Tech Trends 2012: The Electronics Report

AUDIOPHILES’ enthusiasm for computer-sourced sound has inspired innovation in the market for external digital-to-analog converters, which deliver vastly better performance than your computer’s sound card. Accordingly, there were many new DACs at CES designed to connect to computers. These shared space with processors and receivers sporting innovative features like AirPlay and cloud-based streaming.

M2Audio Young DAC

The $1,799 M2Tech Young DAC is one of the most technically advanced and visually awesome DACs I’ve encountered. The large, old-school LED readout on the front makes it look like a RadioShack gizmo from the 1970s. Yet according to the Italian manufacturer, it accepts even super-high-rez 32-bit/384-kHz digital signals, which makes 24/96 seem lo-fi in comparison. It then upsamples everything to 768 kHz for even smoother sound. The display tells you the selected input and the sampling rate, and the info scrolls across the front like a digital sign. Far more fun than your average DAC!

Mark Levinson No585 Integrated Amp

One thing about two-channel enthusiasts: They totally don’t understand subwoofers. In fact, almost no stereo preamps or integrated amps include subwoofer outputs. The No585 has not only a subwoofer output but also a subwoofer crossover with adjustable frequency and slope, so you can tailor it to whatever speakers you own. Beyond that, the No585 is almost an entertainment center on its own. Two 225-watt Class AB amps power your speakers, while a 32/192 digital-to-analog converter with asynchronous USB input takes input from computers and other digital sources, and an MM/MC phono stage interfaces with your record player. Seems ultra-pricey at $10,000, until you consider that buying a separate Mark Levinson preamp, amp, DAC, and phono stage would cost you at least double that. It’s kind of like Ferrari making its fastest car ever and selling it for $75,000.

McIntosh MX121 Surround Processor and MC8207 7-channel Amp

The only brand-new high-end surround sound processor I saw at CES was in the McIntosh room at the Venetian, where the company debuted its new $6,000 MX121. Not cheap, but it’s half the price of the company’s MX150 processor, and it adds recent conveniences such as AirPlay, DLNA compatibility, and network streaming. You can also control it from iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads. Need power? Connect the company’s $6,000 MC8207 seven-channel amp, rated at 200 watts per channel.

Onkyo Cloud-Compatible A/V Receivers With MP3tunes

With Onkyo’s upcoming network-capable receivers, you won’t need to connect a network-attached storage drive or a computer because the receivers will be able to pull your music files directly off the Internet. The new receivers will access MP3tunes, an Internet-based service that stores up to 2 GB of files for free. That’s not much — about 400 pop tunes ripped at 128 kbps, by my reckoning — but for an extra $39.95 per year, you can get 50 GB of storage. At CES, Onkyo didn’t provide the model numbers of the new receivers, which it plans to introduce this spring. However, it did show another cool new feature: the ability to display images from as many as four HDMI inputs all on the same video screen.

Peachtree Audio Nova Pre and 220 Amp

Peachtree Audio built its rep on cute little integrated amps with tube-driven preamp stages, but power-hungry audiophiles demand more. Thus the introduction of the 220, a $1,399, 220-watt-per-channel amp that uses ICEpower Class D modules. The obvious mate for the 220 is the new $999 Nova Pre preamp/DAC. Like Peachtree Audio’s integrated amps, the Nova Pre lets you choose from a Class A tube output or a MOSFET output, and it has both analog and digital inputs. So you get a top-notch amp, preamp, and DAC for less than $2,500.