Disclaimer: I am not immune to bias, new toy syndrome, or placebo, but I do try to be honest with myself and critically listen in an unbiased manner when evaluating gear like this. Don't tar and feather me if either you don't believe me or hear this unit for yourself and don't have the same findings as me. You've all seen it on the SBAF forums lately, posts about how even some of the best USB implementations on DACs are bested by USB->SPDIF or similar converters. For those that used to visit Changstar, you may remember some posts on how some had totally given up on anything with USB in the chain. Anyone remember "USB haze?" For that reason, many of those individuals stuck with specific CD players, which is why I picked up a Theta Data III several months ago. There seemed to be some truth to their claims based on what I heard from that. At Tyll's Big Sound event, I got to play around with the Aurender W20. This thing was very, very cool but cost nearly $20K. Even the little sibling in the line is not cheap. Still, the idea of something that was built for nothing but digital audio output without using USB, like a CD player, but utilizing more modern means of media storage intrigued me. With the right implementation, it could be the best way to go about feeding a DAC...in theory. After several hours of researching online and ruling out many possible options costing well over $1K, I came across the Soundaware D100 Pro. You can find the basic version for around $850, and some shipping options from China are rather quick for little to no money. The deluxe edition has upgraded components and allows external clocks, but, alas, it only works with 220V. I didn't want to bother with another component to drop that to 110V, especially if it affected the sound negatively. You can purchase it on sites like eBay or Shenzhen Audio, and the product page can be found here: http://www.soundaware.net/index.php?m=content&c=index&a=show&catid=14&id=13 Soundaware seems to be pretty decent with semi-regular firmware updates, though they so far have little interaction with markets outside their region (i.e. see forums, all foreign). Sound Impressions Compared to the CI Audio Transient Mk2 (without LPSU), with and without a Bill-P modified Wyrd in front of it, the D100 offers some noticeable improvements. Some tracks make these improvements somewhat obvious, and some tracks make differences very hard to hear, though the latter is less common. The common improvements regularly included: 1. Overall sense of greater clarity, cleanliness, focus, and resolution across the board. Think the type of sharper, cleaner image you get going to a higher resolution TV or monitor without increasing screen size, not sharper in the unpleasant, Photochopped-sharpened-filter type way. And the thing is, it's a different feeling of clarity than when I got going from straight USB to a USB->SPDIF converter on the Gungnir Multibit (did not have a Gungnir Multibit to test with the D100, just saying the improvements moving to D100 are greater and offer something different in a good way). It's like the USB->SPDIF converter gives you "more of the same general feel, but better," where as the D100 is just better. The Transient makes everything sound a bit muted, soft, and sleepy in comparison. And you have to remember here that I genuinely found the Transient to be a big improvement feeding Gungnir Multibit BNC over straight USB, so the fact the D100 seems to actually break some barriers is very nice to hear. 2. Bass power. The D100 has more of it. Just wait for the bass drum in "Hotel California" (Hell Freezes Over). Better texture, stronger hitting, more sustain on D100. Transient converter gives it more of a soft, rounded, thud sound. Largely due to this, the D100 often just has a more dynamic, more powerful sound overall. 3. More colorful and rich sound on D100. Less grey. Not talking euphonic rich, if that makes sense. Just sounds more real and alive. Couple this with the extra clarity, extra focus, and greater sense of power...yeah, the D100 is just a more engaging listen. Overall, this device seems like it takes a nice step above USB-based solutions. Seems to get past this barrier that is hard to explain without hearing it. However, I have not heard every USB-based solution, so take that with a grain of salt. I found the CI Audio Transient Mk2 (without LPSU) and Mutec 1.2 on roughly equal footing, depending on which DAC used, cable, input type, etc. I haven't heard the Mutec 3+, for example, so perhaps it does the trick. Let's not forget the Mutec 3+ can reclock SPDIF signals, so I'm eager to try reclocking the D100's output with a Mutec 3+. Still, there's something underlying that changed in a good way with the D100 compared to the Transient Mk2, rather than just "got better." A lot of it is that pure, natural sense of clarity and focus that just makes everything sound more real. Usability Impressions I do recommend using the included universal remote with the D100. It's got way more buttons than the D100 has any use for, but it does give you a couple ways to bounce around menus or rewind/fast-forward that you can't as quickly or easily via the D100's front buttons. Honestly, the UI is pretty clean and simple. Easy to use. Options are pretty limited. You can control things like fade (on or off), backlight timer, but not much else. It would appear you can hook up their USB-based CD player to the D100 somehow, though I don't know how that works. Navigating around the audio files is easy, so long as you keep your stuff manually organized. You can store favorites for quick access. The D100 supports SD cards (on right side of unit), USB flash drives or external drives, and network shares. If you set it up right on your network and use specific apps on your mobile devices, I believe you can do software-based remote control from your phone or tablet. I have only tested SD card input. Some minor complaints I have are A) a lack of gapless playback. It's almost seamless, but there is a tiny, tiny gap. This does not bother me much. B) Pushing the previous track always takes you to the previous track, not the beginning of the current track. The best way around this is to either rewind to the beginning (via remote) or go up one layer in the menu and re-select your desired song (usually just a couple quick button presses). C) Since it only has three legs, pushing on it at either back-side angle will give you a bit of a scare. The screen is surprisingly nice and gets bright if needed. This is not some low-resolution garbage screen with horrible viewing angles. It actually gives you confidence in the product's overall quality. Build quality feels very good. Very solid. The buttons have a bit of play/wiggle in them, but that's about it. This thing is MUCH nicer feeling than any Audio-GD product I've seen. Overall Thoughts I feel pretty good about the D100. Pleasantly surprised. You definitely take a risk going with international products like this with little written about them in "local" sites and other sources. It all looked good on paper, and the price was very reasonable compared to many other transports in this niche, but you never know what you'll really get. So far, it's a very good sounding source component. Might be my top preference right now. It is a definite tier up from the CI Audio Transient Mk2 in ways that I'm wondering you'll never be able to really beat if you stick with USB. I will just have to test more USB-based solutions to be absolutely sure, but the Transient is pretty darn good as-is. If you're at all the type that might consider building a PC just for audio reasons (fanless, maybe an LPSU, some fancy pants USB card, etc.), you might want to think about the D100 instead. The price is right, and it's a machine built for nothing but digital audio source output. In the end, I have been quite satisfied with the D100 and am happy I did not have to spend over $1K for a similar type of product. It delivered exactly what I had hoped. June '16 Update: Thoughts on D100 vs. Mutec 3+ w/ Regen and LPSU for both: Link Image Sources: From Soundaware's site and eBay listing. Did a bit of cropping and resizing myself.