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High-Res Home, Portable Audio Rev Up At CES

LAS VEGAS — The audio and music industries are banding together here at International CES to promote high-res audio and give younger music lovers their first opportunity to experience music the way that artists intended.

Audio suppliers are bringing multiple new high-resolution playback devices to the show to deliver better-than- CD quality through such download formats as DSD and 192kHz/24-bit PCM and FLAC.

New products on display include USB audio DACs to connect PCs and laptops to stereo systems or directly to headphones.

Other products include DAC/preamps, DAC/CD players and new portable high-res music players, including a new Astell & Kern model with embedded Wi- Fi for direct downloading from the web.

McIntosh is showing prototypes of its first standalone headphone amp and first digital media bridge, both with DACs and ability to support high-resolution formats.

Demand for high-resolution downloads is on the upswing, said Russ Johnston, Pioneer Americas marketing and corporate communications executive VP. “High-res downloads are growing at impressive rates,” he said, and to keep pace, Pioneer “offers every high-res audio decoder format built into our A/V receivers and stand-alone media players,” he said.

B&W Group president Doug Henderson also believes high-res demand is growing, “but slowly.” One challenge is that “it still isn’t easy enough for mass-consumer acceptance to download and play high-resolution files, and although high-resolution Blu-ray audio discs are available, they remain well out of the mainstream,” he explained.

Nonetheless, Henderson said he is “hopeful that both situations will get better steadily over time.”

In the meantime, multiple suppliers are coming to CES with products to play back high-res downloads. The suppliers include the following:

Auralic, which entered the U.S. market in early 2013 year with hand-built computer- and headphone-oriented audio components, is bringing first-of-their-kind headphone docks to International CES. The Gemini 1000 and 2000 headphone docks combine Class A headphone amp, multiformat USB DAC, music-file decoding and solid-state music storage in a compact tabletop form that also stores a person’s headphones. They’re available at a suggested $995 and $1,995, respectively.

Both are controlled through an onscreen computer interface. Both decode high-resolution DSD64, DSD 128 and PCM, the latter with sampling rates from 44.1kHz to 384kHz with up to 32-bit resolution.

The docks, which are less than a foot tall and weigh 6.2 pounds for stability, are sculpted to resemble the shape of a human head and neck. A person’s headphones can be placed on top for storage.

Through the docks, users can listen to music stored on a USB-connected PC, stored on a USB-connected Android device, or stored on an SDXC card with up to 2TB of storage. An optical digital input connects to other music sources.

Audioengine is turning up at CES with its second portable USB DAC for use with laptops and headphones. It’s the $189 D3 Premium 24-bit/96kHz DAC, which joins the slightly larger, but still portable, $169 D1 and the wireless $499 D2 USB DAC. The latter consists of a wireless USB DAC/transmitter that sends uncompressed 24-bit/96kHz USB audio to a wireless receiver that in turn connects to a stereo system.

The D3, which looks like a USB stick, plugs directly into the USB port of a Mac or PC, and the output connects to headphones, powered speakers or any audio system. The embedded headphone amp is designed for a wide range of headphones, including low-impedance models.

Bryston has developed a digital-to-digital converter that connects a computer’s asynchronous USB output to high-end legacy DACs that lack USB input.

The $799 BUC-1 is designed for consumers who download high-resolution music files up to 24-bit/192kHz but can’t play them through a high-end legacy DAC.

The converter takes a computer’s standard USB output and delivers bit-perfect data via either an AES/EBU or S/PDIF output to any DAC.

Calyx Audio is unveiling its first portable high-resolution audio player, which plays FLAC, WAV and other formats. It will retail for a suggested $995 when it appears here in the U.S. in late March.

The company has been selling direct to consumers since 2008 but is turning up at International CES in its own room for the first time to build a dealer base. Its other products include a USB headphone amp, USB DACs, amplifiers, an integrated amp and an active bookshelf speaker pair.

The portable player, called the Calyx M, features playback of FLAC, WAV, 64DSD and 128DSD, DXD, AAC, MP3, MP4 and Ogg formats with up to 32-bit resolution and up to 394kHz sampling rate. It can also be used as a standalone asynchronous USB DAC.

The device features 4.65-inch 1,280 by 780 display, 625MHz Cortex A5 processor, 64GB flash memory, 128GB SD slot, 3,100 mAh battery delivering about 10 hours of playback time, and Wi-Fi for remote control from an iOS or Android remote app. It’s about 1.3 times larger than an iPhone.

Cambridge Audio is expanding its selection of products with embedded DACs with the January availability of the $1,649-suggested Azur 851D DAC/preamplifier with 24-bit/192kHz Type B USB audio input, the company’s Adaptive Time Filtering up-sampling to 24-bit/384kHz, supplied Bluetooth receiver with AptX decoding and a full metal case. It also features the following additional inputs: 192kHz/24-bit S/ PDIF, 96/25 Toslink, 192/24 AES/EBU and 192/24 BNC. It also features balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outputs and RS-232 control port.

The device joins a standalone DAC, $649 DAC/ preamp, $1,999 DAC/CD player/preamp and a $1,149 DAC/network music player. Compared with those models, the 851D features more inputs and connectivity, adds Bluetooth and sports an improved DAC.

The DAC/preamp can be mated with the $2,799 Azur 851W power amplifier, which uses Class XD amplification to eliminate crossover distortion at low signal levels. The amp is rated at 2×200 watts into 8 ohms and 2×350 watts into 4 ohms with less than 0.0001 percent THD at 1kHz. Bridged mono, it’s rated at 500 watts into 8 ohms and 800 watts into 4 ohms with less than 0.005 percent THD from 20Hz to 20kHz. It also features full metal chassis, balanced and unbalanced analog inputs, and audio-signal detection to turn on with a mated preamp.

Compared with its predecessor, the new amp improves playback quality, adds intelligent audio sensing (auto power up) and power syncing, and comes with auto power down.

A third component is the $1,999 Azur 851E preamplifier with full metal chassis and RS-232 control port. Improvements over its predecessor include better balanced volume control to replace the older clicking resistor ladder on the 840E, a customizable display and an extra balanced input.

All products are available in black or silver and ship in January.

Meridian, the luxury audio supplier, entered another new audio product category with its first headphone amplifier.

In 2013, the company launched its first portable USB DAC and first home USB DAC.

The $2,000 Prime headphones amplifier plays music from analog and USB sources. The USB input features 24bit/192kHz native conversion capability. It is available.

Rega’s new DAC/CD player, marketed by the Sound Organization, is the $2,995 Saturn-R, which houses a transport and independent DAC circuit. Both sections are fully remote controllable via remote.

The component features two optical inputs, two coaxial inputs and a synchronous 192KHz/24-bit USB input asynchronous. The USB uses dedicated drivers in a computer to enable full ASIO operation to eliminate signal degradation caused by generic Windows drivers, the company said.