Stepping into the Pro-ject room in the Venetian I spied an entire wall of little boxes--literally dozens of them. Norbert Schmied, from the company's US representatives, Sumiko, handily pointed me toward the DACs and Streamers.
New to CES this year is the company's DAC Box DS in a small compact package and retailing for $549. Features include 24/192 SPDIF, Toslink and async USB as well as PCM-1792 Burr-Brown DAC and 2 filter options.
Though they were both at the CES last year, the MiND 180 and MOON 380D DAC with the MiND option have only recently started shipping. The MiND (Moon Intelligent Network Device) retails for $1,250 and adds basic network and NAS streaming functionality to your system. It can handle up to 24/192 through WiFi, ethernet, AES/EBU and Toslink. Control is handled via a free iOS and Android app that looked very user friendly and easy on the eyes.
Krell is jumping into the streaming world with a somewhat reasonably priced product that can come two ways: streamer with digital out only at $2,500 or with built-in DAC for $3,500. The Connect has WiFi and ethernet UPnP/DLNA compatibility for NAS drives in addition to internet radio and USB input. The Connect will handle FLAC, WAV and MP3 files up to 24/192. The DAC option adds five digital inputs along with its ESS Sabre 32 bit DAC processor.
As usual, Peachtree Audio put together one of my favorite systems of the show: iPad, AppleTV, Peachtree Decco65 D/A integrated amplifier, and a pair of Peachtree Design 4 bookshelf loudspeakers mated with a small REL subwoofer.
I looked at the system; listened to the fun, engaging sound; and thought to myself: Why doesn’t everyone own a system like this?
It's a simple idea really. Make it easy for anyone at your home to pull out an iDevice and play what's on it over your audio system without having to fiddle with cables and the proper connectors and then a compatible USB port. Some products, such as the Musical Fidelity M1SDAC have this already built in, but if you don't have it, here's an easy way to add it.
The $249 rBlink gives you the ability to connect any Bluetooth device like an iPhone wirelessly to the system. Plug the rBlink into an extra input on your stereo, and then have the Bluetooth enabled iDevice add it from their menu. Maybe not the best sound in the world (though better than it used to be with Bluetooth), but easy for your pals and great fun at parties.
The VEGA is another DAC employing a femto clock for extremely low jitter and retails for $3,500 (a low price point for the femto feature) . It handles PCM streams up to 32/384 as well as DSD, DXD and 2xDSD. The VEGA can also function as a digital preamp and includes a remote that can control the output level. Inputs include AES/EBU, 2xSPDIF, Toslink and "ActiveUSB". Analog outputs are both balanced and unbalanced and the front panel sports a very easy to read display.
In the small DAC department is the iFi iDAC for $299 and for those that would like a better power supply, add the optional iUSB Power Plant for $199. Though this is the first CES for the iDAC, Michael Lavorgna has already reviewed it quite favorably over at AudioStream.com.
The iDAC sports a 24/192 USB asynch input with headphone amp, analog volume control and ESS Sabre DAC. Adding the Power Plant means your computer USB is no longer doing the heavy lifting and all of the iDAC components get a "super-regulated" filtered power supply.
When listening to audio systems in hotel rooms at shows, all bets are off. But once in a while you get a wonderful sound in the confines of the spot where the bed would normally sit.
Such was the case with the dCS room in the Venetian. The company is celebrating their 25th anniversary and Sony offered an assist in the form of a couple dozen DSD tracks straight from the vaults to hard drive. The Debussy DAC can now process DSD 64 via USB (free software upgrade available from the dealer next week), and for my demo I picked Santana's "Black Magic Woman", settling into audio ecstasy.
dCS also had their complete Vivaldi stack set up at the Mirage hotel, with a presentation hosted by Wilson's Peter McGrath. Once again the sound was extraordinary as McGrath played some 24/88 files of Mahler's Fifth that he had recorded himself with Grado microphones. I only wish every one of you could have been there.
Daddy Vitus, watch out! Your equipment designer son Alexander, whose relatively young company you've helped bankroll, is hot on your heels. On display were the new Alluxity Pre ONE preamplifier ($8000) and Power ONE amplifier ($11,000). Not yet available in the US, though that may change shortly, the chassis are milled from a single aluminum block. A brief listen to Billie Holiday revealed a nice three-dimensionality, as well as the hard edge that plagued numerous systems on the 29th floor of the Venetian.
With Jon Iverson covering digital products for Stereophile, and me covering preamps and amps in the $2500$15,000 range, I tossed a virtual coin and went for the new Vitus RD-100 ($13,000). Billed as "Reference Digital to Analog Converter," it is 50% DAC, and 50% preamp. Hans-Ole Vitus himself displays the product, which includes a full-blown relay volume control with a single resistor in series to ensure a very short signal path and a consistent sonic signature at all volume levels. Built with separate internal modulesfour for the DAC, and four for the preampit is said to be fully upgradeable. The DAC handles files up to 32/192 via USB and has a total of four RCA and XLR inputs, while the preamp also includes two XLR and two RCA inputs and both XLR and RCA outputs.
At a show in which far too many of the rooms on my beatrooms showing new amps or preamps in the $2500$15,000 range, new cables, or new power products or accessoriessounded hard, harsh, and hi-fi, VTL's new S-200 Stereo Signature amplifier ($10,000) and TL6.5 Series II Signature line preamplifier ($13,000) stood out for their welcoming warmth, relaxed flow, and unfailing musicality. The S-200 is a fully balanced stereo amp with a class-A/B output stage that is said to remain in class-A up to 70 watts. In development for close to six years, it arrives equipped with VTL's familiar auto-biasing and fault sensor.
Audioquest has filled out its series of ethernet cables. In the photo, the company's Shane Buettner holds the top of the line Diamond ($1095/1.5 meter) ethernet cable, which features 100% PSS (pure silver) and Audioquest's DBS dielectric bio-system, whose battery pack puts a DC bias on the cable's insulation. Also new is the cable right beneath it, the Vodka ($249/1.5 meter), composed of silver-plated copper. The cable's extremely solid connectors are a major step above the plastic terminations found on stock ethernet cables.
Darren Censullo of Avatar Acoustics always puts on a good show, but with his wife, Bonnie, was eager at CES to introduce Canadian company Tri-Art Audio, whose founder, Steve Ginsberg, has returned to his audio roots after a detour in the artistic acrylic paints industry. Tri-Art's "The Block" 50W monoblock amplifiers (price TBD, probably around $2500$2600), "The Bam Bam" turntable and tonearm (again probably around $2600), and "The Block" 24V DC battery power supply (price TBD) include new digital chips, are voiced with natural materials, and boast a very simple single-ended signal path.
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.