Multi-room audio may have taken centre stage at CES 2014 and '15, but 2016 was all about hi-fi separates. We saw new integrated amps, DACs, wireless speakers and that Technics turntable.
Hi-res audio may have been important for many manufacturers, but this year MQA was the big buzzword. This latest tech will see hi-res audio streaming become a reality in 2016.
With vinyl enjoying a huge resurgence in recent years, it was no surprise to see some new turntables in Las Vegas. The biggest turntable news? That would have to be Technics unveiling the new Grand Class SL-1200G. We already had an indication Technics was up to something after we saw a shell at IFA 2015, but the finished article was finally revealed this year.
With a price tag of $4000 it isn’t cheap, but Panasonic says the new model is a completely redesigned deck, with innovative features to reduce vibrations and a four-layered cabinet construction.
Sony had some turntable news of its own and the PS-HX500 certainly turned some heads. It’s capable of ripping vinyl into hi-res audio so you can take your records with you on the move.
Audio-Technica's new turntable comes with an intriguing party trick. The AT-LP60BT has built-in Bluetooth, allowing you to stream your records to wireless speakers, headphones or other wireless receivers. It functions as a traditional turntable as well and can be connected directly to powered speakers thanks to a built-in phono stage.
Wireless speakers were predictably plentiful at CES, but the highlight arguably came from Naim, with the unveiling of the Mu-so Qb. This Stars of CES 2016 winner is a more compact, more affordable version of the Award-winning Mu-so, but retains the same DSP technology, connections, streaming capabilities and hi-res audio support.
Bang & Olufsen brought the BeoSound 35 internet-connected music system to Las Vegas. It’s capable of 180-degree sound dispersion and has built-in access to Spotify, Deezer and TuneIn radio.
Acoustic Energy gave us a sneak peek of its new Aego 3 music system. Available in two versions: soundbar and sub, or two satellite speakers and sub, the power and amplification is housed within the subwoofer and connections include analogue, optical digital and aptX Bluetooth. At £199 for either version it certainly sounds reasonable.
At CES Unveiled on the first day of the show, we were treated to the Invoxia Triby wireless speaker, powered by Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant. The voice tech means you can ask it to play different songs, genres or whatever other music you fancy.
McIntosh launched the Stars of CES-winning RS100 wireless speaker. It uses DTS Play-Fi technology and so can be connected to a wi-fi network to stream music from various sources. Up to 16 speakers can be connected together to create a multi-room system.
Harman Kardon’s new range of Omni+ multi-room speakers promised “true HD” streaming up to 24-bit/192kHz. The speakers can be used to create a 2.1 or 5.1 wireless surround sound system.
Sony had several new speakers at the show, including the world’s smallest hi-res audio wireless speaker: the h.ear go. It supports Spotify Connect and Google Cast and can even be used in multi-room setups.
Other speakers include the SRS-Z5/7 and SRS-XB2/3.
JBL announced two new speakers in the form of the Clip 2 and Charge 3. Both are designed for outdoor use, with the Clip 2 being the more portable speaker. The Charge 3 is more powerful and doubles up as a power bank to charge your devices.
MQA was a much-talked about tech in audio circles this year, with the Meridian-developed technology aiming to allow hi-res audio to be streamed and downloaded without the restrictively large file sizes.
Tidal has confirmed it will support the technology and we listened to a working demo, unfortunately, the launch has been delayed until later in 2016.
HTC was at the show to prove MQA could be supported on mobile devices as well, with a working prototype of its A9 smartphone. While the current production model of the A9 won’t be able to support MQA, it’s encouraging to know we could soon have hi-res streaming on-the-go.
If it’s hi-res multi-room streaming you’re after then Bluesound had some good news. All of its 1st-gen and 2nd-gen products will be MQA compatible after a free firmware update later in 2016.
It wouldn’t be a technology show without new headphones and CES 2016 didn’t disappoint. One of the first pairs we saw were Altec Lansing’s Freedom earphones, which completely do away with wires, instead relying on a Bluetooth connection between the buds and the connected device.
JBL had some wireless sports in-ears at the show too, created in collaboration with Under Armour. The two new pairs are virtually identical, however one has a built-in heartrate monitor.
Audio Technica had three new pairs on display, comprising the ATH-SR5 and their BT counterpart. Both pairs have 45mm drivers and boast solid noise-isolation. The third pair was the ATH-MSR7NC, the noise-cancelling version of the MSR7s.
Sony made two new additions to its h.ear range of audio products in the form of the h.ear on Wireless NC headphones and hea.r in Wireless in-ear headphones. The former feature noise-cancelling technology and a claimed 20-hour battery life, while the in-ears have HD voice support and a behind-the-neck design for a more comfortable fit.
Audeze laid claim to one of many “world firsts” at CES with the Sine on-ear headphones, the first on-ear headphones to use planar magnetic technology. The company already uses it in current pairs, such as the LCD-3 and EL-8, but has never used it in a pair of on-ears. The Sines are also Audeze’s most portable pair to date, thanks to a lightweight design and the ability to fold flat.
Amps and DACs
The Moon Neo ACE (A Complete Experience) isn’t solely an integrated amp, it’s an all-in-one audio system. Along with the integrated amp, you get a high-resolution streamer and DAC. The amp section of the system delivers 50W per channel, while the DAC can handle audio up to 32-bit/384kHz. Tidal’s lossless streaming service is supported and there’s even an MM phono stage for your turntable.
Arcam officially unveiled its SR250 stereo AV receiver, which deserved its Stars of CES Award. The SR250 is a stereo amplifier but with the connectivity of an AV receiver. It features Class G amplification alongside seven HDMI inputs, three HDMI outputs and Dirac Live room correction.
McIntosh announced the MB50 streaming audio player, which uses Play-Fi technology to connect to a wi-fi network for streaming and connects to an existing hi-fi system via analogue or digital outputs.
Mark Levinson took the wraps off two new products at CES, including the No. 519. Described as a Swiss Army Knife of an audio player, it plays pretty much anything you can throw at it. It can play CDs, stream via ethernet, wi-fi or aptX Bluetooth, supports Spotify Connect, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Rhapsody and Napster, alongside internet radio stations, and can even play music stored on USB hard drives or NAS drives.
The No. 526 meanwhile is a dual-monaural preamplifier which features a hi-res DAC and phono stage.
Our jaws dropped when we saw the Dan D’Agostino MLife amplifier at CES 2015 and this year the company was on a mission to make them drop yet further with the Progression Mono Amplifier. The Mono Amplifier is the company’s largest and most powerful amp to date, delivering up to 3200W into 2ohms.
AudioQuest launched two new DragonFly USB DACs - the Black and the Red - at the show, as well as the Beetle DAC, which is designed for desktop use. The DragonFly Black replaces the v1.2, while the Red benefits from a more advanced internal DAC and digital volume control.
Arcam introduced a “new and improved” irDAC II, which bagged itself a Stars of CES Award. The MkII model has new internal circuits, new headphone amplifier stage, new aptX Bluetooth input and new ESS ES9016 Sabre DAC.
See all our CES 2016 news and highlights