This year has seen Ayre add DSD capability to both the QB-9 DAC ($3250) and QA-9 ADC ($3950). Older QB-9s can be upgraded for $500 (makes everything sound better they say), and the QA-9 gets a free firmware update.
Sim Audio's Lionel Goodfield notes that CDs are still major parts of most audiophile music collections, so he wanted to develop a player to maximize the format's potential while keeping costs under control. The result is the Neo 2600 for $2,000 that features a floating transport and borrows much of its technology from the company's more expensive 650D from the Evolution Series.
The 2600 also has SPDIF and AES/EBU inputs and can be upgraded for $1,000 with an internal 32 bit DAC that also adds a USB input. Available in black, silver and 2-tone.
Another portable announced at CES is HiFiMAN's new player featuring a clever modular design demonstrated by company founder, Fang Bian. He opened the player and popped out several pieces including the amplifier section, which can be customized by the owner to better match their listening needs. A half dozen modules will be available, ranging from $100-600, offering different output options tuned for different kinds of headphones.
Inside is a 16V Li-ion battery. Bian says that the higher voltage allows better grade op-amps in addition to 2 Wolfson DACs per channel. The HM-802 can handle both HD PCM and DSD files, has up to 128GB storage capability, and should hit stores this month starting at $699.
Why have both a music server at a home and a portable one in your pocket when one machine can do both? At least that is the pitch I was given in the Astell&Kern room in the Venetian. The story is that the AK240 is good enough to compete with many larger systems and function as a high performance USB DAC as well (via the Micro-B USB input). Pricing hasn't been set yet, but I was told would be under $3k when it is available in March.
Highlights for the new AK240 include 384GB total memory for music storage (internal and additional microSD card slot), which would translate to around 800 albums (CD quality FLAC) and ability to connect directly to HD download sites via WiFi for music purchase (vendors TBD). On the front is a 800x480 resolution color touch screen set into a body made of "Duralumin", described as an aircraft grade aluminum alloy. The unit indeed feels quite solid in the hand.
Nagra is not a company known to throw a few products together each year, and instead create their precision-machined wonders at a glacial pace befitting their Swiss heritage. As their press release states: "Introduction of new models follows a strict procedure at Nagra. A new product is considered worthy of appearing in the catalog once it brings a true improvement in sonic reproduction." More than one person asked if I had been up to the Nagra suite near the top of the Mirage hotel to see the new DAC.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?