Most CES high-end audio exhibits are clustered in the aforementioned upper floors of the Venetian Hotel, although by tradition some high-end headphone manufacturers continue to exhibit in the LVCC’s South Hall. Added to this, there are also unofficial off piste high-end demonstration areas at the Mirage Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and elsewhere.
This year Hi-Fi+ decided to try a new approach, assigning representatives to cover specific geographic areas for reporting purposes. Editor Alan Sircom took the Venetian Expo Hall and floors 31, 34, 35 (where the upper floors have fewer but larger exhibit suites); yours truly (Publisher Chris Martens) took the more densely populated Venetian floor 30 plus key LVCC South Hall headphone exhibits; and new Hi-Fi+ contributor Sydney Schips handled the also very densely populated Venetian floor 29. Each of us will be preparing show reports.
In any report like this one, despite our best efforts, it is inevitable that some worthy manufacturers will go unmentioned. Please know that this is not by intent and no slights are intended; more often than not, it’s simply a matter of too much show to see and hear, coupled with not enough time in the day. Still, we try our best…
Electronics, Source Components, and Servers/Streamers
Absolare showed its new 85 Wpc, valve-type, Passion 845 PushPull monoblock amplifiers ($40,000/pair) featuring—you guessed it—push-pull circuitry. Each amplifier uses 2 x 845, 2 x EL34, and 1 x 12at7 valves, and the amp is said to provide “substantial operating mode in Class A.” Words cannot easily express how visually and sonically elegant and refined these components really are.
Acoustical Systems showed three related analogue products at CES: the Archon moving coil phono cartridge ($4,000), the very exotic Axiom tonearm ($22,500, complete with Acoustical Systems’ famous Arche headshell), and the Helox record clamp ($750).
The French firm Atoll Electronique debuted its powerful and full-featured HD 120 headphone amp/DAC/preamp at CES. As our accompanying photo shows, the HD 120 can be paired with a companion MA 100 stereo power amplifier ($800) that puts out 80 Wpc @ 4 Ohms and features discrete class A/B circuitry.
The HD120 offers two analogue inputs, a coaxial S/PDIF input (32/384), an optical input (24/192), a USB-B asynchronous input (24/192), a Bluetooth input, two 6.35mm headphone outputs, and a set of analogue preamp outputs. High-quality parts abound, with the unit including an ALPS volume control, Burr-Brown PCM 5102 DAC, and premium quality resistors and capacitors. A volume control is optional. Best of all, the unit offers generous continuous headphone power output of 1.4 watts @ 32 Ohms and peak power of 6.8 watts into that same load.
AURALiC’s CES presence revolved around the ever-growing capabilities of the firm’s clever ARIES Bridge Streamer ($1,599), which has the rather remarkable capability of turn most any high-performance DAC into an exceptionally capable Wi-Fi or Ethernet connected streamer. Inputs for the ARIES include high-speed Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, or a USB 2.0 port (for connecting USB storage directly to the ARIES), while outputs include coaxial and optical S/PDIF ports, and AES EBU port, and a USB port. When Attached DACs are up to the task, the ARIES can stream digital audio data at up to 32-bit/384kHz resolutions (PCM) or DSD 64 or DSD 128 rates.
Most importantly, the ARIES come bundled with AURALiC’s very sophisticated Lightning DS app, which presently runs on modern generation iPads for maximum convenience. Functionality for the ARIES and its Lightning DS app expands on an almost monthly basis, and the ARIES hardware module is set up so that it can be auto-updated on a regular basis. One example of just such a functionality increase would be AURALiCs beautiful integration of TIDAL streaming music functions under the ARIES/Lightning DS system (where the AURALiC version is called Tidalic). The beauty of the system is that it is very good in the here and now, while continuing to get better month-by-month.