This brand is located in Canada and has stemmed from a community of audiophiles, designers and engineers united by a common passion for music. Their mission is to conceived products based on their ease of use while maintaining a performance level as high as possible fidelity wise. For the moment, their products seem to be limited to one wireless high-fidelity receiver but I imagine that other components will be added on to their products catalogue in a near future. The Relay is no more no less than a wireless Bluetooth receiver whose main function is to obtain a digital signal from any intelligent component, decode it and then transfer it analogically to your high-fidelity system. Mass Fidelity is not the only manufacturer making this type of product, but their Relay has some characteristics which could make it stand out from the others. Let’s analyze together this little box whose function is to make the Relay between you and your dematerialized music.
The Relay presents itself in an elegant and solid compact box made with precision from an aluminum block. Viewing its nearly naked front face, one realizes immediately the idea behind this Mass Fidelity product: which is to make your life easier whether you are a music lover or even an audiophile. There is only one DEL light signal on the front face indicating the status of the unit, while on the back face, there is a connexion for a 12 volts input, a stereo output for a RCA connexion, a coaxial connexion to screw in the Bluetooth receiver antennae and a stand-by button. No USB input is supplied which would have increased somewhat the production costs and render the Relay configuration a bit more complex. Therefore it will be mainly used in conjunction with smart phones like iPhone, with tablets like iPad or any other mobile unit equipped with Bluetooth functionality and working on Android. As a matter of fact, there is a list of compatible units supplied on the web page, massfidelity.com. Its dimensions, 115 X 100 X 36 mm, makes it easy to be placed anywhere within your decor and its power (electric) feed is assured through a small transformer which is hooked up to a wall socket.
The Mass Fidelity web page, which is available in three languages amongst which the French language, lets us know that its output stage is powered by a Burr-Brown DAC of professional quality accepting up to 24 bit resolutions, but at a sampling rate of 48 kHz. This limitation is probably due to the Bluetooth transfer protocol. It also indicates that a ground has been particularly well taken care of with three independent systems for each domain which is one for the digital signal, one for the analog signal and one for the radio frequency signal. An ultra stable and sealed timing clock has been used to eliminate any jitter at the digital signal reception before it is led to the DAC and converted into an analog signal. The Relay is equipped with a low loss and very performing SMA connector for the reach and stability of the signal coming in through the antennae. Its reach is measured to be at approximately 10 meters depending on the configuration of your home space. Beyond this distance, you can still get the signal but occasional signal drops will occur more and more. As for the power supply, it is optimized with an anti-interference filter to eliminate from the signal noises and undesirable interferences which might arise from the 115 volt sector.
Welcome to the party!
The Relay is easy to install: just plug in the transformer into a wall socket and connect its RCA stereo output to your Hi-Fi system. Pushing on its stand-by button in the back of the unit, the DEL light will pass from red to white indicating that the Relay is ready to function. Then you will access the Bluetooth Manager of your mobile unit and using the settings, you activate its Bluetooth function. Once this is done, you select the Relay in the resulting list of Bluetooth products search available in your environment. There you go: it’s all done, you simply need to make sure that your stereo system is on with the volume control in a low position and that the appropriate audio input has been correctly selected.
The Relay also contains a function, commercially called Party Pairing MC, which allows all your friends to equally participate as a DJ. It is compatible with the majority of the Apple products including the iPod Touch and smart phones like the HTC and Samsung supporting the apt-X function. In other words, all the contents or all the directories of your friends’ mobile phones can be transferred to your high-fidelity system for a most animated evening. To change unit, simply access the Bluetooth Manager of the mobile actually connected, then select the On/Off pointer in order to de-activate the Bluetooth function. This way, another mobile unit can be connected following the Bluetooth activation procedure and selecting the Relay from the list of Bluetooth units available. For my listening sessions, I have used without any problem my son’s iPhone 4, my wife’s iPod and my own iPad which contains a good selection of WAV files in CD quality.
I presume that certain portable computers can equally be used if, of course, they are equipped with a Bluetooth module containing A2DP profile (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile). From my desktop HP computer dating back to 2006, I must go through the JRiver Media Center software in order to be able to transfer my music through Bluetooth. Through the Reader tab, reading parameters are offered to me. In this section, the Direct Sound output mode must be selected and then in the output mode parameter selection, I must click on the (Bluetooth Audio) Loudspeakers option. But first you must verified that within the Bluetooth window of your PC, that the Relay choice appears as an option and that it is correctly connected. It is possible that your computer will recognize the Relay as a head-phone microphone and that is normal and it does not change the sound quality. This way, my high resolution WAV and FLAC files have been transmitted without a hitch. I presume that they have been resampled at 48 kHz but since they keep their 24 bit definition, I do not perceive any sound quality loss and even less, when the files are transfered through a high end converter.
The Relay and its competitors
I own an Apple Airport Express which is a competitor of the Relay but at a lower cost. In the same cost range as the Relay, other competitors are present on the market but according to my observations, the Mass Fidelity addresses users for whom sound quality is important. The Airport Express can hook up other computers and printers through a wired or Wi-Fi network while the Bluetooth characteristics of the Relay are more geared and optimized for the wireless transmission and decoding of musical files. Besides its internal make-up and its impeccable DAC, I noticed that the two RCA analog output connectors at the back of the unit can be transformed into S/PDIF digital outputs, which allow the Relay to be hooked-up to an external DAC. In order to do this, all you need to do is to press the On/Off button at the back of the unit for 5 seconds until the small DEL light on top of the unit goes from white to a multicolour sequence. Oddly enough, this Relay characteristic is not mentioned in the instruction manual, but the manufacturer has informed me that this error will soon be corrected on its Web page. This option offers to the Mass Fidelity receiver a possible usage within a high-fidelity system of a higher quality and through this a very good protection against a rapid obsolescence. Consequently, I could test the iPad-Rely combination as a digital source hooked-up to an external DAC of a much higher quality. In this case, it would be the Chordette QuteHD and the PDT-4F CD player by Sugden, which I have right now for product review. Its DAC section is accessible by a S/PDIF coaxial input located at the back of the unit.
Listening to the Relay
The majority of my listening sessions were done using my iPad and with the analog output of the Relay hooked-up directly to the Masterclass IA-4 amplifier by Sugden which I also had on loan for a product review. In this configuration and with WAV files in CD quality, the musical renderings of this small box were impressive. One notices quickly that the DAC section was not thought of lightly. Within a 10 meter reach, the transmission has always been smooth and without interference. Naturally if we compare the sound of the Relay with the PDT-4F CD player by Sugden, which is almost 28 times more expensive, one can only state that there is a loss of clearness, a stereo image loss and well less defined tones, but overall the results were dynamic and very satisfying nonetheless. This remark applies however when I compare the analog output of the PDT-4F by Sugden in CD playing against the analog output of the Relay which receives and decodes by itself a signal coming from my iPad. But in using the iPad/Relay combination as a main source in the context of a reference system such as mine, the Relay has shown an impressive competency if not to say, exceptional. So much so, that a majority of users could find great satisfaction with much more modest Hi-Fi systems. When I use one of the two RCA output of the Relay as a coaxial digital output and that the Relay transfer the iPad digital signal directly to the DAC of the Sugden PDT-4F player; then, the sound quality between the iPad and the CD player as a source is practically identical, which is not a small thing. Just for this option alone, the Relay greatly justifies its retail price as an affordable Bluetooth receiver. Moreover since it is delivered with two types of interconnection cables and wall socket adaptors for wall sockets in Europe and England.
If ease of use for dematerialized music intrigues you but you are not familiar with computer twists and turns, a NAS (Network Attached Storage) installation and/or network music playing, the Relay by Mass Fidelity has been conceived especially for you. It can be installed in a minute and all your music stored on your portable computer or your smart phone becomes available at your fingertips to be retransmitted by your Hi-Fi system. Thus, you will be able to organize many parties with multiple DJs or you can control your ambiance music program from any dining room, at the condition of course that this one is less than 10 meters away from your Hi-Fi system. For the moment, the Relay can be purchased directly from the massfidelity.com web page at a cost of 249 $. What else can you ask at this price if not a try?
Price : 249 $
Mass Fidelity, www.massfidelity.com
alt-J, An Awesome Wave, Canvasback/Atlantic, 2-511756
Sienna Dahlen, Verglas, Justin Time Records, JTR 8576-2
Fink, Sort of Revolution, ZEN, CD146
Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Loving, Lost Highway, B0009789-02
Joni Mitchell, Mingus, Asylum, CD 505
Tags: A2DP Airport Express Apple apt-X audiophiles bluetooth Burr-Brown cd HYC iphone iPod Touch Party Pairing RCA S/PDIF Samsung. SMA Wav