After going so far off the beaten path in my last column, with examinations of digital signal processing (DSP) from miniDSP and Illusonic and multichannel in-room measurements, this month I take a look at and listen to a new preamplifier-processor from Yamaha, along with its companion multichannel power amplifier. The Japanese company (footnote 1) was a pioneer in digital signal processing (DSP) and multichannel sound, but for a long while now has been swimming in the mainstream of audio/video receivers and home theater.
I know this is a lousy picture but it doesn't matter because the important product in it, the new AURALiC Aries Music Streamer (second from the top) is a prototype and it is housed in an enclosure borrowed from the AURALiC Vega DAC (top of the stack) recently praised by JA in the February issue. The Aries ($999) is the link between the NAS where you store your music files and your USB DAC. It is the first implementation of AURALiC's Lightning streaming protocol, based on 802.11ac Gigabit WiFi and capable of gapless play of all current formats, in stereo, up to 32/384, DXD, and DSD128 as well as all common lossy and lossless formats. The Aires has built-in Internet radio and is compatible with all major platforms and many other streaming protocols, including UPnP and DLNA.
I was getting bored with my own opening question asking exhibitors do you have anything that's new for under $2000. For two days, I was getting either a gleeful "Yes!" or a slow "No but . . ." Mike Manousselis, Director of Marketing for Dynaudio USA, surprised me with a new answer: "Well, we have something that is not new but it's price is new and it is now under $2000."
Pro-Ject easily wins the competition for who can offer the greatest number and variety of little audio boxes. With their range of turntables distributed around the room, they had an entire large wall covered with their devices, DACs, CD players, preamps, mono- and stereo-amps, switches, power supplies, tuners, and phono stages. They also had boxes with combinations and permutations of these functions and most of them came in more than one of their various ranges, E, S, DS, DS+ and RS, in order of feature set and price. I was most intrigued by their Stream Box DS music streamers, all of which handle up to 24/192 via WiFi, LAN and USB and offer Internet radio via vTuner as well as Spotify and other streaming sources. A 3.5" TFT color display shows text and album art. As you go up the line, you can add iOS and Android control, ALAC support, analog and digital inputs or, even, built in power amps. Prices start at under $1000.
Over at T.H.E Show at the Flamingo, and surrounded by booths offering all sorts of discs and their supporting paraphernalia, I came upon Darin Fong's table of laptops and headphones but he was not selling any of those. His company, Darin Fong Audio, is offering a software program called "Out Of Your Head" which reprocesses stereo and multichannel sources so that you can hear them as you would over a loudspeaker-based system. This is similar, in intent, to the marvelous Smyth Realiser that I reviewed in November 2010, but, at just $149, is much more affordable. Like the Smyth, it supports multiple presets (acoustic environment files) although it is not personalized to the user's own HRTF. It was also quite effective. There is free trial version on the website.
At the Furutech room, the news was about the latest ADL device, the GT40 Mk.II of which they said "The master of all trades just mastered another. . .DSD." That's right, their all-singing, all-dancing, multitasking GT40, reviewed by Art Dudley in September 2011, now adds DSD file playback to its playbook. That, of course, includes up to 24/192 PCM DAC and ADC, MM/MC phono input and a potent headphone amp. At $729, a small box to rule them all.
New compact streaming devices were popping up all over the Venetian and, to little surprise, there was something unusual at Cambridge Audio, one of the pioneers in this product category. Borrowing its name from CA's amazingly small speaker line, the Minx Xi ($999) is really a wireless compact music system in a box. Of course, it will stream all the usual lossy and lossless formats via UPnP at up to 24/96 and access many streaming services including Pandora and Rhapsody, It will also communicate with smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices by Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Standard digital and analog inputs are provided. However, in addition to a line level subwoofer output, the Xi has a 40Wpc (8 ohms) stereo power amp and a headphone jack. Pretty slick stuff.
It is said that good things come in small packages and this CES offered proof of this. Among the very smallest of these is the Audioengine D3 Premium 24bit DAC, priced at $189. This tiny all-metal USB DAC is no larger than the flash-drives with press kits distributed freely at CES. Still, it handles up to 24/96 and requires no special drivers. How can good sound stuff get any smaller?
When I asked for something new and under $2000 at the Dali room, I was shown their new Kubik Free speaker ($1295/pair). This active compact single-stereo speaker with Bluetooth, USB, optical (up to 24/96) and analog was not exactly what I was looking for even though it did sound pleasant by itself. However, I was won over when it was demonstrated with its optional Kubik Xtra ($695) passive mate to produce some really spacious and open stereo sounds. Sure, adding the matching Sub 1 ($695) puts it over $2000 but the contribution to the sound was substantial. The Kubik system looks like and has the features of a life-style system but it is definitely a Dali.
I cadged a copy of the hot-off-the press February 2014 issue from the Stereophile room to read Bob Reina's enthusiastic review of the Epos Elan 10 loudspeaker, then headed over to Music Hall to find out what's new. The affable Roy Hall showed me some very new Epos speakers, the first ones designed under the leadership of Luke Creek. The bookshelf K1 ($795/pair, above) and the floorstanding K2 ($1750/pair) were striking in gloss white with exposed black drivers and a slotted port just beneath them. Compared to the more traditional Epos designs, these stood out visually but, although less expensive than the Elans, they sounded like members of the family.