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The world of high end audio has stubbornly resisted the pressure of advancing technology so far. While consumers across the world have embraced digital music formats and computer audio, the industry that produces the very highest quality separates components has, like a snotty waiter in an overpriced continental restaurant, largely turned its self-opinionated nose up at the idea.
And so discerning consumers – audiophiles as they are so often labeled – wanting a little bit more from their extremely expensive music systems have been ignored. Stick with the old-fashioned way of doing things, one disc at a time, one album at a time or suffer a sacrifice in quality, has been the message from the manufacturers of high-end systems.
Could Slim Devices be about to change all of that with its latest wireless music player? Its Transporter – the big brother to the Squeezebox 3 reviewed here earlier in the year – embraces both the world of high-end audio and computer-based music. To quote the marketing material, this is “the network music player that audiophiles have been waiting for”.
It's all very exciting and, on paper at least, the menu looks pretty tasty. At the heart of the Transporter is AKM's so-called 'miracle DAC' – the AK4396. This chip, which takes care of digital to analogue conversion duties, has been designed for use in high end SACD and DVD players and has received rave reviews from audiophiles across the web.
A look at the rear panel of confirms the player's high-end credentials. It's a veritable Michelin star line-up. Not only is there a pair of gold-plated phono sockets here, it also sports balanced XLR analogue outputs plus coaxial, optical, BNC and professional-style AES/EBU digital outputs. There's a matching array of digital inputs, too, so you can use the Transporter's high-end DAC circuitry to process the digital output from other components, and you even get a word clock input. A pair of screw-in stubby aerials ensures reliable Wi-Fi reception, and gives you the option of adding more powerful aerials for improved longer-distance reception if you plan on setting up your Transporter a long way from your wireless router or bridge. There's also an Ethernet socket here.
Moving to the front of the Transporter's full-width case, there's a suitable line-up of shiny, machined aluminium buttons to play with and, in the centre, one great big knob. Now, lewd jokes aside, this is probably the most interesting and exciting knob I've ever come across on a hi-fi component. Apart from providing easy access to all of the device's menus and settings - and being clickable - it also features force feedback. This means that, when you get to the end of a list of albums or songs, the knob stops turning. A bit frivolous maybe, but certainly something to impress your (geeky) dinner guests with. The remote control, although not as impressive as this, is a big improvement on the cheap unit that comes with the Squeezebox. It has a nice, solid heft to it, a lovely piano black finish and cool white backlit buttons that glow when pressed.