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The talking heads of RMAF 2018: Gordon Rankin

  • The USB stick, handed to me early Saturday morning by Wavelength Audio’s Gordon Rankin, detailed the five new models being shown at RMAF 2018: the Duetto v5 8w 300B amplifier, the (flagship) Crimson HS3x ES9038 USB DAC, the Cosecant HS3x ES9038 USB DAC, the Brick N2 Hybrid NOS Ladder DAC and, most newsworthy of all for this commentator, the Ethernet Spacelator — an optically isolated, dual-clocked repeater ($TBC) that sits between streamer (or streaming DAC) and network.

    Rankin’s USB stick elaborated: “The input side of the circuit goes to a really high-quality reclocker, this is then converted to a digital parallel interface that is optically coupled in both directions to the clean side reclocker. A low jitter (0.1ps) oscillator is used on the clean side (output) and then feed to the input side of the circuit through an optical isolator. So the input and the output is not only isolated by the magnetics of the Ethernet connector but also completely isolated by optics. A dual linear power supply and a total of five low noise regulators are used to filter out any noise from the mains and separately power each side of the ES. A mains line filter accepts the 115/230 switchable power at the IEC.”

    Gordon Rankin has been USB contractor to the stars (of high-end audio) and he is often celebrated as the inventor of asynchronous USB. From its outset, our video interview kicks that half-truth into touch.

    We then learn that the USB stick inspired the AudioQuest DragonFly’s form. Rankin helped design its internal circuitry to which his asynchronous Streamlength USB code was added. The man from Ohio was also instrumental in ensuring the DragonFly’s production remained in the USA.

    Rankin is an experienced digital audio engineer with many stories and ideas to share: that the challenge for digital audio engineers has become less about jitter and more about noise (since the slow migration from S/PDIF to USB); that even if data arrives safely at a DAC or streamer, the error correction built into USB and network receivers can generate ground noise that can, in turn, disturb the DAC.

    With each tale parsed, Rankin punches a fresh hole in the ‘bits are bits’ argument to remind me (us) that show attendance isn’t just about checking out what’s new on the block but about taking the opportunity to learn from a product designer’s (often vast) experience:

    Further information: Wavelength Audio

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile. John used to live in Sydney. Now he lives in Berlin.

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    The talking heads of RMAF 2018: Sean Casey

    Eat Schiit, audiophiles!