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Sonic Frontiers Processor 3 D/A Converter Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 October 1998
Article Index
Sonic Frontiers Processor 3 D/A Converter
Page 2

The Music
Utter amazement is the word that best describes enormous amount of information that the Processor 3 provided on my inaugural listening session. Like with most new pieces of equipment, I find myself wanting to rediscover my CD collection as if it were all-new. It’s like reacquainting myself with old friends.

I will start with one of my musical references, Harry Belefonte, "Return to Carnage Hall," RCA Victor. This recording has a tremendously live stage, and serves as a good test for overall spaciousness and 3D imaging. The Processor 3 had the ability to supply the added detail required to not only produce a truly believable three dimensional stage, but produce the crowd and the space between the crowd, making you easily believe that you are present at the show. The presentation had incredible width, creating a stage that was considerably beyond the walls of my room. Many products are capable of incredible soundstages, but what separates the best of the best is how little effort is required for you to believe that you are at the show. The Processor 3 can take you there without question. The individual vocalists were superbly defined with wonderful and natural timbre. The voices had a very natural bloom, or surrounding air, that made them not only appear present in your room, but very musically inviting as well.

While listening to one of my current favorites, Cornell Dupree, "Uncle Funky," Kokopelli Records, a live jazzy R&B, HDCD encoded recording, possessing outstanding dynamic range, I found myself cheering at the end of songs as if I were there. The Processor 3’s extremely quick attack and decay, made transient details appear dynamically live, extraordinarily real, and natural. Never did my system seem congested even in the most complex situations.

The horns in this recording were reproduced with authority, and with huge dynamic impact. The piano, an instrument that can be extremely hard to accurately reproduce, was well defined but more impressively, had a great sense of percussive impact, a byproduct of the actual hammers hitting the strings. When compared to the $3495 Audio Research CD2, I found that the Processor 3 had a greater sense of detail, and considerably more dynamic impact and resolution, as you might expect from a product which in combination with a CD transport, costs in the neighborhood of three times more.

The I2S-E Connection
Pronounced (Eye-Squared-S-Enhanced) is an interface alternative to the standard, S/PDIF, which has long been used for transmitting digital audio between your CD Transport and the Digital-to-Analog-Converter. The problem with the S/PDIF interface is that there are timing errors introduced at the point where the digital samples are converted to music, causing an edgy, less than musical presentation. This form of distortion is referred to as Jitter. I2S-E is an alternative whereas the master clock is contained in the DAC rather than the Transport, then separately sends the clock information to the Transport, forcing it to sync with the digital processor.

The next question is "How does it sound?" After its six thousand-mile trek to and from the Sonic Frontiers factory, my SFT-1 had arrived. Equipped with a new high-speed digital cable, which was included with the modification, I was ready to listen. While my SFT-1 was out for modification I experimented with the Audio Research CD-2 as a stand-alone CD Player, and as the digital transport with the Processor 3. The difference between the I2S-E and the previous S/PDIF connection was fantastic! The overall texture of the music was improved. Images were more focussed and possessed a much greater and more realistic sense of depth. The midrange and treble became very sweet and liquid sounding.

After comparisons with the S/PDIF digital interface, I concluded that this connection was not only superior in every way, but to the extreme that the Transport 3, and the modified SFT-1 transport from Sonic Frontiers were the only transports that I would personally consider for the Processor 3 DAC. There are other manufacturers that are selling I2S-E digital transports, including the Muse Model Eight CD/DVD transport, but are not compatible with the Sonic Frontiers I2S-E version.

The Downside
The processor 3 DAC is a product that although designed with upgrade flexibility in mind, will not be state of the art forever. Exactly where the future will take us is far from certain, but there are hints of many new directions, which this product may or may not have the capability of expanding too. So then why would someone lay down hard cash, and I mean lots of hard cash, for a product that has a limited life? It’s because they want the very best for as long as they can have it. Not the decision for everyone, but for those that spare no expense in their quest for sonic nirvana and the ultimate recreation of music.

The Processor 3 has a separate power supply enclosure, an unquestioned sonic benefit, yet for some could present the problem of not only finding the room for an additional component, but finding it in a well ventilated area. Like other similar products, I find this to be no issue.

Is the Sonic Frontiers Processor 3 expensive? "Sure it is, it’s enormously expensive." Is it the most expensive? Not even close. Is it a smart decision to spend $7000 on a product with a potential limited life? I can’t answer that for you but I can tell you that this processor is terrific. It is capable of startling realism. Unfortunately if you want uncompromised sound, you pay big dollars, a painful but true reality. I found the Processor 3 to be irresistible and purchased it for myself. One dangerous aspect about auditioning source products such as digital processors, is that it’s often like going to the optometrist, once you try on corrective eyewear, its hard to live without it. Perhaps I can classify the Sonic Frontiers Processor 3 as corrective earwear.

If you are like myself, in constant search of perfection, I recommend the Sonic Frontiers Processor 3, and very strongly recommend the Processor 3 when used with either the Sonic Frontiers Transport 3, or the I2S-E modified SFT-1 transport. This product is my likely vote for next years "Audio Revolution's Digital Product of the Year."

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