CES 2014 The Wrap!

Its easy to lose sight of the music just as its easy to lose sight of your senses in Las Vegas. So many things are screaming for your attention in every sensual way possible. Sights, sounds, smells, its difficult to hear yourself think which I imagine is the point. But sensory overload is hardly the ideal environment for listening to music on the hi-fi. It's like trying to enjoy some delicate sashimi with ketchup and fries.

Computer Audio and file-based playback were in nearly every room at CES 2014. If you snapped your fingers and made all of the laptops disappear, there'd be lots of silence at CES. We're also seeing more convergence in terms of serving, streaming, and even DSP functionality invading traditional hi-fi kit. CD players with USB inputs, preamplifiers with network players, DACs with DSP, and so on. As all of this hardware joins forces, the critical piece of the operational puzzle becomes software. The app. The interface to everything. Some companies build their own like Meridian's Sooloos which is arguably still the slickest music serving app around, or the promising Aurender app, the Audionet app, the Auralic app. the Lumin app. the Pathos app, etc. Other companies rely on the open source community to build and perfect the perfect app. It looks a lot to me like we are at the beginning.

High Resolution Audio is now commonplace and our access to 24-bit and DSD recordings grows greater every day. 24-bit Britney, Miley, and Bruce. Sting in DSD. Who woulda thunk. The proliferation of devices that can play 24-bit and DSD music files is simply staggering so let's clear up all of the confusion over DSD once and for all—DSD is not an ultimatum its an option. We are living in a golden age of music discovery and computer audio is the gateway drug.

Running through the Venetian room-to-room, scampering up and down staircases to avoid painfully slow overloaded elevators, trying to cover the latest and greatest, its easy to lose sight of the goal. Its easy to get caught up in the latest gadget, the slickest app, the shiniest beast. "But can it handle 10,000 albums?" Music at a hi-fi show is like the sky in Las Vegas. Its there, but you have to make an effort to appreciate it.

“Shimamoto was in charge of the records. She'd take one from its jacket, place it carefully on the turntable without touching the grooves with her fingers, and, after making sure to brush the cartridge free of any dust with a tiny brush, lower the needle ever so gently onto the record. When the record was finished, she'd spray it and wipe it with a felt cloth. Finally she'd return the record to its jacket and its proper place on the shelf. Her father had taught her this procedure, and she followed his instructions with a terribly serious look on her face, her eyes narrowed, her breath held in check. Meanwhile, I was on the sofa, watching her every move. Only when the record was safely back on the shelf did she turn to me and give a little smile. And every time, this thought hit me: It wasn't a record she was handling. It was a fragile soul inside a glass bottle.” ― Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun
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deckeda's picture

Glancing at the coverage it seems we're still predominantly seeing things other than Squeezebox replacements, which seems to remain both an opportunity and a software-writing challenge for hifi companies. I don't think the high end streamers with unspecial (DLNA, etc) software will do much to subsume computers-connected-to-stereos, and the financial leap to the Sooloos (and a few competitors?) is still rather vast for someone wanting the appliance-like ease of use a CD offers.

But like I said, I glanced and therefore hope to be wrong and certainly guility of generalizing.

Related to that (what I'd call the "Sooloos, nice album artwork type of interface") I'm also a little surprised there hasn't been a greater emphasis on iPad docks making use of iTunes Home Sharing's ability to stream hi res files through the thing to an external USB DAC. Still too tweaky or wrought with caveats? Or people are too busy using iPads for "contributing their verse" as Whitman implored (current iPad TV commerical.) O Me! (Oh, my.)

On the rosier side of the hobby it's clear that good, lower-cost and tiny DACs are becoming quite popular (stuffed with wool? OK), so perhaps keeping that old computer around to dedicate to music isn't such a bad idea after all.

jim tavegia's picture

There is certainly going to be more changes in DSD than PCM over the rest of this year. The 24/192 has been climbed and we are firmly living there right now with very good USB DACs at under $200 for anyone that cares. PCM at this level is great. 

Two things I am going to be following is:  1.) DSD ADCs ( like the Ayre QA-9) and the opportunity to easily record at home native DSD files and be able to handle them in software....Maybe the folks at Sony Software will upgrade their Sony Sound Forge Pro to handle DSD. There is really no point for Sony to resist this opportunity now. With the changes that Sony has made with additions to their ES line with Speakers, Amps, and USB dacs, I  am growing more confident than not. 

I am more confident that more changes in the field of DSD than anywhere else. But, for any of this to truly succeed, the prices of downloads must come down or the majority of music lovers will never get on board. These advances cannot just be for audiophiles and $30 downloads will keep this from happening.