bel canto
The e.One S300iu is an integrated amplifier which lets you listen to computer music files on your stereo.
By Columnist
updated 1/11/2007 6:40:17 PM ET 2007-01-11T23:40:17

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, you cannot talk about the hi-fi industry without digital media being an integral part of the conversation. High-end audio equipment manufacturers who have tried their best to ignore the digital music file explosion are realizing that the trend is too big to ignore any longer.

Here in Las Vegas, nearly everywhere you look you can see some sort of relatively inexpensive device, earphone or speaker system that plugs into or attaches to an iPod. But this year, we're noticing the emergence of a new class of equipment which targets the higher-end of the price scale — and main location where you store your digital music — your personal computer.

High-end audio company Bel Canto has created a clever solution for discriminating music listeners with a considerable amount of digital music stored on their computers. Their new e.One S300iu is a 300-watt, high-performance integrated amplifier with a USB port and DAC (digital-to-analog converter circuitry).

The component takes the output of your computer's USB port then processes and amplifies it to room listening levels. Add some high quality speakers and you have the basis of a super, 21st century home stereo system. The S300iu retails at $2,200.

I also came across a component from Mexico's Margules Audio. They call their new device the i-End. This is the first of a new breed of stereo equipment that uses your iPod as the high fidelity source. Think in terms of using your iPod like a removable CD disk.

Margules Audio
The i-End is a new breed of audio equipment - high-end iPod interface.
i-End lets you plug your iPod right into the front faceplate and then listen to the output on your sound system. The secret is a highly refined analog circuitry which is said to help relieve the effect of iPod's music compression software.

iEnd comes with a neat remote control, a clever touch screen navigation system, which controls all of your iPod's functions, a video output so you can see/control what's playing from across the room, a RS232 output and an extra input for a second music source.

I was able to listen to the i-End for a few minutes, in a very crowded/noisy room. Listening to lossless ripped files was impressive. In direct comparison to the sound from the iPod alone, the i-End's output was the clear winner. I can't wait to put one through the paces in my home system. The i-End retails for $960.

Home theater audio systems are getting a whole lot easier to install thanks to some well known hi-fi manufacturers’ elegant solutions. The new KEF Wireless KEF System, introduced this week, will feature a transmitter and two matching receivers. The receivers each house small, 50 watt digital power amplifiers to connect to the surround speaker system of your choice. They hope you’ll choose KEF speakers. The system will retail for $499.99.

Turntables are surging in popularity again. Many people believe that LPs sound better than CDs and sound way better than digital compressed music files.

Image: Caliburn turntable
The Caliburn turntable system costs $99,000.  It's new little brother, the Criterion, costs a still pricey $49,000.  (Base is additional.)
At the show, there were turntables galore, everything from Music Hall’s very affordable mmf-2.1 ($349 including tone arm and cartridge) up to and including the super-duper Continuum Audio Labs’ Caliburn battery-powered turntable system — which includes the turntable, Cobra tone arm, power supply and dedicated isolation stand for an extremely pricey $99,000! The phono cartridge (with needle) is extra.

I must tell you about one of the most amazing sounding demonstrations I heard at the show. It came from a 78 RPM record.  I’m not sure just how old the disc was, but what I heard sounded like it came from a recording session last month.

The secret? The proper equalization which came from a wonderful device from German company EMT. They call their JPA-66 this super pre-amplifier their “Varia-curve phono stereo control center.” It affords you the ability of individually controlling 4 separate phono inputs (different turntables/tone arms/cartridges) as well as 2 line inputs.

Image: JPA-66 preamp/phono controller
Tone Imports
EMT's amazing JPA-66 preamp/phono controller.
I heard the results listening through the new DeVore Gibbon 9 speakers ($6,500) and I have to say I have never heard 78s sound so real and lifelike. I now realize that there’s still a lot of music inside those ancient platters.

Tone Imports who are handling the EMT line including tone arms and cartridges, says the price will be slightly north of $20,000. 

One of the downsides of owning and using a turntable is that unlike CD or digital players, turntables need a higher level of expertise to set them up and keep them working at their peak.

I noticed copies of “21st Century Vinyl: Michael Fremer’s Practical Guide to Turntable Set-Up" in a number of exhibit rooms here at Las Vegas. Fremer, a music lover, turntable expert and Stereophile Magazine contributing editor, developed the step-by-step DVD to help everyone else share in his passion.

Image: McIntosh "...for the love of music..."
Ken Kessler's 300+ page love letter to the famous American electronics manufacturer.
Finally, one of the legendary names in home entertainment has been, and still is McIntosh. They have been making high quality, hi-fi and home theater products for more than 50 years.

Introduced here at the show was Ken Kessler's new coffee-table book: McIntosh “for the love of music...”  More than 300 pages of photos, interviews and a behind the scenes look at why this company’s products are considered legendary.

If you’ve ever owned McIntosh gear — or admired it from afar this book is a must.  It should be available soon at authorized McIntosh dealers.

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