The 2010 CEDIA Show: Day 3

Looking back at the 2010 CEDIA Exposition, I was struck by a couple of new products which, I hope, presage a rethinking of modern electronics design. Today, the streaming of program content can be accomplished by TVs, by Blu-ray players, by dedicated servers and, for all I know, someone will put that capability into a speaker system. The result is that, unless one chooses very carefully, one will be buying the same technology redundantly. By contrast, high-end companies have striven to separate their dedicated analog/stereo products from their digital/multichannel products, forcing the very picky among us into a kludgy home-theater-bypass. Again, we end up buying more boxes and interconnections than should be necessary.

The products that provoked this analysis are a trio of analog/stereo preamps that are endowed with digital inputs and a significant degree of optional digital inputs and processing but without compromise of either. Classé offered the CP-800 ($6000) as a full-blooded, 2-channel, analog preamp to take its place at the top of the line alongside the similarly styled SSP-800. In addition to the multiple RCA and XLR inputs/outputs for left and right, the CP-800 sports a set of aux outputs and a sub output which generally serves the digital sources but can also be utilized with analog sources. Classé's Alan Clark tells me that, used as an analog preamp, that all the digital circuitry, including the clocks, is switched off and, using power factor correction technology, the analog circuitry is independent of the digital even when both are in operation. Access a digital source (optical, S/PDIF, AES/EBU, USB) and the digital stuff springs to life. Remarkably, there are also options to tap off the analog signals, leaving them unscathed, but permitting the generation of additional outputs including bi-amping and a low-passed subwoofer output with EQ.

The other two innovative products come from McIntosh, the Stereo Control Centers C48 ($4500) and C50 ($6500), both with characteristic McIntosh styling and the latter with those "McIntosh Blue" front panel meters. The C48 has front panel-accessible, 5-band tone controls while the C50 has an input-selectable 8-band tone EQ and two balanced analog inputs. Features they share include eight analog inputs (plus MM and MC), four digital inputs plus USB (resampled to and converted at 32 bits and 192kHz) and, most significantly, construction designed so that all digital and AC operations are below a full-size steel plate while the analog circuitry and analog controls are isolated above the plate. The C50 carries this idea to its logical conclusion by having a separate stacked chassis for each of the two portions.

Now, you can have your analog cake and eat it with your fingers (digitally).