STEREOMOJO SPECIAL DUAL REPORT
T.H.E SHOW 2014
James & Linda Darby
Record low temperatures, flight delays and cancellations got our 2014 trip to Vegas off to a stressful start. It was so cold at the Atlanta airport that all the soda cans they tried to bring aboard were frozen. We were in the middle of a "polar vortex", you know. When you're trying to cover two different shows at two different venues, every minute counts. We got in late. A whole day late, which means the usual pressure to see as much, take pictures and gather information was greatly intensified. A rushed coffee and muffin for breakfast, skip lunch altogether and a late dinner in the hotel. No Vegas shows ,no gambling, no shopping, no nothing. We did watch a PG-13 rated movie in the room the last night ($14.00)whose title I can't recall.
It helps considerably that we had recently attended two of the most significant audio shows in the US, that being the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver and the and the Newport Audio Show in California and of course we published very comprehensive reports from both. Therefore, our mission this time was to seek out only those products that were making their debut at the shows. This put us at odds with many representatives who of course want to talk to you about every product in the room, but we prevailed and did our best for you.
There were few surprises. At the last shows, we reported that the new Big Thing was DSD. This time it was DSD hold on not so fast. In fact, there was a whole room set up just for information about DSD, inhabited by those companies that are doing DD downloads. There was a "Hi-Res Audio Experience" forum with experts at CES to inform the industry and the industry press about the virtues of this new format. Remember that CES is not open to the public, you have to be either an industry professional or a significant member of the press. I say significant because this year we had to provide independent proof that we had so many thousands of unique visitors to Stereomojo to be issued credentials. That eliminated a lot of bloggers and part time audiophiles who publish websites that don't really have that many readers.
Back to DSD. It turns out that there are not just one but four types of DSD files and one type of DSD player does not play back all four types. So, we have a sort of VHS versus Betamax or SA CD versus DVD audio situation. And like in those battles, many companies are sitting on the sidelines waiting for Victor to be crowned. Then there's the viability factor; is the consumer actually going to pay the extra money and wait the extraordinarily long times for the huge files to download. Sony has said they're Opening up their catalog, but are we really that anxious to buy Miles Davis and Bob Dylan and Toto albums for the umpteenth time?
Then, there's not a lot of new material being recorded via direct native DSD because there are only two types of multichannel recorders capable of doing so and there's only a handful of studios so equipped. Don't look for the next Justin Timberlake or Bieber album to be released in DSD, if you catch our drift.
I spoke to C. Jared Sachs of Channel Classics who is a provider of DSD original content downloads, but in the end he admitted that the original recording is analog, not DSD.
Then, dear readers, it hasn't really been decided that DSD is really all that much better than well recorded PCM. DSD proponents brag that DSD is capable of frequency response from 0 to 100,000 K. That's true and not true. A raw DSD file may have that kind of frequency bandwidth but it's dynamic bandwidth at that extremes is only four DB! An FM radio does better than that, and the rest of the DSD band is pure noise which has to have rather severe noise shaping to make it even listenable and by that time DSD is much closer spec wise to PCM which is what were all used to via our CDs.
Then there's the fact that music sales in general are down a significant percentage except for the vinyl LP whose sales are actually up several percent. And let me add this little surprise as well; in many rooms the demo source of choice was vinyl even when the main sponsor of the room didn't make turntables; they chose to show off their amps and/or speakers using turntables. Then to add to the chaos, I know several designers for whom I have great respect that insist on the best playback of all is reel to reel tape!
Let me say one other thing on a different subject: demo music played in the various exhibits. For some reason, almost every single room played the same type of music - slow, minimally instrumented female vocals. After the first 15 or 20 demos, it started to become a bit tedious and then after the first 50 or so rooms it became annoying and after that it was just plain frustrating. We wanted to hear with the systems can do! Somebody give me an orchestra or a hot jazz ensemble that has some dynamics, some excitement, something that makes me want to listen rather than doze off. A lot of people were complaining about it and believe me, it had to be pretty bad for me to take my time and your time to write about it.
Perhaps a prime example would be the Magico room. They were showing their new S3 at $22,600. It was the last day of the show for us and we'd already been beaten down by demo music and as we entered the room, it was the same thing. So we sat and listened politely for a couple of minutes, then I got up and went to the back of the room were a nice man was standing next to a laptop and asked if there were perhaps another selection that could be played. He said there was a whole list on the laptop and to go ahead and choose something. At that point somebody hollered from the listeners, "Can you play something less funereal?" Funereal. What a perfect word for what we'd all been experiencing. I even wrote it down, that's a direct quote. I scrolled and scrolled and finally found something by Dire Straits so I chose it and it started playing. I listened for about five seconds and headed back to my chair, but then there was a commotion and Alon Wolfe (Mr. Magico) had stormed into the room saying something like what is that you're playing? Why is that playing? The man appeared to be genuinely angry. The nice man I had talked to nervously croaked "It was a request". "No, no, no...we can't play that." Mr. Wolfe then aborted The Dire Straits and replaced it with something else decidedly funereal. We decidedly left.
If someone were to ask me what my favorite genre of music is, I might well say "female vocals" if I were in a certain mood, but I'm sorry - I have to ask why virtually everybody was playing the same type of music. There was one notable exception; In the Music Hall room, they were blasting a recent re-issue of Hendrix on an all white system (pictured right). A vinyl reissue by the way and it was so refreshing.
I remember another room where they were playing a slow Diana Krall type number and we listened as long as we could before getting up to leave. Just as we walked out the door though, I heard "Fanfare for the Common Man" and I was compelled to go back into the room and listen to it, just to reassure myself that other music still existed and during the flight to Vegas hadn't accidently crossed over into some other dimension via the Polar Vortex where nothing but one type of music exists.
Headphones Are the New Cables
Here's another surprising new trend: Headphones Are the New Cables! In almost every room there sat at least one pair of headphones with the company's name brand emblazoned across it. We all know that many companies, even though they specialize in amps or speakers, sell their own cable line. And I think we all know why. Maybe the sales of Dr. Dre's "Beats" phones have inspired the high-end industry to go the 'phones route. I don't know. What's the last company you'd think would put out a pair of headphones? Check out this picture.
If you can't make out the logo, it's McIntosh! See what we mean?
Please note that, despite what other publications may say, it is nigh impossible to do critical and accurate sound evaluations at shows like this, though it is somewhat possible in some situations to ascertain an overall impression, and that's what we will try to do for you. Some rooms are heavily sound treated, other use no treatments at all. For all these reasons and more, the roll of publications like Stereomojo are vital in informing you of a component's real performance and value through the review process. When we found an unusual product that met our stringent requirements, we asked for review samples - especially if it one not likely to be covered by those other print and web mags.
Enjoy. If you have questions, please write us.
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