Careful listening to recordings is by its nature a solitary experience. That’s why audiophiles have a rep for being loners -- you can’t fully soak in the nuances of great music unless you’re focused on listening, and that requires both concentration and a degree of isolation.
The 2017 edition of the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association’s annual exposition, formerly called the CEDIA Expo but now simply CEDIA, took place in early September at the San Diego Convention Center. Though CEDIA is ground zero for networked audio, most of the products displayed this year were in-wall and in-ceiling speakers connected to multizone amps operated by proprietary, keypad-controlled, home-automation systems. In other words, CEDIA was packed with gear designed to be heard, not seen -- products mainly of interest to custom-installation professionals. Since the dawn of Sonos, however, a stream of consumer-oriented products have popped up amid the aisles of nondescript hardware, and virtually all of it -- mostly streamers and speakers -- uses wireless technology. Much of it is affordable, simple to install, and can run on a home’s Wi-Fi network. Here are the most interesting products I spied while roaming the aisles of the SDCC with my Simplifi goggles on. All prices are in USD.
Once a business with an all-you-can-eat model, media streaming has begun to carve out niches to serve more narrowly defined interests. Take Disney, which recently announced that it would pull its content from Netflix to create its own streaming platform aimed at parents of young children who eagerly consume Disney and Pixar movies. Then there’s FilmStruck, a service created by Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection to stream their catalogs directly to equally eager cineastes.
Hegel Music Systems’ Röst ($3000 USD) was the first integrated amplifier to be reviewed on SoundStage! Simplifi, and to this day it’s a benchmark that other integrated amps must measure up to. That situation might seem odd when you consider that some models we’ve reviewed in the past few months have clearly outpaced the Röst in such features as Roon readiness, DSD support, and MQA decoding, all of which the Hegel lacks. The Röst also has no control app -- another amenity that manufacturers typically make available for network-capable products. What is it about the Röst that makes it special?
Ah, Munich in the spring. Strolling the banks of the Isar. Pedaling a boat across the Kleinhesseloher See (a lake) in the English Garden. Then, to wind down the day, hoisting a stein in the biergarten of the Augustinerkeller.
Each of the seven vices can be committed by the record collector -- even sloth, which is the sin of not taking proper care of your LPs, or of failing to file them correctly. But the vice I’ve come to most closely associate with collecting vinyl is greed.
Are you aware of Roon? Launched in 2015, the music library, discovery, and playback software has since been written up in several feature articles and reviews appearing on SoundStage! sites. The consensus here is that we like Roon, and recommend it despite the relatively steep cost of entry: $119 USD per year, or $499 lifetime.
Lossy compression, piracy, and poorly compensated artists aside, it would be hard to make the case that, overall, the Internet has been bad for audio. Hearing new recorded music used to involve traveling to a store and buying a physical disc. Now, you can instantly access almost any music you want via streaming. In the case of Tidal HiFi -- and soon, possibly, other services -- you can also stream it in a compressed high-resolution format. Having such a vast library at your disposal has the side benefit of encouraging exploration: In the past three years, I’ve discovered more interesting new music by browsing streaming services than I had in the preceding 15 years, when my only choices were physical discs or downloads. (Legal downloads, that is; I never did the Napster thing, and I’m sure you didn’t either.)
Read more: The Internet and Audio: The Good, the Bad, and the Impossible
One news item to come out of the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show that got little play in the otherwise exhaustive show coverage on SoundStage! Global was the announcement that Tidal would begin streaming Hi-Res Audio (HRA), effectively immediately. The announcement was made at a Hi-Res Audio Pavilion arranged by the Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) and located not at the Venetian, but at the Las Vegas Convention Center, amid booths filled with camera accessories, VR headsets, and drones. Statements made by other companies at the event indicated that we can soon expect HRA streaming from additional services, including Pandora, Napster (formerly Rhapsody), and HRA download site HDtracks.
The 2017 Consumer Electronics Show was arguably a bust for perfectionist audio, but there were still loads of interesting products to be found if you looked past the typical model of separates plus passive speakers. In retrospect, integrated products with wireless/streaming capability were the norm rather than the exception, indicating that such functionality has become a standard feature in the product lines of many companies. It was also the first audio show at which I saw high-end manufacturers tap Amazon’s voice-controlled Echo Dot to help conduct demos (“Alexa, play us some Norah Jones . . .”). Technology marches on.
If you’re reading this, a thought may have entered your head: Does SoundStage! need another website dedicated to reviews of audio components? Good question. I’ll try to answer it here.
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