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High End 2015: AudioQuest

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HE15_Logo_GB_01Though there are quite a few pretenders, there are few true giants in high-end audio today. AudioQuest is one of those giants.

There are, I think, two knee-jerk reactions that the “typical audiophile” will have to the name. One will be about cables. The other will be about (asynchronous) USB DACs. Neither will be the whole story, but who ever really gets the whole story? We are the sum of our biases and misinformation.

For cables, I will note that AudioQuest is probably the number one audiophile cable vendor in the world right now, and yes, I’m not including Monster on purpose. AudioQuest have sold enormous quantities of built-to-spec digital cables (which is far more unusual than you’re probably assuming) like USB cables, HDMI cables and even Ethernet cables. Yes, they still sell analog cables, too, and all of their cable lines feature a variety of build-levels, many which leverage unusual cable geometries, dialectic approaches, and rare metallurgies. In short, AudioQuest has the most complete audio cable catalogs I’ve ever even heard about, much less paged through.

Talking with the AudioQuest team will, in almost every instance, be a remarkable grounding for the run-of-the-mill audiophile — these guys sell crazy stuff, and they’re unabashed about how close to the fringe some of their products will go. But it’s their core stuff, and in many cases, their most inexpensive stuff, that they want to talk about.

You see, much of the crap you can buy off of Amazon — take network cables, for instance — are just that. Total crap. They say they’re built to a spec, say Cat 6e. All things being equal, you say, a Cat 6e cable is a Cat 6e cable. It’s just bits, am-I-right?

Except it’s not.

The cable isn’t to spec. First, the connectors are trash. No, they don’t need to be carved from billets of unobtainium. But it would be great if they actually worked. The cables don’t need to be solid silver. But they do need to be twisted just-so. Shielding doesn’t need to be dialectrically biased, but it’d be nice if it was actually appropriately attached. Or grounded. Or even present. But when you’re buying your wire on price, you get what you pay for. And yes, it matters. My review will be coming shortly.

But the Big Wall of Wire aside, what caught my eye and ear at High End was the coming flight of the Nighthawk.

I first saw and heard these at CES this year, and I’ll say it — they’re quite good. They’re also rather different from the current slate of planar headphones that seem to be ruling the roost over at Head-Fi these days, and I quite like that. The “liquid wood” earcups are still interesting, and I’ll say it again, these may well be the lightest reference-class headphones you can buy. They’re unreal.

Paired where with a Dragonfly USB DAC, right off you’re run-of-the-mill laptop (running Amarra, perhaps), and you’ve a reference-caliber system for your desk, whether that desk is at work, your fold-down seat-back table, or your restaurant tabletop.

Another thing falling into the “new” category is another affordable two-fer. The first is the Jitterbug, a $49 USB-filter, with conditioning of both the voltage and data bus. Darko likes it.

The other is the Beetle, a $149 system DAC with Toslink, USB and Bluetooth inputs. The Beetle will be again featuring the 24bit/96kHz decoding and feature-set familiar from the Dragonfly — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, says I. Again, Darko has more.

As for me, I’m hoping to have a set of bugs in-house shortly.

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About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.