Wow, What a Year!

A Year in Audio

We look back at the product highlights of 2023

Chris @ Cardas Audio in ORChris Landfield, sales team leader, strips speaker cable to make his custom jumper cable at the Cardas Audio factory in Bandon, OR.

We welcome this British point-source specialist to Upscale Audio.

Point-source or coaxial speaker drivers have a devoted following because of how they time align, resulting in a pure bubble of sound that delivers all the harmonic complexity of instruments and voices.

Working in audio is not always music to our ears. But when it is...

Our audiophile friends think that working in the high-end audio industry is all about sitting around and listening to music on the best systems in the world. In truth, the day is filled with phone calls, form filling, copywriting, code wrangling, invoice making, box packing, schedule planning, video editing, photo taking, and all of the sundry tasks it takes to run a business. We treasure and savor every chance we get to spend in the demo room and never forget how lucky we are. Here are some of our favorite product moments from 2023.

Ken's Newest Toy: T+A Elektroakustik DAC 200

Our sales manager, Ken Davis, is waiting for his personal DAC 200 as we speak. Why did he pick this particular DAC out of all the products he could get at industry pricing?

Says Ken, "The 1-bit decoding circuit on the 200 is absolutely stunning."

T+A places great emphasis on de-jittering in the DAC 200 and also has separate PCM and DSD circuits. The PCM converter features a double symmetrical circuit with an amazing eight 32-bit Burr Brown devices. The DSD circuit is a true 1-bit converter, meaning it does not convert DSD to PCM as so many DACs do. You get direct DSD 1-bit conversion, losing none of the realism of the format.

The theme of separation continues with the ultra-fast digital isolators that provide galvanic separation between the analog and digital sections, leading all the way back to the power supply (where there is more galvanic isolation.)

"The fit, finish, and appearance is first in class," says Ken. "I can't imagine having purchased any other DAC at this price."

T+A DAC 200 Preamp
T+A Elektroakustik DAC 200 Preamplifier / DAC

Upgrade Bluesound NODE: Sbooster AIB

Bluesound Node Sbooster AIBIn late 2023, Sbooster announced an exciting new product, the AIB or Active Interface Board. It functions as a vast sonic upgrade for the Bluesound NODE, taking the performance of this entry-level streaming DAC into the level of serious hi-fi.

The AIB sits inside the NODE (it's a tool-free reversible install) and then uses a 5-6 V Sbooster BOTW to power the device.

Now, a Sbooster BOTW costs $379, and the AIB is $145, a total of $524.The Bluesound NODE, currently on sale, costs less than that, at $449. So why on earth are we recommending an "upgrade" that's more expensive than the device itself? We're glad you asked!

Because you get a "wall wart" just thrown in with most electronics, it's easy to think that power supplies are the cheap and easy part of a component.

While this may be true for something whose performance doesn't need to be utterly linear and quiet, audio products live in a different world. We sell many products where the power supply is by far the most complex, heavy, and expensive section. In audio, power is everything!

We have a prototype of the AIB on hand and tried it out on one of our demo NODEs with a stock NODE to compare. Kevin Deal, owner and founder of Upscale, did some testing and was blown away. "The midband lost its glare, the bass went deeper and wider. It sounded more substantial, just beautiful."

Sure, the upgrade costs as much as the product, but another way to look at it is that you have a $1,000 streaming DAC that is a serious digital source for high-end systems.

"Anybody who has the NODE has got to buy one," says Kevin. "They'd be crazy not to."

Just Add Music: Cabasse Rialto

The Cabasse Rialto went with us to several audio shows in 2023 and repeatedly got us accused of cheating.

"I've come back to see if any trickery is going on," said one person at Audio Advice Live who had first encountered the Rialto at AXPONA.

By then, we'd gotten used to people suspecting trickery when they hear the Rialto. At every show, multiple people walked up to our background banner and peeked behind it to ensure we hadn't deployed stealth subwoofers. There was nothing but cardboard boxes and extra cables.

At Audio Advice Live, it was great to see how even hard-to-please audio store managers and sales team members didn't hide their surprise, even shock, at the performance of the Cabasse Rialto. We sold five or six units on the spot at each show.

If Cabasse's spherical designs don't work for you, consider the Rialto. It's a "just add music" product with streaming DAC on board, a great control app, a coaxial mid/tweeter, and a high excursion 6.7" bass driver. There are amps for each driver, delivering a total of 1,050 W. Just be prepared to be accused of witchcraft.

Cabasse Rialto
Cabasse Rialto Powered Wireless Bookshelf Hi-fi System (pair)

Not Simply Red: REL T/9x Red

Jewel-like enough to hang off a Christmas tree, the limited edition REL T/9x in Italian racing red isn't just a regular T9/x in a different finish. That would be too easy for the REL team. They've gone in and figured out to shave an amazing 10 grams off the active driver by replacing the alloy version with a carbon-fiber unit with carbon-fiber center cap. This immediately catapults the performance of the sub to a whole new level.

Then, it's finished in many coats of a beautiful Italian sports-car red with the badging and feet covered in five layers of chrome, looking always as if they're fresh-dipped.

Occupying the critical space between the T/9x and the S/510, the REL T/9x Red is truly a subwoofer that will make your listening room pop visually and sonically.

REL Acoustics T/9x Subwoofer - Limited Edition Italian Racing Red

Point-Source Specialists: Fyne Audio

Fyne Audio @ Upscale AudioWe were thrilled, on the very last month of the year, to bring in Fyne Audio, the point-source speaker specialists from Scotland. Though they sell speakers that are steeped in heritage, we love that they have a reference hi-fi line to appeal to all high-end customers. The F1 series should be on your audition list if you're seeking high-end loudspeakers at nearly any level of componentry.

Fans of beautifully built heritage speakers will love the walnut-finished cabinets of the VIntage line, with the Vintage Classic bringing the same aesthetic at a lower price point. The F700 and F500 series bring the power of the coaxial driver to more affordable levels while keeping many of the technologies from F1.

We're looking forward to seeing you all fall in love, just as we have, with this brand that's taking storied British hi-fi traditions into 2024 and beyond.

Browse Fyne Audio

Visiting Bandon: Cardas Audio

Earlier this year, a couple of us visited Cardas Audio in Bandon, Oregon. Apart from enjoying their wonderful hospitality and being introduced to the town's amazing cranberry loaf by Jesus Ornelas, veteran cable terminator & QC specialist, we got a deep dive into every aspect of this family-run company. There's a good reason Cardas has a cult following both in the industry and by customers.

Chris Landfield, sales team leader, was on the trip and had this to say, "What I learned about Cardas is that they really stand by their products."

Chirs tells the story about how Cardas replaced a sold cable even though they didn't really have to. The customer's Roomba had chewed up and destroyed an expensive cable, and the crew at Cardas decided to replace the cable at no charge.

"That's what I love about them," says Chris, who has been slinging Cardas out into some very cool setups. "They take care of their customers by bending over backwards to help out."

Browse Cardas Audio
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