Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

The Consumer Electronics Show is best known for showcasing state-of-the-art technology -- the cutting-edge stuff that pushes the boundaries of what most consumers think is possible. Almost all of this advancement comes at extreme cost. Yet in the midst of a recession, many audio companies are introducing products that offer a great deal of functionality at very affordable prices.


TEAC introduced their 501 series of components at CES 2013, including the $799 PD-501HR DSD-compatible CD player (not shown), the $799 UD-501 DSD-capable digital-to-analog converter (top), and the highlight -- the AI-501DA integrated amplifier (bottom). The AI-501DA delivers 90Wpc into 4 ohms (power into 8 ohms was not specified) via an Abletec class-D amplifier, while also incorporating a Burr-Brown PCM5102 digital-to-analog converter with USB and coaxial connections able to accept signals up to 24-bit/192kHz, and a pair of optical connections that can accept up to 24/96. A pair of RCA analog inputs is also featured, as well as a high-quality headphone amplifier that operates in dual-mono configuration and sports a front-mounted 1/8" jack. The steel chassis is accented with aluminum, and looked far more expensive than its $799 asking price. Rounding out the package are dimmable dual analog level meters on the front panel, and an included remote control.


NAD's new offerings were perhaps even more impressive. Showcasing their $499 D 1050 USB DAC (left), $899 D 7050 digital network receiver (right), and the shockingly reasonable $399 D 3020 DAC/amp (center), the company is offering terrific value for the money. The D 3020 DAC/amp, in particular, looks promising, and it features a 30Wpc class-D amplifier with a claimed "0.00%" distortion. It sports an asynchronous USB input supporting sample rates up to 24/96, as well as coaxial and optical inputs. Its apt-X Bluetooth feature allows for a direct connection of wireless smartphones and tablets, while its headphone and subwoofer outputs make the package properly flexible. It even includes a remote control. Sheesh -- convenient. The modestly sized black component looks like it would serve as a perfect foundation for a compact bedroom, or even living-room system.


Arcam announced an updated version of its well-received rDAC, the irDAC. Priced at $600, the irDAC features a Texas Instruments PCM1796 chip, and no less than six inputs. These include a full-size, type-A USB input for iPods, a switchable asynchronous USB connection that can operate as a USB 1.1 input or high-speed 2.0 input, and pairs of coaxial and optical inputs. These inputs accept sample rates up to 24/96, as well as 24/192 -- 24/176.4 is conspicuously not supported. Analog outputs are 2.2Vrms RCAs, but a digital output is also included. The “ir” in irDAC refers to the British unit's infrared remote. The stylish aluminum DAC will be available in the first quarter of 2013.

These three examples are the best of several affordable products that we have seen so far at CES 2013, and budget-conscious consumers look to have many able and affordable products to choose from in the coming year.

Hans Wetzel
Senior Editor, The SoundStage! Network