Vince said: The ADL Esprit is best suited for use in a computer desktop system, and excelled in that role. In fact, when it was hooked up to my computer, I was never so excited to get to work, knowing that I had a great music system to listen to through my headphones. As your system grows, you can pair the Esprit with a power amp for a killer budget two-channel rig.
The gist: Could form the heart of a small, but high-quality system.
Jeff said: The Arcam rBlink is a great little product that doesn’t ask much of its owner. It’s more about expanding your musical enjoyment than causing hassle. I wish that could be said of all high-end audio.
The gist: Stream everything to your stereo.
Price: $149, one Sender, one Receiver; $89, each additional Receiver
Doug said: Honest-to-goodness, CD-quality, wireless sound for $149. No interference problems, even in the dense RFI soup of a large apartment complex. Ultrasimple setup -- just plug in the W3 Sender and Receiver and you’re ready to move your music anywhere you need it within a reasonable range. In fact, you can send your music to up to three W3 Receivers simultaneously. Simple, inexpensive, functional -- both thumbs way up.
The gist: Wireless DAC that has no drawbacks at the price.
Doug said: The AudioQuest DragonFly is a high-bang-for-the-buck Reviewers’ Choice, and an easy recommendation for anyone on a tight budget who’s looking to move computer-based music playback to the next level.
The gist: Don’t let the size and price fool you -- this is a great little DAC.
Sathyan said: Supplemented with a high-quality USB DAC and an iOS (or, soon, Android) device for queue management, Autonomic Control’s Mirage MMS•5A can handily beat a computer in ease of use and reliability for local playback. Its user interface and library-management facilities are excellent for file-based audio. As delivered, however, I feel it overpromises and underdelivers in terms of sound quality.
The gist: Expensive for what it offers, and built more for the custom-install crowd.
Jeff said: As for sound, the Bel Canto stack stacks up well against the DACs that many feel are among the best available, and at less than Arab-sheik prices. They’re sonically very well balanced across the board, but are simply superb in the midrange, where lots of music needs it most. Although the Bel Cantos won’t beat every competing product in every sonic area -- what high-end component does? -- they can stand toe to toe with the best of them, and offer their owner a beautiful view into the heart of the music.
The gist: Modular digital front end that gets the midrange just about perfect.
Roger said: Its improvement of transparency, imaging, and low-level detail make it a cost-effective upgrade for $375. If your digital audio system doesn’t already include USB input and you’re thinking of adding a USB converter, a Bel Canto mLink would be an excellent place to start.
The gist: Got a DAC without USB input?
Hans said: The DAC2 HGC uses one of the best digital chipsets on the market today to produce a quality of sound that, until a few years ago, wasn’t available for less than $10,000. It sounds far more refined than its $1995 price would suggest, and when you consider that it can serve as the keystone of a digital and analog system, on a desktop or in a listening room, it becomes all the more remarkable.
The gist: Follow-up to the highly successful DAC1.