CEntrance, whose products have been favorably reviewed by JA, is exhibiting next to the registration desk at T.H.E. Show. New this year is their very flexible DAC/Amp combo that comes with three different panels for optimizing your connections. The HiFi-M8 runs on an internal lithium battery, handles asynch 24/192 USB and should be available in March for $699.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this product is that the design and feature set was "crowd-sourced". The company went to the hive mind and asked HeadFi's readers what they would like to see in a portable DAC/amp. Hundreds of posts and discussion threads later, the M8 is the result.
I had a quick look in Nola's room, and as soon as I saw their giant speakers, I knew that these were not going to be in my designated "Under $15k" price range. Indeed, the speakers (whose name escapes me, but it has something to do with boxing) were just under $200k/pair. They sounded great, with tremendous dynamics, but I have trouble relating to speakers in that price range. "Do you have anything new and relatively affordable?" Yes, said Nola's Marilyn Marchisotto. The $9998/pair KO (another boxing reference) was being used in another room in demos by Nordost.
Sandy Gross has done it again! At CES 2011 I was blown away by the sound quality and value offered by the GoldenEar Triton Two, my highly positive impression confirmed by more extended listening (see my review). At CES 2013, Sandy introduced a speaker with possibly an even greater quality/value combination: the Triton Seven. This is another floorstander, but much smaller than the Triton Two (or the Triton Three that was introduced last year). It uses similar drivers as the Triton Two, including the High Velocity Folded Ribbon (aka Heil) tweeter, but, unlike the Triton Two, the bass is not powered. The lack of a powered subwoofer has allowed Triton Seven to be priced at $1399/pair. Surprisingly, the bass, which is one of the major strengths of the Triton Two, does not appear to have suffered, and the speaker has the same sort of transparency and precise imaging that characterizes the Triton Two. The Triton Seven is expected to be available in May. Photo: Sandy Gross with the Triton Two and the Triton Seven.
Many speaker manufacturers give their various speaker lines fanciful names that make it difficult to determine a given speaker's position in the manufacturer's intended quality range. Polk, in contrast, simply places their speakers in three categories: Good, Better, and Best. I suspect this helps sales staff in stores enormously in communicating what the differences are between various speakers from Polk.
Canadian speaker manufacturer Paradigm is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a limited edition speaker, called the Tribute ($6000/pair). The Tribute (pictured here) has a new cabinet, built in-house, a beryllium tweeter from the Signature range, a new mounting system for the drivers, corrugated drivers surrounds, and a chrome-plated stainless steel plinth.
As I said in an earlier blog posting, I was sufficiently intrigued by B&O's single-cabinet stereo speaker at the CES Unveiled event that I made a note to myself to check it out later. The opportunity presented itself in the form of a B&O press conference. The press conference did not involve any demonstrations of sound, but when the press conference was concluded I managed to prevail on Henrik Taudorf Lorensen, CEO of B&O's PLAY division, to give me a demonstration of the A9. The setting was not ideal, with no attempt at optimal positioning of the speaker, but the speaker certainly had a smooth, room-filling sound. I continue to be intrigued by this product. The A9 looks more like a satellite dish than a speaker, and is sure to be a conversation piece. B&O also has some new wireless speakers that are more conventional-looking, such as the BeoLab 12-1 ($2950/pair), pictured here.
Audio Research is replacing the CD8 with a new player this year that will use similar proprietary filters and upsampling to that of the company's Reference DAC. There are also additional digital inputs on the back to accept USB, SPDIF, Toslink and AES/EBU 24/192 connections. The new player is shipping later this month and will retail for $13,000.
Light Harmonic has decided that the only way to properly put both DSD and PCM processing into one product is to incorporate two "separate and discrete" decoding engines in the box. According to the company, one signal path is optimized for PCM the other for DSD. The PCM side can handle streams up to 32/384 with the DSD path handling DSD128. Price is $31,000 and the Dual DAC should be available around spring this year.
Not content to stick with DACs, Light Harmonic is adding a new music server to the line up. The Source chassis is comprised of two parts: The bottom section contains the company's proprietary digital power supply, a hard drive bay that can accept four 2TB drives in a RAID array and also a Blu-ray disc player. The top half contains all of the processing circuitry and music server software.
Price is stil to be determined but I was told that the Blu-ray drive will be able to rip up to 24/192 PCM off of any Blu-ray disc inserted in the machine. Additionally, an iPad mini will be included with each purchase, loaded with a custom remote control app suite and a pre-configured wireless access point for plug-and-play setup. Ship date is estimated to be around the middle of the year.
USB Dongle DACs are taking off, and companies like HRT are attempting to combine small form factor with features and sound quality. Unlike Audioquest's Dragonfly, the microStreamer sports two output jacks, one fixed and optimized for line level destinations and the other with variable out for headphones.
The microStreamer will retail for $189.95, can handle streams up to 24/96 and is connected to your computer or source with a short USB cable. The company explains that this approach prevents mishaps where the dongle could damage your computer's USB connector if it was plugged straight in like the Dragonfly.
The Music Streamer HD has been upgraded to include both balanced and unbalanced output jacks (the previous model had one jack with a special adaptor) and can stream up to 24/192 via USB2. Retail price is $449.95
"Head Monster" Noel Lee is known as a shrewd, successful businessman, but I think that if he had taken a different career path he could have made a great evangelist. His CES press conferences have very much feeling of revival meetings, and, like an evangelist, he works hard at whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Given the largely skeptical audience of media representatives, Lee is not always successful in this, but you certainly can't fault his enthusiasm. (Consumer electronics journalists are a tough crowd.)
The Sony press conference is arguably the most prestigious at CESand the largest. It would have been even larger if Sony did not have the policy of allowing only select invited members of the media to attend. Having a Press badge by itself does not guarantee admission. Even so, I overheard a Sony rep saying to one of his colleagues that attendance at the Sony press conference was over 1600.
NAD has jumped into the headphone arena with their VISO HP50 ($279), an extremely lightweight and comfortable, noise-isolating, over-the-ear design. The detachable cable plugs into either the right or left earcup and has smart phone and microphone controls. NAD’s “RoomFeel” technology is said to improve stereo sound.
With all the headphone options out there, it might be hard to find the one that’s right for you. If quality, rather than superficial associations with aging rock bands, is what you want, one outstanding option would be Sennheisera company that’s been perfecting the art of headphones even longer than Motorhead’s been playing “Ace of Spades.”