Last week I attended the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) Expo for the first time. A couple colleagues in the industry asked me why I attended this show. The simple answer is that one CEDIA show features more streaming audio and computer networking products than the last ten high end audio shows combined. The CEDIA show was a goldmine. I saw new networking products from Pakedge, new high resolution players from Sony, NAS drives from QNAP, and more Spotify, iTunes, MOG, and Pandora streaming products than I can remember. I think I saw someone using a CD player, but I could be mistaken. Playback of server stored music was the norm not the exception. The CEDIA show was really a computer audiophile's dream featuring both computer based sources and high end components. I saw familiar faces from AudioQuest, Wire World, Magico, Constellation Audio, TAD, Linn, Sonus Faber, Wadia, and Bryston at the show. Magico and Constellation put on a great sounding demo even though the ambient noise leaking into the room from the show floor was quite loud. Linn introduced its new Exakt product and also showed off the coolest turntable I've seen in recent memory with a plinth made from Highland Park whiskey barrels.
I saw enough subwoofers at the show to move the Richter Scale a couple notches toward a major earthquake. Fortunately a couple manufacturers displayed subwoofers worthy of a true high end audio system. First, JL Audio introduced its new E110 and E112 models selling for under $2,000. A pair of E112 subs was paired with Magico S1 loudspeakers and Ayre Acoustics components. Evaluating the sound was difficult at best but I was able to hear a full range presentation from this system that I'd love to audition in a more sonically acceptable environment.
Second, Magico introduced its QSub-18 subwoofer. Weighing 570 pounds the QSub-18 is a monster. This subwoofer has 8,000W of power and two 18" woofers. The monstrous enclosure features two inch thick aluminum similar to the thinner Q series of loudspeakers. The QSub-18 retails for $36,000. I listened to both movies and concert Blu-ray performances through the Magico / Constellation Audio system. No matter what audio was sent through this system the bass produced by the QSub-18s (two of them in the room) was like nothing I'v ever heard. I've never heard bass so clear yet so deep. There was no annoying deep rumble during explosions while watching movies. Rather the bass was incredibly controlled while it shook my clothing with displaced air. Keep in mind that this sub, like all Magico products, features a sealed enclosure. While watching Chris Botti and Katharine McPHee perform I've Got You Under My Skin the QSub-18 subwoofers appropriately disappeared until needed. The experience of hearing a QSub was unlike anything I've heard and I highly recommend Computer Audiophile readers seek out an opportunity to hear this controlled monster.
At CEDIA I finally Gilad Tiefenbrun, Managing Director of Linn. I've been following Linn's network products for years and reading Gilad's blog when time permits. Gilad and I have exchanged emails about digital audio topics a couple times over the last few years and I was glad to see him at the show. This year Linn introduced its Exact system. Exact is all about keeping the audio signal in the digital domain for as long as possible. Audio is sent from the Linn network player source to the powered speakers via a CAT 5/6 cable, crossed over in the digital domain, amplified digitally, then converted to analog right before the speakers send audio to the listener's ears.The Exact system also features digital room correction to deal with sonic issues presented by speaker placement and our less than perfect environments. I look forward to hearing a complete Linn Exact system in the near future.
Sony displayed three Hi Res audio only players at CEDIA this year. Two of the players contained hard drives that mirrored the user's music content on a computer and the other player connected to a computer via USB as a DAC. The USB DAC was connected to a PC running JRiver for the show. The other two units featured 500GB and 1TB of storage internally. The user is required to install a piece of Sony software that watches the user's music folder and copies all the content to the Hi Res player's drive. I'm not a big fan of storing audio in two locations (computer and player) but Sony believes this is the easiest solution for end users. We may see units that can read directly from a NAS in the future, but not any time soon. Nonetheless it was refreshing to see Sony employees discussing high resolution audio with attendees. I was also told by a Sony rep that both Acoustic Sounds and HDtracks will offer the huge catalogs of Sony, Universal, and Warner for download in high resolution. Note: I had a chance to handle the current flagship Hi Res player the HDD Audio Player HAP-Z1ES. I commented to the Sony rep on the player's heft and similarities to Sony's first SACD player the SCD-1. The rep said the new Hi Res player and the SCD-1 were designed by the same person.
I was impressed by the cool vibe at the CEDIA show and the buzz around streaming and high resolution playback. The main floor was certainly noisy and a less than ideal place to critically listen to audio components, but I had a great time at this show. I was happy to see Sony pushing high resolution and better quality audio. I hope the company has learned from its SACD failure and can push quality audio into the mainstream.
CEDIA 2013 Images