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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Apple iMac 1TB with OSX 10.6.7, Pure Music 1.8 in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM and defeatable custom Spatial compensation profile, AIFF files up to 24/192, iTunes 10.2.2, Burson Audio HA160D as DAC, Weiss DAC2, Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold/Voltikus, TotalDAC [on review]
Preamps: Esoteric C-03 (transistor), Bent Audio Tap-X (AVC passive), ModWright LS100 (tubes), Raysonic Audio Reference 2 [on review]
Amplifiers: FirstWatt J2 & F5, ModWright KWA-100 SE, Trafomatic Audio Kaivalya
Loudspeakers: ASI Int. Tango R, Mark+Daniel Fantasia S

Cables: Complete looms of ASI Liveline, Crystal Cable Ultra, Zu Audio Event; ALO Audio, Entreq Firewire 800 and USB cables, Black Cat Cable Veloce S/PDIF cable
Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 1 x GigaWatt PF-2, 1 x Furutech RTP-6
Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review Component Retail:
Libretto 1st-gen without S/PDIF input - €6.990 + VAT; Libretto HD with 24/192 S/PDIF input - €7.990 + VAT; Chiave upscale USB interface - €900 + VAT; Tabla plain USB interface - €600 + VAT

What was new with their 2nd-gen Libretto HD player except for the obvious digital input? Krisztian Neukum of Hungary's Human Audio pointed at the complete housing now being solid bamboo like the remote instead of mere bamboo veneer. More solid and professional back plates. The optional S/PDIF input up to 24/192. And the optional battery-powered Tabla interface for high-definition USB audio based on the M2Tech algorithm but "better sounding than their HiFace Evo". The buss-charged Tabla runs two high-grade lithium-iron-phosphate LiFeSO4 battery cells, enjoys automated charging and ultra-low jitter circuits plus a specialized pulse transformer to decouple the PC's ground plane from that of the Libretto (or whatever DAC/player a Tabla user may choose).

As readers of my Pianoforte review recall, I'd turned down Chris' review solicitation of their original Libretto CD player for its lack of digital inputs despite otherwise offering a number of potentially unique features like complete battery drive with intelligent power management; high-quality Jensen output transformers with zero NFB drivers; and integral Audio Libra roller-ball suspension with glass plate for the top-loading Philips CD/Pro2 drive.


By updating their prior 16/44.1-only internal DAC to 24/192-compliant silicon and adding external access to it, my objection against an expensive legacy machine without PC interface had been eliminated. Time for a spin. "Actually the chip set is the same as we used in the 1st-gen Libretto but there it had been fixed at 16/44.1. This particular type of chip isn't popular at all but we're using it in a special circuit mode and cannot find one that sounds better for our application based on our internal listening tests."

The external USB-to-S/PDIF converter comes in two casings by the way, a €900 metal/bamboo version to match the house style called Chiave and the earlier shown €600 metal/plastic economy version called Tabla for universal applications. The insides are otherwise "90%+ identical". Customers opting for the 24/192 digital input on the Libretto HD forgo the original digital output. Since you can't have both, it's a belly button thing. In or out? I was obviously in.

Coincident with the launch of the Libretto HD—in fact on the same day I received confirmation of the Tabla's availability—Max Townshend issued a press release for his new £10.000 Glastonbury universal player. It too uses batteries (a 6-volt SLA cell with eight precision voltage regulators fed from the battery to run the clock, buffers and D/A converter). It too utilizes two transformers to couple the DAC to the analog outputs (a Burr Brown DSD179 to Townshend's FractalWire™ iron with ultra-thin 80% nickel laminations via a simple 1st-order low pass that exploits the transformer’s reactive component as part of the filter. The secondary windings of the transformers connect directly to the audio output connectors).

Despite the often long gestation periods which precede public launches of exotic hifi components, such synchronicity does seem suggestive. Occasionally the time is ripe for a specific idea. It gets picked up by more than one designer. The result is the nearly perfectly timed parallel appearance of the hifi equivalent of two new theatrical Robin Hood releases in one season. In the twilight of the CD player era, the Human Audio/Townshend Audio machines certainly make for an unusual statement.