[The first of two reviews looking at linear power supply options for the Squeezebox Touch. First up, an unusual pair of products from a Dutch company called – wait for it – Squeeze-Upgrade.]
Some reviews are as much about me as they are about you. This is one such review. It’s where review objectivity and the personal (selfish!) pursuit for sonic ‘perfection’ become entangled.
Power supplies and power cables – territory into which I will rarely stray. Reading about improvements from switching to more luxurious power cables still causes the skeptic within to surface. It’s not that the improvement isn’t necessarily there – it’s that it costs so darn much. An AU$2600 power cable hooked to a $1000 amplifier – say wha’? Upgrade economics always sit the listener bolt upright. $2.6k on the cable or $2.6k on a better amplifier. The latter would undoubtedly provide better audio wings. Spend ratios matter.
$2.6k runs dangerously close to my glass ceiling for amplifier money. Everyone has a class ceiling, right? Mine’s $1000 for transport, $2000 for DAC, $3000 for amplification, $3000 for loudspeakers. All dollars are Australian. Of course, these numbers move with the tidal flow of incoming and outgoing trends (technological, not aesthetic), but it’s where I draw the border between affordable audio arterial roads and high(er)-end esoterica. Yes, the latter invariably sounds better, but the pricing is too rich for my digestive tract. I suffer financial heartburn easily.
I might not want to live in the high end of town, but it doesn’t mean I can’t occasionally visit. Skepticism is healthy during such visits. Start from mental neutrality – be open to possibilities – and if it presents, call it. Imma calling it. A $2600 Audio Note power cable into Earle Weston’s Troubaour removes a layer of glad-wrap and nudges the soundstage forward. It just shouldn’t work, but it does. Within five minutes of luxury cabling, the audience (of two) agreed – a definite improvement. The broader message here isn’t about amplifier to power cable ratios – it’s that power cables matter.
Back in the low-rent district I look at my Squeezebox with frustration. It doesn’t sound as smooth or as refined as the John Kenny-modded Hiface (MK2) but I’m still not ready to move to a Mac Mini as full-time audio player. It demands keyboard, mouse and screen. The Squeezebox Touch plus iPad remote is a more elegant user experience; Squeezepad’s my app of choice. Back to my Mac: I considered Squeezeplay but it doesn’t yet talk to USB DACs. I looked at the GUI-less Squeezeslave – it sounds superb, but can’t/won’t assimilate lame MP3 headers for gapless playback. Ditto ugly-Java-duckling Softsqueeze.
I set out my computer transport requirements stall:
- Gapless playback of ALL formats
- Daily library rescan
- iOS remote control
Fidelia gets closest, but there are some stability issues and library scans are (erm) “wayward”. I like the sound of Audivarna and I like its price even more. I don’t like that it necessitates keyboard, mouse and display.
Back to the Squeezebox Touch. Soundcheck’s mods work – turning off wifi and the screen with a little SSH/scp love make for an improvement that’s noticeable in its sensatory confidence. If you’re serious about elevating your Touch to an audiophile (snob) level, these neatly programmed hacks are worth a go. Again, the skeptic within was shown the door.
It’s tough to nail the improvements to the wall with comprehensible descriptors. These aren’t sonic chacteristics that one could confidently call out with traditional review patter. “Deeper bass” or “improved treble extension”? Nope. Much like power supplies, performance gains contribute to how music feels more than how it sounds.
That’s often the trouble with some budget digital audio transports. They sound right – but feel wrong. Things are improving at a rate of knots: asynchronous data transfer, improved jitter reduction circuits and – most critical of all – improved power diets. A good power feed strips the MSG angst from the listening experience. John Kenny taught me this. Alas, John Kenny has yet to develop a battery power supply for Logitech’s Squeezeboxen range.
Dutch company Squeeze-Upgrade have opted for a blindingly literal trading name. A manifesto of sorts (from their website):
“Squeeze-upgrade is the first Dutch company that is specialized in the development of audiophile upgrade products for network music players, headphone amplifiers and or D/A converters.”
“The driving force behind our concept is the imbalance in price and quality of existing upgrade products. These products, whether it is a high-end power supply upgrade or an internal modification, improve the sound quality, but they are in our view far too expensive. Because let’s be honest: an upgrade, that costs more than 4 times the original purchase price of your audio device, may sound nice, but the price-quality ratio is hard to find.”
“Squeeze-upgrade makes innovative products and keeps an eye at the proper price/quality ratio. By combining new technology with smarter and more developed products we are really able to deliver high quality solutions at very competitive prices.”
How it works exactly is somewhat unclear, but the 40 Euro SBooster aims to make good the ills of switch-mode power supplies that ship with the Squeezebox Touch, Duet, Classic…and Arcam rDac. Sitting between stock SPSU and Squeezebox, the SBooster does deliver as promised – just. Sort of. It dials down the background hash. At least, I think it does. With such marginal improvements, it’s easy to doubt oneself. To what degree the SBooster will work for you will likely depend on your particular system. For 40 Euros, it’s a tidy, low-risk entry point into Squeezebox Upgrade’s first world. Maybe it’s worth the punt? Maybe not. My frustration here is not being able to call it either way with certainty in a test system that first comprises Exposure 2010s2 pushing Quad 11L Classic and then 47Labs Lens. Not even a switch to push-pull tubes could extract something (anything!) conclusive.
Delving deeper: a ‘Best of Two Worlds’ review unit for the Squeezebox Touch arrived from Holland. It’s a DC linear power supply with inline SBooster (and is available for the Arcam rDac, Musical Fidelity V-DAC, M2Tech EVO and the three Squeezebox models). Each will run you 135 Euros + shipping.
My listening was carried out in regards to the digital output of the Squeezebox Touch, which in turn fed both an Anedio D1 and (later) an Audio-gd Reference 7.1 DAC. Should you find yourself in the position of having the (185) Australian dollar equivalent of 135 Euros to upgrade the sound from the Touch’s analogue outs, you’re advised the cash into a decent outboard DAC. This PSU is for those who wish to juice the very last from their Squeezebox as digital transport.
My inner-skeptic plugged in and searched for changes at the margins. Over the course four weeks, listening time was rewarded with both small differences heard and slightly more pronounced differences felt: diminished metallic-ism, a better fix on performer location, blacker background. As noted with the John Kenny-modded Hiface, music gained a wet-ness as well as an injection of grease between the (mechanical) seams that improve overall flow. Liquid engineering.
Feelings gleaned from the Best of 2 Worlds auditioning lead to words such as “pleasurable”, “sumptuous” and “refined”. Both Messrs Anedio and Audio-gd could attest to such sonic deportment.
Listening for differences at or above the 98th percentile ain’t easy, particularly when considering the PSU upgrade will run you almost as much as the Touch itself (which possibly speaks more of the stone cold bargain that is the Squeezebox Touch than its ancillary power bricks). The improvements brought by the Best Of Two Worlds are marginal but real. It represents the (very subtle) sound of the final piece of the Squeezebox jigsaw dropping in to place and sets the scene nicely for more luxurious power supply products from Channel Islands and Red Wine (reviews to follow).
Only the most hearty optimist would expect a life changing upgrade. The biggest compliment of all: I won’t be returning the review unit.
- Logitech Squeezebox Touch (w/ Soundcheck mods)
- Anedio D1
- Audio-gd Reference 7.1
- Weston Acoustics Troubadour
- Exposure 2010s2
- Quad 11 Classic
- 47Labs Lens
- WLM Stratos / Lyros
- The Waterboys – In A Special Place (2011)
- Dominik Eulberg – Diorama (2011)
- John Tejada / Lucid Dream – Recovered Data 95 (2009)
- Neil Young – Le Noise (2010)