Review: db System Zardoz Ultimo Transport

Category: Digital

Zardoz: a state of the art WiFi device from db System

Digital audio preamble

For better or for worse, many audiophiles are gravitating towards computer audio. Much of this is driven by the allure of Ipod-like convenience. Rifling through CDs has lost its luster. Modern life is frenetic, and draining, and the 21st century audiophile’s threshold for inconvenience is low. As expected, manufacturers have developed computer based front ends in which an entire music library can accessed and perused instantaneously, with purported sound quality superior to many CD players. In parallel with this development, new high resolution formats are popping up like mushrooms, adding yet another layer of temptation for the weary audiophile. Currently, a mosh pit of devices exist, framed by bold claims and subsequent debates and tribalism on audio threads regarding what is technologically relevant. I myself was recently involved in a lengthy thread on the importance of jitter. A lot was said. Little was answered.

The digital realm, much like the computer industry, is very fluid. What is hot today may be disregarded tomorrow. Furthermore, the theoretical basis for digital performance is surprisingly fuzzy and ill defined. We can only postulate why things sound they way they do. To me, the central issue is this: what digital technology relaxes the soul? To many, the road to relaxation is built upon recreation of an “analog” sound. From a literary standpoint, the term analog is difficult to describe. For me, it evokes exhalation and the calm that follows. Mentally and emotionally, it takes me back to a time when things were indeed relaxed, such as college summers, with all the bohemian meandering. When I listen to music, this is where I want to be. Bad digital playback fails to produce this experience. What are the attributes of bad digital? Sharp, brittle, edgy notes, like thousands of little razor blades perforating the eardrum, making it bleed. Your ears fatigue. Your listening sessions shorten. Yes, digital is dynamic and possesses a low noise floor, but much of it is an assault on the senses. In a recent article in the Wall Street journal by Terry Teachout titled “The Mystery of Music,” there is a quote attributed to the late Jazz great Eddie Condon regarding empirical measures of musical quality that I think is very poignant: "As it enters the ear, does it come in like broken glass or does it come in like honey?" That is how we should measure digital playback.

The Search

I was not systematic in sifting through and researching options for computer audio, nor have I done explicit head to head comparisons. I sold my Granite Audio 657 CDP prior to receiving the Zardoz, so any direct comparison would be a derivative of sonic memory only. My goal in this review is to describe what I am “hearing” in light of the prelude about analog sound. The Granite CDP was a fantastic piece (one of the best honestly), but I grew increasingly tired of getting up and down to change CDs. When used without a pre-amp as I did, the 657 was very dynamic and live sounding with a huge soundstage, great bass, detail, etc. However, a subtle fatigue would creep in, especially with certain pieces of music (this may have been a system issue, but that is a moot point now). During this time, I had a chance to fiddle with a Sonos (wireless device) at a friend’s house and was hooked. The evil seed of computer audio had been planted. Rifling through your entire music collection with a light finger tap on a touch screen was too good for words. The only problem was the sound: it was just brutal. An unadulterated Squeezebox or Sonos is just plain rude even on an average system. You need a DAC, power supply mods, etc to make them palatable IMO.

In my extensive reading and research, there appeared to be many good options. Empirical Audio Pacecars, Memory Player, cMP (homemade computer-based memory player) Berkley DAC fronted by a computer with a trick sound card, heavily modded Squeezeboxes, heavily modded Sonos, etc. Many of these options were either expensive or two box solutions. I wanted a simple, one-box solution that did not require a DAC, extra cabling, and was also extracted from the computer itself and its inherent flaws. I did not have the time or inclination to dick around with modding a computer (or paying someone else 5-10K to do so). I wanted a plug and play option that was mucho analog sounding, convenient, and user friendly. Enter the Zardoz….

My discovery of the Z was serendipitous. A French audiophile who goes by the moniker Juanintox on Audiogon posted a picture of his rig within the context of a speaker thread. Everyone asked what this one particular box was, and he proceeded to wax poetic about this “Zardoz.” He was a vinyl guy, and this was the best piece of digital he had heard. It replaced an Audio Aero Capital 24/192. He and Dan, the lead engineer and owner of db System, had apparently performed multiple blinded shootouts between the Zardoz and many alternative digital rigs (dcs, Audio Aero 24/192 mkII, Wadia 860X, PC >> Empirical Audio Offramp turbo >> modded Pass Labs D1, modded Squeezeboxes, etc). The Z won them all. I was intrigued and once my Granite sold, I decided to take the plunge. Please note that Dan’s primary vocation, in addition to being a French engineer with a background in computers, has been as a designer of hi end tube gear at db Sytem in France. He is a true analog nut, and tubes and vinyl are his sonic reference. That was important information. Right or wrong, I have an implicit trust of analog guys and their sonic bias. That is my bias despite being a Gen X CD dude.

Technical data

Before launching into technical issues, one important question should be answered: why wireless (WiFi)? Many audiophiles perceive wireless music streaming as a low or midfi technology. This is incorrect. Wireless transmission of data possesses an inherent superiority for several reasons. One, you are quarantined from potential garbage or noise from the computer itself in the form of high frequency radiation. According to some, this can have an audible influence (please see the LessLoss site for further details on this subject: Second, potential sources of jitter are minimized. There are multiple sources of jitter in any given system, including the power supply, the computer, inputs, DAC chips, cables, etc. Steven Nugent, founder of Empirical Audio and former lead chip designer for Intel, recently published an article on the subject of jitter in Enjoy the Music: He delineated various sources of jitter, and in particular, he described the inherent benefits of wireless audio:

“Networked audio (Ethernet), both wired and Wi-Fi is a unique case. Because the data is transmitted in packets with flow-control and re-try for errors with buffering at the end-point device, it is not as much of a real-time transfer as USB, S/PDIF or FireWire. Networking also avoids the use of the audio stack of the computer audio system since it treats all data essentially the same. Because of the packet-transfer protocol of Ethernet and data buffering at the end-point, the jitter of the clock in the computer is a non-issue. The only clock that is important is the one in the end-point device. Examples of end-point devices are: Squeezebox, Duet and Sonos. This would seem to be the ideal situation, which it certainly is. The only problem that can occur is overloading the network with traffic or Wi-Fi interference, which may cause occasional dropouts. The problem for audiophiles is that the majority of these devices were designed with high-volume manufacturing and low-cost as requirements, with performance taking a lower priority. As a result, the jitter from these devices is higher than it could be. It should be the lowest of all the audio source devices available.”

The Zardoz platform is built around Apple’s Airport Express wireless receiver. The prototype of this device debuted on July 21, 1999 at the Macworld Expo in New York City. Since then, it has gone through many permutations. The AirPort Express is essentially a simplified version of the AirPort Extreme base station. The main processor in the AirPort Express (802.11g version) is a Broadcom BCM4712KFB wireless networking chipset. The current 802.11n version, which my Z is derived from, employs an updated version (MB321LL/A) that allows transmission in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Audio is processed by a Texas Instruments Burr-Brown PCM2705 16-bit digital-to-analog converter. Dan, the lead engineer at dbSytems, has modded the Airport express in a number of innovative (and proprietary) ways. Due to the small size of this artisan company, I will be lean on the specifics for the sake of intellectual property protection.

The Zardoz is not simply an Airtunes receiver with a new power supply and a few new caps as is often the case for other modded WiFi devices. It has been gutted and redesigned on multiple levels. First, he has decoupled the Burr-Brown DAC from the signal path and rerouted the data to a proprietary, external master clock built around a chip manufactured by a semiconductor company not normally seen in hi end audio. Jitter levels are vanishingly low (< 12 ps peak to peak). Second, the clock also has its own power supply, designed by Dan. Third, Dan has tricked out the main power supply using a proprietary double regulated, filtration process with ultra fast, soft recovery rectifiers. This power supply possesses close to 200,000 uF of filtering capacity. This is important since undulation in power supply voltages contributes to jitter more than almost any other variable. Again, according to Nugent:

“Power "noise" as it is referred to is probably one of the largest contributors to jitter.”

Fourth, the output stage has also been modded. Silver wiring is used throughout, along with upgraded caps. The digital outputs are rigged with Lundhal transformers, and options include SPDIF, AES/EBU, and USB if so desired. Balanced analog output is an option using passive transformers with amorphous cores from Lundahl in Sweden.

In terms of construction, the fit and finish of the Zardoz is elegant and top notch. Aesthetically, the Zardoz is very attractive. Dan works with a cabinet maker who constructs beautiful boxes out of Teak wood. Dan believes that Teak possesses certain attributes that positively effects sound. Whether that is true or not escapes me. All I know is that the WAF is very high. Case closed.

The System

Speakers: Intuitive Design Gamma Summits
Amplifiers: Intuitive Design Coordinate Monoblocks (housed in ID granite stands)
Pre-amplifier: Tube Research Labs Dude
Source: db System Zardoz (WiFi receiver) fed by an Apple MAC Mini + Apple Time Capsule router
Cabling: Intuitive Design speaker wire, ICs, and power cords throughout
Isolation devices: Stillpoints on speakers and stands; Sistrum stands for Dude and Zardoz
Remote: Apple Iphone 3G

Listening Vignettes:

When it comes to listening sessions and formal analysis, I am not as disciplined as some. I rarely perform a complete vivisection of a piece of gear and its attributes. I think it is more revealing to describe what it does within the context of a specific piece of music, or even within just one part of that music. To me, these little audio vignettes speak the most clearly and give the reader more potential revelation, a light unto your audio feet.

1. Cowboy Junkies, Trinity Sessions: this was actually one of the first albums I played after getting the Z. Sonically, this album is spooky. It was recorded in an old church and has a cavernous, sonic ambience imparted by the size of the space. I have “listened” to this album a lot in the past. Now, I was tuning into things I had missed before. In “Mining For Gold,” the song begins with the sound of coal cars in the background or periphery of the stage. I could hear each car clicking by with cumulative echoes creating a weird, ghostly hum. This “detail” was new. Margo Timmins voice is very clear and well defined with each inhalation articulated. The echo of her voice is also beautifully defined as it travels outwards to the perimeter of the church much like waves created by a stone hitting the water. The echo delineated the space, and this recreation of the recording venue was stunning. This simple experience opened my eyes and transformed my listening experience of this album. Every note and instrument expanded outwards in the same fashion. Furthermore, the Z’s presentation possessed see-through clarity within the context of a relaxed sound. Yeow.

2. Eva Cassidy, Songbird: a favorite album of mine. She was an exquisitely gifted singer who succumbed to metastatic melanoma at the tender age of 33. Her voice knew no bounds and she was free ranging musically, singing everything from gospel to jazz and blues and inventive covers (Police, Fields of Gold for example). Again, the Z stripped away the digital fizz so I could zero in on individual instruments and the actual space they space they inhabit. On the song, “Songbird,” Eva’s voice is captured with all its mellifluous texture and vibrancy. For the first time, I heard the backup singer directly behind Eva, singing in her shadow, with a magnificent and powerful voice in her own right. Please note that this album is not well recorded. It is bright and forward, particularly when she nails her high notes. With my previous front end, it was hard to listen to for long periods of time. Not so anymore. That is an achievement…being able to listen to less than stellar CDs without losing necessary detail.

3. Steve Davis, Quality of Silence: this album is an extremely well recorded (DSD/SACD hybrid) piece of music. It is what I would call ambient or atmospheric jazz. The philosophical gist of the music is that less is more and what matters inhabits the silence between the notes. The sparseness of the format allows your brain to track individual instruments and the veracity their portrayal. “Yesterdays,” the second track features Steve Davis tinkering in the background on the drums. Gentle, single strikes on the cymbals and their idiosyncratic resonance are captured with great depth, energy, and a sense of the recording studio space along with a perfect timbre. I feel like I am right in the studio with a cup of coffee in hand.
4. Eric Clapton, MTV Unplugged: this is a well recorded live album. On the song “Malted Milk,” you can hear Clapton tapping his foot on the stage. I had noticed this artifact before, but now, I could hear the initial tap of his shoe on the wood followed by the dull thud that was propagated with an echo that seems to travel in a longitudinal fashion towards the listener and away to the back of the stage. Clapton’s voice echoes upwards, like a plume of smoke. Again, this was new detail, but the Zardoz did not present it in a fatiguing or irritating way. It was eminently musical. Also, the pluck of his guitar was incisive, dynamic and woody sounding. A perfectly portrayed acoustic illusion, almost (almost) as good as being there. This is an important feat for this “live, small venue” music lover.

In summary, the Zardoz scales a peak that is very difficult in digital audio: clear and realistic rendering of detail, dynamics, openness, and an accurate recreation of space in the context of a mellow, relaxed, analog presentation. Crappy CDs are tamed (to a degree). Good CDs sound off the map. You can listen for hours and hours without fatigue. To top it off, this can all be done with an eminently pragmatic device that allows you to stream your 4000 CD collection and thousands of internet radio stations at the brush of a finger. What more would you want? The Zardoz is indeed audio honey for the audiophile’s ears.

p.s. Please feel free to email me with questions. If they are of a more technical nature, I will forward you onto you onto Dan (contact data below*) whom you can Skype or email anytime. The website is in French, but Dan speaks excellent English. He makes himself readily available. If you are in or around Charlotte, NC, feel free to swing by for an audition. Ciao.

Andrew J.L. Gear

*db System
c/o Dan Bellity
5 ave Jean XXIII - 06130 Grasse - France
Tel : (33) - 04 93 42 53 47
Fax : (33) - 04 26 00 72 74- 04 26 00 72 74

Associated gear
Speakers: Intuitive Design Gamma Summits
Amplifiers: Intuitive Design Coordinate Monoblocks (housed in ID granite stands)
Pre-amplifier: Tube Research Labs Dude
Source: db System Zardoz (WiFi receiver) fed by an Apple MAC Mini + Apple Time Capsule external HD/router
Cabling: Intuitive Design speaker wire, ICs, and power cords throughout
Isolation devices: Stillpoints on speakers and stands; Sistrum stands for Dude and Zardoz
Remote: Apple Iphone 3G
Brain fart: I put the wrong URL for Nugent's jitter article. Here is the correct link
nice review agear , dan will be happy for that :)
i still have my Zardoz ultimo too and now just upgraded with the V2.0
and compared with weiss minerva+amarra at my local shop.
i still prefer the french wood wifi box with my SET and Avant-Garde Nano speakers.

Audio is processed by a Texas Instruments Burr-Brown PCM2705 16-bit digital-to-analog converter

the chip is no longer the BB pcm2705 but a chip from MARVEL , i don't have the data-sheet.

Excellent read Andrew !

Sounds like the next move for the millenium has really come into focus.
Hi Rohan. That is kool. Thanks for the feedback. I did reference the Marvel chip (just not by name).

Nice review Andrew. Two major points that I do agree with, the superior sound of wireless packets as signal vs USB (work with them daily and do not like them). And the importance of Power on "jitter". I ignored this for a long time and when I started paying attention to devices in the chain, there is a dramatic benefit in musicality. So your observation is right on target.

The Zardoz description (photos) compared to the stock version is impressive. This is worth auditioning alright.

No mention of the the old debate 24/96 vs 24/192. Do you know if the designer feels its an important factor in the playback of hi-rez files? Is this supported by the Zardoz?

My email inquiry on this question resulted in no response.
Nice review Andrew. I'm glad this worked out for you. I have been waffling on computer audio for a while now, but my current digital front end continues to impress and makes it hard for me to consider switching out.

As you know I also had an interest in the Zardoz but like La45 had difficulty getting Zardoz to return my emails in a timely fashion. So my interest waned.
Excellent review, Andrew. Such detail.

LA45 and Clio: As for the e-mail inquiries, A small manufacturer can recieve 50 plus e-mails a day easily and it can be difficult to answer them all and get the product out in a timely manner. Not making excuses, just offering an alternate viewpoint.

Maybe you need to give the guy another chance?
Agear, very nice writeup.
How did you do to rip the 3rd disc the SACD to your computer?
I'm fully aware of the problems email causes small manufacturers. Even manufacturers like Ayre who are growing in size have issues responding to emails. Charles Hansen always makes a point that he prefers people call Ayre (or one of their many distributors) for support or product questions. Easier said than done for some. I'm also aware that my own experience with a manufacturer can differ than other s experiences with the same manufacturer.

My rule of thumb is very simple and in the end I base my opinions on my own personal experience. There are lots of great products on the market today to choose from. If you're too busy to communicate with me then you're too busy to do business with me. Complicating the matter with Zardoz is that they are an overseas manufacturer. If they are too busy to answer pre-sales questions what might happen with support? Not insinuating anything just offering another viewpoint.

I trust Andrew's opinions on Zardoz as a top notch computer audio solution (which is also Mac friendly) and at the same time I trust my own opinion on my non-computer digital front end (which includes a DAC built by a small Lithuanian manufacturer who has a record of responding to my emails within 48 hours) and my recent decision to move more into the analog realm. Zardoz could have possibly changed that decision with one email response. Another chance is not likely at this point, but I'll keep my eye on them.
Thanks for the feedback guys.

Luis, I respect your audio insight and acumen. You seem to suss out technical issues in real time while the rest of us read about them and then work backwards. In terms of 24/96 vs 24/192 and beyond, Dan and I have not had specific discussions about it. At one point, he did say that when Itunes is able to stream 24/96, the Z would be able to decode it. Right now, I "believe" Itunes can decode the higher rez formats but cannot stream them? I have read a lot of contradictory info on this matter and I find it irritating. I have also not been convinced of the sonic merits of upsampling music. That being said, Apple is a big enough and innovative enough of a company to continue to be at the forefront of the wireless revolution and make changes when necessary. Right now, the hi rez game is in the same boat as SACD and DVa was a few years ago...unresolved. A lot of people makes claims about this or that format, but who knows. As Rohan/Juanitox said, he heard the Weiss device, which like the alpha Berkeley DAC, has up to 24/192 capability I believe. He still preferred the Z.

Tony, the Lessloss device is excellent and cleverly designed, and I agree you have no real need to change. Furthermore, if your actual CD collection is not extensive and not a primary vehicle for music, you have even less reason to chase this stuff.

Brian, thanks for defending Dan. Small business can be tough and we have to give the little guys grace IMO. Fundamentally, I will support them until the end irrespective of perceived inefficiencies short of unethical behaviour. As I said in the review, many audiophiles seem irritable these days and there is a low threshold for small ripples in the day.
Perrew, the SACD is a "hybrid" meaning it contains 16/44.1 data also and can thus be played on a regular CDP or imported into Itunes. There are apparently programs out there that can manipulate the data within a SACD and potentially be harvested but that remains to be determined. Again, the computer world is crazy and always in flux.

p.s. Nice system.....
I'm not very computer audio savy (due to the numerous designs, implementations and advances)

From my past readings and experience, I was under the impression 16/44 done properly w/o up or oversampling created a smoother, analog sound ?

Is there an English translated site ?
I forwarded Dan your concerns and here is his reply. He had technical difficulties trying to post to this thread, so here is his reply:

"Hi Andrew,

Sorry to all of you whom have not received answers to your emails. For a time, I had a very aggressive, anti-Spam filter and thus many emails were blacklisted.
Now the problem is solved. (I read all my emails including Spam:-)

Another good option is Skype. Then, we can speak face to face.

To answer the question of resolution of the original AE: it is 24 bits 48kHz maximum. It was probably limited by Apple to reduce the quantification noise generated by upsampling. The chip that I have used in the Zardoz is made by Marvel and is 96Hz capatible and even higher.

Please feel free to Skype or email me with further questions.
Kindest regards to all of you.
Dan Bellity"
From what I have read there are a number of ways that 16/44 is implemented in digital players. One is without upsampling/oversampling and without filtering. These are commonly referred to as the NOS DACs, etc. which Audio Note and Sakura Systems (47 Labs) made famous and others followed suit on. One of the more popular chips used in NOS designs was the TDA-1543 made by Phillips. Funny, just this weekend I was listening to my TRL modified Audio Mirror DAC that uses this chip (8 in parallel) with no upsampling/oversampling or filtering and was re-acquainted again with the extremely smooth and analog sound. In some ways I enjoyed it better than my current digital front end. The knock, for right or wrong, on NOS designs is that they are limited in their ability to handle complex music.

Another method is using a non-upsampling/oversampling approach with filtering. The AMR CD-77 player offers this with the Phillips TDA-1541 chip and allows the user to select from no digital or analog filtering to an option that has no digital filtering but applies analog filtering. I can say from experience in listening to this player that these options have an effect on the sound, I preferred the option with no filtering at all. This CDP also allows one to apply different sampling rates. There are 2x and 4x oversampling options and 96 and 192Hz upsampling options. Again, each has an effect on the sound. My favorite was 16/44.1 with 4x oversampling. For those interested there is a good discussion by Lynn Olson on NOS designs and digital chips here:

That being said the new hi-rez formats used in digital download sites require that computer audio designers begin thinking more and more about supporting 24/96. It appears that Zardoz has gone to 24/96 and may be going to 24/192 in the future so they have addressed this. If I were going to computer audio I wouldn't buy a solution that could not at least handle 24/96.


Its my contention that some of the discussion surrounding 24/96 and 24/192 are perhaps self fulfilling. I have heard 1 bit DAC's sound like analog and multi-bits sound more analytical. And I have "ripped" copies on redbook from my small vinyl collection that sound superior in many ways. so there is no one solution. This makes the voyage fun!


Thanks so much for responding here. I am glad Andrew was able to shed some light on the Zardoz device. I have respect for anything that sound superior relative to devices that cost 5x the price. The Lundahl transformers are the most musical of its type. I enjoyed them in my Cd player a few years back. A wise choice to say the least.

I appreciate if you can comment on what your future plans are for making this device more accessible in the US for auditioning. I would imagine that Zardoz can become a household name.

Great job Andrew.

Thanks for the data Tony. I have perused a few discussions on digital processing formats and always came away with the impression that NOS produced a more "analog" sound. For a while, I was looking into both Wavelength and Ultrafi DACs using that format. At the end of the day, I guess its a matter of implementation rather than processing format???

Luis, much of the banter is self-fulfilling. Others have born witness to your observations that increasing bit rate resolution and sampling rates does not always translate into a more analog presentation. I tried to insinuate that in the review and Juanitox was more blunt about it. I know some of this by experience as well. My Granite Audio 657 CDP used a DAC chip with 20bit/96KHz DAC chip. Don Hogland told me he chose this particular chip over other 24 bit versions since it sounded more "musical." People gave him crap about it, but I am afraid I agree. The 657 was an incredibly good CDP and bettered a lot of players with fancier 21st century chips. I have heard a similar testimony from Steve Nugent at Empirical in that certain chips (even with a similar bit rate) sound better than others. There is obviously more to this story.
I have to admit that the article by Lynn Olson opened my eyes to some things in the digital realm that I had not thought about previously. Especially the fact that some chips truncate the bits. However, having listened to the TDA series chips (which for some reason Lynn bashes) and the 20 bit chips, I'd have to say that 20 bits (and even some 18 bit chips) provide a nice trade off (BTW - I used to own the Monarchy M24 DAC that Lynn Olson raves about and he is spot on in his assessment of this piece). They offer additional detail, but without seemingly coming across as too analytical. From a 24 bit perspective it is interesting how many CDPs/DACs that have been said to have a musical and analog type sound use the PCM-1704-K.

I don't know why more manufacturers don't offer the option to select different sampling rates or filters. Given the option I think my preference would be 24/88.2 or 24/176.4. The even sampling rates seem to work out better than then odd ones for the most part, although due to marketing reasons we consumers are usually stuck with the odd ones.

I have always been fascinated by Don Hogland's amp designs (I actually use one of his burn in CDs to tune my system occasionally). However, I was unaware of the chip used in the 657 and I may have to look into this a bit more. Don is not that far away from me and I'll be heading to Phoenix in a few weeks for a weekend so maybe he'd be willing to entertain a visit from me.

I have to say that I am interested in learning more about the MARVEL chip used in the Zardoz and how it is implemented. These questions were the premise of my original emails to Dan that were never addressed. Maybe he could weigh in here on the topic.
Oh I forgot one thing. Tests show that chips used in NOS designs tend to roll off the top end. Those conducting these tests then attribute this roll off to the analog sound that we supposedly "hear", yet point out that we can't be hearing everything because of the roll off and also possible truncation of the bits. Well maybe we are hearing everything because after all as one manufacturers Website puts it (**wink, wink**) and I'm paraphrasing here:

Traditional measurements on a piece of equipment's performance illustrate how machines hear, not how humans hear. We probably are years away from having measurements which we can really associate to or correlate with the listenability of a device. In order to appreciate any product, it must be measured by the most sophisticated measuring instruments there are--the ears of discerning and discriminating listener.
Bravo Tony. I agree 100% with that last paraphrase. You should most definitely visit Don in AZ. He is an awesome dude, is a musician (pianist), and makes incredibly good, "musical" gear.

The Marvel chip is where at least some of the magic resides in the Z. I too tried to dig up more info on that chip in preparation for this review. I actually called the company, and they would not provide information to me regarding the chip since I did not have a formal contract with them (as buyer). This is probably typical for big, semiconductor companies. They do a lot of private, contract work in addition to their public offerings for consumer electronic applications, and thus their reticence to speak. An engineering friend of Dan's with military connections turned him onto this particular chip (I believe). It has PGA funtionality and is multifunctional in that it performs multiple operations within a single chip, etc. Dan is a little tight lipped about some of these elements which is appropriate in my mind. Dale Pitcher from Intuitive Design and the TRL gang are the same. I presume you know why.
I'd like to try and get some clarification on something La45 said in an earlier post. There seem to be a few schools of thought here. USB, firewire, and wireless are all methods which can be used to enable computers or servers as transports and in some cases even the DA conversion. One of the things I like about my current digital front end is that the transport clock is slaved to the DAC clock. I believe this aspect of the design is a big part of the combo's sonic quality.

Take USB for example. Gordon Rankin has recognized the need to implement an asynch USB component to his design to neutralize the computers clock and control over the audio transfer rate. I assume Steve Nugent's Pace Car reclocker is designed to achieve the same effect. Both in an effort to reduce clock and cable induced jitter. Firewire, used primarily in Pro Audio applications is supposed to be better than USB, and from the reviews I have seen from audiophiles on the TC Elektronic Konnekt 8 (whose clock is licensed by some high end manufacturers), as well as auditioning a firewire set-up with reclocker from VRS Audio in my system I would have to agree.

So how does wireless handle all this? Does wireless and the lack of a cable of any sort inherently eliminate the computers control over the audio transfer rate and eliminate the effects of the computer clock altogether, or at the very least slave it to the DAC clock? These were the premises of my questions to Dan at Zardoz that did not get answered. I've learned a lot about computer audio over the last couple of years, but these are the nagging questions that still keep me away from it. That and playback software and its effects on sound (which I have heard in my own system), but I digress for a moment.

Andrew, please try and direct Dan to this thread. I think it would be worth it for him to help us understand some of these points. It wouldn't take much for him to register and join what I would find an interestng discussion.
I will get Dan involved. Some of your questions are answered in Nugent's jitter piece. That is why I included it. He addresses the logic behind the potential superiority of wireless. Steve is to me the most erudite dude in the computer arena. He has an actual pedigree. He would be worth calling....I have in the past.
I did see some of the information in the Nugent piece. I guess what I am driving at is if wireless is superior, why isn't everyone doing it, including Nugent, who has made his investment to date in USB. Gordon Rankin has also supported USB over wireless.
You can ask the same question of USB. It is not univerally applied and many of the designers I have spoken with have a low opinion of it. I think there are a multiplicity of reasons why wireless is not universal most of which have to do with pragmatism. Hi end audio is a business after all. It is not some think tank where the optimal decision is made every time. I think any design algorithm can be used and made to sound good. It is up to the designer and the ears God gave him (or her). That being said, Nugent did make some surprising statements and that is why I included the link. Here are some snippets to refresh people's memory:

"There is much misinformation on the forums about USB for audio streaming. USB is a fairly jittery interface on it's own."


"Networked audio (Ethernet), both wired and Wi-Fi is a unique case. Because the data is transmitted in packets with flow-control and re-try for errors with buffering at the end-point device, it is not as much of a real-time transfer as USB, S/PDIF or FireWire."


"This would seem to be the ideal situation, which it certainly is. "


"The problem for audiophiles is that the majority of these devices were designed with high-volume manufacturing and low-cost as requirements, with performance taking a lower priority. As a result, the jitter from these devices is higher than it could be. It should be the lowest of all the audio source devices available."

This "problem" referenced above is now being tackled by people like Dan. Enter the Zardoz baby!
I've probably spoken to more USB advocates than I care to admit and have spent significant time with both Nugent and Rankin. Not to mention Charles Ayre and Kevin Hayes, whose non computer audio designs I highly respect. I also had the opportunity to talk to a couple of industry people who have done extensive testing of a number of USB devices.

I guess what I'm looking for now is to have those same conversations with the wireless advocates. Unfortunately as was pointed out in the article many of these devices are "low" end so it probably prevents the ability to have a meaningful conversation with those designers. The exception is the Modwright Transporter and I have spoken to Dan Wright about his reasons for choosing this platform, but one designers opinion isn't going to convince me this is the best route to go.

As someone who is involved in the design and production of clinical Web applications, my audience (including physicians) is very demanding. They're not content to just take my word for it, although that would certainly make my job a lot easier. I have to show unequivocal proof that my designs and products provide a better cost/benefit ratio versus the competition. So like my audience, I'm more discerning and need a bit more proof than that what's currently been offered to me. After all, we're not talking peanuts here. It's a significant investment, at least for me.
Talk to Nugent about his statements about wireless and let us know. I think his words speak for themselves.

As you may know, I am a surgeon, researcher, and I am more "demanding" than most. I too have quite a bit of involvement in the computer industry and was involved in developing one early version of an electronic EMR (Cmore medical). But that is honestly irrelevant. At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. What are your ears telling you (or your brain). Audio is an odd hobby in that it is an amalgam of actual science and belief about things that are not provable (and yet still possibly true). For years, people have haggled about the influence of cables for example. There is not hard science behind their influence in the audio chain but I can HEAR it in a blinded, A+B setting. My wife can too. In choosing equipment, philes (including myself) think they are making an objective decision and often we are not. It is a reality. I am comfortable with that. I am telling people about this device because I like it. It is not some new audio gospel that has to be accepted.
As a side note-

On the subject of Wireless, its mind blowing that this format has not taken off, at least not yet. With forums like Computeraudio and discussions in Audiocircle (discless forum), the PC as a centerpiece for audio playback is gaining ground. What is even more revealing is that we are so used to changing our equipment to "upgrade" our sound experience that compared to the PC the upgrade is now software driven. Is this a profitable sector for Hi-end manufacturers?

I enjoy my current Wireless set up and indeed its very difficult to envision going back to the disc. I never forgot 47 labs demonstrating their 25K player that corrected for disc playback errors. It now seems like caveman technology to me now.

On the subject of Wireless, its mind blowing that this format has not taken off, at least not yet.

That's my point exactly. Considering some of the statements that have been referenced, why are designers (a couple of them pretty well regarded) spending more of their time trying to "perfect" USB than putting more time into something that is supposed to be superior in it's native format.

It doesn't make sense to me. Someone like Zardoz has a unique opportunity to capitalize on this and potentially corner the market. Maybe I need to talk to Dan about a capital investment;)

BTW - I am a big fan of 47 Labs. Very creative designs.


Well put.
Luis and Tony, you are making very good points, but as I said in the review, the computer world is very, very fluid. Things change rapidly. Simply because wireless (or any other format) is not the vanguard does not mean anything in and of itself. Things are in transition, rapid transition, and that is exciting and kool but also aggravating. You do have to be thoughtful, do your homework, etc. We have all had the experience of paying too much for a computer only to have it outdated 6 months later. I don't think digital audio is quite that fickle but it could be.

Luis, you own the Transporter. I think that is another example of a solid wireless device or at least a step in this whole evolution. The company who made that device has a lot more R&D cash than most mom and pop audio companies....and that may be why they were able to pull it off....
Tony and Luis, can you elaborate on why you purchased your current front ends and what thinking went into that decision? Tony, the Lessloss DAC is well regarded. It is expensive and uses a novel approach that most do not (like the Zardoz). It would be an interesting experiment to slave a wireless device to your DAC. Luis, many have bought and then sold their Transporters and/or modded them (Modwright, APL at one point, etc) due to its analytical, threadbare sound. Are you in that position now or is it a phenomenon that is recording dependent....?

As a FYI, in the not too distant future I will doing an informal shootout with the new alpha Berkely DAC which many are regarding as SOTA like the Weiss Minerva. That will put a lot of the empty audio banter and posturing to rest.
From about 1998 to about 2004 I was happily cruising along with my Quad-77 CDP (and prior to that owned a Luxman for about 9 years). The Quad used an 18 bit chip and the sound was very good in my opinion. I wouldn't go so far as to say analog sounding, but it was an enjoyable player. I might still have it today if the laser hadn't failed, which put me on an interesting digital journey with one criteria, find something within my budget that would compete with my analog set-up.

During this time I experimented with NOS designs, upsampling designs, a USB converter, and a combo (Northstar) that used an I2S interface. While I had read about Lessloss previously, their pricing made it a solution that while impressive from a design perspective, I was not prepared to pay (about $6k all told new, slightly less with a used CEC TL-51X, but not much). Had I not run into a used deal on Audiogon I would still have the Northstar combo.

The Northstar was interesting in that using the I2S interface all upsampling occurred via the transports clock with the DAC just doing the D/A processing. I found this to be a very interesting and effective design which Nugent has also incorporated (to support Northstar products and as a proprietary design) into his products. It eliminates the effect of the digital cable. The Northstar combo did approach vinyl nirvana, but couldn't quite get me the last mile.

There were two things that always intrigued me about Lessloss. One was the concept of slaving the transport to the DAC (which until recently they had instructions posted on their Website that showed how to do this for non-Lessloss gear). To me, the digital cable and SPDIF are among the worst things about using a transport/DAC combo. Had I not been infatuated by the idea of digital separates I'd still have a one box player. My thought was since preamp/amp separates worked out well for me, why not digital separates. Well interconnects between the former components and digital connections in the latter are two different animals. Neutralize the effects of the digital connection and the improvements are easily heard.

The other factor was the use of a battery power supply for the analog output stage, while still maintaining a linear power supply for the digital stage (similar to what TRL did with the Sony 900 player). I'll still maintain that a well designed and beefy linear power supply is better than a battery power supply, and my opinion factors in the noise issue as well. So to me, using a well designed linear power supply scheme on the front end and battery power supply on the back end made good sense.

Part of my attraction was also the use of the CEC TL-51X transport. The belt drive mechanism that decouples the motor from the transport is a page right out of the analog books in turntable design. How could I not be attracted to it? Also, the smooth and relaxed presentation CEC is known for, while not sacrificing resolution, is also something that I like, and lastly they already had the clock output built into the design making it plug and play with the Lessloss DAC (just a custom 9 pin to RCA cable required that Lessloss supplies).

Bottom line: CEC TL-51X + Lessloss DAC 2004 MKII = analog.

NOTE: I used the term "equals" not terms like "close" or "analog-like". This set-up made me forget about vinyl for a while and if it wasn't for the fact that I wandered into the realm of analog tuners and reel-to-reel decks, would have most likely lead to me going to a single source system.
Good stuff Tony. I like to hear people's audio history. Another TRL family member bopped by my house and we did some A+B power cord testing and I believe he had the midlevel Lessloss cord. It was very nice. I liked it. I think the "dude" behind is very clever and has a lot of good knowledge. That is why I referenced his web site. It is chalked full of good data.

The reel-reel thing is a whole another can of worms.

Esoteric has recently gotten into the wireless game with a DAC:
I'm very sure the Zardoz is the cat's butt and don't doubt your description about it one iota.

I do completely agree with Clio09 100% in saying my
CEC TL-2X + Museatex Bitstream Dac = Analog.

I'm up for a front-end shoot-out, to satisfy my curiosity.
Lol! Pat, you and I think alike. I would be game for a shootout any day of the week! Bring it....

otherwise all we are left with is words floating around in the internet ether....
Other tidbits to mention:

1. I had been intrigued by the Amarra software and whether it influenced wireless. I initially thought the answer was no. Apparently not. You can apparently route things to an Airtunes via the Roque Amoeba software AirFoil application.

2. Why are more manufacturers not going wireless if there are the advantages alluded to above? I asked Steve Nugent that question and this was his answer:

"As far as the investment to make these happen, it is a big deal. You must generate a software driver, a player software (like squeezecenter) and then the hardware receiver and the receiver firmware. Usually requires at least two software engineers and one hardware engineer and about 12-18 months of work to make this happen. Small companies cannot afford this."

This was my gut on this subject.

3. Technical side note: I did have temporary trouble with the Apple remote function (via Iphone) when using a PC-based system. This was due to my security software. It was temporary but irritating. I am now a MAC convert and have not had a single issue.
That's the way I feel, floating statements don't cut it for me.

I like to put my money where my ears are.

Same room, equipment, cables, music etc, your place or mine.
Lol. We could have young Ryan, our budding director film the whole audio documentary....!
"Luis, many have bought and then sold their Transporters and/or modded them (Modwright, APL at one point, etc) due to its analytical, threadbare sound. Are you in that position now or is it a phenomenon that is recording dependent....?"


I started with analog and scorned digital till many years ago when I heard a Wadia DAC & transport combination that blew me away. I then tried the Meitner Bidat and transport and it was a brief but satisfying experience. Eventually, I spent time with a Modded Philips 1000 player, Art Audio DAC and a TRL modded Marantz player. They were great experiments in sound. Each had trade offs I could not live with long term.

My Transporter is modded but not by APL or Dan Wright. I made changes that affect the sound simply because I wanted to "choose" the signature myself.

The Transporter has numerous changes which I will not cover here but the most important is the Slim device software itself. The 7.4 version offers up superior separation and dimensionality. It also paints this tapestry with enough weight and detail coupled with terrific pacing.
I can not tell you what a HUGE improvement this makes to the listening experience. Note, my system picks up power cord interference quite easily so set up is critical.

In conclusion, the Transporter is ideally market positioned since the folks at Logitech seem to know their target customers and as you pointed out Andrew they have the internal structure to make it all work.

The Transporter does have a digital signature in stock form but I "tuned" the signature by adding some elements to the circuitry.

If one was to take the time to set up and tune the entire system around the Transporter, one will hear what a Wireless system has to offer compared to optical playback. I hear differences in recordings more so than with any other previous digital sources.

In my view the more connections you have in the chain the less revealing information can get out. Clio9 has commented on this from his own experience and I agree its not just our words and experiences, it has to be heard. So RX8man I hope you can one day hear a wireless set up at home so you will know what all the fuss is about.

Thanks Luis. Again, I like tidbits from the audio journey. Fun. I had forgotten part of our last telephone conversion in which you told me you had tinkered with it. I too looked at the Transporter and was impressed by the work Logitech put into it. I was also impressed that a company of that size and nature felt compelled to tackle such a project. I know one of their lead engineers got a little pissed when people who started modding the device and made some extravagant claims afterwards.

That shows me they were passionate about it. I never heard it. I did hear a Squeezebox SB3 through a DAC. I went elsewhere based on intuition. That is how I have made quite a few audio decisions (Intuitive Design, TRL, Merlin) and have yet to be disappointed.

I think the software is indeed an important influence on the sound as you have experienced. I know Dan demoed all the Logitech gear and software in addition to Sonos. He liked Itunes better. People will obviously argue about that. I myself am intrigued to fiddle with Amarra. A lot of MAC users are buzzing about it and it made a splash at RMAF 2009. We will see.

It is too bad you guys don't live in the hood. We could demo all this stuff. Irritating.
Juanitox, you owned the LessLoss DAC prior to the Zardoz. Any care to comment on the two sonically?

"Hi, I never had the Lesslos and Zardoz at the same time. I had sold my lessloss dac 2004 to Mike Smith ( 6moons audio) because I discovred that my db System modded PASS dac D1 was better than the Lessloss. I then sold my PASS Dac because the Z was better alone ;-) so I never compared the two at the the same time."

"the roku was modded and slaved by the lessloss clock output..."
Andrew, are you going to download the trial version of the Amarra software to test it out? What I read about it is good for the most part, but would prefer to hear a comparison to iTunes from someone who has a good set-up to test from. When Vincent at VRS was demoing his set-up in my system we did A/B iTunes with another pro audio player that could do some neat things with EQ and sampling rates (can't remember the name now) as Amarra was not yet available. It was clearly better than iTunes. I may have to invite him back over.

Okay, well after all the latest reading on this thread and some additional reading on AA, I've come to some conclusions on this. From my own perspective its hard to pull the trigger on this because:

1. Too many formats still out there, each claiming they have the answer.

2. Potential RFI noise issues with any of the options, but from what I know (correct me if I'm wrong) wireless routers generate a good amount of RFI.

3. Cost to benefit ratio. The cheaper solutions are not options. The Logitech is a good value used at around $1200. The Zardoz is about 2000 Euros just for the base version, probably another 500 Euros or so with the options. I believe it to be a very good solution, but could I keep it for 5 years or more to maximize my investment? See next comment.

4. As mentioned in this thread computer technology development is moving at a much faster pace than legacy audio technology, especially in the digital applications realm. How long before my investment in wireless technology becomes obsolete?

5. The "little" things like ripping and playback software have to be factored into this. Maybe I read too much on AA.

6. Guys like Rankin and Nugent should be commended for their work so far. However, I have to wonder if they're beginning to buy into their "legacies" to the point its affecting their thinking.

7. Now the Musicstreamer is out. A collaboration between the founders of Muse Technology and Classic Records. Their pro version of the product will be around $400. Another cats meow that is generating some marketing hype.

Juanitox did own a Lessloss DAC so I'd be interested in his opinion. Another person I know who I believe lives in France had the TC Elektronic Konnekt 8 which also did well against some very high end digital set-ups. He recently got the CEC/Lessloss combo and indicated it was better than the firewire set-up he had. FWIW, Lessloss isn't ignoring computer audio, they do offer a USB converter that plugs in directly to the SPDIF digital input on the DAC. I think its 350 Euros. However, Louis made it clear to me that while very good, it won't beat the slaved set-up.

Here is the AA review for those interested:

I think getting the SACD mtrl. to the computer is illegal.

Anyway I used to own the Transporter, the convenience is hard to beat so I didnt want to be without it when I got my next player. In my system the best computer audio has been the Wi-Fi solution. This option is the one that best isolates the DAC from the noisy computer.

ps. thanks for the compliment!
Tony, I read the review. Interesting. He did not blind himself to the A+B portion of his session (slaved Transporter vs CEC), and so Lessloss' recommendation could have influenced him. Its hard to know. The nice thing with the Z is that there is no cable/DAC interface to contend with and its jitter production. I guess the true test is A+B things with a good analog rig. Dan and the gang at db Systems did just that. But, at the end of the day, the old dictum:

"one can enjoy digital music reproduction as long as one does not listen to analogue"

may still be true. Stay tuned.

I would have to agree on the interface and the old dictum.

There is an interesting discussion going on over at AA:

Gordon Rankin and Charles Hansen have chimed in. Gordon more so to enlighten everyone (or possibly to defend his position) on asynch USB.
Kool. Nugent was commenting on asynchronous USB and how it is a major step forward away from crappy plug and play USB. Gordon did a lot of proprietary programming to make it happen and deserves the recognition.
Ayre licenses Gordon's software and I suspect others will follow suit. The concept is similar to the slaving approach used by Lessloss, although they do it via SRC. Not sure what the difference is from asynch.
It is clear from the thread that there is absolutely no consensus on the actual value of asynchronous USB. Some people are using. Some are not. The point was made that the Alpha Berkeley DAC does not and it is considered by many to be one of the best out there. Hmmm.

Agear.. You just hit a home run on the matter of asynchronous. The point being there is no proven fact for either method just what the designer/engineer envisions for accuracy of music playback and whether we agree with our pockets.

I really believe ultimately wireless will become the desired choice.
Right on Luis. That's what I currently believe as well. Wireless is the future. One element that I mentioned in my review (Perrew alluded to it and I am sure you feel this too) is one of pragmatism. It is a pain having to have a computer in your listening room or common space. It is not practical. Furthermore, once you experience flipping through your ENTIRE music collection from a touch screen, there is no going back IMO. The concept of getting up to pop in another CD or even walking across the room to a computer keyboard seems so 20th