Day 1 of the 2000 CES

If one were to judge by new high-end audio-product intros at this year's CES, the industry appears to be hopping. So far we're only halfway through the Alexis Park (the home of most high-end audio exhibitors at the Show), but our bags are already overstuffed with brochures. Not surprisingly, a lot of the two-channel manufacturers are branching out to the multichannel market.

Conrad-Johnson is one of the companies adding home-theater processors to their lineups. C-J's new SSP-1 is aimed at a September 2000 release and a retail price of between $4000 and $5000. Also new is what C-J calls the "baby ART": the Premier 17LS preamp, based on the famed ART technology and retailing for $4500 when it hits the shelves in February. Two other new preamps are planned: the LV-1 tube line-stage preamp ($1995, expected on the shelves April 1) and a companion phono stage ($1495), as well as a solid-state FET design called the LF-2, planned for March at a retail price of $2995. All new preamps will feature remotes.

Balanced Audio Technology is also jumping into multichannel in a very big way, with the new AV-10 Balanced preamplifier/processor, planned for release late spring at around $10,000. The fully upgradeable design features a tube output section as well as complete video switching. Provision is made for IEEE 1394, room EQ processing, multichannel DVD-Audio, SACD, Dolby's Surround EX, and whatever else pops up in these days of perpetual format mutation.

SimAudio is introducing the Moon Attraction home-theater processor, which includes the usual plethora of video and audio connections, plus a mike input for auto calibration, and an RS-232 interface—slated for early spring release at $4999 retail. Also showing is the new SimAudio Rock multichannel amplifier prototype, which will likely end up in the $15,000-$20,000 range.

Rogue Audio's room was packed, with most of the attention garnered by their new Ninety-Nine tube preamplifier, tipping the scales at $2395 with phono stage and $1995 without, and sporting a frequency response of 1Hz-200kHz. Also showing is their new Sixty-Six line-only preamp ($1295).

Magnum Dynalab, well known for their excellent tuners, has broken into the receiver market with a beautiful new product called the MD208. Virtually an integrated amp and separate tuner (each with its own power supply) built into the same box, the MD208 features amp and preamp electronics from SimAudio, as well as a remote. Price for the 100Wpc receiver is $2775.

New speakers are being shown by several manufacturers. Thiel is demonstrating their new surface-mount speaker, the PowerPoint, which retails at $2600/pair; and the $2200/pair PowerPlane in-wall speaker, expected for delivery at the end of January. Also in the room are prototypes of a new Thiel subwoofer, planned for a June release at $2500, and a companion crossover/controller for $1500.

Vandersteen had on hand The Reference Model, a bookshelf-size speaker that will likely sell (with a pair of custom stands) for around $5995. The new speaker features what Richard Vandersteen described as the "top half of our model 5," with a 1" dome tweeter, 4.5" mid, and two 6.5" woofers. The unique design has one of the woofers on the bottom of the speaker firing downward between two arms of the stands, making these a little awkward on a bookshelf, but sounding wonderful on their dedicated bases.

On the digital front, Wadia is showing the new 861 CD player—an update of the 860—which should be hitting dealers' shelves around April. The company says that it is "price-protecting" customers: anyone who bought an 860 any time after November 1, 1999 can upgrade it to an 861 for $500, or the difference in price between the current and new units. Wadia also hinted at SACD and DVD-Audio/Video player projects currently in the works.

Speaking of SACD, one of the major drawbacks of the first SACD machines coming on the market is their lack of high-resolution digital outputs, which would enable the consumer to hook up an SACD player to an outboard processor. Hints were dropped by dCS, however, that IEEE 1394 (aka FireWire or iLink) jacks might appear on future Sony SACD players, allowing a properly 1394-equipped outboard processor to take the DSD signal from the SACD "transport." The 1394 spec, while not considered ideal for high-end audio by some designers because of how it handles digital data, should have enough built-in copy-protection to convince the record labels to not worry about rampant piracy. dCS feels that they can sufficiently process a 1394 feed to provide six simultaneous uncompromised channels. This is sure to be an area to watch in the future as more consumers complain about the lack of digital options with the new high-resolution formats.

Another sign of how hardware manufacturers will handle multiple software formats was given by Philips. The Dutch company's SACD100 machine, scheduled to be launched in the US in the third quarter of 2000, will play both Super Audio CDs (including multichannel SACDs) and DVD-Videos. At the press conference announcing this and other new products (such as a DVD+RW burner!), Philips admitted that this player was originally scheduled to be able to play DVD-Audio discs as well, but the postponement of the DVD-A medium launch, caused by the cracking of the DVD-V copy protection, put an end to this plan.

While the recording industry fusses about copy protection, add speaker company Dunlavy to the group of companies relying on in-the-clear digital datastreams being available. At their off-site suite, Dunlavy is showing a pair of SC-IVa speakers that have been modified to take an S/PDIF digital audio data input. The three-way conventional crossover is replaced by one operating in the digital domain, implemented with high-speed floating-point DSP. The three digital outputs of this crossover do not feed conventional D/A processors, but instead directly drive three tiny, high-efficiency, 600W PWM amplifiers—one for each drive-unit array—designed by switching-amp maven John Ulrich. (One of the founders of Infinity, Ulrich is best known today for his Spectron amplifiers.) The result should be about as accurate a speaker as you can get in both time and frequency domains.