I had planned to attend the press conferences by Panasonic, Samsung, and Sharp, all scheduled for Press Day, but it seems that every single person with a Press badge had exactly the same idea, and the resulting crowds were at least as big as at the CES Unveiled event. In fact, about an hour before the scheduled Samsung press conference, CES staff announced that the number of people in the line-up exceeded the capacity of the hall, and not everyone could be admitted. I gave up on both Samsung and Panasonic, but was Sharp was different. They had sent emails to a selected group of journalists, including yours truly, designating them as VIPs, and special tickets to be printed out, which would allow these individuals entry to the press conference before everyone else. Even if I had not been all that interested in whatever Sharp was going to announce, being called a VIP meant that I just had to attend. And, as I walked in, who do I see but my colleagues, Kal Rubinson (left) and Tom Norton (right)? We had our choice of seats, up front. It's good to be a VIP!
Audio-Lineare hails from France, and although I haven't heard of the company before, they've been making speakers since 2001. The designer is Yves Poulichot, who has been devoted to this endeavour for 25 years. The Harmonie 16 ($6500/pair) on display uses an aluminum ribbon tweeter and two bass/midrange drivers in a "2.5-way" configuration. Nice sound with Viola electronics. The charming representatives are Alix Ribeault (Marketing Director, left) and Christelle Kabeya (International Sales Assistant, right).
Audioquest is known to the general public as a cable manufacturer and also to audiophiles for their phono cartridges. They will soon jump into the DAC market starting with the Dragonfly USB to miniplug DAC.
Steve Silberman was on hand to provide a demo of the new product in raw circuit board form, and I was able to grab an artist rendering of the finished product from his laptop as seen above. The light on the back of the dragonfly changes color depending on what sampling rate is being detected.
The asynch 24/96 USB DAC will be about the size of a finger and its electronics have been designed by Gordon Rankin. Price is estimated at around $300 and it should be available in April.
A combination digital preamp, streamer and DAC, Cambridge Audio's Stream Magic 6 also has twin Wolfson WM8740 DACs that upsample to 24/384 and a 24/192 USB input. All for $1,149 and available sometime this month.
What we have here is the Vincent C-35 Hybrid HDCD CD Player. It features a 100% vacuum tube output stage (two 12AX7 tubes and one 6N10), dedicated headphone amp with volume control and SPDIF digital output. Priced at $1,999.99.
Esoteric displayed the new K-05 SACD/CD player scheduled for release sometime in 2012 at a retail price of approximately $9,900. It will be a dual-mono design and feature 32-bit AKM4399 DACs, 24/192 digital inputs including asynch USB. CDs are upsampled to 24/176.
Not strictly a digital product, the ECI-6 DS from Norwegian manufacturer Electrocompaniet is a 125 watt per channel integrated amp that also incorporates a DAC and streaming and runs $5995 for the "basic version". DAC inputs include SPDIF, Toslink and USB and the ECI-6 DS can stream internet radio, DNLA devices, iPods, etc.
Company COO Peder Beckman provided an interesting demo where he was able to move the music stream from the integrated amp to a handheld device (in this case an Android phone), which started playing the music though its tiny speaker instead of the main system.
Electrocompaniet was also showing the new EMP-2 Disc Player based on the Oppo 93. They have added their own 24/192 DAC, analog board and balanced outputs. All for $3995.
Unlike consumer shows, live music at a CES is a rarity, so it was a treat to listen to the California Guitar Trio performing at the party Harman threw to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Mark Levinson brand. Sponsored by Guitar Aficionado magazine, the Trio ripped through a wide repertoire, including "Pipeline" from surf music pioneers The Chantays, which they were playing as I took the photo. Jon Iverson has already discussed some of the 40th Anniversary Mark Levinson products; for me the party was an opportunity to catch up with speaker engineer Mark Glazer, responsible for the system design of both Revel's new Performa speakers (report to come) and many other great Revel speakers over the years.
Traditionally, high-performance audio at CES has been on display away from the ginormous Las Vegas Convention Center, also traditionally but gently derided by audiophiles as the "Zoo." But there are still one or two high-end companies to be found and as you can see from the photo, the LVCC was packed with people checking out the new technologies on show.
This photo should give you an idea of what it was like once inside. And, yes, camera fans, that's a Canon DSLR with what looks like a big L-series lens, being held up above the crowd. Which brings up another point about why there were more people at this year's CES Unveiled: this year, PMA, the photoimaging manufacturers' association, has joined CESthey call it PMA@CESso in addition to the consumer electronics press there are also the photo equipment journalists.
The first major press event at CES, scheduled to start at 4 pm on the day before the Press Day, is something called CES Unveiled, described as "a pre-show look at who will be making news headlines before the show officially opens...catch all the latest products in one room." This description is a bit...well...exaggerated. The exhibitors are mostly small companies, with no representation from heavy hitters like Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, etc. The high-performance audio companies also pass on it.