Legacy link:
This new site was launched in July 2010. Visit the older site to access previous articles by clicking above.

To Peter Roth,

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your review of the Ayre QB-9.

I am building a high-end computer-based audio system and would love to know if you still feel the Ayre QB-9 is the USB DAC to beat in its price range? There are so many getting good reviews -- the latest Weiss DAC, the latest Benchmark, Wyred 4 Sound, Naim, Bel Canto, etc. Since the QB-9 is almost two years old now, do you feel it still holds up as the "gold standard"?

The other approach I am considering is the Linn Majik DS, which of course avoids the computer altogether in favor of dedicated processing straight from hard-drive storage.

Have you had a chance to explore this option and, if so, is the QB-9 more musical overall? Appreciate any thoughts you can offer!

Best regards,
Ole Riise

The key revolves around the qualification "in its price range." For a computer audio digital-to-analog converter in the $2-3k range, I continue to strongly recommend the QB-9. In fact, I am listening to Dave Douglas playing through my QB-9 at this very moment. While it certainly can be bettered (e.g., Ayre's own DX-5, the Wavelength Audio Crimson HS, and the dCS Debussy that editor Jeff Fritz loves so much), you have to spend a whole lot more before achieving material performance increases. In any event, the QB-9 is never less than musical, and given that it fully services up to 24/192, it will be great for years and years to come. Whatever you do, I would go with a DAC that has asynchronous delivery (like the dCS, Wavelength and Ayre), as I believe the resulting low jitter is a big deal.

Two less-expensive alternatives you could consider (both of which feature asynchronous delivery), would be the Wavelength Audio Proton ($900) and Grace m903 ($1900). I've spent a lot of time with the Proton and, while not as accomplished as the QB-9, it is surprisingly good for under a grand (although bandwidth limited to 24/96 files). The Grace is more of a full-featured product, offering S/PDIF inputs (in addition to USB), a headphone jack and volume control (for directly driving an amplifier).

Let me know what you ultimately select, and keep reading Ultra Audio. . . . Peter Roth