On Thursday, September 7, the 2017 CEDIA Expo opened at the San Diego Convention Center, displaying what is surely the world’s largest assortment of audio and video gear designed for custom installation. The CEDIA Expo focuses mostly on large home-theater systems, in-wall and in-ceiling audio systems, and outdoor audio products, but it also tends to feature a good number of stereo music products and often a smattering of mass-market stuff such as headphones and Bluetooth speakers.
I always enjoy smaller, regional events such as the Los Angeles Audio Show, which debuted this weekend at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel, because they often include lesser-known companies that would likely get lost in the noise (literally and figuratively) at the big national and international shows. I found several interesting new speakers at LAAS, from conservatively engineered models to some of the most interesting designs I’ve ever seen. As with my electronics article, I focused on smaller companies here because we’ve covered most of the big-name launches in our CES and High End reports. All prices in USD.
The Los Angeles Audio Show 2017, taking place at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel, hosted a wide variety of audio electronics manufacturers displaying products ranging from the most elite high-end amps, preamps, and DACs to electronics costing just a few hundred dollars. Most of the big players in the audio industry launched their new electronics at CES, held in Las Vegas in January, or High End, which was last month in Munich, so I’ve decided to focus here on less well-known companies whose new products we haven’t yet covered. All prices in USD.
I’ve attended many demos of MQA, a technology that compresses high-resolution audio files down to the size of standard-resolution files, and claims to correct “time smearing” problems in the process. I found those demos unconvincing. Most played MQA files on their own without comparing them with the original files or with the uncompressed high-res files. I got one reasonably decent MQA demo at the 2016 T.H.E. Show Newport, but I heard nothing in the MQA-processed pop and rock recordings to convince me that MQA was a significant sonic advance.
The first Los Angeles Audio Show kicked off on Friday at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel, just down the street from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). For a first-time effort, it seemed pretty successful, with five floors of exhibits and a few big-name brands such as Sony and Harman joining the usual slew of high-end boutique brands.
When we come to cover High End, we mostly focus on product debuts, as we do at every show. Never have we had something to debut ourselves. Until now.
Here’s my second round of cool desktop and compact systems from the 2017 version of Munich’s High End. Note that the Constellation Audio Leo, a high-end all-in-one product, isn’t included here because we’ve already written about it elsewhere. Prices in euros or USD as specified.
Every time I told someone that I was covering racks and stands at Munich’s High End, they laughed. Why doesn’t this category get more respect? After all, every one of us audio enthusiasts uses these things, and they can improve the performance of a system as much as they improve the look. I picked out a few of the coolest racks and stands from High End 2017 to share with you here, with prices in euros or USD as specified.
Here’s the second part of my coverage of over-ear and on-ear headphones from Munich’s High End show -- starting off with what were in many ways the most impressive headphones of the show for me. Prices in euros or USD as indicated.
Many headphone enthusiasts prefer to run their cans off an optimized portable rig rather than a big stay-at-home amp. These days, they have all sorts of options, including products that can compete with the best of the large home components. In fact, some of these products are good enough that audiophiles use them in their home systems, too.
Let’s talk Elac. Since famed loudspeaker designer Andrew Jones -- previously of KEF, TAD, and Pioneer -- joined the German firm a few years ago, the company’s been on a tear. Speaker line after speaker line have emerged from its labs, from the super-affordable Debut line to the upscale Uni-Fi and now the innovative Adante line. Not only that, Elac has begun dabbling in active loudspeakers, and it now offers a range of electronic components. The company also recently acquired United States-based Audio Alchemy, and has begun folding that company’s pint-sized electronics into its own catalog of SKUs. In an industry so often defined by its complacency and adherence to rigid paradigms, Elac seems to be looking and moving forward with serious alacrity.
Nothing gets me amped up more than a budget-oriented integrated amplifier with a built-in DAC -- I’m a simple guy. I spent the bulk of my morning on the third day of the High End show on the prowl for just that, and came up with a few cool new products that most anyone could afford.
In last year’s High End report, I raved about Princeton University professor Edgar Choueiri’s great demo of his BACCH-SP system, which uses in-ear microphones to measure the way your ears perceive the sound from your system, then uses digital signal processing to cancel crosstalk between the left and right speakers and produce an incredibly realistic stereo soundstage. Great as the demo was, though, the $54,000 processor seemed more like an awesome science project than a real product.
Sure, Munich’s High End is mostly about component audio, but many of the companies now offering component audio gear see how much more popular today’s simpler, compact all-in-one systems are, and many are moving to get in on the act. Here’s my first of two reports on desktop and compact music systems from the 2017 High End show. Prices in euros or USD as indicated.
It really is a terrific time to be an audiophile on a budget. Terms like low-fi and mid-fi are, to my mind, pretty condescending to an integrated amplifier or floorstanding loudspeaker that happens to cost less than $2000 -- and possibly far less! -- but may punch far beyond its weight class. Thanks to the rapid advances in Chinese production and quality control, once-boring vinyl-clad, folded-box loudspeakers have flourished into surprisingly handsome and grown-up furniture. I am continually surprised when, every few years, the heavy hitters of audio update a range of speakers and, for a modest increase in price, offer a disproportionately large jump in material and build quality, to say nothing of aesthetics. Such is the case this year with KEF having updated its Q series, and Monitor Audio its Silver series of loudspeakers, with both storied English brands having airdropped their wares a thousand kilometers due east of Normandy.
Much of the action in headphone amps has shifted over to portable music players and amplifiers, but there are still plenty of people who want to plug their headphones into a high-quality amp, sit at home in a nice, quiet environment, and listen to their music in peace. The High End show has plenty of new headphone amps on display. Here are my favorites I’ve seen so far, with prices in euros or USD as indicated.
Every High End show seems to bring with it a raft of monstrous new loudspeakers from boutique brands with retail prices comfortably in six-figure territory. Most are tall, heavy, and a bit gaudy to behold, and they nearly always sport off-the-shelf drivers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. As one unnamed manufacturer mentioned to me today, “You could sell anything to somebody at this show.” I don’t doubt it. But I’d much, much prefer to dedicate my time to loudspeakers that aren’t just drivers in a big ol’ box. For less than €50,000/pair you could own any of the loudspeakers below and be secure in the knowledge that you couldn’t do much better -- if at all.
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