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CES Show Report: Day Two, In Which Wireless Audio Rules the Hi-Fi Suites at the Venetian

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As I said in yesterday’s update from CES, my plan for the second day of the show was to check out all of the high-end audio and custom integration solutions at the Venetian suites, a task that simply proved too big for one day. There was, quite frankly, too much good stuff to see and hear and touch and play with. The morning started off with a bang at the suites of Paradigm/Anthem and their sister company, MartinLogan, both of which had some super swanky big speakers on display, but my favorite turned out to be a quite compact all-in-one audio solution dubbed Crescendo. On paper, at least, it seems like a pretty typical streaming wireless powered speaker, with the expected AirPlay and Bluetooth capabilities and integrated power. What really made Crescendo stand out for me was its audio performance (and it’s unique flat-topped, curved-bottom design).

Most wireless speakers of this size, while stereo in theory, deliver an effectively monophonic sound from any appreciable listening distance due to the fact that their tweeters are so close together. And that’s not something I normally hold against said speakers. It’s just simple geometry.

Crescendo overcomes this with a pair of newly designed mini Folded Motion Tweeters (very similar in design to the High-Velocity Folded Ribbon Tweeters you’ve heard me rave about in GoldenEar’s speakers). Instead of mounting them flat in the cabinet, though, MartinLogan actually toed them outward, which has the effect of creating a much wider, much more enveloping soundstage, even from five or six feet away. Crescendo should hit the market sometime this spring for $899.

In a continuing wireless trend, I also got some hands-on time with Sharp’s new Universal Player (SD-WH1000U) at the WiSA suite. What’s neat about the Universal Player is that it not only features DVD, Blu-ray, and SACD playback capabilities, but it also transmits the audio from those sources wirelessly to WiSA-compliant speakers at full 96kHz/24-bit resolution. The company had it connected to a pair of Bang & Olufsen’s new wireless speakers, and the results were pretty impressive. And that’s just in stereo. The Universal Player is fully capable of delivering 7.1 channels of audio through the airwaves, without the need for a separate AV receiver.

Proving that wires still do have their place, though, I stopped by the Meridian suite to get some ears-on time with the company’s new Prime Headphone Amplifier and Prime Power Supply, which were used to drive a pair of Audeze’s excellent LCD3 planar magnetic headphones. The results? Astonishing. I’ll save some of my impressions for the full review we have planned for next month, but what stood out the most is that, even though the signal was coming directly from a laptop, the signal-to-noise ratio was exceptional, resulting in truly breathtaking clarity.

As the day wound to an end, I stopped by the suites of Lenbrook to hear another new proprietary wireless hi-fi solution called Bluesound. A few interesting things set this one apart, including the fact that CD-ripping and digital storage are a central part of the Bluesound package. What really made it shine, though, was the excellent iPad app, which makes multiroom streaming and content management a snap. Check out the video below for a quick look at that.

 

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