Friday, October 20, 2017

The Relay by Mass Fidelity

avril 25, 2013 by · 3 Comments 

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I already spoke about the Relay at length during SSI 2013 last week, but I still had to formalize it’s relevance and for that, nothing’s better than real world testing.

Relay by Mass Fidelity

Relay by Mass Fidelity

This little machined aluminum box literally wowed us. Inside the Relay’s packaging you are provided with absolutely all the accessories required to hook up the Relay to any sound system with either analog or digital inputs anywhere in the world. The user manual is in English, French, and German. There are power adapters for anywhere in the world (North America, Europe, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong) and two premium quality audio cables; one set is RCA to RCA, one is RCA to 3.5mm. The RCA to RCA cable is intended to connect to traditional stereo systems that use integrated amplifiers or preamplifier + power amplifier combinations. The RCA to 3.5mm cable is intended for use with high quality all in one systems, or table radios. No matter the situation, you will be prepared for high quality wireless music.

Relay by Mass Fidelity

Relay by Mass Fidelity

The French Definition of Relay (1860): A device that allows a small amount of energy to trigger a higher amount of energy. An apparatus to amplify and broadcast radio signals: Radio Relay. Retransmit, Repeater: Television Relay. * A device for switching a circuit by means of a control signal. Electromagnetic Relay; Semiconductor, timer. Source Le Petit Robert.

I wanted to judge the suitability of the Relay; it’s ease of use, and especially it’s audio performance. The Relay is small so I decided to take it with me and plug it into systems wherever my feet lead me. It’s rare to enjoy 44.1+ files over Bluetooth. We were not disappointed. I used an iPod touch, and my laptop. With my laptop I met some resistance but we’ll come back to that later.

For now what matters is how this Bluetooth device works, and what the results were.

Retail price of the Relay: $249.

Mass Fidelity has been working on adding this product to their catalogue for two years and based on their initial market feedback they’ve made it their company focus. They were our neighbours in the Canadian Pavilion at Salon Son Image 2013 and all of their demonstrations were focused on the Relay, it was attached to a high quality vintage system. The Relay had the eyes and the undivided attention of an audience of all ages who were validating the experience of the Relay live as they took turns controlling the Relay and streaming music from their smart devices.

The Relay guarantees a set up time of less than a minute. We tested, it’s correct.

To assess the Mass Fidelity Relay I used a 4th generation iPod touch with 64GB of solid state memory. Most of the music files are 16bit/44.1kHz but the Relay can output 24bit/48kHz.

I, of course, began the evaluation of the Relay in a context I was familiar with; my own system.

Relay by Mass Fidelity with my system on a dedicated stand, on the right side.

Relay by Mass Fidelity with my system on a dedicated stand, on the right side.

The Relay is connected digitally via one of it’s two 24bit S/PDIF digital coaxial outputs. A silver RCA connector plugs into a BNC connector which in turn feeds the Jundac X7 of Junilabs (made in France). The X7 DAC is a creation of Eric Juaneda and is usually put to good use with my valiant Integris CDP. It’s worth noting that the LED on the Relay changes color when in S/PDIF output mode.

To represent the various states of the Relay there are three colors. After plugging the Relay pressing the button turns it on and it’s software automatically sets it into pairing mode. After the Relay is already on, a 5 second push activates the digital outputs.

Red = Stand by
White = Analog output
Orange = Digital output

The Relay installed on it's dedicated metal stand and connected to the Jundac X7 via it's 24bit S/PDIF output

The Relay installed on it’s dedicated metal stand and connected to the Jundac X7 via it’s 24bit S/PDIF output

I got the best performance from the Relay when it was in digital mode. Setting the Relay into digital mode is simple, just press and hold the button on the back and voila, digital out.

Discograpy

4_Seasons_Sum_McGill.wav
Anne Bisson_SEPTEMBER IN MONTREAL.wav
Anne-Sophie Mutter_Carmen Fantasy.aiff
Axelle Red_A quoi ça sert.aiff
Beady_Belle.Closer.aiff
Bluebone_No is the answer.aiff
Catherine Dozier/Denis Naegely_Fever.aiff
Charles Aznavour_Dans tes bras.aiff
Claude Nougaro_Tu verras.aiff
Concha_Buika_Mienteme-bien.aiff
Count Basie and His Orchestra – 01 – Bluesville.aiff
Elle m’en veut_Marcel Kanche.aiff
Feets out in the hallway_Ronnie Earl_Joe Beard.aiff
France Gall/Michel Berger_quelques mots d’amour.aiff
Francis Cabrel_j’ai peur de l’avion.aiff
Guns n’roses_Knockin’on heaven’s door.aiff
Trust « antisocial ».aiff
Ida Sand_At last.aiff
Jacaras_Santa Cruz.aiff
Jacques Loussier_Play Back pastorale in C minor.aiff
Jean Jacques Goldman_Je commence demain.aiff
Jean-Philippe Rameau_Une symphonie imaginaire.aiff
Jesse Cook – 01 – I Put a Spell On You.aiff
Laurence Revey_immortal.aiff
Marcus Miller – Jean Pierre.aiff
Mark Curry_Nothin’at all.aiff
Martin Léon – 10 – L’ Exil.aiff
Michel Pascal_Puzzle plage 16.aiff
Moby/Patti Labelle_One of these mornings.aiff
Oscar Peterson Trio – You Look Good To Me.wav
OSI.Stockholm.aiff
Rita_Roxanne (Sting).aiff
Sad Old Red.wav
Seether-Careless Whisper .flac
Seether-Careless Whisper (Strings Version) .aiff
Sevara Nazarkha_ Gazli.aiff
Slav De Hren.(Pictures at an Exhibition)Promenade with a Bass.aiff
Sorry seems to be_Ray Charles_Elton John.aiff
Tears for fears/John Lennon_Stand by me.aiff
Test_Drum_Jim Keltner.aiff
Tommy Garrett_I’am rhythm and blues.aiff
Tommy Garrett_The love thing.aiff
Veronique Sanson_Marie.aiff
Veronique Sanson_Paul Personne.aiff
Veronique Sanson_Quelques mots d’amour.aiff
Vesoul_Wende.aiff
Vincent Belanger_Ave Maria.aiff
Vincent Bidal Trio_La boheme.aiff
Vincent Bidal Trio_Quel temps.aiff
Xavier Martin_Scene de la vie pastorale.aiff

In two words: Simplicity and Performance
As I mentioned in my previous SSI article:

  • No drivers to install,
  • No computer knowledge required, a 10 year old could set it up,
  • The published range is 10 meters but we’ve tested it successfully in open spaces up to 75 feet, 20 meters.

Technically:

Inside the Relay’s impeccably finished milled aluminum enclosure it integrates the Burr-Brown PCM5102 DAC (24bit/48kHz) with a proprietary circuit layout and an aptX enabled CSR Bluetooth Radio. We will see below where the Relay stands in comparison to it’s competition.

And now we listen…


Yves’ place

We auditioned the Relay for several hours on Yves’ system using my 4th generation iPod touch as the source and system controller. Yves.

At Yves' when comparing the Stormaudio V55 against the optimized Stormaudio V55

At Yves’ when comparing the Stormaudio V55 against the optimized Stormaudio V55

We were able to use 24bit/176kHz files from the 4th generation iPod touch, and yes it was good, but I want to understand how the Relay manages the music it receives.

Exactly how the Relay handles the signal is proprietary information, but I’ve explained parts of it below. Please don’t take this the wrong way, it’s just that we spent a long time tweaking and optimizing the signal path to achieve the greatest result from Bluetooth and these series of optimizations in context are not yet patented.

The input signal is different from the output signal, why? Let me explain. The DAC I have been using at Yves’ place is an older Wadia DAC (15 to 20 years) that won’t accept sample rates above 48kHz. When using the iPod we played a 24bit/176kHz file and the Relay/Wadia combo played it back without a problem. This should have been impossible. The Wadia clock should have gone out of sync, why didn’t it?

Hence my question of how the Relay handles the music it’s receiving. Is it downsampling or resampling the file?

Everything that comes into the Relay is processed internally. Again, we’ve done a bunch of experimentation so I’m reluctant to say exactly what the signal path looks like as it’s not yet patented. The signal is sent to the S/PDIF outputs at 24bit 48kHz. The reason for this is demonstrated in your experience; compatibility. Yes, there will be some cases that extremely high resolution files get run through the Relay but for 99.9% of users it will be CD quality or less. We want the Relay to be a device capable of bridging the gap between proper stereo systems and the masses who use their mobile devices for most of their music sourcing. Fixing the output to a bit depth and sample rate that every DAC will recognize is critical for user experience.


Claude’s place

I stopped into my friend Claude’s house. Claude is a great lover of Vinyl, turntables, and the analog sound. He willingly took part in some Relay auditioning. I set up the Relay in the system that’s used with Claude’s television.

In less than one minute the Relay is connected to the Samsung S3 width=

In less than one minute the Relay is connected to the Samsung S3

Once connected we stand back and listen. 10 meters from the Relay the music is still playing.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 successfully connects to the Relay in seconds.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 successfully connects to the Relay in seconds.

Why is the sound different between the analog and digital output modes?

The reason is the DAC that’s being used to process the digital signal. Every DAC will present a different sound. The Burr Brown DAC in the Relay is a fantastic part. The digital out allows a user that loves the sound of their existing DAC to experience the convenience of a Relay with the sound they already love.

How do you get the best sound out of the Relay?

It’s a bit of a moving target but good rules of thumb are devices that support the aptX codec (Samsung S3, Samsung Note 2, etc) in conjunction with high quality audio files. After that it’s all about personal preference. The reason we chose the Burr-Brown DAC is because it sounded great in our opinion but that’s totally subjective. Depending on your tastes you might prefer another DAC’s unique sonic signature.

Personally I liked using it with the Samsung S3 and the 4th generation iPod touch.

The Relay allows you to stream music from any tablet or laptop (Mac or PC) and works flawlessly with any of the online streaming services like Spotify, Grooveshark, or Songza and every internet radio station on the internet. We tested compatibility with internet radio stations and aside from needing to have a fast internet connection it works as advertised. The listening possibilities with the Relay are enormous.

I tried using my laptop with the Audirvana Plus software for playback.

Audirvana Plus with the Relay

Audirvana Plus with the Relay

Things seem to get jammed up if you try and play files larger than 24/48 via the Audirvana player on the laptop. This is interesting as there doesn’t seem to be any bit depth or sample rate limitations when playing music from the 4th generation iPod touch.

The limiting factor is not the Relay.

It’s actually a combination of the devices firmware, the application that’s rendering the files, and the the bluetooth transmitter at the source. The reason it works on an iPod without a problem at any file size or type is because the iPod knows how to handle any music being fed to the Bluetooth processing/radio stage.

Frederique says: We have no control over how a signal is processed before it hits the bluetooth stage of things. If the software has been created to « play nice » with Bluetooth then you will have 100% compatibility.

Damien Plisson, the creator of Audirvana Plus advises us to block the sampling frequency at 44.1kHz (settings at the bottom of the Audio System page, in Audirvana Plus preferences and in the AudioMidi config), this makes it easier to avoid artifacts as the 44.1 is a multiple of 176.4.

The performance of this small Relay is surprising, especially in digital mode when feeding an external DAC. With this in mind I would strongly suggest you treat the connection from the Relay to your external DAC with a high quality digital audio cable. Our testing revealed significant differences when switching from one cable type to another. These differences can result in improvements or acoustic colorings that are more or less obvious and or pleasant depending on the cable. It’s up to you to find your acoustic preference.

Three models of cable tested with the Relay.

Three models of cable tested with the Relay.

I use these three models of cables as references in our tests; I know their strengths and weaknesses very well.

The Relay and it’s competition

There are other products on the market that use either Bluetooth or proprietary RF technologies that are similar to the Relay. We found 4.

How does the Relay stand up to the competition:

Benjamin Webster of Mass Fidelity speaks on the subject:

The Arcam rBlink and Advance Acoustic WTX 500/WTX 1000.

When compared to any other stand alone Bluetooth DAC on the market the Relay is a cut above in every regard. The total overall system noise is about 30% better than our closest high end competitor. The range is 50%+ more than the competition (a direct, and measurable result of the lower system noise).

For our case work we work with foundries directly to ensure the quality of the metal. We use a high pressure extrusion tool to produce lengths of solid aerospace grade aluminum. We then cut it into sections and then mill the Relay from this solid mass, all waste material is recycled. It’s an expensive process but the only way to guarantee the quality of the metal, and it’s ability to hold a uniform finish.

The NAD DAC1 and NuForce Air DAC.

Products that use proprietary 2.4gHz solutions should be competitive with the Relay in terms of sound quality. The big inconvenience with these types of solutions is compatibility. You need to buy hardware for both ends: a transmitter, and a receiver. For the majority of people this is too much work and they won’t even consider it. We wanted to create a wireless upgrade for existing stereo/Hi-Fi systems that was truly plug and play. Bluetooth was the only viable option from a compatibility and user experience standpoint. Our challenge at that point was to innovate on what could be accomplished sound quality wise over Bluetooth. We were very successful.


At Brosseau Audio

To end my journey I stopped at Brosseau Audio a specialist Hi-Fi store on the south shore of Montreal.

With the consent of his “boss” Eric, Patrick Sareault agreed to try the Relay out as the source in a Sim Audio Moon system that was using Verity Audio’s “Finn” model speakers.

Mass Fidelity's Relay centered between Simaudio's famous Moon series electronics

Mass Fidelity’s Relay centered between Simaudio’s famous Moon series electronics

We connected one of the Relay’s 24bit S/PDIF outputs to the Simaudio 650D DAC using a Blueberry Hill’s digital audio cable (made in Canada).

Relay by Mass Fidelity

Relay by Mass Fidelity

The Relay served as the digital source for several hours in Brosseau’s reference system before we switched over to CD.

Sim Audio's Moon System driving Verity Audio's Finn speakers in Brosseau's reference studio.

Sim Audio’s Moon System driving Verity Audio’s Finn speakers in Brosseau’s reference studio.

Everyone present in the listening session was impressed by the sound quality of the Relay. Imagine their surprise when they found out the music was streaming from an iPod to the Relay via Bluetooth! There was excitement in the air.

In my case I got the best performance from the Relay when I was relatively close to the unit. When stretching the range limitations I think there were slight deviations in the Bluetooth signal.

For me, there is no contest. The Relay has kept all of it’s promises. For this reason we recommend this product for purchase in addition to being the “Best Buy” of Salon Son Image 2013.

Proof that happiness can be delivered in three numbers, $249. Quite uncommon numbers in the Hi-Fi world, I’m sure you’ll agree.

About Mass Fidelity’s Relay

Points forts Strengths:

  • Exceptional build quality;
  • Beautiful;
  • Respects high quality (44.1+) audio;
  • Inexpensive;
  • Easy to use.

Points faibles Weaknesses:

  • Nothing worth mentioning, except perhaps better compatibility with Audirvana and Amarra players.
Mass Fidelity's Relay has been awarded Best Buy for SSI 2013.

Mass Fidelity’s Relay has been awarded Best Buy for SSI 2013.


Conclusion

At less than $250 I don’t see anything that would prevent you from enjoying the Relay for most of your listening from your iTunes collection stored on your laptop or mobile device. The Relay is focused on providing playback quality on par with CD (44.1), but if MP3 is what you’re used to listening to the Relay is just as happy. The Audirvana Plus player will work provided you don’t exceed the 44.1 resolution.

In my experimentation there were several times when people didn’t know where the source material was coming from. Everyone who has experienced the Relay in their system has been converted.

Certainly we aren’t talking about the same level of performance as a proper high end CD playback system but the fact remains that the Relay does very well for a sweet price with the bonus of a quick and easy installation.

Having tested extensively in both modes: analog and digital, it is with the latter we found the Relay’s optimal performance.

  • Lecteur/DAC Moon 650D de Simaudio,
  • Lecteur/DAC CDP integris de Aurum Acoustics,
  • DAC Jundac X7 de Junilabs.

Don’t hesitate to use the Relay with a high end DAC. You will certainly be surprised by the quality and liberated by the barrier free listening. Your music is with you wherever you are in your home. Living with the Relay’s Bluetooth technology is very pleasant and offers a full dimensionality to the sound. Simple but not simplistic the Relay opens new horizons for cloud music enjoyment. I must confess that since I’ve started using the Relay in my own system I’ve gotten used to setting my playlists to random and wirelessly enjoying hours of music without interruption, I’m ecstatic.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see many more reports of Mass Fidelity’s Relay flourish giving it the commercial success it deserves.

Thinking further about installation possibilities; imagine a pair of powered speakers with the Relay hooked up to it, and voila! A full wireless system compatible with every mobile device on the planet! It’s a safe bet the system would perform with ease. Why not with a pair of powered speakers from Arteluthemoniteurs de studio 3112 or better yet the Satie viewed in SSI’s 2013 Canadian Pavilion.

I’ll let you think about it, the possibilities are enormous!

While writing this page I listened to the playlist mentioned earlier , from my iPod, over Bluetooth, to Mass Fidelity’s Relay.

I’ll finish with a sentence that describes the philosophy of Mass Fidelity, and the Relay. It’s an excerpt from a conversation I had with Frederique Saindon, one of the partners of Mass Fidelity: “The customer should not be concerned with networking technologies, they should be concerned with enjoying their music”.


Contact and information

Mass Fidelity
Frederique Saindon, Communications
Email: fsaindon@massfidelity.com
Website: http://www.massfidelity.com


La pensée du moment :

Quoi que l’on fasse, nous n’en sortirons pas vivant, alors autant vivre avec panache et contribuer à faire un monde meilleur.


Cet article a été rédigé par Marc PHILIP, rédacteur indépendant, tous droits réservés, copyright 2013, les textes et photos sont la propriété de l’auteur et du magazine, sous licence creative commons.

Bon divertissement.

Comments

3 Responses to “The Relay by Mass Fidelity”
  1. robin dit :

    Very informative review! Thank you.
    Will the Relay switch back to analoge when switching it off/on or does it have a memory and stays in previous selection?
    Kind regards Robin
    Feel free to answer to my mail if you like

  2. Mark White dit :

    I bought the Relay a few months ago and it has been a major disappointment. Synching it up with the stereo 18′ away in the bedroom is a hit or miss proposition. If I am working on the Mac while it is streaming to the Relay, it cuts out momentarily. Same thing if I am active on my Kindle Fire, it cuts out repeatedly. The company suggested upgrade to Apple’s new Yosemite OS, which was of no help, and Yosemite is a nightmare. I am dumping it and going back to Lion! I bought the Relay as a demo so I am stuck with it, but it may be worth trying with the 30-day trial. I will end on a positive note: the music stream sounds great… when it works.

  3. Dan dit :

    Recently I bought a Relay – to date I am very impressed. I run a budget system, which is somewhat aging and this product took me into the 21st century. My amp is an Audiolab 8000A and my speakers are Minstrels by Royd and both date to the 90s but are going strong.

    I really love the functionality the Relay has added to my set up but am wondering whether I can make one further improvement (for now). I am thinking f adding an external DAC, but am not sure if at the prices I can pay, a DAC will make an appreciable difference. I looked at Denon’s DA-300USB which is available now for a mere 199 UK Pounds and wondered whether you would care to comment as to whether (theoretically) it would make a difference, given that the DAC itself inside the Denon is said to be very good (for the money) and likely to be better than the one in the Relay.

    Appreciate any feedback you can provide.

    Cheers,

    Dan

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