If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it seventy-eight times: the Squeezebox Touch is the definitive digital audio gateway drug. It’s the step taken by audiophiles wanting more convenience with the music selection process (as well as an array of internet radio stations).
It starts innocently enough: toe meets water for ~AU$250. All your music to hand, in one place. Then you buy tagging software and an iOS remote controller app. iOS/Android apps take library browsing to new heights of accessibility. Music selection becomes more convenient still – you never have to leave you chair to change a CD ever again!
[This is Base Camp].
Using the analogue output of the Touch gives a good sound, but you soon want ‘better’. You want it to sound as good as your old disc spinner. You buy a shiny new pair of interconnects – not too expensive mind – only to find you’ve exposed more of the digitalis of the Touch’s good-but-not-mind-blowing on-board DAC.
Next thing you know, you’re looking at external DACs. The options and associated vernacular is mind-blowing: NOS, delta-sigma, tubes, no tubes, discrete output stages, R-2R. Yikes.
You buy an MHDT Havana. Or Rega. Those on tighter budgets opt for an Audio-gd. (All will sound better than the stock Squeezebox). That’s much better.
Time to relax? Not a chance.
[Camp 1, 5943m above sea level. Then along the Western Cwm to Camp 2, 6400m above sea level.]
You’ve a Squeezebox with a half-decent DAC attached. You’d better sort out that digital interconnect. You think bits are bits, but alas, you’re not quite seeing the whole picture. Line-induced jitter isn’t your friend, y’know. You plonk a hundred bucks down on a Blue Jean cable or – better still – a Black Cat Veloce. Surely now you can take some repose in the knowledge that your Squeezebox digital front end is fully optimised?
[Up the Lhotse Face to Camp 3. 7162m above sea level.]
“Wait – what? What’s jitter?” I’m glad you asked. Come on in, sit down, take the weight off. You can read a brief introduction to the concept of jitter here. The bad news? You need another box – something that will tidy up the jitter and line noise emanating from the Squeezebox. You sigh a heavy sigh. You shell out a further few hundred on an Audio-gd Digital Interface or Firestone Audio Bravo.
Enough already? Too late – you’re hooked. You’re in deep. The cost of a DAC, re-clocker and decent digital cable cast long shadows over the Squeezebox’s initial outlay.
[Further up the Lhotse Face to the South Col. You have now entered the ‘death zone’. Camp 4, 8000m above sea level.]
The final piece of your Squeezebox (front end) puzzle comes from ditching the power feed poison of the switch mode PSU (that ships with the Touch) and going for a linear option. If nothing else, it will eliminate doubt. Doubt that your source isn’t optimised, isn’t as good as it could be. You’ve come so very far from Base Camp. With the summit just within reach, it’d be heartbreaking to turn back now.
[The final summit push via the South Summit 8690m, then the summit ridge and Hilary step to 8850 metres.]
Dusty Vawter of Channel Islands Audio knows that if you’re gonna drop as much on a linear power supply as you did on your Squeezebox, you’ll want to show it off to your audiophile brethren (and not have it tucked out of sight behind a cabinet). Whilst SBooster’s Best of Two Worlds PSU was a black-brick — a floor-hugging number — Vawter’s CI VDC-SB (US$259) demands/commands space in your hifi display cabinet. The case is neat and tidy with a single power LED on the front. It looks good – it shows that you’re serious. You mean business.
“When I first heard about the Squeezebox, I thought it was worth checking out so I ordered one to try out. Once getting it up and running I was surprised by it’s performance and ease of use. The following day I turned on my old Accuphase tuner and noticed that it produced nothing but noise. I suspected the SB3’s stock switching supply was creating RF noise, so I unplugged it from the wall and sure enough, my tuner was once again noise free and sounding great.”, begins Vawter.
“The next step was to make a linear supply (no RF noise) to fix the problem. The first prototype did the trick and also improved the overall sound on both the analog and digital outputs.”
“So then we went to work experimenting with transformers, filtering, regulation circuits, and layout, to create an efficient and cost effective design which produced a rock-steady output voltage with very low noise and ripple. The result was a nice plug-n-play upgrade for the SB3 (and now the Touch).”
Yes, yes – but does it sound better?
Being a summit-push purchase, only the digital output was tested. Analogue output users finding themselves at lower altitudes would see far greater dollar-for-dollar lift from an outboard DAC.
I’m not gonna tell you I could hear stomach gurgles from Morrissey or Neil Young’s hair grow – and then fall out! The CI VDC-SB doesn’t reveal more detail per se. The CI’s linear power feed dances on the peripheries and works behind the scenes. Nothing it does is arrestingly obvious – A/B switching between two identically-cabled Squeezeboxen – one with the stock SMPS and one with the CI unit – revealed zero immediatedifference. The VDC-SB plays a long game with life on the margins – the 99th percentile and above. It took weeks for the penny to finally drop: gone was the stress and anxiety from both music and listener: background hash banished, acoustic mass emphasised.
Did music now sound massaged, looser, more supple? Or were my concerns about the switch-mode infection rubbed clean? A combination of the two. Does it matter if what you hear is a placebo effect? You still gain enjoyment – if it sounds better to you, then it IS better. There’s some truth in those tired cliches. That’s WHY they’re cliches. Improvements won’t be discernible by everyone or revealed by every system. Thankfully, Vawter extends a 30-day home trial to interested parties.
The CI PSU drives the listener a short way out of the city, away from the most aggressive (SMPS) light pollution. It’s a journey into the countryside where, during the night, more stars are revealed. Interestingly, the night sky background ‘blackening’ brought by the Channel Islands power feed is a smidgen more obvious with the Squeezebox Classic than the Touch. Go figure.
When compared to the Best Of Two Worlds PSU (135Euros), the CI’s improvements were of similar flavour. Beyond physical appearance, there’s little to separate them: try describing the taste differences between Jalfrezi and Rogan Josh. Each PSU deepens flavour without emphasising heat. As a further reference point, Vinnie Rossi’s RWA Black Lightning (US$900) battery power box stirs in a mellower, creamier sauce: think Korma.
The sonic improvements of any power supply addendum will always be fiercely contested by some. The electrons-are-electrons brigade won’t be buying Dusty’s PSU. That’s their loss. Psychology weighs heavy on the purchase process: audiophiles seeking to maximise performance and – more importantly – minimise doubt will find the CIA VDC-SB a worthwhile purchase. When DAC, re-clocker and coaxial cable have all been sorted, Sherpa Vawter will see you safely to the Squeezebox summit – you are advised to follow.
- Logitech Squeezebox Touch
- Logitech Squeezebox Classic
- Anedio D1
- Audio-gd Reference 7.1
- Leben CS300XS
- Exposure 2010s2
- Weston Acoustics Troubadour
- Zu Omen
- Usher S-520
- 47Labs Lens
- Quad 11L Classic
- Hardfloor – Two Decades Of… (2011)
- Neil Young – After The Gold Rush (1971)
- Morrissey – Vauxhall and I (1994)
- Pulp – This Is Hardcore (1997)
- Brian Eno – Another Green World (1975)
- John Beltran – Ambient Selections (2011)
- Bruce Springsteen – Darkness On The Edge Of Town [Remaster] (1978)
- Deepchord – Hash-bar Loops (2011)
- Fila Brazillia – Mess (1996)
- Global Communication – 76 14 (1994)
- The Black Angels – Directions To See A Ghost (2008)