CES 2018 News: HiFi and AV Show Report
High tech met headlong with retro and it was great to watch
In recent years, the HiFi section of CES has lost a little of its lustre.The number of other shows – notably the Rocky Mountain Audio Show, also in the US, along with ISE and the High End Show in Europe – have seen more manufacturers choose to exhibit elsewhere. In fact combined with the very wide focus of the show in general and the importance it has for display manufacturers, the audio equipment at the show can feel like an afterthought.
Despite this, a little bit of digging at CES always reveals some interesting gear and not simply at the sort of price points that bring to mind a telephone number. There are already some interesting signs that 2018 is going to be an absolutely bumper year for audio equipment and there should be more choice and more technical flexibility than ever before. With the relentless churn in other product categories really starting to bite, companies are putting more effort into longer lived hifi product and it is really starting to show.
In the case of Technics, their ‘new’ product has more than an element of the past to it. The SP10 dates back to the seventies but it is a mark of the engineering integrity it possessed that they are still highly sought after devices. The new SP10R builds on this and uses the same principle of the item being sold being the platter, direct drive motor assembly which can then be added to a plinth or console of your choice and combined with an arm to suit.
If this sounds a bit involved, the SL-1000R is going to be more your thing. This takes the SP10 assembly and places it in a plinth with arm. What is more of a surprise is that the plinth can have extra armboards attached to two edges for a maximum of three arms. At $20,000 for the ‘basic’ SL-1000R less cartridge, this is an expensive turntable but given the flexibility it offers and the tank like build, it should be one of the very best.
If the Technics is a little spendy for you, NAD might have just the answer. The company has updated their D 3020 integrated amp and imaginatively titled it the D 3020 V2. The same 30 watt class D output stage is used and this is still combined with a selection of digital and analogue inputs. Where NAD has made a significant – and surprising – alteration is that they have removed the USB digital input and fitted a phono stage. If you wanted 2018 summed up in a nutshell, it doesn’t get much more succinct than that.
There is methodology behind this seemingly whimsical decision though. The company is moving back into vinyl with some enthusiasm and was displaying the C558 turntable. This £450 unit is going to be the perfect partner with the D 3020 V2 to create a very talented vinyl starter kit. Elsewhere, new headphones, boosts to the Bluesound range and the Masters series suggest that NAD is planning a busy year.
Of course, if we are going to talk about busy, Chord Electronics is looking to claim the top spot. The Qutest DAC looks very much like it will be a force to be reckoned with. Taking all the bits of the Hugo2 and refining it for home use (and reducing the price) is something that should go down well with owners and the levels of technology being offered for a fairly sane price is something that should be welcomed.
What is noteworthy though is that John Franks and Rob Watts, the creative partnership behind the brand revealed at the show that 2018 is going to be an incredibly busy year for them. I had a sneak preview of a product that is going to make its full debut at Munich and it was made clear that there will be other products making their debut later on in the year too.
AV brand Emotiva has made its UK debut and in addition to the already plentiful selection of models making their appearance, they unveiled some interesting new products. The RMC-1 is the new flagship processor and is built around twin 64 Bit SHARC processors and Analog Devices DACs. It offers up 16 channels of fully dual differential balanced audio which manifests itself as full 11.2 support via balanced connections. At $5,000 this is not a cheap device but there is a considerable amount of processing power there. If you don’t have the budget for that, Emotiva is also releasing the XMC-1 which offers much of the same functionality but is only balanced across the front three channels. Even so, both of these products look to offer significant potential and are earmarked for 230v meaning they should hopefully come to the UK.
Many of the rooms at the Venetian undertake rather po-faced demos of worthy music, played at tickover. SVS never seem to read that memo and was giving their new 4000 subwoofers a work out. Replacing the much loved SB-13 and PC-13 models hasn’t been taken lightly and the driver that they use is lifted directly from the older models.
This is partnered with a healthy 1,200 watts of power and the DSP systems that we saw on the flagship. Impressively, SVS has managed to peg the pricing of the new models extremely close to the outgoing ones which means that even when the UK sales process is taken into account, these should be strong value when they arrive here.
If you believe we did everything better in the 20th century, you’ll be pleased at the arrival of the JBL L100 Classic. This is largely based on a model that made its appearance at the 1970 CES show but while this new model looks very similar – even down to the padded foam grills which look excellent and much more of a feature than those on more modern designs, it has been significantly redesigned with new drivers and some acknowledgement that technology has made some advancements in the ensuing 47 years. The price is north of $4,000 but they sounded superb and UK sales are apparently planned. They’d make the perfect playmate for a pair of Tannoy Legacy Eatons.
Of course, Harman group who own JBL were also showing off their newly acquired Arcam to the world and Arcam had repaid them in kind by showing off their new HDA product. This is the replacement for the FMJ series which, incredibly, has been in production for eighteen years. Initially, the range will comprise a CD/SACD/Network client with two amps – the larger of which will feature the company’s Class G topology.
Changing casework is always risky – you get used to what you know – but the first impressions of the new units are positive. There are enough distinctively Arcam details like the right hand power buttons and the amp volume knob being ever so slightly reminiscent of the old Alpha Series. The units on display were early prototypes but still looked very promising. More details on pricing and availability will appear soon.
Headphones, as ever, were a big deal at the show and since the headphone jack has joined the endangered species list, the rush to make them wireless has accelerated. Beyerdynamic might be seen to be one of the more traditional headphone brands but their new Amiron Wireless system looks decidedly impressive. This has the usual Bluetooth niceties supplied but what sets Amiron apart is the use of a kind of auto calibration system for your ears. This tests the response of each ear via an app and then tailors the output of the headphones to take this into account.
Amiron is available in an in-ear, an over-ear and, later on in 2018, a full size home headphone. Beyerdynamic generally offers excellent performance from their more traditional products so the hope is that these innovative new arrivals will be just as capable.
Not too far away in the South Hall, Audio Technica was also shedding the wires at a rate of knots. Last year, the company produced some innovative and extremely capable Bluetooth digital designs (which the wonderful MSR-9 is derived from) and now it is the turn of their in-ears to get the same treatment. The flagship ATH-DSR5BT at £350 looks to be technically interesting. As well as using the apt-x HD Bluetooth system – which gives more headroom to process a lossless audio signal. It also uses the series driver arrangement we have seen on a few Audio Technica earphones over the years and that works extremely well. Availability is Q1 and I look forward to giving them a go.
Of course, if it is earphones we’re talking about, the Audeze LCD i4 takes its place as the single most extraordinary in-ear device that I have ever listened to. In principle, the i4 is related to the iSINE 10 we reviewed not too long ago and it uses a planar magnetic driver that sits in an enclosure to which the in ear assembly is attached. The difference is that the i4 takes the full Planar Magnetic driver used in the full size L4 headphone and shrinks it down. This is an utterly compromise-free earphone, although it has to be said, it isn’t cheap. With a retail price of $2,499 and some fairly demanding measurements, it needs top notch partnering equipment. The result is incredible though.
Genuine innovation and HiFi are not always thought about in the same sentence but Swedish company Soundot could lay claim to having the most impressive piece of realised technology in the Venetian. Each Soundot is a compact active speaker – the sort of thing we have seen many times before. The Soundot is initially unusual though because as well as the Bluetooth you might expect, it has coaxial and analogue inputs too. On its own, the performance is more than reasonable.
Where things get clever though is when you have more than one Soundot. Each speaker has a series of optical senders on the edges. Connect one speaker to another and they pair in roughly a second doubling the available output. Then you can add another. And another. And another. There was a stack of 60 playing (which sounded great) and the theoretical maximum is 65,000. As a soundbar alternative and in commercial applications in particular, this looks like a seriously clever product.
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