|Apogee PSX 100 24-bit/96 kHz A/D Converter|
|Home Theater Accessories Accessories|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Monday, 01 January 2001|
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Most of my comparisons were done with the Apogee PSX 100 versus the internal DACs in my Proceed AVP, as well as some recollections of my Mark Levinson No. 36s 20-bit DAC. "What God Wants" from The Wall-like Roger Waters record Amused To Death (Columbia) was a real wake-up call for me. The large choir at the beginning of this orchestrated and highly produced track sounds delicate, soft and accurate, without the edgy harshness that I had blamed on my room’s acoustics for months. When the tune kicks in, Waters’ bass sounds round, low and tight. The song is a powerful experience that is musically engaging with the PSX 100.
"Wait Until Tomorrow" from Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 Axis Bold As Love (MCA Remaster) CD shows an incredible amount of musical energy coming from a traditional 16-bit (albeit upconverted to 24-bit) compact disc. Hendrix’s clean tone Strat comes at you in waves of insane R&B genius. With the PSX 100 in the loop, I kept turning the volume up until it was 10 percent higher than my usual extreme levels. It was as if I couldn’t get enough, because the sound wasn’t fatiguing or shrill. Best of all, there was a sense of energy with the PSX 100 in the loop that I hadn’t heard with my system since I had listened to my Mark Levinson No. 36s at my old place.
Barry White’s "Practice What You Preach" from 1994’s The Icon Is Love (A&M) is a great bass demo even without an Apogee PSX 100 in the loop. However, with the Apogee dialed in, you can hear the detail of the bass in Barry’s voice as well as the ultra-low-frequency Roland 808 synth, which goes that much lower even faster. The music gains a level of excitement that I have only heard in the best of playback systems and, more frequently, in studios with actual master tapes as source material.
The most demanding test I put to the Apogee PSX 100 was the Classic Records DVD-V 24-bit two-channel audio release of John Lee Hooker’s "Boom, Boom." True 24-bit sources are far superior to upconverted 16-bit CDs. Using the increased bandwidth of a DVD classic squeezes much more musical information onto a disc, thus creating a nearly master tape experience. My Proceed only has 20-bit internal DACs, so I can’t hear the full effect of John Lee’s "Boom Boom" on my AVP. However, with the PSX 100, you get all that the DVD-V format can provide for music playback in stereo and it is incredible. I had a dinner party for my friend Troy and his parents who are in their early 50s. They had never heard a system of this caliber before. However, they specifically and repeatedly noted how the DVD music sounded better than the CDs we heard. The contrast was obvious. The PSX 100 handled the task with the same great characteristics that it did for 16-bit upconverted music. It sounds quick, smooth and makes you want to turn the volume higher than you normally do.
The PSX 100 is a professional product, which means that it has options and features not normally found on a consumer audio product. The most notable issue with the PSX 100 is the fact that it has very hot (high-level) outputs, designed to drive anything from mixing consoles to pro audio preamps. This can cause a problem with your audio or AV preamp, as they are not designed to take consumer-level inputs, which require far lower levels. The solution is very easy, however. On the faceplate of the PSX 100, there are two controls for output level that can be adjusted with a small screwdriver or tweaker. I backed my PSX 100 down quite a bit and used Metallica’s And Justice For All record to make sure that I wasn’t going to clip my Proceed AVP. The process isn’t as sexy as setting up an AV preamp, but once it was done, the problem is gone forever.
My system is fully rack-mounted. Therefore, the Apogee PSX 100 fits in quite nicely, especially considering its small size. The look and feel are very utilitarian, albeit based around a purple motif that reminds me of Barney. The PSX 100 is aesthetically not built to the same standards that you’ll find with a Mark Levinson, Meridian, Krell or Sonic Frontiers product. It is also far less expensive, but sounds as good if not better than these other items. For me, the PSX 100 is like my secret weapon and looks bitchin’ all lit up in my rack. However, if you are trying to make a statement with the gear you own, putting each component on a pedestal, you may end up using long digital cables and hiding the PSX 100 out of sight.
I preach the high art form of music and theater playback, along with the future trends of the industry as it relates to the gear we lust for and invest in, emotionally and financially. I had thought the DAC was simply dead as a consumer category. For many systems, this holds true, but for the true music enthusiast, you can’t beat having excellent digital to analog conversion. The latest cost-no-object AV preamps like Meridian’s 861 and Mark Levinson’s No 40 (not yet released) have excellent DAC sections built in. Other AV preamps and receivers range from better than average DACs to pure crap. For most of your inputs, the internal DACs are more than okay. However, for music playback in a very polished system, the idea of a high-performance digital product like the Apogee PSX 100 is not crazy. It should be considered with the better DACs you can purchase from Krell, Sonic Frontiers and Mark Levinson at twice or more the price. It takes some work to find an Apogee product at a consumer dealer, but most good music or pro audio stores have the PSX 100 in stock. If you think you may be a candidate for ownership of a PSX 100, I recommend that you track one down by calling Apogee and plugging a PSX into your digital loop. You are going to dig the improvement.