready to play. You can do this via digital audio outputs on the Vault itself, or by using a PowerNode; a Node, which is a network-connected device that will connect to an amplifier of your choice; the Duo, a set of network-connected speakers; or, the Pulse, which is an all-in-one 2.1 system that will connect to the same network. The configurations are essentially limitless. If you’re starting from scratch and are looking for an all-in-one solution, the BlueSound ecosystem represents remarkable innovation and outstanding value.
Approx Rs 89,000 for the Vault, Rs 65,000 for the PowerNode, Rs 45,000 for the Node, Rs 70,000 for the Duo, Rs 65,000 for the Pulse; la-kozy.in
WISDOM AUDIO INSIGHT P2i
Remember how we implied something about audio tech getting a bi8t cheaper? Forget we said that for a little while. Just trust that Wisdom Audio, a Nevada-based manufacturer of “planar magnetic point source hybrid loudspeakers”, is doing very exciting things. Yes, that’s a bit of a mouthful, but if you read it again, it’s pretty clear what their audio philosophy is all about. Eschewing the traditional approach to speakers, Wisdom Audio was founded in 1996 to produce the best speakers possible while ignoring the limitations imposed by audio technology at the time. The result is speakers that use electrostatic thin-film membranes to produce sound using a single material for the bass, mid-range, and tweeter (this reduces crossover issues), resulting in an unforgettable, sound stage-quality experience.
What does that mean? When you’re listening to Metallica, it sounds like Metallica is right there. When we listened to the (admittedly rather elaborate and high-end) demo setup featuring the range at The Listening Room, in Mumbai, the sound punched us in the face, smacked us in the gut, and left us limping out of the room. But, why exactly are the speakers on this list? For its size.
Four inches and worth a few lakhs, a smorgasbord of other expensive, high-end equipment needed to drive these speakers, a good projector, an acoustically-sound room (call it about 20 lakhs when all is said and done), and you’ve got yourself an acoustic experience that’s pretty darn fantastic.
Approx Rs 1,65,000 per piece; thesoundsmiths.com
The NuForceDia does one thing, and it does that one thing exceptionally well: power a pair of speakers. How you choose to do this is up to you. You can get your sound to the Dia using either co-axial inputs or Toslink (a Toshiba-invited optical audio standard), and what you get is 24W dual-channel “crystal-clear sound”.
What’s special about the Dia? Two things: its size, and the way the digital-to-analog conversion is carried out. Larger than a cigarette lighter and smaller than an iPad Air, the Dia spans six inches along its longest dimension. However, its performance completely belies its size. “The absence of capacitors in the signal path allows for heightened purity, lower distortion, a wider, deeper sound-stage and better-detailed imaging,” claims NuForce, and a listening test bore this claim out.
Pair it with anything better than average speakers, and this tiny little digital amplifier will fill the room with clear, detailed sound. What’s more, it comes with a remote — a real plus point for a device this size and at this price point.
Rs 21,000; audiovisionindia.com
NAD D 3020 DIGITAL AMPLIFIER
There’s a good reason the original NAD 3020 is considered an incredibly important component in the history of hi-fi audio. Introduced in 1978, it became one of the best-selling amplifiers of all time primarily because of its outstanding value, simple design, and commitment to great, warm sound. Nearly four decades later, Canada-based NAD decided to reinvent the 3020 for the digital age, and the result is the deceptively tiny, immaculately designed, NAD D 3020. While its looks are striking — it features soft, rounded edges, a touchscreen interface, and an iPod click wheel-inspired front control knob — its size is what initially grabs your attention. The NAD D 3020 essentially looks like an Airport Extreme stood on its side. The amplifier has only three controls: touchscreen power and source buttons and a wheel to control volume. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a simple device. You can get audio to the amp using six different inputs, including Bluetooth, USB, optical, and co-axial, and it pumps out sound at 30 watts/channel. That may not sound like much, but we’re inclined to trust NAD when they say that a “properly designed 30W amplifier can often sound superior to a 100W amplifier from a lesser brand”. Testing certainly bore that out, and the 3020 drove our B&W bookshelf speakers with ease. We’ve also had audiophiles report that this mighty little device was able to power floor-standing speakers, but we’re not going to advocate that sort of lunacy. As for the sound: we’re not going to say all that much save that it’s rather stellar. The amplifier delivers tones that belie its size and price. If you’re looking for something small without compromising on power and performance, this is the amp for you.
Approx Rs.45,000; la-kozy.in