Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Dynaudio

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by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Digital amps and active speakers. Now combine the two.

I’m neither a big fan of digital amps (other than the difficult to classify Devialet amps which are slaved to one watt of pure Class-A power) or active speakers, so these Dynaudio’s aren’t my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but they bring an awful lot to the table for me, or anyone else to summarily dismiss them with any SET/two-way speaker illness. So forgive me my sins and please read on.

Dynaudio‘s Focus 600 XD loudspeakers ($13,500 US) are capable of directly streaming 24/192 files (very cool) – or whatever else you want via wireless and they sport a plethora of digital and analog inputs to boot. The amps are all seamlessly integrated not only with the multiple drivers but in-room as well through the black magic of digital DSP. With four on board 150-watt digital amps (one per driver; two bass units, one midrange unit and a soft-domed tweeter) the sound has scale and slam.

The big 600’s were being fed via an Airport Express and a 2TB Aurender N100H ($2,700 US) high-resolution server and player which supports both USB and NAS.

Like TIDAL? It’s built in.

I’m a less-is-more kind of guy, so the uber-clean look of this set up gets a high-five from me big time and from, I’m sure, those designer types who prefer white walls, concrete floors and lots and lots of glass. For someone looking for a rig that can produce a clean, clear and bouncy sound that will deliver audiophile-grade files via wireless with built-in amps and enough inputs to please the most diehard digital purist, Dynaudio has you covered. Simple, straightforward and very well thought out, this setup will please a lot of people. For those looking to spend less, or with smaller real-world spaces, check out the 200 XD.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!

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Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Endeavor, Pure Audio, Oracle, Snake River, Aurender and Berkeley

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THEShow_LOGO2015Folks reading the interwebs tend to be sensitive to some of the buddy-buddy relationships the hobbyist press corps has with some of the manufacturers. Keeping that in mind, this room, presented by Malibu dealer Sweet Spot High End and shared with Colleen Cardas Imports, requires a few disclaimers.

The first, and most obvious disclaimer, is that Marc Phillips, the hairier partner in CCI, occasionally writes think pieces and cigar reviews for our parent site, Confessions of a Part-Time Audiophile. The second disclaimer is that I tend to be a big fan of Leif Swanson’s Endeavor Speakers. The third is that nobody in their right mind trusts me to be nice in print just because we’re chummy at the bar. Heck, I’m not even all that nice at the bar.

Still, I have to admit that familiarity made me look forward to this room. It offered an amplification chain sourced from New Zealand’s Pure Audio, including the American debut of Pure Audio’s Duo stereo amplifier ($9,500). Scot recently raved about Pure Audio’s other electronics, and I was curious to see how this Class A/B chassis would compare to the frightening dynamics that their monoblocks showed at last year’s RMAF.

The system was fronted by an Oracle Delphi MK VI Gen 2 turntable ($10,000) with a SME 5 arm ($7750) and an Oracle Corinth Cartridge (price not listed). Pure Audio’s Vinyl phono preamp ($4,500) did the correction duties. Even with that heavy hitting lineup, the real star was Marc’s crate of vinyl. He pulled out an old copy of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s take on Rachmaninoff, and the gear basically faded into insignificance next to that particular freight train. You don’t get this kind of synergy in most show rooms, and it’s a little hard to be analytical when the experience is so captivatingly natural. Still, I think it’s safe to say that there’s a big, green check mark next to “dynamics.”

Other gear in the room included a full loom of Snake River Audio‘s Signature cabling, an Aurender N10 music server ($8,000), and a Berkeley Audio Design Reference DAC ($16,000 base). Sadly, I didn’t listen to much (read: “any”) digital while I was in the room. Gear can be fun, but it’s not every day that you get to raid the Vinyl Anachronist‘s back records.

We all have our priorities.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!

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High End 2015

High End 2015: Aurender

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HE15_Logo_GB_01The company whose name has become a synonym for high quality music streamers was presenting their reference portable DAC and headphone amplifier during the Munich High End show.

Starting with the looks let me tell you that the Flow is absolutely stunning! And I am not the only one to say so, it has received the prestigious Red-Dot Award for 2015, too, with the jury stating that the Flow’s “soft lines along the top of the device simplify access to this technical product. In addition, the control concept with a rotary knob and easily accessible lateral is a convincing feature” and I could not agree more, it just feels right. One can sense the construction quality that Aurender is famous for as soon as he gets his hands on one of the products. The single piece of milled aluminum sets the Flow above anything else in the semi-portable DAC/ headphone amp category. ir_attachment_1524

I would not call the Flow a typical portable solution for two reasons. First, the size is not small enough to fit in your pocket (you would need a back pack to carry it around) and it can accommodate a solid state drive (SSD) up to 1 TB. This feature combined with a DAC designed around the ESS SABRE 9018 chip capable of PCM 32/384 and double DSD playback, hybrid USB/ battery power and a headphone amplifier strong enough to drive most of today’s top of the line headphones, translates into a bombshell of a device!

I did not waste time with the stands music selection, instead I plugged in my HTC mini 8 cell phone and played tunes with my current favorite app, Hiby Music, trying to explore the limits of this combo which included the Sennheiser HD 800 as well; there were none. The Flow pushed the HD 800 headphones with ease while keeping their notorious necessity for quality source and amplification more than satisfied. I must have passed maybe half an hour fiddling around with the Flow and listened to everything from Thievery Corporation and Lizz Write all the way to classic audiophile picks such as the “Song of the Nightingale” in DSD. There was texture, instrument separation and some of the most convincing vocal timbres I have ever heard from a relatively small device, one that can stand in the palm of my hand. (Editor’s Note: check out the full review, here.)

Before leaving the booth, I had to admire the quality of the Aurender products in general, laying in the back there was the complete line of streamers with clear covers, just check the pictures below. Layout and quality in the construction is so good that it would embarrass several so-called high-end manufacturers.

Scot adds:

Also new: the new N10 server, retailing for $8,000. This is a replacement for the S10, their first entree into the super-server product category. There’s 240GB of SSD storage for caching (a big bump from the S10’s 64GB), as well as 4TB for local on-board storage. There’s an upgraded Ethernet input for connecting to a NAS and/or Tidal’s streaming service. The standard outputs, including USB, Toslink, Coax and AES/EBU are joined by a BNC input. Another big upgrade: a “fully linear” power supply, instead of the “hybrid” version found in the outgoing model. Availability scheduled for later this summer, though the website is saying “June 2015”.

Also also new: the new N100H server ($2,700). The “H” designation is for “harddrive”, adding 2TB of local storage for the N100’s streaming capabilities. This is a $200 upgrade to the base N100 model, and basically makes it into a full-service offering. Assuming USB-output is sufficient, of course. The other S/PDIF outputs (Toslink, Coax, AES/EBU or BNC) are becoming “speciality offerings”, and are all reserved for the more upscale models.

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Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

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AXPONA 2015

AXPONA 2015: Essential Audio with AudioKinesis, Atma-Sphere, Exogal, Aurender, Kuzma

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by Josh Emmons

I’m sitting in the Essential Audio room, notepad open, pen in hand. Eyes unfocused, listening intently. But writing nothing.

And I should be writing something. It’s my job to write something. But I’m not hearing anything. Well, okay, that’s obviously untrue. I’m hearing some fantastic music. But it’s not my job to talk about music. I’m supposed to talk about how the music sounds. And I just can’t figure it out. So I’m going to talk about The Matrix.

Do you remember that moment when Agent Smith reveals to a drugged Morpheus how the first version of the Matrix failed horribly? It was designed to be a perfect paradise, but our human brains rejected it as obviously unreal. Without little imperfections to hang on to, our consciousness had no way to relate to what we were experiencing.

As I’ve made much hay from already, this is my first hi-fi show. And as such, I rarely know going into a room what I’m supposed to be listening for. So I sit in the sweet spot, close my eyes, and listen for imperfection.

Once my ears catch it, I can tease it out. Does it reoccur? What is that, a frequency thing? Or something with the timber of the treble, maybe something resonating? Is it too bright? Is it the amp? The cables?

So I sit in the Essential Audio room, and I’m hearing nothing. And I’m writing nothing. And my overall impression is, “This sounds okay.”

This is how we end up with Beats headphones, loudness wars, saturated TVs, and Pepsi ever winning the Pepsi Challenge. If we aren’t given imperfections we have no way to differentiate our experiences from “normal”. If it’s not deeper, louder, brighter, or sweeter, it’s “okay”.

Consider that, by definition, the more natural something is, the less remarkable we find it. And so it is with the Essential Audio room. It is not okay. It is exceptionally okay. Surpassingly normal. It is incredibly, unbelievably natural.

And why? At least part of credit lies at the feet of the AudioKinesis Zephrin 46. I mean literally at its feet. If you haven’t seen a 46 before its rear drivers are mounted in its feet pointing up to provide what AudioKinesis calls Late Ceiling Splash.

After learning about LCS, I expected to hear a slight echo or even subtle chorus-like sound from the Zephrin. But that’s not at all how it works. I would say the effect is completely transparent, but for how life-like the system sounds. Its front-facing beryllium compression driver probably doesn’t hurt in this respect, either.

Still, if you’re building your sound up with late reflections and reverberant fields, you want your source saturated with as much depth and space as possible. That’s the job of the twin Atma-Sphere M-60 monoblocks. They’re huge, have VUs, and are full of tubes. Hand wired, fully point-to-point, and continuously refined for over three decades, these amps are the undisputed heavyweight champs of OTL.

These are fed with signal decoded by Exogal‘s Comet Plus DAC. Here’s the thing to know about Exogal, these guys know their DSP. They cut their teeth in other industries like wireless broadband, GPS, image processing and more before bringing it all back to the PCM decoding scene. This DAC does magical D to A in ways never before seen in the hi-fi community.

All this resting on a very handsome rack from Teo Audio that, at first, looks like it’s molded out of some sort of injected insulation material, but upon closer inspection is actually metallic. I have no idea what they did to aerate metal and cast it into shelves, but the look is striking.

So when it comes down to it the Essential Audio recipe for a shockingly natural sounding system is pretty unnatural sounding. Whip some metal up into foam. Take signal processing technology from cell phones, use it to decode bits that get piped through an amp that’s completely omitted the transformer from its output stage to drive a pair of “Z” shaped speakers that have two-thirds of their cones pointing at the ceiling.

The result is remarkably unremarkable. Unnaturally natural. Indescribable only in as much as there’s nothing to describe that’s not the thing being described. If you’re ever in the Illinois area, you simply have to stop by Essential Audio for a personal audition.

It’s then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

Prices

  • Aurender N100 Music Player: $2,499
  • Aurender X100L Music Player: $3,499
  • Exogal Comet Plus DAC: $3,000
  • Atma-Sphere UV-1 pre with low ourput MC photo section: $2,900
  • Atma-Sphere M-60 MkIII.2 amp with copper foil V-Cap options: $7,700/pr.
  • AudioKinesis Zephrin 46 loudspeakers: $4,900/pr., beryllium compression drivers: $1,000/pr., Automotive paint finish: $1,000/pr.
  • Kuzma Stabi SD Turntable: $2,550, Stogi S CS tonearm: $1,425, Stogi S 12 VTA tonetarm: $3,150, CAR-40 cartridge: $1,195
  • Clarity Cable Vortex power cords: $750/ea. Power Distributors: $1,200/ea., Organic USB, 1.5m: $1,000, Organic Speaker Cables, 8ft.: $3,750/pr.
  • Teo Audio Equipment Rack: $7,500
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AXPONA 2015

AXPONA 2015: The Voice That Is, with TIDAL, Bricasti, Aurender, Purist Audio Design, Silver Circle

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Doug White of The Voice That Is built a gorgeous system around the TIDAL Contriva GS speakers ($69,690 as shown), easily the best looking speakers at the show. Note that this speaker is also a complete reworking of the Contriva Diacera SE loudspeakers. From TIDAL:

The all new successor of the worldwide praised TIDAL Contriva Diacera SE (2007-2014). We did not let things as they were, all is completely new with the Contriva G2. Like with iconic design classics improving does not mean changing. It means making dimensions and proportions better while strictly continuing and following the generic and unique design of it. So we made the Contriva G2 45mm less tall, 5mm less wide and we gave it 3° degree more slope to give it a more dynamic and elegant look while improving also the sonic dispersion of it.

The cabinet is made out of TIRADUR, TIDAL’s proprietary cabinet material for this 102 Kg beauty. Also we equipped it with all new BCC drivers, a complete new x-over design, an all new terminal with TIDAL’s completely new pure silver binding posts. The result is the very best midsize speaker we ever built.

The source was a Bricasti M1 ($8,995) fed by an Aurender W20 ($17,600).

Amplification also came from TIDAL, with the unbelievable, three chassis, Presencio Preamplifier ($77,990) feeding a pair of Impulse monoblocks ($64,990 per pair).

Everything was wired together with Purist Audio Design cables, and everything was sitting on Stillpoints. Power distribution came from the massive Silver Circle Tchaik 6.

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CanJam SoCal 2015

CanJam SoCal 2015, Part 3: Amplification

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All photos courtesy of Lee Shelly Photography (http://leeshellyphoto.com/)

By Lee Shelly

Schiit Audio

CanJam_SoCal_2015_AnnouncementThe first stop I made (pre- show!), was to the Schiit booth. When I got there, Jason Stoddard was fighting with his flagship system … no sound was coming out … yikes. Fortunately, it turned out to be an issue with his laptop. A quick restart and all was right with the world.

And when I mean it was right, it was REALLY right!

I sat down and listened to the Yggdrasil DAC feeling the massive $1,699 Ragnaok (Old Norse for “End of the World”). It was appropriately named to be sure! Raggy, as Jason calls it, can deliver a staggering 15wpc into a 32Ω load through the balanced headphone output. Yet, with a variable gain, the Raggy will also deliver a silent noise floor to even the most sensitive IEM’s. And for those looking to drive loudspeakers, Raggy will deliver 60wpc into an 8Ω speaker load and a whopping 100wpc into a 4Ω load!

I spent some time in a quiet space with a prototype Raggy a few months back and found it transcendent. This time, using the Mr. Speakers Ether and Audeze LCD- X and under only semi-quiet show conditions, did absolutely nothing to change that opinion, especially when fed by the upcoming Yggdrasil DAC ( … which I’ll cover in Part 4).

Schiit was also showing their (very) full line of amps, that start at $79. That includes the USB DAC/Amp, the Fulla, the Mani 2 (and Mani 2 Über), the micro-tube based Vali, the solid-state Asgard 2, the OTL tube Valhalla 2, the tube hybrid Lyr 2, the all-balanced Gungnir and the aforementioned Ragnarok. They have Schiit for every budget and sonic preference. Continue reading

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CES 2015

CES 2015: Aurender rocks hard on the digital audio toys

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ces-logoComputer audio is hard. This is a gong I’ve beaten on before, so it really shouldn’t be surprising that I’m still hitting it. Hard, you say? What’s so hard about it? You just [insert list of steps that you would never write down to hand to your mother-in-law], and “it works!” Ta da! Yeah.

The fact is that there is the set of people that are more-than-computer-literate and the set of people that are audiophiles. Those are not necessarily the same, mind, but I suspect that there is some significant overlap. But there are a good many of folks left out — and the idea of buying a Windows PC and tweaking the living daylights out of it, much less installing an audio-specific Linux distro on it, working out all the drivers and scripts necessary to have it actually sound good instead of just make sounds, is more than a little daunting. Just is. Sorry.

Which is exactly why companies like Aurender are out there. And why they’re thriving.

While they weren’t necessarily the first to market with an “audiophile-grade” music server, they are one of the most respected. There’s a reason — the servers are bullet-proof, relatively easy to use, and they sound incredible. And yes, using one actually does change the sound of your system. In my case, the change was rather dramatic. I guess that makes me a fan.

South Korea’s Aurender has a couple of new things coming out at CES, to supplement their existing line of audiophile-grade music servers. The first thing that caught my eye was the new Flow, a battery-powered headphone amplifier/computer audio digital-to-analog converter. If you’re thinking “Chord Hugo”, you’re spot-on; this is a direct competitor to the UK brand’s class-leading offering. And at $1,295, it’s almost half the price. Hmmm. More details:

  • User-installable mSATA slot for up to 1TB of SSD storage, making entire music collections portable
  • Very low noise floor for ultra sensitive custom IEMs
  • Ability to power even the most hard-to-drive headphones
  • 6.35 phi standard headphone jack
  • 32bit/384kHz, DSD64/128 DAC
  • 0.5dB velocity-sensitive volume & playback control

Did you catch that first bit? Yeah. MicroSD is so over. I can slap an SSD hard drive in this bad boy and get almost 10x the storage — to go. Sweet!

Want more? Catch Nathan’s review over at Headfonia.

In a strikingly sideways move, Aurender was also showing off their newest toy, the Cast-Fi 7. For $399, you get a “Hi Quality HDMI Docking Speaker”. If that doesn’t make sense, think of Google’s Chromecast, or Roku, or any of the other HDMI-dongle services that deliver video streaming directly to your TV, all without the need for a computer or disc player. So, yes, the Cast-Fi 7 is a TV. Sort of.

It sports a hi-res 7″ Samsung LCD screen, and the color and motion are quite good. There’s a credible bi-amped 2-way speaker built-in, with a 3″ woofer. It’s also the cutest little thing! 8 lbs, solid aluminum, and it sounds pretty freakin’ great. Of all the things I saw and heard at CES this year, this was the only one I was seriously tempted to buy on the spot. No, seriously. Fine, I really have no idea why it’s so tempting, but being able to watch videos on my desktop (maybe for binge-watching Archer episodes from NetFlix, as a possible completely-random example), or play music streamed directly from Pandora, without having to touch my laptop … I dunno. It’s really nifty. I can imagine having one in the kitchen. At my desk. In the can. At my desk in the can. TMI? Anyway, yeah. Yeah, I’m getting one.

But that’s not all ….

Aurender was also showing a network-streamer version of the computer audio server that John Grandberg was so taken with, called the N100. It is, to all appearances, a X100 without the spinning local storage — all content is pulled from the network, either in a streaming service (like Tidal HiFi, where native support is rumored to be perhaps “coming soon”) or a NAS. At $2,499, this marks something of a bargain related to the $3,499 of the X100L, so if you’re savvy enough to pull the drive, this might be a marvelous way to seriously upgrade your in-rack computer audio requirements.

But that’s not all ….

Also shown was the X725. Also offered at $2,499, the X725 is a DAC + digital amplifier! Paired with the X100 music server, Aurender is offering a fully in-house solution for those that might value synergy … and a shared aesthetic. Want a second system? Here you go. Some features:

  • Designed for quiet operation
  • USB interface for high quality audio
  • Auxiliary optical SPDIF input (useful for connecting additional audio sources, including CD players.)
  • Supports all major high resolution audio formats
  • Plays up to 24/192kHz, DSD64/128 in native mode
  • Power rating : 100W per channel at 8 ohms, THD+N 0.01%
  • IR remote controller

The X725, with the matching X100L or N100, can be purchased separately, of course. But! It can also be purchased together in a bundle. The X-PAC bundle, which features a X100 with 6 TB of on-board storage, for $5,999. Opt for the network-only N100, and that N-PAC price would be $4,999. Okay, not much of a saving, but it’s convenient.

I have some Aurender products now, so expect some reviews in the months to come.

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CAS 2014

CAS 2014: MIT Cables with Magico, Constellation, and Berkeley

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Dyn_CAS-logo-2Since MIT (Music Interface Technologies) Cables put this room together, it only seems fair to talk about the cables first, for once. MIT was demoing their new SL-Matrix 50 interconnects ($4,999) and SL-Matrix 90 speaker cables ($9,999). These are available in both balanced and single-ended versions. Reputedly, these have been designed to optimize the mid-range of a system, and they feature adjustable impedance switching. They represent a smaller and sleeker adaptation of MIT’s classic technology, at a lower price. The SL-Matrix USB cable ($499) was also in use.

All this cable strung together a pretty fine system: Magico S5 Speakers ($32,500 in brilliant M-Coat orange) took pride of place, with Constellation Audio‘s Inspiration Preamp 1.0 ($9,000) and stereo amp ($10,000) providing the oomph. The new Berkeley Audio Designs Alpha DAC Reference Series ($14,000) was in use, in conjunction with the Alpha USB ($1,895). The Aurender W20 music server ($17,200) provided the tuneage. Continue reading

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CAF 2014

CAF 2014: The Voice That Is reaches for stars with TIDAL Audio, Bricasti and Aurender

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I’m pretty sure it’s a sign of old age when you start referring to your stories by number. Or maybe it’s just superior indexing? Ah, well. Anyway, audio story #1,287 is about Doug White at The Voice That Is. Doug is an audio dealer, and brings in several upscale product lines to serve his Philadelphia-centered clientele, including TIDAL Audio, Bricasti, and several others. My story starts with me calling Doug, asking some impertinent question or other, and Doug refusing to quote me a price, much less sell me something.

Honestly, I can’t even remember what it was I was asking after. But the fact that he refused to do business with me is what really sticks out. A dealer, refusing to make money? Seriously? Seriously. Doug isn’t a slash-and-burn sales guy. He’s a consultant and takes that role seriously: “If I sell this to you, you’re not going to like it and you’re going to blame me and never call me again,” he explained. “I think I can help you get where you want to be, but we are going to have to spend some time figuring out what that is. When we have a goal, we can work on a solution. That’s the value I bring.” I’m paraphrasing, but this was perhaps the first time I’d ever encountered a commercial sales rep actually doing this kind of thing — sacrificing the quick sale for the chance at earning a customer long-term. I was, and still am, very impressed with Doug and his ethical standards and he remains one of the very few audio dealers I can unequivocally recommend doing business with.

Now that I’ve blown all this smoke up in his general direction, we can talk about what he did to all of us at CAF this year. Because it was amazing.

Continue reading

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