This is Part 3 of a four-part Playback report and new headphone, earphone, and personal audio products seen at CES 2012. This section of the report covers products from: NuForce, Paradigm Shift, Phiaton, Polk Audio, PSB, Scansonic, and Sennheiser.
NuForce was showing its versatile Dia Digital Input Amplifier ($299), which is a remarkably compact tabletop integrated amp that features three digital inputs (two optical, one coax), a built-in 24/192 DAC, an amplifier that puts out 24 Wpc @ 4 Ohms, and that even incorporates a front-panel output that can be used to drive headphones or an outboard subwoofer. NuForce envisions the DIA being used for desktop audio applications, or as a means of adding an affordable high-quality sound system to flat panel TVs (whose built-in speakers sound, at best, mediocre). Either way, the Dia is perfect for use with small, 2.1-channel speaker systems.
Also on display at the NuForce stand at the Las Vegas Convention Center was the slick new U192S USB-to-S/PDIF converter ($149). The extremely compact U192S provides an asynchronous USB input that can accept up to 24-bit/192kHz digital audio files and provides front panel data rate/data sync indicator lights. The tiny U192S may just be the smallest device of its kind that we’ve ever encountered.
Over at the Venetian Hotel, NuForce had a second display whose purpose was to preview the firm’s upcoming flagship monoblock power amplifers and matching preamp, which were being demonstrated in conjunction with Amphion Argon7L loudspeakers. I won’t attempt to discuss those ultra high-end NuForce products here, since they fall outside the usual definition of “desktop” audio products, but I’ll include a photo just to whet your appetites.
After giving previews at several trade shows over the past year, the new Paradigm Shift brand, which is the personal/desktop audio arm of the famous Canadian speaker manufacturer Paradigm, is now up and running in a significant way. At present, Paradigm Shift product offerings fall in two areas, but with more product families coming very soon.
Earphones (available now): Paradigm Shift offers a range of three earphone products, which loosely correspond to the three tiers of the Paradigm loudspeaker family, which are—in ascending order—the Monitor, Studio, and Signature familes. At the entry-level or Monitor end of the range is the E1 earphone ($49), followed by the mid- or Studio-level E2M earphone ($99), plus the top- or roughly Signature-level E3M earphone ($129). In Paradigm Shift parlance, the “M” in in the names of the E2M and E3M signifies the fact that the earphones include microphone module. Playback plans a review of the E3M earphones in the near future.
Powered Speaker (available now): Paradigm Shift launched with the A2 self-powered desktop speaker ($279 - $329/each, depending on finish), which offers a number of subtle wrinkles on the self-powered speakers theme. The A2, which is loosely based on Paradigm’s passive Atom Monitor, features a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter, a 5 ½-inch satin anodized aluminum mid-bass driver, and two 50 Wpc DSP-controlled amplifiers. Interestingly, though, the A2 is set up so that you can use it as a standalone monaural speaker, or as either the left or right speaker of a stereo pair (a configuration switch is provided for this purpose). What’s more, you can daisy-chain multiple sets of A2’s together (there are pass-through stereo analog inputs and outputs for this purpose), and where desired, you can equip the A2 with Paradigm Shift’s optional BD1 Bluetooth dongle so that you can stream music directly to the A2, rather than using the speaker’s traditional stereo analog inputs, which are implemented via conventional RCS jacks.