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This review first appeared in the March 2009 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read this review of the Wavelength Audio Brick in its original Polish version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity. - Ed.

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
Review component retail: €1800

I won't start reminding you how we live in a digital world where digitalization of all manner of signals will only keep progressing. That's a fact. I will start by saying that although the digital revolution has already lasted for over 30 years, it should be counted in dog years, meaning each year is worth a few in different areas. Alas the brotherhood of high fidelity known as audiophiles or (less common unfortunately) music lovers seems not to have noticed. True, the compact disc and later SACD and DVD-Audio found their way into our homes, did find their place (or a small niche) ... but that was it. Digital amplifiers, loudspeakers with digital crossovers etc. are treated like Satan in church. On one hand, the case is clear. Vinyl still provides the best possible sound. On the other hand, when we use digital sources like CD, our conservatism -- this includes me -- is incredible. CD is a format with bit depth and sampling frequency limitations which today at least have become laughable. It requires a physical carrier whose signal is written in a format different than used later. All this is quite curious. But (and I will repeat this because it's no hard science but merely an observation and subjective assessment), well-designed CD players can do phenomenal things. As I wrote many times when describing sources by Jadis and Ancient Audio, the small silver disc carries information I had no idea about. Refined devices can retrieve that information. Yet a power grew alongside them which all branches of audio electronics are slowly succumbing to. Computers.

PCs or MACs in entertainment centers are nothing new. AV servers have been known for some time now. But this remains a taboo topic for audio, although one that is slightly tackled by Western audio magazines. Consider that those devices are the future of digital audio. Vinyl, CD and SACD will probably stay with us for a long time (especially analog) but they seem to slowly disappear from the market, giving way to the new 'formats' of the Internet, HDD and flash players. No, I did not confuse matters. Computers and such players are going in the same direction. It is the same path. There is only one basic difference. A computer is not only a music player, not only an interface between memory and converter. It's a device with a far broader spectrum of capabilities. This renders network players (there still is no fixed terminology for such products) merely specialized computers with limited functionality. We can play music from a CD/DVD drive (or Blu-Ray), from a USB stick or from the network. These files can be sorted in many ways, titles assigned with matching covers (often this happens automatically) and a file selected for playback. Many such players also allow Internet radio listening. A laptop can do the same of course. But, it can also be used for many other things. And that's the difference. Simple, isn't it? When we consider that in a CD player it only took us loading the disc and pressing 'play', all this becomes rather more complicated. That's probably the main reason why audiophiles are afraid of such PC sound sources. But it's not the only one. It must be stated that the early sound of PCs and most network players was at best acceptable. The multi-tasking of those devices, faulty software from the sound quality point of view and more required serious knowledge before any computer could be configured to produce more than just noise.

And, I do not have that knowledge. I use a computer for writing and editing text and photos. I never regarded it as sound source. I never downloaded anything from the net because the quality of MP3 files was downright embarrassing. Interestingly, I never ripped a disc either although it could have been saved as WAV or FLAC files. I was terrified by what seemed complicated procedure and the meager quality over headphones or speakers. But once Linn introduced network players/DACs like the Klimax DS described as Digital Stream Player, something changed. Companies like Naim followed and the situation began to turn around. Today the Internet offers many high resolution discs (mostly 24/96), sometimes even bit-to-bit copies of master tapes to introduce a complete new quality. This has not yet reached critical mass but is going that way. And, it is contagious. After a month with the Wavelength DAC, the topic of this review, I've acquired new habits and directions for searching out music. And music is certainly the most important focus. The leader for introducing hi-res files of real music is the Scottish Linn Records company, a subsidiary of Linn.

Linn Records: Known for years for its Sondek LP12 turntable, Linn turned to new formats in the late 90s, especially to SACD. Simultaneously, the company started to develop file players. As it turned out, that direction became the main focus by 2009. As mentioned, these Scots have a few network players on offer and are prepared to meet our new times better that most due to Linn Records. Initially their discs were issued like classic CDs but quickly replaced by HDCD. This decoder was a must with all their players. When the technology of registering DSD matured, Linn started to issue most their releases as hybrid discs with a SACD layer for stereo and multi-channel and a HDCD layer on the other side. But that proved to be only one layer of what we see now. When we open the Linn Records webpage today, we see a gravitational shift towards the distribution of Internet files. Although Linn happens to also issue vinyl discs like the beautiful three-disc edition of Händel's Messiah [Dunedin Consort & Players, CKH 312, 3 x 180g LP], those downloadable files are the most important format. Let us say it loud and clear: Linn was the first company to offer high-resolution files. We should look for ourselves on how this works. Remaining with the Messiah, enter the page devoted to this recording here. We can buy the whole album or fragments. We can also listen to fragments first. The option to buy the whole album is the most interesting of course. This is available in five versions:

∙ Studio Master - FLAC 24bits/88.2kHz, 2,503.6MB, price € 25.00
∙ Studio Master - WMA 24bits/88.2kHz, 2,499.7MB, price € 25.00
∙ CD Quality - FLAC 16bits/44.1kHz, 684.8MB, price € 14.00
∙ CD Quality - WMA 16bits/44.1kHz, 676.6MB, price € 14.00
∙ MP3, 320k, 44.1kHz, 320.7MB, price € 12.00

In addition, some of the discs offer a 5.1 version. To cut to the quick, the hi-res files are phenomenal. John Atkinson, Editor in Chief of the American Stereophile magazine uses them for reviewing and now I know why. Downloading the files with a reasonably quick connection is fast. I have one criticism though. The discs are partitioned so we can download them in separate batches. When we download an album like JS Bach Matthew Passion [Final performing version, c. 1742 - Dunedin Consort], we deal with more than one hundred (100!) separate fragments. Now the process of downloading becomes quite painful as each file has to be saved separately. There ought to be a way to get the whole album with one click even if it has to be unzipped to not involve the user too much. Fortunately, the music and sound quality fully compensate for this inconvenience.

A few words about today's setup. The American converter is user friendly. It has only one input (USB) and one output (2xRCA). After leashing it to the computer, the latter automatically downloads the driver whose name is properly displayed. More time is needed to set up the player and ripper software. Here Wavelength is very helpful, having created a separate page especially for their USB DACs with step-by-step instructions on setup. Because my laptop runs Vista, I had less problems than with XP for once. The company recommends JRiver's Media Center as player. I entered its pages and downloaded a 30-day trial version. After a week I bought the full one. It's worth it. And that's all she said.