The Best of CES 2014” out in February. However, this article doesn’t cover only the best stuff I saw at the big Consumer Electronics Show; here, I also talk about the absolute duds. Still, that’s a poor excuse for being a month late. Here goes.This is a bit late as these things go here at the SoundStage! Network -- Doug Schneider got his “
First, the misses.
While the Marten Coltrane Supreme II loudspeaker didn’t sound downright bad, it sure didn’t sound great. For the $450,000 USD a set of these costs, the implications are horrendous. C’mon, guys. Maybe the room acoustics were really poor, maybe the electronics were a bad match -- whatever the case, for the money being asked for a setup like this, the sound should be transcendent. It wasn’t.
In its annual online coverage, Stereophile was responsible for the most ridiculous CES-related posting. Basically, they reported on the announcement of a new Light Harmonic digital-to-analog converter that’s supposed to cost $120,000. But there’s no actual product -- not even a prototype, as far as I can tell. And why in the world does it cost $120,000? Well, we’re told it has seven digital inputs. But so does the Simaudio Moon Neo 380D, which costs only $4350. I could go on -- the real problem here is that while there is no product, there is a six-figure price tag. I wonder if the company is simply testing the waters to see if anyone will actually pay that much money for a DAC. I guess the Asian market is good these days.
I’m trying to remain optimistic about the new Krell power amplifiers. I really am. But fans? Styling reminiscent of Monster power conditioners? Power supplies that pale in comparison, at least in specs, to what they put in their behemoths of yore? I owned Krell amps for over a decade, from KRS-200s to FPBs. I yearn for an updated-to-present KSA-250. Can you imagine how many they would sell?
One of the most exciting product releases at CES 2014, for me at least, was the Aurender X100L music server ($3499). It will be reviewed here on April 1, so look for that. The key here is that Aurender has launched a product with every bit of the quality of their pricier S10 ($6990) at about half the price -- just less connectivity. What the audiophile community needs is a premium music server at a price that might tempt MacBook Pro owners into forgoing using their laptops as servers. Based on the number of e-mails (“Hey, is that thing any good?”) I’ve gotten from our staff, we might just have a winner.
The Magico S3 loudspeaker ($22,600/pair) sounded considerably better in every respect than the Marten Coltrane Supreme II -- which costs 20 times as much. I would dare to say that the Magico has more technology and premium parts, inside and out, than most superspeakers now on the market. This model offers crazy-good sound for its price -- for any price, actually. The S3 may have the highest ratio of cost to performance of any Magico model yet.
The NAD M22 stereo power amplifier ($2499) is one of those rare products that you want even before you hear it. I do, anyway. With a 250Wpc Hypex amplifier at its heart and casework that is pure high end, I fell in love with the overall concept. I want this thing to be ready now, so I can review it! Alas, we’ll have to wait till summer. But watch out for it.
The Wadia 321 Decoding Computer is slated to cost $3000 when it ships later this year. I would imagine that, with cosmetics to die for and what’s reported to be a really slick volume control, this model will attract a lot of customers. As long as its sound quality matches the great price and build, the 321 is the surest bet I’ve seen in the DAC market in some time.
A system comprising an Aurender X100L, a pair of Magico S3s, an NAD M22, and a Wadia 321 would retail for $31,598. Add a few grand for cables and you’re still under $40,000 for a system that, I have a strong feeling, would be the state of the art in many areas. Sure, 40 large is expensive, but for a SoundStage! Ultra-approved system it’s actually somewhat approachable for today's audiophile, especially if bought over time.
In 2014, the requirements for really successful high-end-audio products are at an all-time high: performance, styling, build quality, support -- all must be present in large quantities to trigger the strong desire to own them. Overpriced, underperforming, boring products that seem hamstrung by bad business decisions at the outset are doomed to fail. I hope audio manufacturers will see that the Asian market will support only so many six-figure monstrosities. I’d like to see a focus on products priced between a few thousand dollars and the middle five figures that inspire audiophiles to action. That’s what gets me excited. How about you?
. . . Jeff Fritz