California based MSB Technology is known for outstanding engineering. I was happy to see a full product line of well engineered components in the MSB suite this afternoon. Most interesting is the new Universal Media Transport. If any product deserves the "Universal" designation it's certainly the Universal Media Transport. I'd be surprised if there is a disc on the planet this unit can't read. Even better is its ability to play from external hard drives (USB or eSATA), USB memory sticks, or network sources. Base price for the NMT is $3995 and increases based on selection of a power supply.
Similar to RMAF 2010 and previous year's show I was seduced again by the sound of Quad Loudspeakers. This year the Quad 2905 speakers with 8 electrostatic panels were playing one of my new favorites, Ray LaMontagne's God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise. The speakers were driven by a pair of Quad valve amplifiers that added to the lush sound. This is a system that I could live with and enjoy day-in day-out.
To some readers I may sound like a broken record. It seems like every time I hear a new Magico loudspeaker I'm floored by its reference level sound quality. Well, I have to call it like I see it. I'm sure I would be floored by every new version of the Bugatti Veyron if I reviewed automobiles. Such is life. Some manufacturers produce products on a completely different level than most of the industry. Magico is one of them. The new Q3 loudspeaker is being introduced at CES this year and it's another great achievement from Berkeley, CA based Magico. By far the best sound I heard all day came from the Q3 loudspeakers powered by Soulution electronics and a highly customized music server feeding a Pacific Microsonics Model Two DAC. A surprise in the Magico suite this year was the introduction of the new two-way Q1 loudspeaker. The Q1 was on static display with Magico custom built stands and on display with the internal frame exposed. The new Q Series of Magico loudspeakers is really something to see from a design perspective and something hear from a music aficionado / audiophile perspective. Over the next few days I'll be spending additional time in the Magico suite and a few others once I narrow down my favorite sounds of the show.
I talked with Resolution Audio's Jeff Kalt for a bit about his vision for the RA products, computer based audio, and the different technologies one can implement to interface a music server with high end components. Jeff is a very smart guy who keeps up on all the latest technology. The Cantata Music Center was front and center this year much the same as it was in 2010. I wrote about the Cantata last year as well and praised the sound quality, external design, and feature set including an asynchronous USB interface. This year in the RA suite a Cantata Music Center was opened up for all to see the internal design. Jeff walked through each of the notable design elements, leaving me even more impressed than already was based on last year's show. The internal design is all modular. Among other things this allows upgrades to specific parts of the Cantata fairly easily. Jeff pointed out the dual master clocks located in the upper right DAC section of the Cantata and directed my attention to the gray ribbon cable connecting the DAC section to the digital interface section immediately to the left (see photo). This cable is the only connection between these two sections of the Cantata and enables complete galvanic isolation from noisy computers or computer networks and the sensitive DAC components.
The new Bel Canto 5i integrated amp with an array of digital inputs including USB was powering a pair of Joseph Audio Pulsar loudspeaker. It was hard to listen critically as there were several meetings going on at the same time. I definitely want to stop back in this suite to hear the sub $2k 5i integrated.
I've long been a fan of Krell amplifiers as they were some of the first amps that got me into real high end audio. Since that time Dan has put Krell in his rearview mirror and started the Dan D'Agostino line of products. The new amplifiers were powering Wilson Audio Sasha loudspeakers with a dCS digital front end. The sound in this suite was pleasant, but not the final word in resolution. I'm looking forward to hearing these amps and the upcoming preamp from Dan again in the not to distant future.
Like the other asynchronous USB innovators dCS has announced support for 24/176.4 and 24/192 sample rates. I played some of my own music from the dCS MacBook Pro connected to the Debussy, VTL monoblocks and Wilson Sophia loudspeakers. The sound was very good. I look forward to updating my Debussy in the near future and enjoying support for all my music via USB.
Day One Wrap Up
Day one of CES 2011 was full of highlights and other notable sights. I'm looking forward to day two and will likely stop by a couple off-site manufacturer's suites and report back to the CA readers. Those of you who are here at the show I'd love to read what you've seen and heard so far :~)