CES 2016 tested many an audiophile, and continues to do so, with one word—Ready. Roon- and MQA-Ready products seemed to generate the most interest...for good reason; Roon makes browsing your music and the music from Tidal's 3 million plus tracks fun, and from what I heard, MQA makes listening to digital files more fun. But...you can't have -Ready products now. Dammit!
Appropriately, the MQA room was the last room I visited at CES 2016. In it, I heard two demos on two different systems where I got to compare an MQA'd file with the exact same file in its original, non-MQA state.
I'm going to go off the computer audio res for a moment and share my enthusiasm over the self-powered Kii Three Loudspeaker System ($13,900), which are designed by Bruno Putzeys (here's Bruno on his DAC). These rather diminutive speakers are rated down to 20Hz +/- 0.5dB and the basic concept behind their design is they energize the room unlike a traditional loudspeaker. According to my ears this claim is true, and I noted a whole bunch of quickly scribbled accolades relating to their ability to present music in-room and out-of-room simultaneously. "Sound spreads out like a city" is the most coherent comment from my notes.
ELAC is on fire. The Discovery Music Server DS-101 ($999) not only includes a limited (limited to the ELAC ecosystem) subscription to Roon but ELAC have added multi-room functionality to the Roon app allowing you to synchronously group (or un-group) and control multiple ELAC devices from one app (max number of 8 zones). The Discovery Roon app will run on iOS, Android, Windows and OSX. There's an Ethernet input and USB for USB storage, 2x analog outputs (independant zones), Coax S/PDIF and Toslink out.
The new Bryston BDA-3 DAC ($3495) adds DSD support, up to DSD256, and PCM support up to 32/384 to the well reviewed BDA-2 (see review) as well as 4x 2-channel HDMI (accepts SACD input), 2x asynchronous USB, AES/EBU, Toslink, and Coax S/PDIF (RCA and BNC). There's also an Ethernet input for home automation applications. Outputs include single-ended RCAs and balanced XLRs.
It's hard to keep up with China's Questyle as their products seem to multiply in-room. In terms of new, I was directed to the ICEpower'd R200i 5GHz Wireless 200W Mono amplifiers ($1500) which put out 200W into 4 ohms and also house a 24/192 and DSD capable DAC.
I popped into the GamuT room even though they were only spinning vinyl. After listening and enjoying the system, GamuT's President Michael Vamos directed my attention to something I'd missed; the GamuT Lobster Chair ($4990). "Damn, that's so cool!" I said. "Sit in it" Michael suggested. I did and it is, in fact, womb-like in its comfort. There's a matching ottoman as well. Hmm. "You'll have to review our new DAC when its ready", Michael shared. "I need to review this chair!" that's me to which Michael responded, "We send you the chair, we'll never get it back."
Music Hall offers gear that makes good-sounding music at three and four digit prices. The Creek EVOLUTION 100CD ($1995) supports PCM resolutions up to 24/192kHz via 2x transformer isolated S/PDIF, 2x optically isolated Toslink, and 1x galvanically isolated USB. The DA chip inside is the Wolfson WM8742 x2. Outputs include 1x SPDIF, 1x Toslink and single-ended RCA and balanced XLR pairs. The 100CD is also Bluetooth enabled so you can stream to it over the air and of course you can spin CDs in it as well.
Aurender had their new and as yet to be priced A10 Caching Network Music Server/Player with analog Output (RCA and XLR) on display and that's its insides. All of my pictures of its outside, sucked (I've decided to divorce my camera after our embarrassing inability to get along at CES. I have a new, younger model on the way). The A10 holds 2TB of internal hard disk drive storage for your music and a 120GB solid state drive for cached playback. You can also play music via Ethernet from network attached storage and all Aurender models include their Conductor app and all models support Tidal streaming.
Ayre Acoustics, makers of my amp, handed off DA duties to their Codex DAC/Preamp/Headphone amp ($1795), which made Steve Plaskin's Favorite Bits List while also garnering a Class A rating (check out the price again and compare it to other Class A DACs on that list).
I covered Audio Alchemy at RMAF (see report) so I'm only going to talk about how much I enjoyed this room, the calm after the storm. The prototype TAD Concept speakers ($TBD) were paired with the Audio Alchemy gear to show, and show off, that you don't need to spend a fortune on electronics to get great sound (the TAD CE1 loudspeakers are $24,000/pair to provide a ballpark for the Concept speaker cost).
Who? I thought as I walked the halls of the 35th floor of the Venetian tower. It turns out Aries Cerat was founded in 2010 on the isle of Cyprus, a location that doesn't exactly scream out convenience for a hi-fi manufacturer, and this was their US debut. Nonetheless, Aries Cerat manufacture a full line of audio gear including those pictured above; Kassandra Reference PCM DAC ($35,000), Impera Signature Edition Preamp ($82,500), the Concero 65 SET Class A Monoblocks ($35,000/pair), and the Symphonia Aries Limited Edition speakers ($125,000).
The LH Labs Vi DAC comes in two flavors; Vi DAC ($5000) and the Vi DAC Tube ($7,000). Inside every fully balanced dual mono Vi DAC resides a pair of ESS9018AQ2M converters, one per channel, and dual Femto Oscillators (one for 44.1kHz and Integer Multiples, a second for 48kHz and multiples). The chassis, which I like looking at, is all aluminum with no parallel walls aids in taming resonance and noise. The Vi DACs can handle PCM resolutions up to 32/384kHz and DSD to a whopping 12.228MHz.