Over the last several years, whenever I’ve run into High Water Sound’s Jeffrey Catalano at a show, he reminds me that I have an invitation to visit his NYC salon for a proper listen. I smile, thank him, and honestly agree: Yes, we definitely have to get together soon. It’s gotten to the point now that we don’t even have to talk about it. I know what he’s going to say, he knows what I’m going to say. For no good reason at all, I still haven’t made it down to 274 Water Street.
MSB gets the award for most interesting new chassis design for their new The Analog DAC, which is essentially a single low-slung curvy slab of aluminum with pockets sliced out of the bottom for the electronics.
Pricey though it was, their Diamond DAC IV is the best I've heard in my system so far, so you have to wonder what the new DAC brings to the table. The intial price is $7,000 with one input module installed. You can install up to three and pick from ethernet, USB or SPDIF at $995 each. Add $1,000 for volume control and $3,000 for the powerbase option for a total of $12,990 fully loaded.
Earlier in this show report, I mentioned that the excellent music played in Jeffrey Catalano’s High Water Sound room served as a reminder of my passion for the high-end audio hobby. And it’s true: From time to time, I do need those gentle reminders. So much of high-end audio remains so completely foreign and unobtainable that I sometimes feel entirely out of place.
But in the Music Hall room, I always feel right at home. . .
Musical Fidelity had a large multi-room suite atop the Mirage, with multiple systems set up and optimized. One system was set up around the new M1SDAC which retails for $1,499 and should be here by April.
Inputs include all the usual digital suspects including USB that can handle 24/192. Since the M1SDAC also functions as a preamp, it has analog inputs which are sampled at 24/96. Outputs included unbalanced analog and digital.
But what caught my ear was the Bluetooth capability that allows you to wirelessly connect your Bluetooth device if it has audio files on it. Once received wirelessly, the Bluetooth stream is upsampled to 24/192 by the M1SDAC. Tempo Marketing's John Quick asked me to pull out my iPhone to see if there was some music I'd like to hear. Sure enough I had an uncompressed CD rip of Roxy Music's first album and within seconds it was playing over the system, tracks being controlled from my seat. Maybe not CD quality, but it sounded pretty good with a bit of crunch on the top end.
In the main system, the M6 DAC was holding court. Also Bluetooth capable, the M6 DAC runs USB, SPDIF and AES/EBU up to 24/192. All inputs are re-clocked and upsampled to 24/192 for processing and filtering. The filter has two user selectable settings and there are both balanced and unbalanced outputs. Retail price is $3,000 and the M6 DAC is available now.
This time John Quick decided we'd listen to an HD sample and cued up War's "The World is a Ghetto" from HDTracks.com to stunning effect.
Mike Yee (shown here holding his DAC) has been working for the past several years on a unique approach to DAC design. He has invented a technique (for which he has applied for a patent) he calls MODR or Musically Optimized Digital Reconstruction.
Yee uses an FPGA (field programmable gate array) to intercept the digital signal as it comes into the DAC. The FPGA provides a proprietary "pre-emphasis" conditioning of the signal before the DAC chip to "remove the DAC's effect on quantization error." After the DAC chip, an analog stage provides de-emphasis prior to output.
There are SPDIF and Toslink 24/192 inputs as well as a 16/48 USB port. On the front are LEDs to indicate the sample rate. Introductory price is $1,000
For the first time in many years, I walked into a room at CES and was immediately blown away. Pass Labs personnel had suggested I listen to the amplifiers driving Sony loudspeakers, so I went to the 30th floor of the Venetian to listen. I had no expectations, other than knowing that five Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers ($27,000/pair) were powered by five Pass Labs Xs300 amplifiers ($85,000/pair), all connected by Kimber Kable. What I didn’t know was that Sony had given the two people running that demonstration, Blue Coast Records’ Cookie Marenco and Super Audio Center’s Gus Skinas, carte blanche permission to play any one of the 150 Direct Streaming Digital (DSD) master titles from Sony’s library for the duration of the Show.
NAD greatly impressed me with their M51 bitstream DAC. Next, they've taken on the streamer/music server market with the M50 ($2499) and M52 Digital Music Vault (1999), both available now.
The M50 has WiFi, ethernet, USB and HDMI to handle PCM files up to 24/192 and has a CD slot for ripping discs and retrieving metadata. Streaming services should be available as options in about six months. For storing files, the M52 connects via USB and runs a 3TB RAID 5 Array. All functions can then be controlled via NAD's iPad app.
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.
I’ve mentioned NAD’s VISO HP50 headphones, but the company was also showing their new, smart-looking D Series digital components. From left: D 1050 USB DAC ($449), D 3020 digital DAC/integrated amp ($399), and D 7050 digital network receiver ($899).
When I visited Nagra's exhibit at the Venetian, Jean Paschal Panchard, Nagra's representative, was out for a meeting. I asked his colleague, Jorgen Olofsson of Marten loudspeakers (the $77,000/pair Marten Coltrane Tenors were being driven by Nagra electronics), what was the "newest" Nagra product being shown. He mentioned Nagra's new Melody high-end solid-state preamplifier. Like the all-tube Jazz preamplifier, the Melody features the traditional Nagra look with the modulometer on the front face to indicate output signal level. The Melody weighs 7 lbs, and has a rated bandwidth of 10Hz50kHz, +0/1dB. Like the Jazz, all five RCA inputs and the two switchable outputs (one RCA and one XLR) are all on the back panel. It can accept an external power supply, such as the Nagra ACPS II or the new multiple power supply name the Nagra MPS. The Melody’s suggested retail price in the USA will be $7500 and the optional phono stage will cost $1500.
Also in the Naim room is the company's new DAC-V1, which is a smallish size component meant to pair with the equally compact NAP 100 power amp. The DAC-V1 retails for $2395 (the amp goes for $1295) and sports multiple inputs including USB that runs up to 384kHz and SPDIF that can handle up to 32/192. It has a volume control and I loved that fact that if you touch the logo on the front panel, the unit mutes itself. Both products should be available shortly in the US.
The big news from UK-based Naim is the arrival of the company’s first asynchronous USB DAC, the DAC-VI ($2395). Its companion in size is the new NAP 100 discrete-transistor, compact power amplifier ($1295). Production on both begins in February. To focus first on the amp, which is in my CES blogging territory of amps and preamps in the $2500$15,000 price range, the NAP 100 is a dual-mono design that outputs 50Wpc into 8 ohms and 100 into 4, and is said to incorporate a linear power supply with a “large toroidal transformer and audiophile grade selected components” into a non-magnetic, low resonance, compact chassis and sleeve.
Naim had jumped early into the digital networking waters several years back, and their most recent state-of-the-art offering is the NDS Network Player. Retailing at $11,000, the NDS also requires purchase of a power supply; the company recommends the 555 PS at $9,000.
The NDS can stream music from your NAS drive (ethernet and WiFi), has a built-in vTuner for internet radio, connections for your iDevices, and plenty of input choices including three 32/192 SPDIF jacks.
There is a small monochrome display on the front panel, and a push-button remote. But most users will probably gravitate towards the Naim n-Stream app that runs your iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.