It was May. Steve Silberman and John Darko and I wandered, lost, in an urban jungle. We were walking across Munich. Miles and miles. It was possible that we were never, ever, going to get where we were going. I forgot where we were going. I forgot why we were going. I forgot my own name. It was a long walk.
If you’ve never met Darko, he’s like a dog with a bone. The idea that was consuming him on these marches to and from Bataan was “re-imagining lifestyle audio”. The idea isn’t all that complicated: audio is expensive, audiophiles are tweaky, and “regular people” will respond to the call of “good sound” if and only if the tech “fits” their life and lifestyle. Big speakers, complicated devices, too many wires, all that is alienating and weird and off-putting. Keep it simple, keep it good, keep it cheap and you’ll make a killing.
There’s something to this. AudioQuest, needless to say, has been on this particular train for a little while now. Take their Dragonfly, a $150 USB dongle. You could say that this device has been … well received. Ha! Yeah.
Now, or rather in November, comes the Beetle.
Beetle is another DAC. It’s also more. Unlike the Dragonfly, the Beetle is positioned a bit more centrally in your life. With a Bluetooth input, as well as an optical in (from, say, your Apple TV, for example) as well as a USB input, the overall design leans heavily on Gordon Rankin (the Dragonfly guy, in addition to being the force behind XMOS USB transceivers, as well as some extremely high-end audio gear), but now implements a brand-new chipset controller from MCHP, taking over from XMOS, for a much lower power draw (and much lower noise). It also features the ESS 9010 DAC chip, which is capable of 24bit/96kHz resolution and will be running a native minimum-phase filter for best-possible sound quality. More details are at DAR.
The Beetle also has a mini-jack output, to which you can hang a pair of headphones. Like, just for a completely random example, a pair of AudioQuest Nighthawk headphones. I mean, they were there, what was a guy to do? Aside from slapping them on and looking for tunes.
I’m not gonna lie — this isn’t going to be knocking out any $10k headphone rigs. But hold the phone! That was never the point — this little widget, like the new Chromecast Audio from Google, was designed to create a high-quality and easy-to-use audio hub for Average Joe’s “main rig”, whatever (and wherever) that may be — headphone, desktop, TV, whatever. You know, what “normal people” use. Darko must be dancing a jig right about now, gleefully chanting “I told ya so” in that surprisingly girlish voice, and given that he’s actually a Jötunn (and almost certainly related to Loki), this would probably be something very worth seeing.
Anyway, what I heard was actually damn good — this little bug is a very credible contender and that’s more than a little bit embarrassing. I remember, standing there at the booth in the Atrium lobby, saying to myself, “I’m sorry — how much is this thing??!?” Those sneaky, sneaky bastards.
Beetle is small, cheap, easy to use and works with all the crap you already have; given the almost absurd price point, I’m gonna say this is the no-brainer from Rocky Mountain. I kinda wonder if they’ll give bulk discounts, cause I can’t think of a better and more useful stocking-stuffer at this point. I’m definitely putting it on my list.
Got kids? Got friends? Think they might respond to a first-hand lesson in drug dealer economics? Start them on their audiophile journey with a Beetle. Boom. Done.