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High-End Audio Business Sees A Recent Boom

10/20/2013 08:00:00 PM Eastern

NEW YORK – The component-audio market isn’t as big as it once was, but you couldn’t tell by the recent influx of new products ranging from CD/SACD players, integrated amps, DACs, headphone DACs, and other devices catering to the high-performance crowd.

Many of the new products turned up at the recent Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver and CEDIA Expo. They include an expanded Sony high-resolution series, new components from McIntosh, and a headphone amplifier/music decoder/USB DAC from Auralic.

Here’s a sampling of some of the latest products:

Auralic Americas, based in Vancouver, Wash., launched the first-of-their-kind Gemini 1000 and 2000 headphone “docks,” which are sculpted to resemble the shape of a human head and neck. They combine Class A headphone amp, multiformat USB DAC, music-file decoders and 2TB SDXC card slot. The docks double as a stand for a person’s headphones. Both are controlled through an onscreen PC interface. They’ll be available at retail in November at a suggested $995 and $1,995, respectively.

The two devices decode high-resolution DSD64, DSD 128, and PCM, the latter with sampling rates from 44.1kHz to 384kHz with up to 32-bit resolution. They also play music stored on a USB-connected Android phone.

Dali will have multiple products saying hello to the market. The U.K. company’s first wireless speaker, priced at $1,295 each, is the Dali Kubik Free. The 2x100-watt two-way active speaker features Bluetooth, USB audio input, and optical or analog inputs.

At $13,000/pair, the Epicon 6 speaker features what the company describes as a “2½ + ½-way” driver configuration. At only $650/pair, the Dali Fazon Micro speaker features 4-inch wood-fiber woofer and quarter-inch ultra-light soft- dome tweeter. The Dali Zensor 3 shelf and floor-standing speaker is priced at $695/pair for the black- and light-walnut versions and $750/pair in white.

McIntosh’s MA8000 integrated amp at a suggested $10,000 and the two-channel MCD550 CD/SACD player at $6,500 ship in October.

The 2x300 MA8000 replaces the MA7000 and adds higher power amp, built-in DAC, USB input, and coaxial and optical inputs for a total of five digital inputs compared to none in the previous model. It also features two phono preamps, one for MM and one for MC cartridges. Both phono stages are adjustable to optimize performance. The synchronous and asynchronous USB accepts 192kHz/32-bit PCM.

The $6,500 MCD550 CD/SACD player replaces two models at $4,500 and $6,500. The former lacked digital inputs, and the latter had two digital inputs but no USB input. The new model features USB input, digital inputs, and a higher quality 192/32 DAC compared to 192/24 in the previous $6,500 model. The new CD/SACD player will join a $10,000 two-channel CD/SACD player.

NAIM is launching the NAIT 5si, NAIT XS2 and SUPERNAIT2 stereo integrated amplifiers, all with USB-mini B for software upgrades and a quarter-inch front-panel headphone output.

The $1,800 NAIM NAIT 5si features four analog inputs and 2x60-watt amplification into 8 ohms. The $2,900 NAIM NAIT XS 2 is rated at 2x70 watts and is more powerful than the model it replaces. The $4,900 NAIM Supernait 2 is rated at 2x80 watts and features six analog inputs.

Rega’s turntable, DAC and integrated amp are the company’s latest offerings. The Rega RP8 turntable costs $3,490 with MM cartridge and $2,995 without cartridge. The $2,995 Rega Saturn DAC/CD transport features top-loading transport, asynchronous 24-bit/192kHz USB Input, SP/DIF inputs (coax/Toslink), and a full-feature Rega remote. And the $2,995 Rega Elicit-R integrated amplifier delivers 2x105 watts into 8 ohms. It’s equipped with MM phono stage and rear-panel switch to turn the phono input into a line-level input for a CD player, DAC, or external MM or MC phono stage.

Sony expanded its high-resolution audio series with a portable DAC/headphone amplifier and an ES series stereo integrated amplifier.

The $599-everyday PHA-2 portable headphones amplifier works with laptops, smartphones, and tablets. It will be available in March at Sony Stores and other electronics retailers. The $1,999 TA-A1ES stereo amplifier will be available in November at select Sony Stores and authorized ES dealers nationwide.

Sony’s high-resolution series includes products designed to decode almost every music-file format available, particularly those that deliver high-resolution, or better-than-CD, audio quality. Companion products, such as integrated amps and speakers, are designed to deliver high-res performance.

The PHA-2 comes with built-in lithium-ion battery that lasts up to 6.5 hours with a digital connection and up to 17 hours with an analog connection. It decodes up to 192kHz/24-bit PCM, DSD, double DSD, MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, FLAC, ALAC, ATRAC, ATRAC Advanced Lossless and AIFF.

The TA-A1ES integrated stereo amplifier doesn’t incorporate music-file decoders but is designed to work with the company’s ES-series HAP-Z1ES high-res hard-drive music player to reproduce high-res audio. The 2x80-watt high-current integrated amp features Class-A operation with smart bias control, push-pull operation, one balanced input, and four unbalanced RCA inputs.