The JitterBug USB filter isn’t all AudioQuest will be launching at the 2015 Munich High-End Show.
Their new Beetle is a mini ‘desktop’ DAC that sells for US$149. It easily sits in the palm of the hand and the aesthetics are a long way from the Cronenberg/Burroughs nightmare of real life Beetles. Power comes from either the host computer’s USB port or the linear power supply that ships inside the box.
Inputs are three: USB (up to 24bit/96kHz), toslink (up to 24bit/96kHz) and asynchronous Bluetooth. The D/A conversion is exacted by an ESS 9010 and of the three filters on the chip, AudioQuest have opted for minimum phase.
Those paying close attention will have already noted that the Beetle requires a micro type B terminated USB cable as per the majority of Android smartphones.
The Beetle’s Bluetooth implementation runs with the AAC codec for “broader support,” according to Silberman. He’s quick to remind us that Apple have yet to officially implement the equally lossy aptX codec in either OS X or iOS.
Silberman adds, “It also supports SBC and MP3. Windows doesn’t support aptX. aptX also lacks support from the following platforms: iOS, OSX, Windows, Windows Phone, Linux and most Android devices. If aptX takes off, or if something else takes off, Beetle’s firmware can be upgraded by the consumer via USB. We’ll support whatever gains universal acceptance.”
The case will be made in China, the board in Ohio. That Ohio is also the home of Gordon Rankin is not a coincidence. He wrote the USB code for AudioQuests’ Dragonfly DAC and his services have once again been retained for the Beetle.
Here the story steers into fresh tech-territory: the Beetle’s inputs aren’t serviced by the usual turnkey micro-controller solution (as popularised by the UK’s XMOS).
Three years in development, the Beetle’s ‘MX’ microcontroller comes from Arizona’s Microchip Technology who Silberman describes as “one helluva collaborative vendor”.
The MX offers two key points of difference: 1) lower power draw – mostly under 30mA according to Silberman; 2) lower noise – on-chip analogue linear power supplies keep electrical noise independent of the incoming sample-rate and therefore lower.
Similar (but not identical) to Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs), Microchip’s ‘MX’ chip compels the audio hardware manufacturer to being (some of) its own code to the table. Enter Mr Rankin. His extensive experience with embedded programming has resulted in the Beetle’s microcontroller being charged with both asynchronous USB and asynchronous Bluetooth handling. The Beetle’s Toslink input is shot straight into the DAC chip.
We know from the audible differences between desktop music players – Amarra, PureMusic and Audirvana+ – that code impacts sound quality. Ditto the custom scripts that marshal data around each Antipodes server’s Linux operating system. Ditto Rockbox replacing portable stock DAP operating systems.
Microchip Technology’s relationship with AudioQuest is reportedly an open one. The Arizonians are apparently ready to work with other hi-fi industry players ready to roll up their sleeves and roll their own code out onto the ‘MX’ silicon. Custom code atop low noise circuitry has the potential to advance not just AudioQuest’s standing with D/A conversion but also any other audio manufacturer looking for more a bespoke solution for digital data handling.
The Beetle will begin shipping in late June.
Further information: AudioQuest
UPDATE 12th June 2015: More on why Bluetooth matters to the audiophile scene here.