Given that the cable business was arguably the first to raise the stakes in the price war, this year’s launches were almost subdued. There were product launches, but new “sharp intake of breath” products were mostly in other categories.
Many of the major players were showing, but not big on new products this year. So, despite the upcoming USB 3.0 format, only Wireworld was showing its Ultraviolet compatible cable, while others just filled out the range with the occasional power cord or new connector block.
Some brands have been busy, though. Take AudioQuest, for example. Having learned from its Indulgence Series of HDMI and USB cables, the company is radically revising its line of analog interconnects to match, in what it calls its Bridges & Falls Series. Whatever combination of RCA, 3.5mm, and iDevice connector you can think of, the price of the cable remains the same, starting at $29 per meter for Evergreen and rising to $1000 per meter for Angel, with Golden Gate, Big Sur, Sydney, Victoria, and Yosemite in between them. Victoria, Yosemite and Angel all include the company’s own 72V dielectric-bias system. These replace all existing AudioQuest interconnects up to Diamondback. The company has also announced a five-strong range of USB-iPod and a four-strong range of Ethernet cables in the Indulgence Series, ranging from $29 for a 2* 6** Forest up to $549 for the same length of Diamond.
Nordost has been similarly industrious. Hot on the heels of its successful Leif series of entry-level cables, the company chose CES to launch its new Norse 2 range of Micro-Mono-Filament (MMF) interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords. The intervening five years between Norse and Norse 2 have seen developments in conductor optimization, mechanical tuning, and termination, which have brought about significant changes to the design. Meanwhie, Leif has taught Nordost a lesson in building structured families of cables across a range and the new Norse 2 streamlines one of the company’s most important lines. The Norse 2 range comprises just three lines: the top Tyr (interconnect and speaker cable only), Frey 2 (as per Tyr but with a tonearm cable and power cord) and Heimdall 2 (as per Frey 2, but adding 75-ohm and 110-ohm digital cables). Interconnect prices range from $900 for a 1m set of Heimdall 2 to $2400 for the same length of Tyr, while 2m speaker cables in the same families cost $1800 and $6000 respectively.
Shunyata Research had a novel two-tier approach to demonstrating the value of its cables. First, the demonstration—a guitarist playing his Baby Taylor through a small PA using a standard Mogami guitar cable, followed closely by a basic cable from Shunyata’s ‘ΞTron’ (pronounced ‘Xitron’ or ‘Zaitron’) range. After this, Caelin Gabriel of Shunyata demonstrated precisely what the ΞTron technology was doing by plugging it in and out of a cable playing a 10kHz square wave and showing the results on an oscilloscope. Essentially ΞTron is an electric field compensation circuit, which is about as editorial as calling NASA “a fireworks company.”
Shunyata also announced an additional two-outlet Hydra Cyclops to its Tritron and Talos models in the third-generation reference range. It also announced the new Hydra-α series of three power conditioners, designed to notionally replace the original basic Hydra range. The new models produce much of the performance of Shunyata’s best at a far lower price point, by eschewing the Noise Isolation Chamber system from the top power products. The line is easy to follow; Model 2, Model 4 and Model 6 respectively deliver two, four and six power outlets. Prices are roughly one third that of the third-generation products.
This year, the main accessory many companies wanted to show was a pair of headphones or in-ear monitors. Cardas has made replacement cables for key AKG and Sennheiser headphones, but showed the prototype version of its new single-driver in-ear monitor. Currently lacking both name and price (although anticipated to be in the “around $400” mark), the new design was said to show promise, but had already been through hundreds of ears by the time I got to them, and there’s only so much wax a guy’s prepared to share for the sake of reporting.
There is a growing community of people discontented with the sound of computer audio, and for people like Ted Denney, the finger is firmly pointed at the way a computer can propagate electromagnetic interference. To help prevent this kind of hash, Synergistic Research has launched a range of three Tranquility Bases; the bäsik, Base, and Base XL, to fit on conventional furniture or into dedicated racks (the XL is custom designed to fit the Grand Prix Audio range). The active platforms take a variation on the theme of the EM Cell patented by Synergistic, so that the signals from any component sitting on that Tranquility Base are being conditioned while still in the component itself. Multiple components can be used on each table, and it’s easy to demonstrate (just turn the platform off). Prices start at $995 for the bäsik and rise to $3000 for the Base XL.
The polar opposite to Synergistic, Canada’s Torus Power offers a very down-to-earth approach to power conditioning. Torus has been delivering no-nonsense big-transformer power-line filtering and isolation, along with audio-grade surge suppression, voltage regulation, and even Ethernet monitoring for some time, often in partnership with fellow Canadian electronics brand Bryston. This year, Torus announced its new entry-level IS Series, which eschews anything apart from the basic power filtering and isolation. This hefty Piltron transformer in a basic box series starts from $1095 for the 5A IS5 model and rises to $2395 for the IS20 20A version (which requires a dedicated 20A circuit). Meanwhile Bryston itself has taken what is essentially Torus’ RM range (filtering, isolation, and surge suppression, no voltage regulation or monitoring) for its own BIT5, 10 and 20 range. Bryston also had a late-development sample of its upcoming $1295 BHA-1 balanced headphone amplifier on show, but not on demonstration.
Alan Sircom's Best of Show
Best Sound (cost no object)
MBL’s full Corona Line system (with 116 F floorstanders) is a lot cheaper than the company’s top Reference equipment, but sounded particularly stunning. The two TAD systems had an exceptionally high degree of awesomeness too.
Best Sound (for the lowest price)
GoldenEar Technology’s Aon 3 loudspeaker system, driven by a Peachtree Audio Decco. OK, so the source was an Audio Research CD player, but the sound from these $999 bookshelf speakers was extremely believable and entertaining.
Most Significant Product Introduction
A pair costs the far side of $160,000, each weighs 750 pounds and is deeper than a Pynchon novel, but Magico’s Q7 is a game-changer on so many levels. The high end just got a lot higher.
Greatest Technological Breakthrough
Devialet’s D-Premier clever and elegant amp-meets-DAC isn’t new, but its latest 5.3 firmware upgrade and wireless (currently Mac-only) connectivity mean it has gained unheard of flexibility, including using multiple D-Premiers in a preamp-less active mode.
Most Important Trend
Not one trend, but two. First, loudspeaker manufacturers are diversifying, adding WiFi to the latest bookshelf or turning those speaker-building smarts into headphone manufacture. Second, price stickers so large, you can see them from space!