Bladelius has released a new stripped-down version of the Embla shown last year at a very stripped-down price: $3,000. What they've taken out is the solid-state hard drives and disc player, leaving those items to the network. In addition to the front panel touchscreen, here is an UPnP server and custom iPad app as well.
John Atkinson and Kal Rubinson became familiar with DEQX, an Australian company specializing in digital loudspeaker correction and room compensation, during their review of NHT’s Xd active loudspeaker system; I had the opportunity to become acquainted with DEQX at last year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.
Then, the company gave an impressive demo of their HDP-3 standalone processor mated to a pair of Gallo Reference loudspeakers and Parasound amplification, showing room interaction and examining how the sound of the system could be optimized in the frequency, phase, and, most important to DEQX, time domains.
This year, the company gave a similarly impressive demonstration of their new HDP-4 processor ($4995), which should be available in about two months.
Speaking of great things in small packages, here we see Parasound’s Zphono USB phono preamplifier ($349) and Zdac digital-to-analog converter ($450). Parasound’s Z Series products are handsome, truly affordable, and built like bricks. Interesting side note: The half-width, rack-mount design has its roots in a mic preamp that Parasound built for AMF bowling centers in the 1980s. I bet those mic preamps kicked butt, too.
When reviewing the Music Player a couple years ago, I was impressed with the build quality, sound quality and thinking that went into the design. There were a few nitpicks, and T+A was eager to show me the latest version where they claim to have addressed these (what I considered very minor) concerns.
The Music Player is still the same gorgeous form factor which includes a CD drive, DAC and preamp functions, but there is a bigger display and it now handles 24/192 via SPDIF or over the LAN connection and a handy new remote (shown below). There are five digital inputs and the device is UPnP compliant. All for $4,400.
Also available in February for around $3.500, the Paris DAC features Toslink, SPDIF and USB inputs and the processing is built around the AKM DAC chips. Both balanced and unbalanced outputs are available.
Audio retailer Wes Bender Studio had a room set up in the Venetian to feature their selected product lines, and the Viola Crescendo caught my eye. It's both a preamp and DAC with both analog and digital inputs on the back. Digital includes 24/192 USB and SPDIF and the Crescendo should be available in the US in a Marchish kind of time frame. Retail is $19k and that includes an iPod touch.
While we’re on the topic of small things, TEAC America introduced their Reference 01 Series of budget-priced, room-friendly components, including the UD-H01 DAC, A-H01 stereo amplifier, and DS-H01 iPod docking station. (I’m waiting to hear back on the prices, but I’m fairly sure these products retail for hundreds, rather than thousands, of dollars.)
I like good hi-fi in small packages. Here we see the 25Wpc Napa Acoustic NA-208A hybrid integrated amplifier ($399). It measures a friendly 7” W by 5” H by 9.5” D and its stainless steel chassis and aluminum front panel seem solidly built. It uses a pair of 6N1 vacuum tubes and offers three inputs (two rear-panel RCA and one front-panel iPod mini jack).
I entered the Oracle room and the Split Enz "I See Red" started singing in my head. This is not a shy red. This is a red that if seen out of the corner of your eye flashes and vibrates until you look right at it.
The new disc spinner is based on a Philips drive and the same processing as in the Paris DAC and also includes two SPDIF 24/192 inputs. It should be available next month for around $3,500
dCS had no new products, but announced several updates at CES. The Debussy DAC now allows DSD to be passed over its asynchronous USB input. The USB update will also be applied to the Paganini and Scarlatti products this year.
dCS also revealed a new web site that it will be developing in the coming months at www.onlythemusic.com. "The idea behind the 'Only The Music' project is that great music playback is a combination of talented people, great music and cutting edge technology. The OTM site aims to highlight some of these people, wonderful pieces of music, and the bits of gear that help to create such great sound."
Furutech had a new compact and beautifully constructed DAC/Pre on display called the Esprit. About the size of a small stack of CDs, the esprit handles 24/192 via SPDIF and Toslink and 24/96 via USB and also includes a couple of analog inputs. On the front is an input selector switch, headphone jack and volume control. All for $999.
I heard very detailed and rich sound in the exhibit run by Lamm Industries and by Verity Audio. The system setup included $95,995 Verity Audio Lohengrin II speakers, $37,190/pair Lamm ML2.2 single-ended, dual-chassis 18W amplifiers, a $28,000 Kronos turnable with a $5,200 Phantom II XL12 tonearm, $5500 Dynavector X1Vs cartridge, and $97,000 worth of Kubala-Sosna interconnects, speaker cables and power cords. Julien Pelchat, the Vice-President of Verity Audio, walked me through the design of the Lohengrin II speakers.
Ron Sutherland of Sutherland Engineering taught me all I need to know about Nixie tubes at CES. Used as the main visual display device used in his Reference N-1 preamplifier and in his Destination Line-Stage preamplifier's control unit shown in the photo, the Nixie tube was invented in 1955 as the first electronic display tool for reading out the numbers 09. The Nixie's designers fashioned a wire mesh into 9 layers, each layer in the shape of a number, resulting in a tidy small stack. This tiny wire stack was inserted into a small glass envelope, filled with neon gas, and then sealed. When any of the separate metal layers was charged with 175 volts, the neon gas around the wire ionized, and lit up. When plugged into a circuit board, the tube would read out the numbers, with each number appearing at a different depth. Paul was fascinated with the retro look of this type of readout, so he has installed it in his $15,000, three-chassis Destination line stage, and into his new $10,000 reference N-1 preamplifier.
The GoldenEar Triton Two, which I reviewed in the February 2012, issue, is my favorite speaker at anywhere near its price ($2499/pair until February 1, when it goes up to a still-very-reasonable $2999/pair). The Triton Two now has a "little brother": the Triton Three ($1999/pair), is a smaller version of the Triton Two. The resemblance goes beyond the physical; listening to a pair of Triton Threes, I was very much reminded of the Twos: the same sort of expansive soundstage and bass that was very nearly as impressive as I'm familiar with from the Twos.