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.
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.
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.
Korg showed a pair of DSD-capable DACs that work with their well-known AudioGate software, the DS-DAC-100 ($599) and, above, the DS-DAC-100m ($350). They are similar in technology and support up to 24/192 PCM and DSD at 2.8224 and 5.6448MHz. Using AudioGate, all audio formats, including MP3, are up-converted to 5.6448MHz DSD in the computer for transmission to the DACs. The bigger DS-DAC-100 sports RCA and XLR outputs in addition to a standard 6.3mm headphone jack while the more portable DS-DAC-100m has 3.5mm outputs for both line and headphone applications.
SOtM is a manufacturer of specialized audio devices for general and for PC applications. I am familiar with them because I am using their highly regarded tX-USBexp as the USB output for my own server/streamer. At CES, they showed a new sHP-100 headphone amp and USB DAC ($600, left) which has an analog volume control, USB, coaxial, optical, and analog inputs, a headphone output and analog line outputs, and supports 24bit/192KHz PCM, DSD playback. To its right is their neat little sMS-100 wireless streamer ($449), which supports up to 32/384kHz PCM and DSD via USB.
PSB had already shown its neat little powered desk-top speaker, the Alpha PS1 but, now, they have completed a 2.1 system by adding the Sub Series 100 Compact Powered Subwoofer, which Stephen Mejias will be reviewing in the March issue of Stereophile. The combination, placed, appropriately, on a desk top, sounded amazingly well balanced and full with good bass on several tracks that were played. It displayed none of the usual muddy bass that one usually associates with table placement and, when listened to seated or standing a few feet away, offered really big and open sound. The combination, called the Alpha-1-100, comes at a special price of only $499.