I recently attended CEDIA Expo 2012, which was held in Indianapolis, IN from September 6-8, and have prepared a two-part show report for Playback.
Now to be frank, most people quite rightly think of CEDIA as a home theater and/or custom-installer-oriented show, both of which are true observations, but even so I have discovered that at least some manufacturers have chosen to use CEDIA as their venue of choice for rolling out new headphones, earphones, and personal and desktop audio products. Thus, I gathered notes on new Playback-related products seen and heard at CEDIA and have pulled them together in the report, below.
This is Part 1 of a two-part show report.
Note: To make things easier for online readers, I’m covering manufacturers in alphabetical order. As always, my apologies to manufacturers whose worthy products I fail to mention here. Enjoy.
Normally, show-goers might expect AudioQuest’s booth to be all about cables, cables, and more cables, but at CEDIA the centerpiece of the AQ display was the unspeakably cool new DragonFly USB DAC/headphone amp ($249), which is only about the size of a typical USB memory dongle. (NOTE: For subscribers to The Absolute Sound or for those who prefer to buy the magazine on newsstand, I strongly encourage checking out Editor-in-Chief Robert Harley’s review of the DragonFly in the current issue—Issue 225). But, for those who don’t have direct access to the magazine, let me sketch out the basics.
The DragonFly is a 96/24-capable, asynchronous USB DAC based on the very same ESS Sabre DAC chip found in many more costly disc players and other digital audio components. Moreover, it uses Streamlength Class 1 USB code licensed from none other than acknowledged USB audio guru Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio. The tiny device is entirely USB-powered and incorporates a quite respectable headphone amplifier (the AW team loaned me a sample at the show, and I’ve been listening to ‘phones through it ever since). But best of all, the DragonFly sounds both hearty and refined, is dirt simple to use, and sports numerous clever detail touches that I think users will come to love as they become familiar with the component.
One example: The DragonFly sports a small translucent dragonfly symbol that illuminates when the unit is powered up and that changes colors to denote the resolution levels of the digital audio files being played. Another example: The DragonFly includes a cool, 64-step digitally controlled built-in analog volume control that completely sidesteps problems with bit-truncation that typically arise with conventional digital volume controls. Thus, even though you control volume levels from the computer, you always get full resolution (i.e., no lost bits)—a very clever approach. We suspect AudioQuest will sell a gazillion of these things and for all the right reasons.
Cary Audio is one of the several high-end audio electronics manufacturers who have recently chosen to build serious, performance-oriented headphone amplifiers. Cary took this decision, as have several others, in recognition of the fact that high-performance headphones constitute a vibrant and growing segment within the broader high-end audio universe. To enter the market in a powerful way, Cary has created two products: its recently-released Audio Electronics by Cary Nighthawk headphone amp ($1195) and the new-for-CEDIA Cary Audio HH-1 headphone amp ($1595). (Click here to read my recent Playback review of the Audio Electronics Nighthawk.).
Where the Nighthawk is a pure solid-state design, Cary’s upscale HH-1 is a pure Class A hybrid tube/solid-state amp where a tube front end is used to drive, a single-ended MOSFET current sourced output stage. Although I only had a brief chance to listen the HH-1, I think I can say with confidence that it takes significant sonic steps forward vis-à-vis the already excellent Nighthawk.