The second edition of CES Ramdom Notes is here. It is based on information I gathered at CES and T.H.E. Show. Music servers, memory players, wireless transport/DACs, and a whole bunch of contradictory information.
The high end world in general is finally realizing the potential of music servers. Or, is it the customers who are finally realizing the potential of computer based audio / music servers. What came first the chicken or the egg. Either way this a great thing for consumers and manufacturers. Consumers will enjoy all the benefits of these products and manufacturers will enjoy selling everyone a replacement for their basic disc player. CES was full of music servers with fewer memory players and even less wireless transport/DACs. As expected there were plenty of suites in the Venetian without anything computer based. This is where I often received a certain look from the product representative. This look was not inviting. It was like I was just an Internet "geek" trying to invade the their space. Their comments were much the same. When I told the reps I cover the convergence of high end audio and computers & music servers some said, "You won't find anything here" or gave me a smirk and looked right through me. Oh well, I'm not concerned about these reps. Fortunately it is not them who determines the future of high end audio. I tend to think these manufacturers may be a little scared of what is to come. For the most part everyone else was getting into the game and excited about the new possibilities in high end audio. Reference Recordings being one of them with the release of 24 bit / 176 KHz music. Available first on DVD as wav files followed by online distribution as soon as possible. Another was Hovland, who has been working to really perfect their unit before it is released. Hovland knows how to do things right. Based on the prototype on display I think they will bring to market a product that does what a high end consumer wants. Nothing more, nothing less.
Certain manufacturers like McIntosh have gone the complete music server route with the disk and DAC in one component. I discussed these servers in my three part Music Servers series and won't go into much detail here. Music servers ranged from simple iPods as sources to the Olive No 5, and the McIntosh MS750, to the grand Sooloos unit. The one unit that got the most buzz in this area is not even a music server. The Wadia iTransport was what many people were talking about. This device enables your iPod to be a great sounding music server. Everyone has been waiting for the ability to pull a digital signal straight from their iPod and it is finally here. Did I mention it is only $349? Add to cart.
Other manufacturers like Boulder displayed products that "ripped" a single CD at a faster rate than it was playing, then played the music from memory. The Boulder unit also downloaded disc and track information from the Internet. This is very similar to PS Audio's new memory player which appears to put music in memory before playing to reduce jitter. This unit also pulls down CD information from the Internet. The final version of this player has not been released yet so details are limited.
My current favorite products are ones from Resolution Audio and Hovland. These two products are somewhat similar in concept, but appear to be different in every other category. The Resolution Audio unit, as previously discussed on this site, is a DAC and iTunes interface for your audio system. This device just needs a network connection. The rest of the computer based audio is up to you. Computer speed, disk size, file format (limited) etc... At the high end is the Hovland unit. This unit was still a prototype, but after talking to Alex Crespi, Vice President at Hovland, they are closer to a release date. As I said previously, Hovland will get everything correct before releasing the product. Currently the Hovland unit is on track to be one of the top items in this category. It will pull content from your computer running iTunes. This of course leaves the computing choices up to you. Hovland is not a computer manufacturer or software firm. They made the smart choice to leave that stuff up to Apple and others. This unit will also have a very nice DAC that has been refined meticulously. If I remember correctly Hovland also has quite a bit of memory in the unit and plans to offer upgrades via the Internet. Of course the unit will support some form of meta data, album art etc... from the Internet. Along with a bunch of other features the unit looks marvelous and has rock solid build quality. I can't wait for the final product to be released.
Now to the contradictory information flying all over CES and T.H.E. Show. This is perhaps my biggest gripe and partly why I started Computer Audiophile. Nobody has all the information surrounding what software is bit perfect, what interface is the best, what sample rate is the best etc... I can't even count all the times I heard iTunes sucks and it is not bit perfect. Followed by iTunes is bit perfect and the other people don't know what they are talking about. On to the next suite where the conversation about USB versus S/PDIF kicked into gear. Then discussion about iTunes versus Exact Audio Copy, and why not throw Foobar 2000, VLC, MAX, PLAY, WinAmp, and Windows Media Player into the mix. I could go on and on about this, but it really isn't necessary. From now on I am just using my own ears.