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CES 2017…as it happened…not much

  • I’m not in Las Vegas covering CES 2017 but that doesn’t mean I’m not keeping tabs on audio-related announcements. This (sticky) post will see ongoing updates as press releases land in the DAR inbox. The limitation being that I know no more than that which features below…

    1. MQA

    This first one’s a big’un: Tidal have launched a new ‘master’ audio feature and will be offering MQA music to all Tidal HiFi subscribers. In other words, (some) MQA streaming is coming to Tidal. At last, mainstream artists: David Bowie! Fleetwood Mac! Flo Rida!

    From the press release:

    A wide variety of content from labels and artists, including Warner Music Group’s world-renowned music catalogue, is now available in Master audio across all of TIDAL’s available markets worldwide.

     TIDAL has integrated MQA, the award-winning technology that enables this innovation, and has offered it to all TIDAL HiFi tier subscribers under a new ‘Master’ listing. Initially available on desktop, a wide range of recordings are already available and the collection will grow rapidly.

     “TIDAL is committed to bringing members closer to their favorite musicians and offering MQA sound quality will allow subscribers to hear music just as it was recorded in the studio,” said a TIDAL representative. “We’re thrilled to bring master quality sound to our members.”

     Mike Jbara, MQA CEO, said, “TIDAL is an artist-centric music company. We could not be more excited that they share our vision of having fans hear the authentic performance of their favorite music.”

    And yes, MQA is streaming right now for those with Tidal Hifi accounts. AudioStream is reporting the availability of 30,000 tracks.

    MQA’s time domain correction of the A/D conversion process means listeners without an MQA DAC should also hear a difference.

    For the full MQA experience, including hi-res unpacking, an MQA DAC is required.

    Further information: Tidal Masters

    Want to try MQA for yourself but don’t want to drop a small fortune on a new DAC? AudioQuest have today announced a software-installable firmware update that will add MQA support to their DragonFly Black (US$99) and Red (US$199) USB DACs.

    Some more press release copy/paste:

    “AudioQuest, are also announcing MQA implementation in their USB DAC products, DragonFly Red and Black. MQA will be available to AudioQuest customers later this month via a free software update. Steve Silberman, VP of Development, commented:

    “AudioQuest aims to deliver amazing sound quality and MQA implementation in our products demonstrates this commitment. We’re very excited to offer AudioQuest customers the best possible audio experience.” MQA demonstrations will be in the AudioQuest Venetian suites 30-105 and 30-106, and at the Hi-Res Audio Pavilion.

    Finally, MQA capabilities will also come to the forthcoming v3.0 of Audirvana Plus, due to land in “early 2017”.

    2. Panasonic/Technics

    Remember how, a year ago at CES 2016, Panasonic/Technics re-launched the legendary SL-1200 as an audiophile-aimed turntable? And remember how the mainstream press threw up their hands in disbelief at how the new model/s had forsaken the DJ world; a world that inked the SL-1200’s reputation as the goto plattenspieler for everyone from bedroom bangers to pro circuit workers? The SL-1200G’s US$4000 price tag had many publications aghast – ironic given these same publications’ penchant for 4K, curved TVs and computers that edge into similar financial territory. Doubly ironic was how a limited run of 1200 GAE units sold out in a matter of hours. Vindication for Panasonic’s re-aligned crosshairs.

    Well this year, at CES 2017, Panasonic/Technics are back with another SL-1200 – a “standard version” – only this time their messaging is crisper and cleaner: it’s 100% not for DJs.

    The SL-1200GR inherits the coreless direct-drive motor, precise motor control technology, high-rigidity platter and high-sensitivity tonearm” of its predecessors, will be priced at ~US$2000 (unconfirmed) and will begin shipping in June. 

    This all new Technics SL-1200GR lands with direct-drive talk right next to the belt-driven Rega RP8 and Shinola Runwell. Panasonic’s press release (here) is rich with technical detail.

    DJs wanting a more affordable robust, direct-drive DJ ‘table should look at the Pioneer PLX-1000 or the numerous Hanpin clones doing the rounds these days.

    Further information: Panasonic

    3. Chord Electronics

    This British company’s D/A converters eschew off-the-shelf chips in favour of an FPGA loaded with Rob Watts’ WTA filter. Their sound is clean, sometimes a little lean and big on soundstage depth.

    2015’s Mojo moved the Hugo’s battery powered, FPGA-hosted conversion technology into palm-sized portable with the promise that it would transform the sound of any hard-wired smartphone.

    Whilst the Mojo met its SQ-ameliorating brief head on (and then some), tying phone and Mojo together in one tidy bundle proved problematic; rubber straps render the source device’s touchscreen unusable. This problem challenge begat the Mojo extender block, launched at CanJam SoCal in March 2016.

    During that same SoCal conversation, Chord CEO John Franks talked me through a product that would put a smartphone-controllable Wifi/Bluetooth streamer and SD card reader inside the same ‘extender’ chassis. Now the Mojo and phone would no longer need to be joined by wire. Franks then promptly asked me to keep Mum about the whole thing. Boo.

    Nine months later, that product is now here. The 9-hour battery-powered Poly clips onto the Mojo and passes recharge power through to its host for DLNA, AirPlay and Bluetooth streaming. SDcard hosting and remote control comes via Music Player Daemon and its associated remote apps. The Poly will handle up to PCM 768kHz and DSD512.

    Poly’s press release fails to specify the source of Roon compatibility: AirPlay or Roon’s own RAAT protocol? Hopefully we’ll know before the new device starts shipping in “early 2017”. Poly will sell for £499.

    Chord’s CES 2017 product announcements don’t end there. The Hugo 2 is a ‘remastered’ take on the original: revised aluminium casework; remote control; longer battery life; new user-selectable filters that promise “warm and soft” or “transparent and incisive” presentations; an improved output stage; lower measured distortion. The latest iteration of Watts’ WTA filter has also been included.

    One of the predecessor’s two micro-USB ports has been handed over to battery recharge minus the wall-wart leaving four other digital inputs: HD USB, TOSLINK, coaxial and “extended range” aptX Bluetooth (AAC support remains TBC). 

    Hugo 2 will start shipping in “early 2017”. Black or silver. Yours for £1800.

    Further information: Chord Electronics

    4. ELAC

    We know Andrew Jones can make terrific high end loudspeakers – see the TAD CE1 – and we can also know he can make kick ass entry-level models – Pioneer SP-BS22LR, ELAC Debut Series and Uni-Fi series – but this time around Jones could be seen showing something a little more luxurious. Next to spill from ELAC are the Adante, which feature entirely new 5″ concentric drivers augmented by a new bass driver.

    Still in its prototype phase, this Las Vegas showing from Jones and ELAC is more a teaser trailer than a fully-fledged product announcement. However, when Adante being shipping in the back half of 2017, we can expect to see pricing come in at around US$2500/pair for the standmounts and around US$5000/pair for the floorstanding version. CNET’s Ty Pendlebury has the skinny.

    Further information: ELAC

    5. GoldenEar Technology

    Sandy Gross e-mailed a few weeks ahead of CES 2017 with a Vegas dinner invite and the heads-up on Golden Ear’s forthcoming flagship loudspeaker: “Hi John, I trust that you are having a wonderful holiday season. All is well here. We are excitedly preparing for CES, where we will show something really exciting: Triton Reference! This is a step up from Triton One, and it is quite the signature piece, both sonically, aesthetically, technologically and, well, authoritatively.”

    From said press release: All the components in the Reference – the active sub-bass drivers, upper-bass/midrange drivers, and high-velocity folded ribbon tweeter – are new, and have been specifically developed for use in the Reference. The fully balanced crossover is, of course, specially engineered for the Reference, and the powerful subwoofer amplifier and 56-bit DSP control unit are an evolution of those used in the Triton One and our SuperSubs.”

    Like other, GoldenEar designs, the Triton Reference’s complement ditches the traditional box and its possible finishes and shaves megabucks from what elsewhere would sell for tens of thousands of dollars. This top shelf offering sells for a mere US$8500. Talk about keeping it honest. The high-end loudspeaker world is a far more interesting (and competitive) place with GoldenEar a key member.

    Further information: GoldenEar Technology

    Is that really all she wrote? When it comes to hitherto unseen products and audio-related tech announcements, it would appear so. Pro-Ject, Naim, NAD and dCS all served up new models; new to the USA but not necessarily to the rest of the world. Much of it we’d already caught sight of at 2016 events like Munich High-End, RMAF or in Hong Kong.

    There’s has been much talk of the death of high-end audio at CES. And just as headphone exhibitors tend to favour Head-Fi’s CanJam in Denver, the majority prefer to show at CES’ noisy, hectic Las Vegas Convention Centre where they seem to do quite well.

    What follows is one industry veteran’s take on the state of high-end audio exhibitors at CES 2017:

    “Traditionally, high-end audio exhibitors occupy the upper tier of the Venetian Tower – levels 29-31 with a few big suites on 34 and 35 – and a handful of ballrooms down below.
    This year, level 29 had 72 of 89 rooms filled, 8 of which were apparently non-audio exhibitors. That gives us a sub-total of 64 audio exhibit rooms.

    Level 30 had 80 of 88 rooms filled but 32 of those were non-audio exhibitors including AARP, Simmons Bedding, Conde Nast Publishing, a couple of robotics companies and a bunch 
    of electronic component vendors. For audio rooms on this floor, our sub-total is 48.

    Level 31 had no audio exhibitors other than a couple of DSP OEMs. Level 34 had nothing. Level 35 had McIntosh, YG Acoustics, Astell & Kern, and two rooms of Lamm. Other exhibitors on this floor included Chamberlain garage door openers. Sub-total? 5 audio exhibit rooms.

    This year, a grand total of zero ballrooms were booked by high-end audio companies.

    All up, that’s a grand total of 117 audio exhibit rooms (or thereabouts)”.

    The takeaway is that, when it came down to exhibitor numbers, CES 2017 was a long way short of the slimmer RMAF 2016 and many of the smaller regional Stateside shows. It’s an open secret that many manufacturers now favour Munich High-End as the number one destination for product launches and to meet their international distributors.

    From where I sit here in Berlin, audio news spilling from Las Vegas this month seemed so thin on the ground that, pending a serious organisational shakeup, I doubt I’ll ever attend another CES.

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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