Neil Gader's CAS 2014 Show Report: Part Three

Show report
Digital-to-analog converters,
Music servers and computer audio,
Headphone amps and amp/DACs
Neil Gader's CAS 2014 Show Report: Part Three

Click Here To Read Part Two

It was back-to-basics (kind of) for fans of Wilson Audio and Magico Loudspeakers. The exhibits were less on frills yet thrillingly highlighted the brand’s more approachable systems from two of their respective midline performers-Wilson Sasha 2 ($29,900) and Magico S5 ($28,600). The Magico S5 was featured in the Cherry Room as part of an MIT cables exhibit where the old guard wire company used the occasion to feature it’s new SL-Matrix 50 and 90 series wires along with its SL-Matrix USB $499 with Magico Constellation Audio Inspiration electronics, the new and highly sought after Berkeley Alpha DAC RS (with Alpha USB) and Aurender W20 music server. Attendees could enjoy the system in two flavors-via the S5s or more personal listening with Audeze headphones (below). Personally I opted for the Magicos over the ‘phones but I can certainly understand the seduction factor of the Audeze.

Wilson Audio paired up with SF’s Music Lovers Audio and produced a wonderfully detailed and dynamically robust sound thanks in no small part to the chain of Audio Research  electronics, specifically the SP20, REF 75 amp and CD6 player (all list for $9k each) and Transparent Audio wires and Grand Prix stands. Under the gentle ministrations of Wilson’s Peter McGrath, all the usual Sasha 2 talking points were in evidence–intelligibility, superior resolution at all levels and an ability to disappear with the conviction of a small monitor. 

Nabbing me in the hall just prior to the close of the show was founder and engineer Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records. She’d mentioned earlier about a little device that she thought I’d be interested in.  In her hand was the ultra compact Hi Sonus UFO Direct Stream Digital DAC available in naturally, cool “Blue Coast” blue. Connected to a computer via a Micro-B  USB cable it’ll stream in DSD plus high sample rate PCM audio (up to 32 bit 192kHz). There is a line output plus a dedicated headphone amp (max 600 ohms). You can use both outputs simultaneously. The top of the unit is an ALPS high performance volume knob with an attractive seven color (indicating format) LED light ring surrounding the knob, (hence the name "UFO"). The ring changes colors to indicate audio format and sample rate. Definitely worth checking out. Price: $399

HD-Audio guru, surround-sound booster and engineer-extraordinaire Mark Waldrep of AIX Records offered a personalized and thoroughly rewarding demo of his high resolution audio/video recordings.  Listening through a pair of Oppo electrostatic headphones (mellow and quite comfortable) and a desktop hi-def monitor made for a compelling presentation of the Blu-ray sampler of live performances he has produced and engineered. I may still be predominately a two-channel listener but these tastefully done presentations are nothing less than remarkably engaging for both eye and ear.

Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen brought along the mighty Maestro $43k loudspeakers, AZ’s cabling and once again partnered with Hong Kong import Questyle electronics. the Questyle 5G Wireless system ($2400) comprises a pair of 200W Class D monoblocks plus a wireless transmitter that has inputs for SPDIF, to Toslink, USB and analog it wirelessly transmits to the amps. The system presented a round and richly balanced sound. I’d love to hear these speakers with conventional wired amplification but this was quite a daring and provocative presentation.