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.
Bowers & Wilkins and Classé were showing their wares in an elegant suite in the Mirage and there I finally got to see and hear Classé's first venture into class-D amplification, the CA-D200 (above). It certainly looked worthy of the family name and, via B&W 805D speakers and driven by the latest version of the CP800, it produced a lovely sound, discernible even in this unfamiliar space.
The name Tannoy is, of course, synonymous with "Dual Concentric" and their classic designs were in full display and demonstration. Off to the side, however, they were showing their new Precision range of more affordable designs, which are based on a new implementation of the Dual Concentric concept in a 6" driver that incorporates a wide-band tweeter.
Another big name makes the move into wireless speakers with Focal's announcement of the Easya. It is a floor-standing 2½-way system which comes as a pair, with its hub/controller and remote control, for just $1799. Available colors are a snazzy gloss white or black and it sports an inverted-dome tweeter and a pair of 5" polyglass-cone drivers. Inputs are TosLink, coax and USB inputs as well as analog. Better yet, it sounded like a Focal . . . but, look Ma, no wires!
The Jade 7 from Wharfedale was very favorably reviewed by Bob Deutsch in Stereophile's May 2013 issue but at the 2014 CES I got to see and hear the new little brother, the Jade 1. Surprisingly, this smaller and stand-mounted speaker is also a 3-way with the same drivers, aperiodic loading and crossover technology. It certainly sounded similar, balanced and full down into the real bass. It also was finished just as luxuriously. Looks like a great value in a high-end speaker for $1200$1400/pair, depending on your choice of finish.
In my November 2013 column, I looked at the NuForce AVP-18 multichannel preamplifier-processor ($1095) and the exaSound e28 multichannel DAC ($3299), each of which offers fresh options in its category that break with the predictability of mainstream products. That predictability is the result of market analysis that supposedly tells manufacturers which features users want most. However, it's just as true that users can buy and choose among only those components and features already offered. Many of us are more peculiar in our demandswhat's generally offered doesn't always fit our needs. This month, I look at an unusual pre-pro and a multichannel digital equalizer at opposite ends of the price spectrum.
Make It Simple. . .
Ah, for the old mono days. I remember assembling my first audio systems in my early teens and as a novicethings were easy. My first amp had four RCA input jacks, each clearly labeled and corresponding to an identically labeled setting on the input selector switch. There were screw-down speaker connectors for 4, 8, and 16 ohms, and ground. Tape output was defaulted to whatever input I was listening to. The amp had but four knobs: Input Selection, Volume, Bass, and Treble. And although it would seem almost impossible to go wrong, I did exercise focus and care as I tended to my first setup.
Sonus Faber is an iconic Italian high-end company whose loudspeakers have always evinced innovative technical design, superb construction, spectacular appearance, and great sound. I was intrigued with the design and performance of their stand-mounted Extrema (reviewed by Martin Colloms in the June 1992 Stereophile, Vol.15 No.6), which combined a proprietary soft-dome tweeter and a mineral-loaded polypropylene-cone woofer with an electrodynamically damped but passive KEF B139 driver that occupied the entire rear panel.
Recently, my wife and I made a trip to Europe, where we heard some great music in some great halls. Those concerts reinforced my already strongly held opinion that the acoustic of the venue is a major determinant of the sound of music heard in that venue, and that each space has its own sound. One evening in Amsterdam, we heard Iván Fischer conduct the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in their own hall, the Concertgebouw, in a concert that underscored this interaction of performance and place.