• CES 2010 Notes

    The 2010 Consumer Electronics Show went very well. Not many people raved about the sound quality, myself included, but there were some bright spots for consumers. One item that will benefit high end audio is the increase in competition among asynchronous USB implementations. Wavelength, Ayre and dCS are no longer the only game in town for plug n' play async USB interfaces. I was also pleasantly surprised by the advances PS Audio has made with its PWD, PWT, iPod Touch remote control app, and possible NAS offering. Many readers can likely guess what I consider the best sound of the show, but just as relevant are my favorite sound of the show and favorite product of the show. Plus, see what ten CDs I picked up at T.H.E. Show that I've had on repeat since I walked in the door.



     

     

    Asynchronous USB

    Asynchronous USB is commonly referred to as the best type of USB interface implementation. Until recently consumers have only had a few options for async USB components. There were a handful of new asynchronous USB interfaces on display at CES this year. Some of them I was unable to verify as truly asynchronous. Instead of cast doubt on the product or the manufacturer or publish incorrect details I will wait for further information before commenting. Two interfaces I was very impressed with come from Mbl and Resolution Audio.

    Everyone in high end audio is aware that Mbl manufacturers very good sounding products. I met with Mbl's Chief Engineer Juergen Reis who provided details about his new USB interface. Some technical aspects were admittedly way over my head, but I understood the gist of what Juergen said. The new Mbl USB interface does register as Asynchronous using the USB Prober utility, but Juergen's design appeared to take asyc one step further. I jokingly referred to it as Asynchronous+. It will be interesting to see other engineer's opinions of what Juergen has done and to compare the Mbl interface to other asynchronous interfaces on a technical level. The Mbl USB interface can be added to current Mbl DACs and does not exist as a standalone product.

    At CES 2008 San Francisco based Resolution Audio demonstrated a DAC with embedded AirTunes. The DAC received music via a wireless stream from a Mac Mini sitting a fair distance from the audio rack. At the time this component was all the rage. I mentioned the then named IXS Music Server in a post from January 8, 2008. Since CES 2008 Resolution Audio's Jeff Kalt has gone through the same frustrations that many Computer Audiophile readers went through. When Apple updated iTunes and essentially broke the AirTunes functionality it was a headache for many readers and a turning point for Resolution Audio. The Apple "upgrade" was the straw that broke the camel's back and solidified in Jeff's mind that he could not depend on Apple's Airport Express as an integrated part of a Resolution Audio product. Resolution Audio is a small shop that could never handle all the customer service calls it would have received if it would have gone the AirTunes route. Following that experience Resolution Audio decided to develop the best USB interface it knew how to develop and include the interface in a new product or two. This year at CES Resolution Audio debuted of the Cantata Music Center and the Pont Neuf bridge asynchronous USB to Ethernet interface in the U.S..

    The Cantata Music Center features a Redbook CD player, AES/EBU, Coaxial, Optical, asynchronous USB, and Ethernet digital inputs. The Cantata's Ethernet port connects to a home network where it's a UPnP client and will play files from any UPnP server in addition to receiving remote control commands and streaming audio from a computer. The UPnP server can be any number of devices. Readers will most likely use a NAS unit as a UPnP server to store their music. At CES Jeff Kalt controlled playback through the Cantata via an iPod Touch.

    The Pont Neuf bridge asynchronous USB to Ethernet interface is the small device pictured below. It appears as an asynchronous USB DAC to a Mac OS X or Windows based computer. The Pont Neuf bridge allows one to place a computer anywhere on one's home network and still send audio to the Cantata. The Pont Neuf bridge uses a wired or wireless LAN as a USB extension through network hubs, switches, or routers. Technically each Ethernet cable can be 100 meters in length, greatly out-stretching traditional connection methods. Even a single Ethernet cable at 100 meters is substantially further than the current limits of FireWire and USB cables. FireWire currently limits a single cable to 4.5 meters. USB's current cable limit is about five meters. According to Jeff Kalt the Pont Neuf bridge will work at 24/96 over a wireless home network. As of this writing Resolution Audio has no plans to release the Pont Neuf bridge as a separate component capable of connecting other DACs.

    In addition to the technical details both the Cantata and the Pont feature a new look and chassis design for Resolution Audio. In the past Resolution Audio components were about half as wide as the current Cantata and didn't feature the wonderful metal work now incorporated into both new components. Pictures alone don't do these components justice. The metal work is very solid and looks much more stunning in person.

     

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    CES2010 19   CES2010 18   CES2010 15   CES2010 14   CES2010 13   CES2010 11   CES2010 10   CES2010 09

     

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    PS Audio

    As I said in the opening paragraph I was pleasantly surprised with PS Audio's advances. To be honest I told the guys at PSA that I didn't think they could pull it off. We've all heard about PS Audio's ambitious goals in this area and I really thought there was no way a high end audio company could actually meet the goals (iPod Touch application, HRx 24/176.4 playback, metadata from its own server, a NAS, etc...). I am very happy things are working out great for PS Audio. In fact I Tweeted via the Computer Audiophile Twitter page that PS Audio may have out-designed Apple with its iPod Touch application. The app is as simple as it gets while still including all the extras a user could want. I played with the iPod app for quite a while trying to use all the features and possibly find its weaknesses. The whole experience was simple. I didn't find any real weaknesses but I did offer a suggestion or two. I'm sure the PS Audio guys had already thought of my suggestions and were just playing along to make me feel smart :~) Included in the PS Audio photos below is a shot of PS Audio's prototype NAS device. The final design is far from complete according to Paul McGowan. Paul does envision the PS Audio NAS as a simple device that requires no user intervention to setup or configure to work with the other PS Audio components. PSA has really put a lot of R&D into its new products and it's wonderful to see things are working out great.

     

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    CES2010 34   CES2010 33

     

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    Best and Favorites of CES

    My award for Best Sound of CES does go to Magico and its Q5 loudspeaker. That should be no surprise considering how much I've previously said about the speaker. There's no need to go into more detail other than to say I didn't hear better sound anywhere in Las Vegas.


    My award for Favorite Sound of CES goes to the new Nagra 300i integrated amplifier with four 300B tubes. I got into the Nagra suite the night before the show started and listened to the 300i for a few minutes. The rest of the weekend I was craving that sound. It was very lush and so enjoyable I wanted more. During the course of the show I ran into several people who felt the exact same way. The 300i produced their favorite sound of the show. There was no price available for the new 300i.

     

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    My award for Favorite Component of CES goes to the Resolution Audio Cantata Music Server and associated Pont USB converter. A price wasn't available for this component either, but I sure it will not be stratospheric. Resolution Audio produces great components at reasonable prices and I expect nothing less going forward.

    Edit: Pricing just received from Resolution Audio.

    Cantata Music Center $6,000
    Cantata 50 amplifier $4,000
    Pont Neuf $400

     

    New Music

    One of my favorite things to do at CES and RMAF is to find new music. At every show there is a large area where many online record stores and record labels setup shop. It's always an expensive part of the show but it's the most fun and what I look forward to the most. Here are the selections I purchased at CES 2010.

     

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    AWMXR0001   AWMXR0002   AWMXR0003   AWMXR0004   49150   49161   49163   49149   49152   49140
     

     

    Links to purchase:




     

     

    Final Notes

    Cary Audio was demoing its new music server. The server is still very much a prototype.
    Jeff Kalt of Resolution Audio was using a little USB iMo monitor to display iTunes cover flow. A touch screen is now available.
    Ayre's Bluray player produced a great picture as well as really nice sound through Ayre components and Vandersteen model Seven loudspeakers.
    The Samsung both at the convention center was absolutely over the top. Not audio related but worth a mention. The 3D TVs were also better than expected.

    Finally, it was great meeting the Computer Audiophile readers who I ran into at the show. I think we need to set something up for Rocky Mountain in October so more of us can meet up :~)



     

     



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    Comments 35 Comments
    1. tubesound's Avatar
      tubesound -
      Chris: any impressions on Furutech GT40 USB DAC and the new Bel Canto DACs?<br />
      <br />
      Thanks.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Mike - I have the new driver on my desktop ready to load when I have a moment. I did spend some time with my contact at ASUS during the show. ASUS is a really neat company and does have some dedication to high quality audio at reasonable prices.<br />
      <br />
      Hi Tubesound - The new Bel Canto DACs have a really nice feature set. I listened to the 3.5 at the show but it's really hard to make judgements about sound quality in most rooms so I can't really say much about the new DACs (1.5, 2.5, and 3.5).<br />
      <br />
      I'm looking further into the Furutech GT40.
    1. cfmsp's Avatar
      cfmsp -
      <br />
      <br />
      Thanks for this report, Chris.<br />
      <br />
      Perhaps you skimmed over Weiss due to the fact that much has already been written here. Did you get a chance to listen to the DAC202?<br />
      <br />
      More async USB is a good thing, in my opinion, although apparently the Proton has no new competition, price wise?<br />
      <br />
      You've got me wondering how that Nagra amp would sound with John Devore's new speaker, the Orangutan.<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      clay<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. idiot_savant's Avatar
      idiot_savant -
      Chris,<br />
      <br />
      tell me more!<br />
      <br />
      your friendly neighbourhood idiot
    1. ted_b's Avatar
      ted_b -
      that a new game-changing product will be announced here once it receives it's CES debut? Some CA's guessed at it....any new news??<br />
      <br />
      Edit: Also, if you owned the original Bossa Nova Soul Samba release, how much better is the Steve Hoffman remastered SACD?
    1. Dave Clark's Avatar
      Dave Clark -
      This was our 16 th CES and a lot has changed of course... but one thing that has not is the ability to say what any 'one thing' sounds like at a show - that is you really can't as it is part of a system. The Weiss room sounded quite nice and no doubt the new DAC was a decent part of that, but then again we were also listening to the speakers, cables, amplification, etc. - not just the DAC and swapping it for somethign else was not being offered up during show hours.<br />
      The Furutech DAC was there as part of a headphone system... did not listen as they were not really pushing that. The Le Mans integrated is going to be $1200 and the GT40 is $450 - should have both where soon.<br />
      There were though many USB DACs being offered by just about anyone and everyone. Some with Async, some with the other sync, and some with their own version of a sync. I do know of several soon to be releases 196/24 USB DACs to work with any Macs running OSX (since they can already output 196/24 via USB with no issues).<br />
      The Cary music server for example will do 196/24 via its USB, but so far it is only happy with a PC and not a Mac.<br />
      Of course in the end the USB interface is only a small part of the chain, so going async or not is just the first step.
    1. Dave Clark's Avatar
      Dave Clark -
      Here's Chris in the Peachtree room
    1. labjr's Avatar
      labjr -
      Clay,<br />
      <br />
      Over at Audio Asylum there was a post about some new Music Streamers from HRT coming including an 192K HD model. Kevin Halverson is no slouch when it comes to digital design. I'm sure there will be many others too. I imagine it's only going to get better for us consumers.
    1. Dave Clark's Avatar
      Dave Clark -
      Of course that means that there really needs to be 'music' available at 96/24 and at 192/24... of which I can find none that interests me. From what I have read and heard I am in the vast majority.
    1. labjr's Avatar
      labjr -
      Maybe so Dave. I'm into mostly Classic Rock and Pop from 60's-70's. I don't see what the holdup is. I wish Audio Fidelity (Steve Hoffman) and everyone else would start releasing some of it on HiRes formats. Maybe just as well since the ADCs are recently becoming as good as they are. So lets get started.
    1. cfmsp's Avatar
      cfmsp -
      <br />
      I'm with Dave, I've got a 96kHz DAC, that I rarely exercize above 44.1kHz.<br />
      <br />
      I had it for probably a year before I realized the 48/96k oscillator couldn't lock on, and that was only to play the test files on the Amarra disk. <br />
      <br />
      On the other hand, I would gladly purchase music I LIKE at higher sampling rates IF the music was originally recorded at that rate. I'm a bit concerned that once the 88.2/96k floodgates open, we'll have little way to tell if in fact recordings were originally recorded at such rates (due to misleading advertising).<br />
      <br />
      cheers,<br />
      clay<br />
      <br />
    1. Dave Clark's Avatar
      Dave Clark -
      That is where I am at... all my music is 16/44.1 (native) and in speaking to a lot of the people I know in the industry (the musicians I like) they really have no interest in recording at anything higher as in their eyes, there is no market - or at the very least, so small so why bother. But that is my music of interest and I am not really wanting the 16/44.1 stuff redone at a higher rate (can do that here if I want)...
    1. labjr's Avatar
      labjr -
      Well it depends who does the remastering. I wouldn't trust a major label. Look how they mastered everything for CD from re-eq'd vinyl masters in the beginning. Now there's quite a bit of well mastered classic rock done by reputable people. I don't see why they can't just master at high sampling rates and just downsample the stuff for CD. Unless it's a licensing thing.
    1. ted_b's Avatar
      ted_b -
      I've started a sticky thread a couple days ago that asks all AC'ers to report "faux" Hirez to the thread (i.e upsampled redbook lurking as true hirez, for example). We could do something like that here, too (especially with all the insiders we have here like Barry, Bruce, etc.), or send it to me and I'll post. I don't want to create a link to it; it's inappropriate for Chris's forum.
    1. Nes's Avatar
      Nes -
      @ted_b<br />
      <br />
      I think that is really useful. However, I wonder if a forum is the right format to track that information. Would you consider posting same to Discogs for example? It can be added as notes/review to a release. Similarly to the mini-reviews, they are very helpful for their comments on recording/audio quality, but hard to "mine".<br />
      <br />
      Nes
    1. skibumef's Avatar
      skibumef -
      Yes, there may not be much hi-res digital music available right now, but won't you feel like an idiot in a couple years when there's hi-res overload and your DAC can't decode it? Future-proofing is essential when designing/buying digital equipment.<br />
      <br />
      Shame to see there aren't more asynchronous USB DACs (perhaps there are more which Chris is waiting to confirm), especially not more at a lower price point. How about the new Wadia or Bel Canto's; are they still upsampling? Also, Chris, could you explain the new stuff from PS Audio a little more?
    1. JR_Audio's Avatar
      JR_Audio -
      I must tell, that I own also a couple of SACDs, that where mastered at 44.1 kHz. This SACDs do have no frequency information, above 22.05 kHz, just a steep brick wall filter. They do sound better than the CD, because most of them are mastered with 24 Bit Resolution, and this, even with the same highest frequency as CD, gives you a much better resolution in time, than the regular CD.<br />
      <br />
      So I think the same, as soon as the HiRes doors are open, we will be also flooded with upsampled versions of songs, that we already bought. We can just hope, that these are at least from the 24 Bit Master, instead of the regular 16 Bit CD Master.<br />
      <br />
      Juergen
    1. cfmsp's Avatar
      cfmsp -
      <br />
      "..but won't you feel like an idiot in a couple years when there's hi-res overload and your DAC can't decode it? Future-proofing is essential when designing/buying digital equipment."<br />
      <br />
      We seem to forget how long it takes for real change to happen in big industries.<br />
      <br />
      My DAC (Metric Halo ULN-2) was first released in 2003 and designed much earlier than that. It only supports 96kHz. I still can't buy any of my favorite music in 88.2 or 96k, and precious little is available at all.<br />
      <br />
      just my opinion,<br />
      clay<br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. labjr's Avatar
      labjr -
      I would have thought everything would be mastered in 24/96 by now. But as soon as corporporate realized DVD-Audio, SACD wasn't selling too well they stopped everything. Don't forget they're still afraid to release Hires material without DRM.
    1. JR_Audio's Avatar
      JR_Audio -
      Instead of 96 k, I would prefer any integer Multiples of 44.1 kHz, like 88.2 or 176,4 kHz for Recording and Mastering, because this will give you a better sound with the legacy 44.1 kHz CD, because you need only an integer divider, instead of an ASRC, that can’t be as good as an integer divider. <br />
      <br />
      So I like the way Reference Recordings had done this with 176,4 kHz. If you compare some 96 kHz and 88.2 kHz download files of the original 176.4 kHz files, you will recognize that the 88.2 kHz files do sound more natural, more room, more smooth, sure also depending on the product (soft or hardware) that is doing the process.<br />
      <br />
      Juergen<br />