|Slim Devices Transporter Digital Music Player|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Thursday, 01 November 2007|
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The Transporter can connect via the Internet to the Squeeze Network, which then connects to various third-party music providers, or it can connect to the Slim Server software on your local computer (or NAS), allowing access to your local music collection. Before listening to my same old music, I connected to the Squeeze Network and set up free trial accounts with Internet music providers Rhapsody and Pandora. Rhapsody has a large selection of current and vintage music to choose from, with many channels and direct access to a large number of artists. Pandora is part of the Music Genome Project and lets you create your own music stations based upon the music you like. To set up a station, you enter in songs and/or artists you like. Pandora uses the data from the Music Genome Project to find other songs that have similar identifiers and plays them on that channel. Other available providers include Radio IO and Live 365.
Given my past experiences with Internet radio, I had already decided not to make any sound quality judgments of the Transporter based on Internet radio sources. This said, the majority of the music I listened to sounded much better than expected. I purposefully sought out some tunes that I had in my collection in order to compare the Internet radio version to those already on my NAS. The lower resolution of the Internet radio music was readily apparent in several ways. The sense of space was extremely diminished, as was some of the texture in the vocals. On some albums, such as Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black (Republic), there was little difference between listening to the Internet radio or the locally stored version. For example, Winehouse’s hit “Rehab” sounded flat and one-dimensional, no matter what source I tried. I think that this was due more to the producer and engineers’ efforts to recreate a retro sound than to the playback system. On other albums, such as Norah Jones’ latest, Not Too Late (Blue Note), there is a jaw-dropping difference between the Internet radio and locally stored versions. Listening to the title track of Not Too Late, the local version seemed to have much more information in the upper registers and a better sense of the overall size of the soundstage, as well as much stronger positioning of the individual images.
I then moved on to listening to Shawn Mullins’ Soul’s Core (Sony), which I had both stored as a FLAC file and on CD. The song “Anchored in You” primarily features vocals and guitar. The FLAC and CD versions were nearly identical. Every once in a while, I thought I might have heard a slight difference, but without doing a double-blind listening test, I was unable to confirm this. Suffice to say that whether you use the Transporter as a music server getting a digital music file off of a hard drive or as a DAC with the music coming straight off a disc, you will be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two. What does this mean? Not much, if the Transporter’s DACs aren’t very good. Thankfully, there is no need to worry, as the DACs in the Transporter proved to be extremely good. The unique characteristics of Mullins’ voice were readily identifiable and the weight of the lower guitar notes were just slightly light of neutral, but the detail and tonal accuracy were spot on.
Blues Traveler’s self-titled album (A&M Records) is a good test disc for me, as I have heard the band play most of these songs on several occasions. Listening to the opening track, “But Anyway,” I noticed that the Transporter struck a cohesive soundstage, despite a variety of instruments ranging from harmonica to drums. All of the instruments and vocals were well placed on an appropriately-sized soundstage, each of them easily followed, yet none of them overpowering the others. The tonal qualities of the harmonica were clearly reproduced, with none of the details getting lost among the instruments. The drums and bass guitar seemed just slightly lighter than normal, but with a great deal of clarity and presence. Those with good subwoofer set-ups will not be suffering from one-note bass syndrome. I found myself listening to the entire album; track after track, the transporter did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the music.
While the bass notes seemed slightly lighter on the Transporter DAC than through my old Theta DAC, it was almost as though a veil was lifted when listening to bass notes through the Transporter as they sped up and were detailed without becoming overly analytical. This did not prevent the Transporter from delivering slam when needed. The synthesized bass notes in Crystal Method’s Vegas (Geffen) album and the bass line in Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer” off of their album The Downward Spiral (Nothing Records) both featured crisp, clean bass with solid but not overbearing weight.
Lastly, I went to audiophile-quality recordings, as the Transporter is designed to be an audiophile piece. Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat (BMG / Classic) remains a favorite. The track “Bird on a Wire” has long been used as an imaging test. It did a good job in that capacity and also proved an excellent rendition of female vocals when I played it through the Transporter. Warnes’ husky vocals were solidly positioned in the center, the triangle was to the left where it belonged and the drums were a good distance back.
Before wrapping up the review, I compared the Transporter to my favorite CD player to date, the Classe CDP-202. Not surprisingly, I preferred the three-times-as-expensive Classe to the Transporter. For example, I listened to Elvis Presley’s rendition of “Fever” from Elvis is Back (DCC Gold) both through the Classe and the digital file off of the disc played through the Transporter. Both did an excellent job of capturing small details, such as the clinking of Elvis’ cufflinks and the sense of space of the soundstage. The differences were extremely slight. Through the Classe, I could more easily feel myself in the recording studio, the images were placed with a bit more precision and Elvis’ voice had a bit more body. Both the Transporter and the Classe did an excellent job of reproducing music with detail and accuracy, but the Classe had a sense of fullness and ease that the Transporter couldn’t match.