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February 2010
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Las Vegas Shows And Other Thoughts
Article By Steven R. Rochlin
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CES  This year's Las Vegas 2010 shows, CES and T.H.E. Show 2010, was for me quite different than any other in the past 15 years. For one thing, it was the first time in 15 years that i missed a show. After reporting on approximately 100 shows i truly needed a break and so did not attend the 2009 events. Therefore, this year was with a more fresh set of eyes while looking over the landscape of high-end audio. My eyes saw many great new products with the welcoming of the ongoing direction of the industry. My eyes also saw things that mark the harsh reality of troubling times.

 

First The Good News
Three years ago at the Munich High End event, even after searching high and low, there were virtually no controller-preamplifiers that handled NAS or USB hard drive inputs to then stream my digital audio files. Virtually every audiophile that has heard a properly setup system like this has come away impressed. Like any technology, if critical music lovers like myself are impressed with these devices today we can only dream about their capabilities in the coming years. And that leads us into January 2010.

During the Las Vegas events there were many new devices that can control music files on USB devices, NAS drives and the like. It is also great to see innovation being so fast that manufacturers/programmers have expanded USB in such a way that the $150 M2Tech hiFace USB digital audio interface can handle 24-bit/192kHz (see review in this issue). Anyone who lived through the early DAC evolution was pained by the slow evolution to make 16-bit/44kHz sound... acceptable. Even today, nearly two decades later, many manufacturers are still finding ways to make CD sound closer to that of vinyl (in this writer's opinion). What should really impress many audiophiles is the ease in musicality that relatively inexpensive equipment playing 24-bit/192kHz files offer that some some very expensive dedicated CD players still struggle to obtain. This is far more apparent to my ears than the difference between Classic Records' audiophile releases of 45 rpm vinyl versus the same release at 33.3. Indeed, when it comes to digital replay more bits are much better.

 

And Now The Bad News
During the 2010 Las Vegas events is was stunning how many manufacturers decided to not attend either event. This is not necessarily a bad thing as with some it was a financial decision, as we are all aware of the current state of the worldwide economy and attending a show costs serious money. With others, they decided to attend the 2009 RMAF due to lower costs plus the ability to reach both the industry and directly with consumers since the RMAF is open to the public. Whatever the reason, the CES seemed to be short a full hotel floor or so plus a drastic reduction of large rooms on the main floor of the Venetian. T.H.E. Show also had fewer rooms and very much appreciate their organized layout versus having to travel 'extra steps' to find rooms off the normal path.

So by now You may be saying, "Steven, this all sounds like good things for the most part, so what is the bad news?" Well, the bad news being that there is still no concerted effort to bring awareness of high-end audio to mainstream consumers. Well, maybe like Patek Philippe watches, fountain pens and the like, perhaps high-end audio is better off not being mainstream. Why? Because like the big cigar smoking bandwagon in 1999, quality may suffer once a brand becomes too mainstream. So the bad news is actually good news, as i'd prefer to have truly high-end produces versus items that are 'good enough'. If you want good enough, Oppo and the like are there with impressive products for reasonable money. There is better of course... at appropriate price points.

 

Yet There Is Great News!
Virtually every modern computer nowadays, at lest the ones better than a netbook or ultra-low scale machine, can handle 24-bit/192kHz music. Even if they can't, small $150 devices like the M2Tech hiFace USB digital audio interface allows for the use of an external DAC for those seeking more from their musical pleasures. You want even more? Antelope Audio, the brainchild of Igor Levin who is best known for creating the AardSync, offers their Zodiac line of very high resolution digital to analog converters that can handle upwards of 384 kHz. The custom clocking AFC (Acoustically Focused Clocking) is integrated into Zodiac design and is based on a 64-bit timing engine. When i was mastering THTST Drum and Percussion test album, the software i chose worked in the 64-bit domain so i felt confident the 24-bit master would not be harmed. While i have no clue as to how soon we may see 64-bit/384kHz music, it is good to know that we are seeing some devices that are making their way towards that goal. So if you love 24/96 now, five years from now we may look at today's "high resolution" files and think of them like CD of decades ago. Technology is a wonderful thing! Of course in the end what really matters is that you...

Enjoy the Music,

Steven R. Rochlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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