CES 2014: What’s Up?

cesI’m not going to CES this year. Sorry. Couldn’t do it.

It’s not that I didn’t want to go. I did (God help me), and still do! It’s a lot of fun, there’s a ton of new products, and I have a gazillion friends out there partying like it’s 1999 (or something). But wanting and finding time … two different things. Unfortunately, 2013 did not see a visit from the Lotto Fairy (to all reports, she’s still MIA), so the title of this little venture still holds: Part-Time Audiophile (note the emphasis). It doesn’t help that early January is both the start of my day-job’s fiscal year and also holds the birthday of my twins, either. Top it off with some extended visits with family and vacation with friends over the holiday and poof, there goes the available free time. I’m told that this is called “work-life balance” or some such nonsense, but what it means to me is that I end up needing another month in my week. C’est la vie.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about gear. Aside from monster flat-panel TVs and more USB-dingleberries than you can shake an iPhone at, CES will see a lot of nifty bits this year. Anyway, here’s a partial list of the things I would have been on the lookout for, had I been able to get away.

First up, viruses! I jest, but I do remember how Steven Stone managed to catch a case of Near Death at CES last year, so it’s hardly surprising that the whole event left a rather acrid taste in his mouth — and kept him at home this year. Me, I had my flu shot a month before RMAF in order to avoid the same sort of treatment, but really, the flu is no fun at all. But take a conference with 100k visitors from all over the world, and whatever Evil Brew emerges will surely have “Apocalypse” written all over its squiggly strands of rapidly mutating DNA. So, sorry, it’s time for the blue gloves, for sure.

On a more serious, and somewhat more related note, let’s start our little audio tour by talking about loudspeakers. On deck is a sweet pair of offerings from one of my favorite designers, Jeff Joseph. He’s a wizard and there’s no denying it. In fact, there’s a diploma from Hogwarts hanging on a wall in his office, right next to the ear of the last fool brazen enough to ask to see it. Yep. So, just take my word for it, okay? Anyway, this year, Joseph Audio will be showing two new loudspeakers, and though not exactly cheap, they do buck the trend that says that every new product needs to be priced more than a full-sized car from Germany — and yes, these two new speakers are actually significantly less expensive than the models they’re supplementing. The new Prism ($3,699/pair) is a stand-mount loudspeaker; the Profile ($6,999/pair) is a floor-standing model. Both share technology with their more expensive sibs, the Pulsar and Perspective (respectively). Both use aluminum cone woofers with a cap (no copper nose), and “Like their big brothers, the woofers have an astonishingly long throw and pull off the “where’s the subwoofer” trick. But at half the price!”

GoldenEar Triton One

Speaking of subwoofers, GoldenEar‘s Sandy Gross will be unveiling their new flagship loudspeaker, the Triton One. Integrated powered woofers, an air-motion tweeter and a host of mid/bass drivers screams “FULL RANGE” in a package that not only will do justice to your stereo music, but can stand in your home theater rig and straightforwardly eliminate the need for stand-alone subs. I mean, really: each tower includes a 1,600 watt plate amp to drive the triple active woofer array that’s also mated to four passive radiators. Think deep, folks. Like scare-the-neighbors, deep. That is, if your neighbor happens to be Nessie. Price for these will be in line with the rest of the GoldenEar offerings — $5k gets you a pair. Hello, value! Availability is slated for April/May.

Pass Labs Dot-8 Series

Pass Labs will be unveiling their new “Dot 8” lineup of amplifiers at CES this year, too. This update is gonna be huge. New input circuitry, new architectures, new power supplies, larger heat sinks and a new aesthetic, this lineup looks like a ground-up rebuild. Prices and availability are still TBD, but expect performance to take a strong step forward with heavier Class-A biasing, a -10dB+ in noise and significant noise/RF filtering improvements should make this amp line a giant killer.

Of course, since Pass is also the giant in the equation, this all feels decidedly Oedipean, but who cares, pass the popcorn! Woo hoo!

Last year at CES, Kevin Hayes of VAC introduced several innovations in his flagship line of amps, including a new auto-biasing system called the IQ System. Guess what? It’s coming down the product line!

For the first time, each power tube can be held continuously and precisely at its optimal operating point, regardless of how loudly or softly the music is playing. The benefits are strikingly superior sound, and the elimination of worry and drama in maintaining tube amplifiers.

This feature is due in a “new moderately priced model”, details of which will be announced at the show.

Vandersteen M7-HPA

Vandersteen will be showing off a new amplifier at CES — the liquid-cooled M7-HPA (high-pass amplifier) with their Model 7 loudspeakers.

Vandersteen for years has employed subwoofer amplifiers custom-tailored to each speaker design in its powered-bass loudspeakers in conjunction with passive 100Hz high-pass filters for the ultimate performance. When the M7-HPA monoblock is paired with a Vandersteen powered-bass speaker like the flagship Model 7, a complete system is formed in which the amplification over the entire frequency range is driven by perfectly tailored amplification. Richard Vandersteen is responsible for the M7-HPA’s overall design and architecture; the amplifier was developed and built in partnership between Vandersteen Audio and Dean Klinefelter, a talented designer and engineer in his own right.

Devialet 240

France’s Devialet is launching a trio of chromed-out pizza-box integrateds, the 240, 170 and 110. Class A amplification, all-digital signal path and a switching power supply, yields a clever technology that, to all reports, creates an amazing balance between power and nuance. Inputs include the standard balanced and single-ended for those “legacy sources”, but also include S/PDIF, USB, HDMI, and Toslink — and all come with that chunky I-wanna-fondle-it control knob. Prices for the new set: $17,495, $9,495 and $6,495 — and that latter set is an all-new reach down-market for Devialet.

Nagra HD DAC
Nagra HD DAC

Nagra Audio is launching a new component, the aptly-named HD DAC. Designed in concert with Andreas Koch of Playback Designs, the HD DAC will support all the current file formats up to Double-DSD playback. Pricing is still TBD, but hey, this is Nagra.

Auralic has a new box at this year’s show, the Aries. Aries is part of their new Lightning line, and is designed as a “streamer” that sits between your DAC and your network-stored audio. Priced at $999 and available in Q2, Aries incorporates the latest Femto clocking, is super-fast, wireless, and supports all the latest audio flavors, including double-DSD and DXD. It also includes a playback app that is supported on all the major OS you’d care to explore. Your media server may have just become obsolete.

Speaking of which, Cary Audio‘s announcing the DMS-500 UPnP/DNLA Network Audio Streamer, which also sits between DAC and NAS and is designed to work with their new DACs. No word yet on pricing or availability — more details forthcoming.

Moving over to portable audio, Chord Electronics is set to unveil Hugo, a headphone DAC/amplifier with a host of delicious features, including Double-DSD, DXD and AptX Bluetooth support — and is ready for your iDevice!

Astell&Kern AK240

Interestingly, not everyone is on-board with the supremacy of the iPhone as an audio device. Astell&Kern, for example, are introducing a line-topper in their established set of digital audio player offerings, the dead-sexy AK240. The asymmetric aesthetic is just shockingly cool, the 800×480 pixel touch screen is extremely appealing, and the Cirrus Logic DAC chips should take performance well past the older units. Micro/SD slots, and support for Double-DSD mean this little dude is gonna be hot. The price is going to be a shock, though, so be warned.

On the other hand, Calyx Audio‘s new DAP, the M, will bow with a price tag of $999. This svelte device will also feature a large touch-screen and it does leverage card-based file storage. File support also includes all the standards, all the way up to Double-DSD and DXD. More info will be coming during the show.

And there’s more!

Other bits to explore — darTZeel will be showing off a new integrated, the LHC-208 “danalogue”, D’Agostino will be debuting its new Momentum integrated amplifier, and YG Audio will be bringing a brand new mid-tier loudspeaker, the Hailey. Magico will have their new S3 loudspeaker, Wilson Audio‘s new Sasha Series 2 has been making the rounds and will find a place off-strip to take another bow. Last, but not least, Marten and Naim seem set to launch some brand-topping, heart-attack inducing, “flagship” products.

And that’s only a fraction of what’ll be there. Like, a tiny tiny fraction. Like a handful of snowflakes in the middle of an arctic inversion. Or something. Whatever.

Our own Michael Mercer will be tramping about the show and will tune us in to some of his choicest bits. No doubt, he will be sporting a GoPro on his headphones. Or something.

enjoy_the_music_tvIn the meantime, check out the live streaming over at EnjoyTheMusic.TV. Steven Rochlin will be telecasting on Wednesday!

More to come ….