The 2014 International CES, no longer to be referred to as the Consumer Electronics Show by members of the press, is in the can. I had a wonderful time seeing and hearing the newest products from manufacturers such as Constellation Audio, Lumin, and TAD among many others. I enjoyed running into CA
writer ted_b at the Hi-Res Audio Experience as well. However, this year I finally realized I can't cover the show and meet with manufacturers at the same time. Important meetings, to secure products for review and hear about undisclosed product plans etc…, consumed several hours each day. Thus, I missed way too much at CES in 2014. I've already started the process of hiring people to cover future shows. Fortunately I saw some great components during my run-and-gun show photography sessions. Here are my highlights from a very fun 2014 CES.
A stop at the Dynaudio
rooms is always a must during any show. The products, both Dynaudio and T+A, are top notch and so are the people from Dynaudio North America. These guys give no BS answers and happily hand over system controls to anyone looking for a listen. I even play popular MP3 files on their systems and enjoy the sound much more than an elephant sneeze recorded at 24/384. This year Dynaudio announced a price reduction on its popular Xeo line of wireless speakers. The Xeo 3 was reduced to $1,999 and the Xeo 5 was reduced to $3,799. These prices include a transmitter and remote control. Customers purchasing multi-zone systems can save $300 because only a single transmitter is required. At the next audio show I might have to stop talking so much and listen when people tell me about new products. I'm sure the Dynaudio guys told me about the new T+A CM active loudspeakers for $1,999 but the information went in one ear and out the other. I look forward to hearing the CMs in the near future.
The pre-show hype for Chord Electronics'
new Hugo (~$2,000) portable DAC
/ headphone amp was unavoidable. Chord is very proud of its new product and wants the world to know. Several members of the press were on-hand at the Hugo reveal event at CES. I'm guessing I was the only one playing Jay Z via MOG on my iPhone out to the Hugo. The loud and packed room made rendering an opinion on Hugo's sound quality impossible. I managed to accidentally punish my ear drums while listening to Hugo. Hugo's volume control is a bit odd in that one rolls the volume and the color of the unit's lights change based on the level. I didn't get that memo. I blasted Jay Z at full volume not knowing what the DAC
's colors signified. Hugo supports both full speed and high speed USB
inputs though high speed is required for 32 bit / 384 kHz and DSD128 playback (and everything above 16/48).
TV Logic, manufactures of Aurender
, displayed the W20 and the new X100S & X100L servers. The company surprised me with its own loudspeakers and the X900 integrated amp/headphone amp, music server product. I had no idea this type of product would be on display at CES 2014. It's nice to see the Aurender team expanding its product line. The X100S server retails for $2,999 and features 1TB of internal storage. The unit is much smaller than other Aurender models and only has room for a single 2.5" hard drive. The X100L sells for $3,499 and features 6TB of storage total. Both units feature USB
output for connection to a USB DAC
only. Based on the price and amount of storage the only reason to purchase the X100S is likely the small size of its chassis. The extra $500 for 5TB in additional storage seems like a no-brainer. The same highly refined Aurender iPad application works on all Aurender products.
used its Cygnus II (~$25,000) digital player this year at CES. Cygnus features both internal storage and a DAC
. It's controlled by Constellation's own interface that works on any device with a web browser (tablet, phone, desktop, etc…).The Constellation room was one of only a handful of rooms where I could hear the audio well enough to judge sound quality. The sound produced by Constellation's new Argo integrated amp ($20,000) receiving its analog signal from Cygnus II was very memorable and one of my favorites of CES 2014. Equally as impressive as the sound was Constellation's announcement of a new Inspiration Series of components. Constellation featured both an Inspiration amp and preamp on static display. Components in this series will be less than $10,000 each but still feature a plethora of Constellation's technology. The all-star team designing Constellation products isn't capable of producing a dud :~)
Pixel Magic, the company that manufactures my favorite network player, displayed three new models of the Lumin
and a small storage device for serving files. The different models are S1, T1, D1, A1, and the Music Library Server. If my recollection is correct the S1 is the new flagship player, the A1 is the original player, the T1 is internally identical to the A1 but features a much less expensive chassis, and the D1 is the entry level Lumin. Prices have yet to be set.
displayed its new Aries wireless product this year. The product was inside a Vega chassis and is still undergoing some refinement. Aries is slated to support all high resolution audio sample rates and DSD128 via wireless 802.11ac. SOtM
had several products on display this year including the sMS-100 mini server. Look for full review of the sMS-100 here on CA
shortly. EMM Labs
displayed its new monstrous amplifiers. I took a photo with Ed Meitner sitting on one of the chassis for scale. These things are huge. Period. EMM didn't display any new digital products but said it was in the final testing phase of a new software update to the DAC2X and Meitner MA-1. I was visually intrigued by the new products from Le Son
. The company displayed a new DAC
and Ethernet input. The ability to control volume only with a smartphone app was a disappointment. Just because something is technically possible doesn't mean it's a good idea. The DAC
will sell for $35,000.
The new TAD Labs
is visually very nice. In person the build quality is easily identified. I stopped by the TAD room twice this year because Andrew Jones was using the E1 loudspeakers with the DA1000 DAC
for part of the day and the R1 loudspeakers with the flagship digital components the rest of each day. Both visits the sound was very impressive. I may be a bit partial to the TAD sound, as I use the TAD CR1 loudspeakers at home, but I and other visitors to that room thought the sound was great. A funny note about my experience in the TAD room. I was sitting on the front couch with Rick Rubin (Producer) to my left and David Hyman (founder of MOG and other companies) to Rick's left. David introduced me to Rick and told Rick I use the TAD CR1 speakers. Both David and Rick love the TAD sound. As we were listening I couldn't help but think about the many times I've railed against Rick Rubin for destroying the sound of some great albums. Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication immediately comes to mind. Yet, both of us enjoyed Peter, Paul, and Mary with little to none of Rick's signature dynamic range compression. I didn't have the guts to engage him in a conversation about my hatred of some of his work, but I hope some day he can transfer his love of great sound into the albums he produces.
Two products that impressed me this year are the Devialet
110 for $6,500 and the Qualia & Company
for $35,000. The Devialet offers terrific value for an all-in-one component. Just add a source and speakers for great sound. The Qualia INDIGO DAC
features the best build quality I've ever seen in a HiFi component. The price is high but we can all dream a little bit. I'm going to try to obtain review samples of both products.
This year CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) made high resolution audio an important part of CES by featuring the Hi-Res Audio Experience. The "Experience" was a large room away from the hi performance audio area of the Venetian closer to more of the regular CES action. There's no need to preach to the choir about high resolution. I hope many of the uninitiated stopped by the room to listen to one of the several systems on display. I was present for two of the scheduled talks Welcome To The Hi-Res Music World and Meet The Hi-Res Music Creators. Both interview style talks were interesting but covered little new ground for the computer audiophile. I managed to anger one person in the audience when it came time for audience questions. I asked the panel, "The worst kept secret in high end audio is the fact that Pono is crippled by Digital Rights Management. Are we really going back there?" Again, this question was addressed to the panel of high resolution music retailers. Suddenly the new CEO of Pono asked for the microphone and angrily tried to deny Pono was crippled by DRM. Maybe our exchange was recorded and will be available for download someday. Based on what I know from many sources, both under NDA and not under NDA, Pono is indeed crippled with DRM. But if you're under an NDA with Pono you can't refer to this DRM as DRM. I'd like to be the first to say R.I.P. Pono