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.
Jason mentions the new NAD Master Series below, but it's worth fleshing out the M12 DAC/Pre. Inside is basically the same DAC as the M51 which has been updated it a bit. The M12 also features NAD's MDC or Modular Design Construction chassis, meaning there are several card slots on the back for a variety of inputs including their new BluOS on a card to tie it in with the new Bluesound products from parent company Lenbrook Industries
The M12 (which NAD calls a Host component) will be available in May for $3,499.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The DSD exhibitors included Native DSD Music, Blue Coast Music and representatives for Acoustic Sounds new download web site: Super Hi-Rez. In all fairness it should be pointed out that Super Hi-Rez offers both DSD and PCM HD downloads, though the numbers of titles seem heavily weighted towards DSD at this point.
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.
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.
In addition to the DAC 202 DSD update, Weiss has also added the feature to its Man301 Network Player. Both DSD64 and 128 are supported and the update is free to current owners. New, the Man301 sells for $9,100 without DAC built in and $12,200 with.