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 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."
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.
If you were fascinated, as I was, by JA's February 2013 review of the BSG qøl Signal Completion Stage but were deterred from satisfying your curiosity about this unusual device by the asking price, you no longer need hold back. In the ReveelSound room, BSG's Larry Kay showed and demonstrated his new, tiny and inexpensive implementation of the technology in the form of the øreveel. Contained within the small package in Larry's hands is an all analog in/out version whose size and connectors clearly indicate that its target is headphone use. When I told him that I don't listen to headphones, Larry made the convincing demo with a desk-top system. The unit is powered by a rechargeable battery and, although I didn't ask, it looks like it should also run on the included power supply. Price? Just $119.95 and an ear-opener.
SVS showed two new subwoofers, both based on a newly-developed 12" driver that features dual ferrite magnets, a reinforced Nomex spider, a long-throw rubber surround and tinsel leads integrated into the cone to eliminate tinsel slap and improve reliability. Each is also powered by a amplifier, the Sledge STA-500, rated at 500W continuous and it incorporates a DSP engine with an array of filters, controls for volume, gain and phase as well as a frequency-dependent limiter/compressor to control driver behavior. Both driver and amp come in a compact sealed design, the SB-2000 ($699, right above) with a FR of 19-240Hz and in a larger, more powerful ported design, the PB-2000 ($799, left above). During a brief audition, even the smaller SB-2000 seemed more than capable of filling the demo room with powerful, tight bass.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.