Brian’s Corner: A Trip to Denver Nov 04 by Brian Moura in Brian's Corner, Hardware

In October audiophiles on the West Coast in the U.S. often journey to Denver, Colorado to enjoy some live music and the latest audio equipment at the annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF). I’m sure some of you were there to enjoy the festivities. But if you weren’t, I thought we’d devote the latest edition of Brian’s Corner to a quick look at the happenings and products at the festival.

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exaSound Introduces e32 and e38 Reference DSD 256 DACs

Canadian audio designers exaSound were at RMAF to offer early information on their upcoming new reference series DACs with DSD 256 playback. The formal introduction of these products occurred a couple weeks later at the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show in Canada.

The new exaSound e32 (Stereo DSD 256 DAC) and e38 (Multichannel DSD 256 DAC) replace the earlier e22 and e28 models. The new DACs play DSD (up to DSD 256), DXD and PCM music files. They feature the new ES 9028PRO DAC Chip from ESS Technologies along with key exaSound technologies including ZeroJitter USB interface with error correction, ZeroResolutioLoss volume control with three–way volume synchronization, GalvanicInfinity that affords complete galvanic isolation, FemtoMaster quad-clock architecture, and a truly balanced design yielding excellent analog performance and low distortion.

The exaSound e22 Stereo DAC is available now for $3,299. The exaSound e28 Multichannel DAC will be available shortly at a price to be announced. Check with NativeDSD Technical Director Jonas Sacks if you’re interested in buying one of these new DACs from the NativeDSD Gear Store.

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iFi Audio Offers Preview of Upcoming iDSD Pro DAC with DSD 256

The team at iFi Audio was at RMAF to offer a sneak preview of their upcoming iDSD Pro DAC with DSD 256 Stereo. The iDSD Pro is scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2017 at a price of $2,000.

NativeDSD listeners probably know all about iFi Audio. They turned heads in the audio world a few years back with their very portable and low cost DACs that brought DSD 256 Stereo to music fans on the go for $500 and under. Quite an achievement.

With their new Pro Series (shown above), iFi Audio is delivering even higher quality sound performance and products that offer your choice of solid state, tube or tube+ modes for your choice of standard, warm and warmer sonics. I enjoyed listening to the Pro Series demo with some DSD music selections at RMAF. The Pro iCAN Headphone amp (middle of photo) is now available for $1,700, while the Pro iDSD DAC ($2,000) and the Pro iCAN ESL for Electrostatic headphones (bottom of photo) is due out in early 2017. These are products that iFi Audio fans will want to keep an eye and ear out for.

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Questyle QP1 and QP1R Digital Audio Players

Another audio company to keep an eye on is Questyle. They first came to my attention for their excellent line of DAC + Headphone Amps offering DSD 128 and PCM (up to 24 bit, 192 kHz) Stereo with Class A amplification and True DSD playback. Last year, Questyle upped the ante with a pair of Digital Audio Players (DAPs) – the QP1 ($599) and the QP1R ($899). The 1R model is a reference edition of the player with upgraded audio circuitry and wiring. At RMAF 2016, the company announced several awards for the QP1R including a DAP of the Year Award.

What makes the QP1 DAPs noteworthy is their use of Class A amplification and True DSD playback (like the company’s original DAC + Headphone amps) at prices below $1,000. That is something usually not found in the DAP market. Instead you often find players that “support” or “accept” DSD music files. Which is marketing lingo that indicates your DSD files are converted to PCM audio before playback, eliminating the sonic advantages of DSD. Not at Questyle. The QP1 and QP1R DAPs keep the music in DSD from start to finish and the result is truly impressive sound quality for a very affordable price.

At RMAF, Questyle executives told me that their DAPs were selling quite well. In fact, the lower priced QP1 was selling so well that “we’re having a hard time making them fast enough to meet the demand”. Now that’s a nice “problem” to have. And it’s encouraging to hear that quality audio products continue to be in demand in the marketplace.

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NADAC Player

Merging Technologies teamed up with their U.S. distributor, Philip O’ Hanlon of On A Higher Note to demonstrate the new NADAC Player. This is a product that combines a Stereo ST-2 or Multichannel MC-8 Network Attached Digital to Analog Converter (NADAC) with a bundled computer card and a lifetime subscription to the Roon Labs music playing software. The NADAC Player features can be added to an existing Stereo or Multichannel NADAC unit for $2,500 – or a listener can order a complete Stereo ($13,000) or Multichannel ($14,000) NADAC Player.

At RMAF 2016, the Multichannel NADAC Player was demonstrated in its Stereo mode (the 8 channels merged into two) playing DSD selections from recording sessions for two upcoming DSD releases. The first was a Stereo recording of a track from Mahler’s 3rd Symphony performed by Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. That was followed by a recording of Sibelius Piano Trio from Yarlung. Worth noting here is that while the demonstrations of the NADAC Player and Roon software were in Stereo, when released, the multichannel edition of the NADAC Player will be the first release of Roon’s software playing multichannel music up to DSD 256 available to listeners. This will be something worth watching for.

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Sony Signature Series Walkman NW-WM1Z

Sony was at RMAF 2016 to introduce their new Signature Series products which included the new TA-ZH1ES Headphone Amp and DAC ($2,199), the NW-WM1Z ($3,199) and NW-WM1A Walkman Digital Audio Portables and the new Sony MDR-Z1R Headphones ($2,299). Worth noting here, the Signature Series Headphone Amp and DAC and both Walkman DAPs are Sony’s first audio products to support DSD 256 (earlier Sony audio products supported DSD 64 and more recently DSD 128). The TA-ZH1ES includes hardware upsampling to DSD 256 and goes even further by supporting music upsampled by music software to DSD 512.

Most of the attention at RMAF focused on the 1Z and 1A Walkman DAPs which were shown with the new MDR-Z1R headphones using a specially made cable with a balanced Kimber Kable that uses the new 4.4mm Pentaconn connector in the Walkman’s balanced output. An interesting feature of the Sony 1Z and 1A is that DSD files are converted to PCM before playback if you connect your headphones to the standard headphone input on these DAPs. However, if you use a balanced headphone cable with the 4.4mm Pentaconn connector, then you get Native DSD playback up to DSD 256! Not surprisingly all the Sony demos at RMAF were through the balanced input, not the standard one.

Selections in Stereo DSD 64, 128 and 256 sounded very good with the 1Z Walkman and the Sony Z1R headphones. I was also impressed by the lower priced 1A Walkman. For the price, it will be one to consider as well.   Again, be sure to get a balanced cable with the Pentaconn connector for best results with these Walkman DAPs. They will be available in mid-November, just around the corner.


More to Look Forward To
There you have it. A quick trip through some of the more interesting rooms and demonstrations at this year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.

It offered music fans a nice preview of some new products that will bring even more listening enjoyment in the year ahead. As you can see, that includes more products that can play the fine DSD Stereo and Multichannel albums at NativeDSD. Something we can all look forward to!

 

Brian Moura