I love Leo Kottke's virtuoso guitar playing. Still, I hesitated to buy his album Sixty Six Steps, with bassist Mike Gordon, when Amazon specifically warned: "This Sony CD includes SunnComm MediaMax Version 5 content protection software that may expose security vulnerability when played on PCs." I don't love anyone quite enough to put a MediaMax-tainted CD into my PC. And when I rip a new CD for use in my iPod, I prefer a nice clean MP3 to the WMA-DRM format dictated by MediaMax. The iPod doesn't accept WMA files with DRM.
I recently spent a few weeks exhaustively reviewing five headphone DAC-amps. They included the Schiit Fulla ($79), AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 ($149), Oppo HA-2 ($299), Celsus Companion One ($595), and Sony PHA-3 ($1,000). Of course anyone who buys one of these products will find that the listening experience depends heavily on the headphones used with it, and there's no predicting which headphones an individual buyer may use, so I chose a varied selection: the Oppo PM-2 ($699), Sennheiser HD600 ($400), and Sony MDR-V6 ($110). Then I had to choose the demo music. That was fun—anyone who says a job like mine isn't fun should find another job—but it took some care and forethought. Just as associated gear affects perception of an audio product, so too does the music.
The VCR quietly passed away this month as JVC stopped making standalone VHS decks. There are still some VCRs in the pipeline--and VHS will survive in DVD/VCR combos. But the era of the VCR has drawn to a close.
Don't get us wrong: Moving the high-end audio exhibits from the lowbrow Alexis Park to deluxe digs at the Venetian has been the best thing the CES authorities have done for showgoing audiophiles. Now we can browse in comfort and style. But we still feel sad when we realize that we've spent more time at the glitzy Venetian than in its ostensible inspiration: sweet, crumbling, quiet, car-free Venice. Sigh.
Hipper audio servers like Cary Audio Design's Music Server are coming with iPhone/iPod touch control. Cary wrote its own app for this purpose. The product has 1TB of onboard storage and can accept an external drive via USB. It backs itself up automatically and comes with Shoutcast internet radio. Pricing was roughly estimated to be $2000-2500.
The Intrepid II, in lower right corner, is Theta Digital's first Class D amp, at 7 times 150 watts. It is expected to go into production in four months. Class D amplification, in general, is more energy efficient though some audiophiles question whether it is ready for primetime. Theta's implementation will boast load-agnostic frequency response regardless of speaker impedance. At upper left is the Theta III HD pre-pro, at $19,995 for version with Xtreme DACs and a mere $14,999 for version with Premium DACs. Upgrade your old Casablanca III for $4995 and your old Casablanca I or II for $5000. Apologies for awful pic.
Theta's Casablanca surround preamp-processors sell for $17,000-30,000. By that standard, the new Supernova is more accessible at less than ten grand. If you squint you'll see the USB jack which serves two purposes: room correction and a 24/192 DAC for your computer audio fix. Shipping third quarter of this year.