playGo USB Review 
Home Theater Accessories Accessories
Written by Andre Marc   
Friday, 23 September 2011

“Computer audio” is the current favorite buzz phrase in high end audio. Ironically, non audiophiles are probably not too familiar with the term since playing music files from a computer, internet radio, or some form of a streaming service are daily activities. Since most listeners are not audiophiles, convenience and easy access to music are far more important than quaint notions of high fidelity sound. But nowhere is it written that you can’t have the best of both worlds; great sound and convenience. Forget complicated set ups with USB DAC’s, expensive playback software and esoteric computer tweaks. Many just want to hit “play” and hear files stored on their hard drives without jumping through hoops, but with high fidelity sound.

Some high end audio companies have heard the call, offering wireless streaming built into audiophile components. There have even been cheaper alternatives around for a while, including the Logitech Squeezebox and Sonos systems, but they require a bit more than novice-level computer and networking skills to set up correctly. Plus, they require software to be installed on either a PC or a Mac. All that being said, one company seems to determined to provide ease of set up, high quality audio, and and an elegant footprint. That company is BICOM.

BICOM, located in Monroe, CT,  has been developing Digital Signal Processing (DSP) based technology for the telecommunications industry for the last 20 years.  BICOM technology can be found in phone systems manufactured by NEC & Samsung. Recently, BICOM developed solutions to synchronize media while it is being distributed through IP, Ethernet or Wirelessly.  This technology enables BICOM to develop a number of high tech multimedia solutions for both to end users and OEM’s.

playGo USB orange

Under their playGo brand, the company has produced a very neat new product called the playGo USB. Priced at $449, it's definitely a unique and focused take on wireless audio. The playGo  USB system is compatible with both Windows and MAC, and is comprised of a sender module, and one receiver module.  The sender module is powered via tethered USB cable, and the receiver module via a wal wart power  supply. The modules are very attractive, and slightly remind one of Apple’s industrial design ethos. But these are better built than any Apple product I have handled. They are made of a special material called Corian, made by Dupont.   This material is exceptionally durable, and is used in kitchen counter tops.  By the way, the playGo USB is made in the U.S.A., very much unlike Apple products.


 

Set Up & Listening:

The playGo USB is probably the most accurately named product I have reviewed. It was literally plug and play, and often advertised but seldom put into practice selling point. I plugged the sender module into my Mac Mini, then selected the device under Audio Output in the System Preferences tab.  I plugged in the wal wart power supply for the receiver module and put it on top of the McIntosh MA6600 integerated amp. The receiver module is outfitted with audiophile grade , gold plated phono jacks for analog output. The analog output is 2V, roughly the standard for most digital source components. There is also a 24 bit, 96 Khz optical digital output. 192 Khz is also available as an option.  The on board DAC chip is the Burr-brown SRC4192.  A very high quality optical cable is supplied, which is a nice touch.  The wireless transmission range is a whopping 75 feet, which should allow for a lot of flexibility in set up.  

I first set up the playGo's analog outputs, using Kimber Silver Streak cables, into the McIntosh.  I maxed out the volume, and used the volume control on both iTunes and Audirvana, an elegant piece of freeware audiophile playback software available for Mac. I cued up tons of FLAC files and I found myself very impressed with the analog output of the playGo. I should note the controls on top of the playGo receiver were superbly responsive, offering volume, track selection, play, and power on/off controls, though I mostly used my computer to control playback.

Sonically, the playGo bested my beloved Squeezebox Touch, even when the SBT was hard wired and powered via the CIA VDC-SB external linear power supply.  It also was frighteningly close to my $3500 Naim CD player; on A/B comparisons, the two were virtually impossible to distinguish. My findings were quite an eye opener for me, since just a few years ago, wireless audio was considered a nonstarter for audiophiles, and was never thought to be capable of producing high end sound. Obviously, this has changed, with companies like BICOM leading the way.

playGo USB white

Conclusion:

BICOM, the maker of playGo USB, is a company with deep roots in advanced communications technologies and multimedia.  It is obvious that they poured all their expertise into the playGo USB, one of the coolest and stress free products to come my way.  The build quality was first rate, and it is built right here in the U.S.A., a rarity for consumer electronics in 2011.  The playGo worked flawlessly and, as noted, was literally a plug and play device, a notion often over promised and under delivered.  It looks great, is built beautifully, and is easy to use. Does it warrant a recommendation based on sound quality you ask? Absolutely. Without a doubt, it is a high end sound transmitter.  Another huge plus is the option to use the excellent analog output, or the optical digital output with the DAC of your choice.

I really wish I could point out something to quibble about. Certainly the $449 price point might have some comparing it the much cheaper Apple Airport Express, which also transmits audio wirelessly. But that would be like comparing apples to oranges...sorry, I could not resist. The Airport Express is cheaply made, with only a mini optical output and mini stereo jack output.  The AE also limits bandwidth and does not do high resolution bit depth and sample rates, unlike the playGo, which transmits 24 bit and 96 khz (192 Khz optional) resolution files. All in all, the playGo USB is very nice package which can simplify your quest to get into high fidelity computer audio, without fumbling with software, or tangle of cables, plus the 75 foot transmission range is way cool.

The playGo USB carries an MSRP of $449, and is available in white or orange.

Specifications

playGo USB

DIGITAL OUTPUT:
24-bit/96khz digital spdif output (TOSLINK), 192kHz option
Burr-brown SRC4192 sample rate converter
Clock regeneration for jitter-free clocking
Distortion-free volume control (256 step 0dB to -127.5dB digital attenuation)

ANALOG OUTPUT:
24-bit/96khz digital to analog conversion
106dB dynamic range
-93dB THD+N
2V output
Gold plated RCA connectors

WIRELESS AUDIO:
24-bit/96khz digital to analog conversion
106dB dynamic range
-93dB THD+N
2V output
Gold plated RCA connectors


Review System 1


Cd Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X,
Computer: Mac Mini running Snow Leopard O/S
Server: Squeezebox Touch with CIA  VDC-SB power supply
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables: DH Labs Revelation (IC), Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC),  Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Element Cable Element Cord, (AC)  Shunyata Venom (AC) Pangea AC-9 (AC) Audience powerChord e.(AC)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands,  Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner, Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Salamander rack

Review System 2


Cd Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox 3, Marantz NA7004
DAC: CIA VDA-2 with VAC-1 Power Supply
Computer: Dell netbook running Windows XP
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
Amplifier: Belles Soloist 5, Revox A722
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio, Pangea Audio (AC), RS Cables, Element Cable






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