From the first minute I hit the Venetian's crowded elevator bank to the last, I could not help feeling behind. There's no way one person can cover everything at CES and T.H.E. Show unless their area of coverage is defined to include only those companies whose name begins and ends with an X.
Perhaps some of you have been in a relationship I'll define as being of the - I guess this as good as it gets - variety. Why we settle is debatable and more than likely tied up in a bunch of stuff including simply being lazy. If we're lucky or fortunate, your choice, we happen upon someone that snaps us out of our settled-for-less state. And we live happily ever after (or so I'd like to believe).
And so it goes with many of us and our media player of choice and many of us choose iTunes. I did because as an interface on and into our music, it's good. Damn good, maybe even as good as one could want (sound quality aside. I'm talking purely about the interface). But then...
I also got to see a demo of the Sonata Music Server software ($99) which is geared toward the PC-owning classical music lover and anyone interested in expanded metadata. Sonata can capture and store up to 18 fields of metadata including genre, style, composer, work, conductor, orchestra, soloists, singers, period, instrument, record label, etc. Sonata also offers access to their SonataDB, a 50,000 and growing library of fully tagged classical music metadata so when you import or rip your classical music, it will come pre-loaded with all fields complete as long as it exists in their database.
No Show would be complete without an AudioQuest demo to get those skeptics juices flowing (or blood boiling depending on your level of commitment to the cause). But this one was different in that we didn't focus on cables. Instead we focused on the new AudioQuest Dragonfly Asynchronous USB DAC. The diminutive DAC, about the size of a thumb drive, plugs into your computer's USB port and you connect a mini 3.5mm RCA to RCA cable to the other end (available from among others AudioQuest) and you're off to the races playing up to 24-bit/96kHz files. There's also an internal volume control that is controlled through your media player's volume control (a neat software trick). The other neat visual trick is that dragonfly changes color depending on the bit/sample rate being played.
No trip to T.H.E. Show is complete without a pit stop in the Not For Sale Audio room to recharge all that's weary. I will let them tell their story:
We are a couple of Las Vegas audiophiles who love good music and wine. This will be our sixth year at T.H.E. Show. We hope to provide a fun and relaxing listening experience for show exhibitors and patrons alike. We'll have plenty of music and libations. Every year we bring an excitingly different stereo system with interesting visual effects. Come visit!...we'll pour you a glass...
VMPS, Wyred4Sound, Ampzilla 2000 and Wywires teamed up for the now annual "Live vs. Recording" showdown. The premise is fairly straight forward—a band plays, its recorded doing so and then the recording is played back. While I admire and respect the intent, I'll let the images tell the story and point you to my general feelings on this subject in my Stereophile As We See It titled "Why Music Matters Most".
Antelope Audio was showing their Zodiac Gold 384kHz DAC ($4,200) in the Noir finish which means, you know, black. This package includes the Voltikus external power supply ($1,000 when sold separately). The Zodiac Gold DAC can also function as a preamplifier and offers 8 auto-detecting inputs including balanced Analog Inputs, unbalanced Analog RCA Inputs, AES/EBU Digital Inputs, 2x S/PDIF Coaxial Inputs, 2x Optical TOSLINK Inputs, USB, and Word Clock Input on BNC. As its name states, the Zodiac Gold 384kHz DAC can handle up to 32-bit/384kHz input.
I always enjoy a stop in Jonathan Tinn's room largely because he seems to try to play music that a) I do not know and b) he thinks I'll enjoy. So far he's batting 1000 and this time the treat was Blood Sweat and Tears' magisterial "Blues Part II" from their self-titled 1968 LP. On active display was the Playback Designs MPS-3 ($8,500) which can handle resolutions all the way up to pure unadulterated 6.1MHz DSD (via USB). There's also PCM AES/EBU, S/PDIF and USB that can pass 24-bit/192kHz.
I strolled over to T.H.E. Show on Friday afternoon and the first booth you run into (by necessity) is CEntrance. They had a few displays featuring their USB bus-powered DACmini CX ($795) and a DACmini PX ($1,475) both connected to an iPad via the Apple Camera Connection Kit. The CX version is a DAC/headphone amp and features Coax and Toslink inputs capable of 24-bit/196kHz, and USB up to 24-bit/96kHz. The PX adds a 50W/ch integrated amp in the same small package.
I took the Las Vegas Monorail to the Las Vegas Convention Center on Thursday afternoon to see what I would see. I hit two Halls, South and Central, and pretty much just strolled around to take in the sites and sounds of consumerism run amok.
I went to the big Onkyo room in the Venetian Level 2 and saw and snapped (blurry I know) the Onkyo TX-NR609 THX® Select2 Plus™ Certified A/V receiver ($599). Connectivity includes...a picture's worth a thousand words (in this case more)....
"Machined chassis milled from a solid block of aircraft grade 6061-T6 aluminum", the Jeff Rowland Aeris DAC ($9,800) is a wavy wonder to look at. Accepts up to 24-bit/96kHz via USB and 24-bit/192kHz via Toslink and (2) Coax. Includes balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outputs as well as an integrated volume control for direct-connecting to an amplifier.
Waterfall Audio makes glass baffle and aluminum speakers. On display was their new HFM 2.1 Active System that consists of the Serio satellites (shown with optional stands) and High Force HFM 2.1 subwoofer ($1,500/system including sub). The Serio speakers can also be wall-mounted and I find them cute but they are also undeniably tiny (5" x 3.5" x 5"). The new HFM 2.1 subwoofer includes 3 Class D amplifiers for powering the Serio speakers (2 x 60W) and itself (1 x 120W) as well as a 3.5mm jack so you can plug in and play from a host of variable output sources.
Parasound was also showing some delectable stackable gear and sitting sandwiched between their Zcd CD Player ($400) and Zamp v.3 ($349) is the Zdac 192kHz Digital to Analog Converter ($450) that includes USB and S/PDIF inputs (Coax and Toslink) and RCA and XLR outputs. With a Sonos on top!