This was also the year of high performance digital streaming at all prices. CD players were very thin on the ground – not simply new products, but there were far fewer CD players being used to demonstrate amps and speakers. Instead, there were some very fine electronics at all prices to play digital streaming files. The MQA system (Master Quality Authenticated) was gaining traction, with a number of labels and digital audio designers singing up to the format. Meanwhile at the lower end Gordon Rankin of AudioQuest announced a trio of USB ‘Digital Critters’ that range from $99 to $199, and Korean brand Aurender announced the A10 Caching Network Music Server, which is expected to cost around $5,000 and includes 2TB of on-board storage.
In fact, for once, this was a CES Specialty Audio show where the headline products were often the most affordable ones. Take ELAC’s new UB5 loudspeaker, or its Debut amplifier. The UB5s are $595 three-way loudspeakers that sounded better than many systems at the show costing tens of thousands of dollars. Or KEF’s excellent new Muo Bluetooth loudspeaker system that delivers the sonic goods better than you might ever expect given they stand as tall as a can of beer and cost ‘beer budget’.
The great thing about this is it puts the fun back into audio. It’s great that Wilson Audio announced the new $103,000 Alexx or that Audio Note is finalising a new $100,000 reference grade preamp, but with all the hushed tones and polite dinner jazz that surrounds top-spec launches, sometimes it’s great just to kick back and play some sounds on something unassuming, but utterly entertaining, like the new Naim Muso Qb. This little cube of musical greatness shrinks the size (and price) of the first Muso down smaller than ever, but still manages to sound musical, entertaining and fun.
I was also interviewed by Enjoy The Music about this show. Please point your browser at http://www.enjoythemusic.com/CES_2016/CES_2016_Live_Stream/Alan_Sircom_HiFi_Plus_Magazine_CES_2016.htm for a replay of the live stream.