The Goldmund SR is far more than a fine-sounding audio system, though it certainly is that. As a particularly comprehensive implementation of a bold new digital architecture, it serves as a referendum on the probable future of home audio itself— and our progress toward it.
That future—already a virtual fait accompli in the video world—is one in which content is kept within the digital domain as long as possible. Several factors are driving this movement. As with video, there are inherent qualitative advantages to minimizing format conversions. Since most music is now recorded digitally, that means keeping it digital throughout the storage, distribution, and playback chain. Digital also holds at least theoretical superiority as a transport medium. Unlike analog signals, which experience degradation with every copy, conveyance, and control (including volume), digital bits arrive looking pretty much as they did upon departure. And any processing along the way—to derive a subwoofer channel, for example—is far less expensive and invasive when done digitally. Obviously, though, fully leveraging these advantages dictates extending the digital domain as far as possible, from end to end being ideal.
Most of the elements of such an end-to-end digital distribution infrastructure are in place; ironically, our own audio systems are the laggards. But there are compelling explanations for this situation. One is that there exists no speaker analogous to the DLP, LCD, and plasma displays that now dominate the video market. Consequently, digital audio signals must inevitably revert to analog before they can be heard. At the same time, though storage media have migrated to digital, source signals remain adamantly analog. LP is, of course, analog by nature. SACD and DVD-A, though innately digital formats, can only be accessed in analog form. That leaves only CD as a potentially digital source. In practice, however, the overwhelming popularity of CD players with built-in DACs has rendered the format analog from the system’s perspective.
In sum, current audio systems see only analog inputs, and are obliged to provide analog outputs. Accordingly, by the same format-conversion-avoidance mantra that justifies digital systems, pure analog systems make the most sense today. This will change, though, with the looming arrival of new sources such as HD discs and high-res downloads that present themselves to the system in a pure digital format. Add to these the aforementioned inherent advantages of digital, along with the trend toward integrating audio into video systems—which, as previously noted, are already entirely digital—and a digital audio future seems assured.
Implementing that simple vision necessitates a sea change in thinking about audio-system topology. Instead of converting digital content to analog at the front end of the system, as is now the case, the conversion must occur at the last possible moment—preferably right before the speaker. This has ramifications for analog sources, which are wholly incompatible with such a playback scheme. The only solution is to transpose them to digital as they enter the system, in stark contrast to the current practice of zealously preserving analog in its natural state.
There are partial examples of this new approach on the market today— Meridian products come first to mind— and more are coming from companies such as Theta. But none is as comprehensive or uncompromising as Goldmund’s SR system. Within the SR’s single-minded architecture, analog inputs are immediately converted to digital; there is no analog-bypass option. The “preamp”—in reality a powerful digital signal processor (DSP)—offers only digital outputs and includes nary an analog gain stage. DACs and power amps reside within the speakers, thereby shortening the analog signal path to mere inches.
Though radical by today’s standards, the SR actually represents the next-generation audio system. What does such a system look and sound like? How close are we to achieving an all-digital system that rivals pure analog? And do the benefits of digital transport, when coupled with their unavoidable format conversions, outweigh the losses endemic to pure analog? The SR system, with its purist implementation, provides rare insight into these fundamental questions.
Three primary components comprise the SR: the SRDVD, a heavily modified, Pioneer-based, universal player; the SR8 multichannel digital preamplifier; and the Logos speakers. The latter may be ordered in various configurations. In my test system, each channel consisted of a Mini Logos Active satellite speaker, plus a likewise-active Logos Sub, which boasts dual, opposed, sidefiring woofers. The Mini Logos and Logos Sub are precisely positioned one atop the other by the Logos Frame.