I cadged a copy of the hot-off-the press February 2014 issue from the Stereophile room to read Bob Reina's enthusiastic review of the Epos Elan 10 loudspeaker, then headed over to Music Hall to find out what's new. The affable Roy Hall showed me some very new Epos speakers, the first ones designed under the leadership of Luke Creek. The bookshelf K1 ($795/pair, above) and the floorstanding K2 ($1750/pair) were striking in gloss white with exposed black drivers and a slotted port just beneath them. Compared to the more traditional Epos designs, these stood out visually but, although less expensive than the Elans, they sounded like members of the family.
When I asked for something new and under $2000 at the Dali room, I was shown their new Kubik Free speaker ($1295/pair). This active compact single-stereo speaker with Bluetooth, USB, optical (up to 24/96) and analog was not exactly what I was looking for even though it did sound pleasant by itself. However, I was won over when it was demonstrated with its optional Kubik Xtra ($695) passive mate to produce some really spacious and open stereo sounds. Sure, adding the matching Sub 1 ($695) puts it over $2000 but the contribution to the sound was substantial. The Kubik system looks like and has the features of a life-style system but it is definitely a Dali.
It is said that good things come in small packages and this CES offered proof of this. Among the very smallest of these is the Audioengine D3 Premium 24bit DAC, priced at $189. This tiny all-metal USB DAC is no larger than the flash-drives with press kits distributed freely at CES. Still, it handles up to 24/96 and requires no special drivers. How can good sound stuff get any smaller?
New compact streaming devices were popping up all over the Venetian and, to little surprise, there was something unusual at Cambridge Audio, one of the pioneers in this product category. Borrowing its name from CA's amazingly small speaker line, the Minx Xi ($999) is really a wireless compact music system in a box. Of course, it will stream all the usual lossy and lossless formats via UPnP at up to 24/96 and access many streaming services including Pandora and Rhapsody, It will also communicate with smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices by Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Standard digital and analog inputs are provided. However, in addition to a line level subwoofer output, the Xi has a 40Wpc (8 ohms) stereo power amp and a headphone jack. Pretty slick stuff.
At the Furutech room, the news was about the latest ADL device, the GT40 Mk.II of which they said "The master of all trades just mastered another. . .DSD." That's right, their all-singing, all-dancing, multitasking GT40, reviewed by Art Dudley in September 2011, now adds DSD file playback to its playbook. That, of course, includes up to 24/192 PCM DAC and ADC, MM/MC phono input and a potent headphone amp. At $729, a small box to rule them all.
Over at T.H.E Show at the Flamingo, and surrounded by booths offering all sorts of discs and their supporting paraphernalia, I came upon Darin Fong's table of laptops and headphones but he was not selling any of those. His company, Darin Fong Audio, is offering a software program called "Out Of Your Head" which reprocesses stereo and multichannel sources so that you can hear them as you would over a loudspeaker-based system. This is similar, in intent, to the marvelous Smyth Realiser that I reviewed in November 2010, but, at just $149, is much more affordable. Like the Smyth, it supports multiple presets (acoustic environment files) although it is not personalized to the user's own HRTF. It was also quite effective. There is free trial version on the website.
Pro-Ject easily wins the competition for who can offer the greatest number and variety of little audio boxes. With their range of turntables distributed around the room, they had an entire large wall covered with their devices, DACs, CD players, preamps, mono- and stereo-amps, switches, power supplies, tuners, and phono stages. They also had boxes with combinations and permutations of these functions and most of them came in more than one of their various ranges, E, S, DS, DS+ and RS, in order of feature set and price. I was most intrigued by their Stream Box DS music streamers, all of which handle up to 24/192 via WiFi, LAN and USB and offer Internet radio via vTuner as well as Spotify and other streaming sources. A 3.5" TFT color display shows text and album art. As you go up the line, you can add iOS and Android control, ALAC support, analog and digital inputs or, even, built in power amps. Prices start at under $1000.
Jon Iverson reports elsewhere on Light Harmonic's cost-no-object Sire DAC. But the bigger buzz at the 2014 CES was the LH Labs Geek Pulse, a desktop DAC and headphone amplifier. Except that this product does not yet exist!
As I walked into "The Hi-Res Audio Experience" ballroom, I scanned the room and noted several high resolution audio vendors along the walls. Then I noticed an odd symmetry to the arrangement: the PCM distributors and labels were lined up on the left, while all of the DSD folks were lined up on the right.
I was wishing this wasn't symptomatic of greater divisions between the two HD audio worlds, but when someone in a DSD booth asked if I'd be back for the big PCM vs DSD battle the next day, with a gleeful glint in his eye, I realized this might be shaping up as a format war after all. I sure hope not.
The DSD exhibitors included Native DSD Music, Blue Coast Music and representatives for Acoustic Sounds new download web site: Super Hi-Rez. In all fairness it should be pointed out that Super Hi-Rez offers both DSD and PCM HD downloads, though the numbers of titles seem heavily weighted towards DSD at this point.
In addition to the integrated amps that Jason has covered below, Gato introduced their GORGEOUS looking new preamp with built-in DAC. This thing looks like an audio Ferrari just sitting there. Cost is $2,990 and is based on the front end of the DIA-250 and 400 integrateds which means up to 24/192 processing. Available at the end of January.
Also worth mentioning is how the volume control display works: as you turn the knob, the numbers on the display slide up and down instead of just changing. Probably has to be seen to be understood, but way cool.
Erick Lichte loved the DAC202 when he reviewed it two years ago, and the company has now made a good thing even better. Daniel Weiss is one of the more soft-spoken men in audio, so I listened carefully as he explained that current owners can update their DACs to include a USB input for DSD for $1,800, while newbies can get one for $9,100 ready to DSD.
In addition to the DAC 202 DSD update, Weiss has also added the feature to its Man301 Network Player. Both DSD64 and 128 are supported and the update is free to current owners. New, the Man301 sells for $9,100 without DAC built in and $12,200 with.
The company logo reminds me of a sixties horror movie and the glass front panel evokes memories of lying on the floor in a pal's living room in 1972 listening to his Dad's Stack O' Mac, but something about that bioluminescent glow gets me every time. All the more weird since this is such a contemporary product.
The MB100 lets you stream from the internal 1TB drive, wirelessly from your personal device, or hook up USB, eSata or NAS drives. You can also stream from Pandora, Spotify, etc. All is controlled via an iOS or Android custom app, web browser or TV user interface and output to either digital or analog ports on the back.
Available in April or May this year for around $6,500 retail. Go with the glow.
PS: Some of you must have similar memories of listening to music as a kid while the Mac's green and blue lights cast an eerie hue on the ceiling?
Kalman Rubinson has already posted a photo of Korg's DS-DAC-100m lower down in this report, so I'm including a photo of the other DAC they had on display, the DS-DAC-100 which retails for $599 and comes with the company's AudioGate software allowing you to convert any file to DSD in real time. I watched a demo as this was being done live and it's quite an impressive piece of software.
Keep in mind that Korg makes the DSD recording devices that many labels are using, including MA Records.