The $7,500 beat-down?

AR-sooloos2.jpegMeridian recently loaned me a Sooloos Control 15 player, and because it's what I do, I did some controlled A/B tests that pitted it against a $299 Logitech Squeezebox Touch player.

To make it a slightly leveler playing field I also used a Meridian 518 to adjust the Touch's digital signal. The 518 gave me the option to expand the Touch's native 16-bit digital signal to 24 bits, change the dithering scheme, and adjust its overall gain in the digital domain. But since the 518 only handles up to 48k files, I route the Touch's second digital output directly to a Meridian 568.2 for 88/24 and 96/24 material.

The rest of the signal chain for this still rather fiscally unfair comparison consisted of a Meridian 568.2 pre/pro hooked up to a Pass X-150 3-channel amplifier driving Dunlavy SC VI L&R and a Dunlavy IVa center channel. Source material came from my own CD collection, but the Sooloos made and used its own rip of each CD while the Touch used the rip performed by iTunes that resides in my iTunes library on my main computer.

The verdict? The Meridian/Sooloos Control 15 sounds better than a Logitech Touch. Wow. Stop the presses...wait; there are no presses.

Initially the differences between the Meridian Sooloos Control 15 and the Logitech Touch were anything but subtle - the Meridian was far more present, vibrant, dimensional, and extended at both frequency extremes. But once the Touch's volume level was increased +1 dB these differences became far less pronounced. Still, at the end of the day, the Meridian/Sooloos had a dimensional solidity and harmonic clarity that the Touch lacked. Something about the Sooloos sound commanded my attention and focused me on the subtleties of the music more completely than the Logitech Touch. Don't get me wrong, the Touch can be involving and gets way past the grayish sound of a mid-fi background music lifestyle product, but even through the Meridian 568.2's D/A's the Sooloos Control 15's delivered superior sound.

Of course the Sooloos playback system is about far more than merely sonics. The Sooloos is an ergonomic wonder that makes it fun to explore any digital music collection, especially a large collection. But the question of cost and value always comes up because it is not an inexpensive device. After all, the Logitech Touch and Sooloos Control 15 do basically the same thing and one costs $300 while the other is just under $8000. How can the Control 15 ever be as good a value as the Touch? In pure monetary terms it can't. But there are certain intangibles such as the quality of the experience and level of customer support that can counterbalance the Touch's much lower price-point.

I seriously doubt the same person contemplating buying a Sooloos Control 15 would consider a Logitech Touch. Although they perform similar functions, they do it in such different ways that they really are different types of products. Which would I prefer to own? The Meridian Sooloos Control 15 - it's beautiful, elegant, and sounds glorious. Which do I own? The Logitech Squeezebox Touch because it uses my existing music library, sounds nearly as good as a Control 15, and even I can comfortably afford it.

4 Comments

A client of mine gladly chose not to purchase the Sooloos (sold elsewhere), then passed on the multi-room Olive solution, and is happy as a clam with his Sonos experience.

When audio quality is considered important in a particular zone, I've directed folks to the Wyred4Sound/Cullen modified ZP90's. That unit's sound is delineated, deep and smooth and as high fidelity as its maker claims.

The demographic Soolos and Olive are trying to reach are more often than not "equipped" with a son-in-law or daughter-in-law who can steer them towards cost effective solutions with just as much, if not more, flexibility (if not set up an entire system for them). J. River comes to mind, and even Apple has been making some strides forward. My in-laws can afford it, but even they look at these as cost-prohibitive. Remember, some of these boomers have taken the plunge (well, a lot) and have iPhones. Yet, they will email you about how to use a PC to attach a photo to an email. Ironic that they have managed to figure out, to some extent, how to use these devices...in their hand. When my father-in-law saw the Audioengine stuff, both the cost and simplicity appealed to him. Add some Airports, some powered speakers, and you can use the player of your choice, and the meta-data of your choice to get whole house audio on the cheap, with reliable fidelity. Over the next few years will see many competitors to these grossly overpriced systems imo. correct me if I am wrong, but Soolos basically adds the PC/Storage in the 15? They charge all that extra $ for the software which offers ability to rip and store? The basic Soolos packages seem much more prudent.

Audibly, the symptoms you describe sound like losses due to data loss (lossy audio compression). When you have lossy compression the first thing you lose is spatial integrity (subtleties in the phase information). You simply can't ignore the quality of the rip. I hope you used Apple Lossless for your iTunes just to give it a fighting chance. Some things can be fixed down stream, namely clock accuracy and subtle post processing, but once the audio has been damaged, anything you do after that is a band-aid at best.

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