This unique device is irrelevant to many audiophiles—but to some, it’s the solution to a problem that previously couldn’t be solved. In the recent past, you could buy a good quality—even audiophile-grade—universal player and listen to SACDs via its good-sounding analog outputs. But good-sounding universal players are becoming scarce. People still want to play their discs, though, now and into the future, even after their current player fails, which of course it will do sooner or later.
As disc players have become fewer in number, they have also become less flexible. The market is dominated by mass-market “universal” players, and these have been shedding output options: Multichannel analog outputs have already disappeared, and stereo analog outputs are vanishing. Analog outputs that still exist usually use cheap DACs, and their output stages and don’t sound very good. Some disc players still have S/PDIF digital outputs, but SACD-licensing rules forbid any unencrypted digital output from DSD tracks, even if internally converted to PCM.1
There are, of course, any number of little boxes that can extract audio from the HDMI video bitstream; they began to appear on the market to fill a need for a way to route audio from a player’s HDMI output to older AV receivers (AVRs) that lacked HDMI inputs. Like cheap universal players, such boxes usually output analog audio via the cheapest, lowest-quality internal DACs and digital audio via S/PDIF, which does not support DSD because of content-protection rules for DSD and the copy protection hurdles of the High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection system (HDCP), part of HDMI licensing.
Many universal players will output DSD over HDMI, the do-everything portal for users with HDMI-endowed AVRs and preamp-processors. However, for music-focused SACD fans who have no interest in AVRs, there was no way to extract DSD from the HDMI audio stream.
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