Sunday, November 20, 2005

Daddy's Got a Squeezebox...

The Squeezebox (SB)is pretty revolutionary, and after playing with unit for several weeks, I am convinced the high end industry will quickly undergo the same type of upheaval that occurred when the CD began displacing the turntable. If I were a mid to high end CD player maker (say, $1000-$5000), I would be very worried after experimenting with the Squeezebox powered by a reasonably inexpensive computer system (like the Mac Mini, read below).

I have my SB, the latest third generation (SB3) feeding a Tri-Vista DAC via Acoustic Zen MC2 cable (the cable cost more than the SB3!). In its unmodified form, the SB3 sounds pretty good, but not quite up to the level of definition of the Pioneer Elite PD-S95 CD transport that it and the Tri-Vista are sitting on. Of course, the Pioneer sold for more than 10x the cost.

The SB3 can and should be modified, however. Two current companies provide mods that allegedly turn the SB3 into a giant killer. The Bolder Cable company mod consists of replacing two of the main input power supply capacitors with higher value, low ESR versions. The 12.28 MHz crystal oscillator is removed to lower jitter. The signal path to the digital output jack is rerouted, and the digital output jack is replaced with a 75 ohm, WBT NextGen, gold plated, copper RCA. Perhaps equally important, customers can upgrade the cheap walwart power supply with one of Bolder's customized versions: a plain vanilla box, or the extra deluxe one.

The other company is Red Wine Audio, who uses an altogether different approach for the power supply, setting up a battery powered system recharged by an AC walwart. RWA's internal mods are similar. Both Bolder and Red Wine substantially upgrade and modify the internal guts of the SB3 analog section, if you choose.

I have heard excellent things about both companies, and have personal experience with Bolder, who earlier did a fantastic job upgrading my former DAC. I was very impressed with Bolder's build quality, and both Wayne of Bolder and Vinnie of RWA have legions of satisfied customers. I wish I had the time to do both, but with my experience with Wayne at Bolder (and a general reluctance to try a battery setup, no real good reason), I opted for the Bolder digital only mod with the upgraded power supply. I'll get it back in a month, and report my comparison with a stock SB3.

NOTE: OF course, any of these modifications void the warranty of the SB3. Each modder offers their own warranty. If you have never had any of your hi fi gear modified, and consider this to sound like "shade tree" audio tweaking, let me remind you of a few points. First, modifying hi fi gear is a thirty year old tradition. Audio Research, one of the oldest and most respected companies, got their start modifying gear, as did many of the most respected companies today. Most current hifi companies typically have upgrades offered to customers that consist of the same tweaks practiced by Bolder and RWA.


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