Woo Audio's stunning new USB DAC/vacuum tube headphone amp, the WA7 ($777), with a solid-glass top piece was the best-looking product I saw at the show, regardless of price. It's still a few months away from production, but I can't wait for this one!
Magnepan's New MMG flat-panel speakers and flat woofer
Magnepan was demonstrating its new MMG speakers ($600 per pair), and a matching separate woofer. The three-piece system sounded luscious. If you don't live near a Magnepan dealer, you can buy the system from a dealer, and have Magnepan ship it directly to you for an in-home trial.
Sony's Naotaka Tsunoda handed me a beautiful new headphone model, the MDR-1R ($299), that sounded remarkably clear and precise; he also had a neat little portable headphone amplifier. Seems like Sony's getting serious about making audiophile headphones!
I'm rarely impressed with speaker correction processors, but the DEQX-Mate is a special case. I've heard it work wonders with high-end speakers, but at the show the Mate radically transformed a cheap and awful speaker's sound into something semi-decent. If I hadn't heard it with my own ears, I wouldn't have believed such a thing was possible. The DEQX engineers must be doing something right!
Music Hall's rather plain-looking little monitor speaker, the Marimba ($349 a pair), sounded big and truly powerful. I have never heard that level of bass "slam" coming out of such a diminutive speaker; I can't wait to get it in for review.
The Dynaudio Xeo wireless speakers are the real thing: true high-end speakers that just happen to be wireless. A phone or tablet loaded with tunes and a pair of bookshelf or tower Xeos is a complete hi-fi system. Dynaudio Xeo is, by far, the best-sounding wireless system I've heard.
Ray Samuels A10 Thunderbolt II headphone amplifier
Ray Samuels Audio offers the widest range of portable and home headphone amplifiers in the business. Here's the company's seriously potent A10 Thunderbolt II ($6,500); I was also treated to the sounds of one of Ray's downright tiny integrated DAC/headphone amps, the Intruder. Prices start at $295.
This is a close-up of the new CS2.7 speaker's unique midrange/tweeter driver. Thiel has always excelled in making speakers that disappear as sound sources; the CS 2.7 was one of the more magical-sounding speakers at the show.
Wavelength's Gordon Rankin has consistently designed superb USB digital-to-analog converters and amplifiers, and he makes them in Ohio. He was using Vaughn Cabernet II speakers, and Rankin had the best digital sound at the show. It was so good it sounded like analog!