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    CES 2015

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    CES 2015 is in the can and I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that I didn’t make it to nearly as many rooms as I wanted to and I didn’t spend enough time in the rooms I visited. Without an editorial staff it’s impossible to do this show any justice. For the most part, what I saw was great. The new Ravenna based network DAC from Merging Technologies, the NADAC, looks promising. It has the ability to output from two to sixteen channels and should be priced around $6,000 - $7,000. One of the best sounding rooms I stumbled into during the entire show was that of Nagra. The Swiss manufacture demonstrated prototype amplifiers that were part of a system featuring the HD DAC and a MacBook Air. The sound was delicate and stayed in my mind throughout the entire four days of CES.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] Devialet focussed heavily on Phantom by featuring nearly ten units in its room. This was my second opportunity to hear Phantom and I really enjoyed what I heard. I talked to a few audio engineers, from companies other than Devialet, about the Phantom because I wanted to get more opinions on the technology. Most engineers agree the Phantom is an engineering marvel. This year Magico moved its demonstration from the Venetian to the Mirage and put on a terrific sonic display. The Q7 loudspeakers paired with the Q Sub produced sound that I could have listened to for hours on end. The delicacy, depth, and cleanliness of the sound was as good as I can ever remember a Magico trade show demonstration. The sound was assisted by Soulution electronics and the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha RS DAC. My favorite sound of the show was heard at the dCS room. The dCS Vivaldi stack drove Dan D’agostino amplifiers directly which drove Rockport speakers wonderfully. I sat in the dCS room for about forty-five minutes, going through track after track on my USB stick. The sound wasn’t perfect (the amps and speakers were fresh from the factories), but it was very good. I didn’t want to leave the dCS room but after a while I felt as if I was hogging the playback system. TAD demonstrated its CE-1 (Compact Evolution 1) loudspeaker for the first time. The sound engineer Andrew Jones reproduced through these speakers at the show was terrific. One interesting point about these speakers is the interchangeable side panels. The standard options of metal, black, and white can be augmented by nearly any design. Andrew had a custom design done by the Neal Feay Company on hand to demonstrate one possibility (photo below). The most convincing demonstration of the week was put on by Linn. Linn demonstrated the power of its Exakt technology through an A-B-A listening session. I first heard the fully active system without the Exakt component in the playback chain. Linn followed this by quickly switching cables to route through the Exakt box. The difference was audible but nothing compared to what I heard when the Linn team switched back to the original un-Exakt system. I was floored at how much better Exakt can make a system sound. This was definitely a demo I won’t forget.

     

    One of the most hyped technologies of CES 2015 was Merdian’s MQA (Master Quality Authenticated). After sitting through thirty minutes of MQA talk by Meridian I remain unconvinced that MQA is a good thing. One reason is the demonstration put on by Merdian compared a 128 kbps MP3 file to a 1100 kbps MQA version, both from the master tapes. No matter the reason and justification for this demonstration, I still think it’s a bit disingenuous. Another reason I remain unconvinced is that, I believe, MQA is NOT lossless. Meridian claims MQA is lossless, but I believe it only claims audibly lossless, not lossless in the normal use of the term. I checked with a couple engineers at the show and each confirmed MQA wasn’t lossless in the traditional sense of the word. I think there will be many discussions to come about MQA.

     

    Also in the Meridian room I received a demonstration of the next generation Sooloos software. I’m not a liberty to discuss what I saw and what I was told, but I can say it was absolutely awesome.

     

    CES 2015 Photo Gallery

     

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    What's the price of the CE1? Also, did Andrew say anything further about the future of TAD?

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    What's the price of the CE1? Also, did Andrew say anything further about the future of TAD?

    I believe the ce-1 will be around $25,000. Andrew made no comments about the future of TAD. Have you heard rumors?

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    I believe the ce-1 will be around $25,000. Andrew made no comments about the future of TAD. Have you heard rumors?

     

    Oh, wow, more than I expected actually. I wonder how it will compare to the E1 then.

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    John Quick of dCS said the Rockport speakers were the first and only pair and were broken in. I don't know about the amps.

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    "I believe, MQA is NOT lossless. Meridian claims MQA is lossless, but I believe it only claims audibly lossless, not lossless in the normal use of the term."

     

    Maybe the "normal use of the term" does not apply to the MQA format...

     

    Redbook is not lossless either. After all, you're cutting everything above 22.05kHz (or lower) and what about this ugly quantization process? Huh...

     

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    I read in another forum elsewhere that the coolest thing about CES won't be discussed until March and to forget everything you know about music servers and delivery of computer audio files....

     

    No more info was revealed but it is from someone in the biz. Any ideas what he may be referring to? Is it Sooloos?

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    If a 384kHz master encoded as MQA 24/96 gives your brain more psychoacoustically relevant information than a 384kHz master down-sampled to 24/96, which would you rather have?

     

    I think the "A" part - the encoded file is signed and approved by the mastering engineer/artist - is just as important. We know what we are getting.

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    I agree about the MQA skepticism. I saw Meridian at CES:

    1) When I visited the suite I was given a demo of MQA. How? They sat me down and played some Ella, Sinatra and Norah. Period. No comparisons with MQA on and off? Nope. The system was nice, the room was a rather quiet suite, the speakers were very nice Meridian floor standers...but the rep said they weren't doing MQA on and off demos cuz this wasn't the best environment for it. Huh?? If I am being asked to buy new hardware and yet another copy of Norah, Frank and Ella (own all three demo albums where the demo cuts were from, for example) I'd better be able to hear the advantages in a crowded bus, let alone a quiet high-end suite. Or just give me headphones...something! And I'm in the industry...

    2) Another copy of all these premium-priced albums...again?? Let alone buying new hardware? Good luck, Meridian. That's a huge selling job you've got.

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    I agree about the MQA skepticism. I saw Meridian at CES:

    1) When I visited the suite I was given a demo of MQA. How? They sat me down and played some Ella, Sinatra and Norah. Period. No comparisons with MQA on and off? Nope. The system was nice, the room was a rather quiet suite, the speakers were very nice Meridian floor standers...but the rep said they weren't doing MQA on and off demos cuz this wasn't the best environment for it. Huh?? If I am being asked to buy new hardware and yet another copy of Norah, Frank and Ella (own all three demo albums where the demo cuts were from, for example) I'd better be able to hear the advantages in a crowded bus, let alone a quiet high-end suite. Or just give me headphones...something! And I'm in the industry...

    2) Another copy of all these premium-priced albums...again?? Let alone buying new hardware? Good luck, Meridian. That's a huge selling job you've got.

     

    Their demo ought to have been "streaming MQA" versus high res download. At least that's how I've understood their value proposition.

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    beautiful pictures as usual, but i could sure do with a caption or two. in some photos it's not at all clear what i'm looking at.

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    I know this is a bit off topic, but did anyone go to the Kaiser/Kondo room? That is an intriguing speaker.

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    "I believe, MQA is NOT lossless. Meridian claims MQA is lossless, but I believe it only claims audibly lossless, not lossless in the normal use of the term."

     

    Maybe the "normal use of the term" does not apply to the MQA format...

     

    Redbook is not lossless either. After all, you're cutting everything above 22.05kHz (or lower) and what about this ugly quantization process? Huh...

     

     

    Are you sure that the mics used in recording sessions are able to capture sound above 30k Hz?

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    If a 384kHz master encoded as MQA 24/96 gives your brain more psychoacoustically relevant information than a 384kHz master down-sampled to 24/96, which would you rather have?

     

    I think the "A" part - the encoded file is signed and approved by the mastering engineer/artist - is just as important. We know what we are getting.

     

    Better downsampling is welcome, but in my view calling it lossless is misleading.

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    Interesting Chris to hear of your comments about MQA. Likewise, from a technical perspective, I have some concerns as I wrote on my blog post.

     

    I cannot help but feel they are taking liberties with the term "lossless"; which in this case only truly applies to the 'core' 16/48 piece of the audio data based on what I can gather. Ultrasonic parts will likely be reconstituted from "lossy" compression. I'm also a little suspicious about potential for DRM in this scheme which of course nobody is talking about. IMO, "flat" true 24/48 streaming lossless audio would sound fantastic, would not require buying a new DAC/running proprietary software, and would take up the same bitrate without all the fuss...

     

    Some thoughts on recent encoding techniques.

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    I agree about the MQA skepticism. I saw Meridian at CES:

    1) When I visited the suite I was given a demo of MQA. How? They sat me down and played some Ella, Sinatra and Norah. Period. No comparisons with MQA on and off? Nope. The system was nice, the room was a rather quiet suite, the speakers were very nice Meridian floor standers...but the rep said they weren't doing MQA on and off demos cuz this wasn't the best environment for it. Huh?? If I am being asked to buy new hardware and yet another copy of Norah, Frank and Ella (own all three demo albums where the demo cuts were from, for example) I'd better be able to hear the advantages in a crowded bus, let alone a quiet high-end suite. Or just give me headphones...something! And I'm in the industry...

    2) Another copy of all these premium-priced albums...again?? Let alone buying new hardware? Good luck, Meridian. That's a huge selling job you've got.

     

    I think you are right. For me to be convinced, I would have to listen to a variety of material with MQA enabled and disabled on exactly the same type of file format. And it had better be a noticeable improvement that can be easily heard by even a non-audiophile.

     

    The other thing that bothers me about this is that Meridian is VERY vague on how we, the consumer, can get it.

     

    Here's what Meridian has done or is planning on doing that makes me not know everything.

     

    1. Meridian doesn't make ADC for the professional market and the content has to be encoded, so it would make sense for them to license MQA to people like Avid/ProTools, Apple/Logic, etc. etc. etc. so the content can be encoded. If this is the case, then they should offer Apple/iTunes, Microsoft/Windows Media Player, and/or the variety of 3rd party players like PureMusic, Amarra, Audirvana, JRiver, etc. etc., so that us users that don't have a Meridian MQA enabled DAC can enjoy MQA files in MQA mode.

     

    2. Meridian did update their inexpensive Explorer2 DAC, which is pretty affordable.

    3. Meridian is supposed to update the firmware for their Prime Headphone amp/DAC, which shouldn't cost any money.

    4. Meridian will OBVIOUSLY update the rest of their product line.

    5. Meridian has licensed receivers to Onkyo and another receiver company.

     

    But they haven't mentioned much more than that. I just recently bought a new AMP/DAC and it does just about everything, but MQA. I would hate to have to sell it just to play MQA, so having licensing the decoder that's s/w rather than h/w would be nice.

     

    Again, the bottom line is, does it sound better than the same file format/bit rate/sample rate with MQA than without. Until that is proven, then I can't get excited about it.

     

    I'm surprised Meridian didn't do AB comparisons, Meridian has a very good reputation and I know they won't release a new product without being considerably better.

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    I cannot help but feel they are taking liberties with the term "lossless"; which in this case only truly applies to the 'core' 16/48 piece of the audio data based on what I can gather. Ultrasonic parts will likely be reconstituted from "lossy" compression. I'm also a little suspicious about potential for DRM in this scheme which of course nobody is talking about. IMO, "flat" true 24/48 streaming lossless audio would sound fantastic, would not require buying a new DAC/running proprietary software, and would take up the same bitrate without all the fuss....

     

    I fully agree. A new format war is the last thing the audio industry needs in my opinion.

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