Samsung is launching two computer-monitor models that have Smart TV capabilities. It is similar to the likes of LG offering some computer monitors with integrated broadcast-TV tuners.
Good enough for that personal space where you work and live in
This class of computer monitor addresses use cases where one would put one of these monitors to service not just with their computer for work or advanced gaming but also for ordinary entertainment purposes. The classic examples of this use case include a bedroom or den that serves as one’s office and personal space; or a person who moves in to a small apartment or bungalow where one large room serves as their living room, dining room and office. It also includes university students who live on campus in a student-accommodation facility like a dorm or residence hall or workers who live in employer-provided accommodation facilities as part of their job.
I did some previous coverage on this topic in an article about having a TV serve as a computer monitor or using a computer monitor as a TV and nowadays some TV manufacturers are offering large-screen TV models that are optimised for computer games with the video electronics equivalent to what is offered in a current-spec gaming monitor. This is due to a realisation that one could be bringing that Windows-based gaming rig or that current-spec games console in to the living room to play games on the big screen TV.
But the Samsung M7 (32” 4K UHD) and M5 (27” or 32” Full HD) monitors have Samsung’s Tizen-OS-based Smart Hub smart-TV platform. These include access to apps for locally-popular video-on-demand entertainment services delivered through that platform. Both sets connect to your home network via Wi-FI 5 technology and they support peripheral connectivity via Bluetooth 4.2 or USB. The Wi-Fi functionality even goes further to work with Wi-Fi-based mirroring technologies and allows the monitor to be part of your DLNA Home Media Network. As well you can stream audio and video from supported Apple devices using the AirPlay 2 protocol.
There is even support for Samsung’s Wireless DeX capability where your Samsung Galaxy S8 or newer Android phone uses the TV as a desktop-style interface. Add to this a virtual-machine which works with Microsoft Office so you can work with Office-based documents stored in the cloud.
The monitors have a remote control so you can manage the smart-TV interface in a “lean-back” manner. This even has the ability to work with the Samsung Bixby voice assistant thanks to a microphone integrated in the remote control. As well, they have two HDMI inputs that support HDR10 and HDMI-CEC. That means you have room to connect your computer and another video peripheral like a set-top box or games console. The M7 model also has USB-C with 65W Power Delivery, Display Port alt connectivity and USB-hub functionality to boot.
A question that will come up is whether the monitors will have an integrated broadcast-TV tuner of any sort. As far as I know, they don’t have that kind of feature although the initial models are being launched in to Canada, the USA and China. But this may be a feature considered of importance for customers in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. This is because these countries place significant importance on access to free-to-air TV especially from their national public-service broadcasters.
On the other hand, the DLNA ability that they offer may work hand in glove with broadcast-LAN boxes and PVRs that support this standard. Or Samsung could build SAT>IP client support in to these monitors where they are targeted to British and European markets at least. This is due to this standard being supported for satellite broadcast-LAN devices and, in some cases, terrestrial and cable TV within those markets.
But what I do see of Samsung’s effort with the M7 and M5 monitors is that they are maintaining interest in the market niche where a computer monitor is expected also to serve as a TV for entertainment purposes. This market niche can be further supported through having a wide range of these types of monitors including some game-ready variants and units that can work well with multi-display setups.
Over the past few years Yamaha and Marantz have put forward a relatively-new type of hi-fi component unit in the form of the network CD player. These are CD players that connect to your home network to play audio content hosted on equipment on that network or on an online service.
A core advantage these units have is you only use one line-level input on your amplifier or receiver to serve one piece of equipment that plays a CD or to listen to an online audio service or something held on your network-attached storage device. They also fit in well when it comes to upgrading or replacing an existing CD player that you have and you want to benefit from your home network and online audio services.
For a long time, Technics was the hi-fi arm for the original Matsushita (National Panasonic) brand, offering value-priced and premium hi-fi equipment such as the legendary SL-1200 series of DJ turntables. It was while they were applying itself to musical instruments made by Matsushita. This brand even started the idea of the main Japanese consumer-electronics names running a separate brand for their hi-fi equipment through the late 1970s and early 1980s.
But through the late 1990s and the early 2000s, Technics evolved itself to the musical instrument and DJ equipment market while having value-priced audio equipment under the Panasonic name. A few years ago, they rebuilt the hi-fi image by focusing on equipment destined to the high-end hi-fi market with them supporting vinyl, optical-disc and network / online delivery.
Now Technics have come to the fore at CES 2019 by premiering the Grand Class SL-G700 Network SACD player. This is a network CD player that is optimised for audiophile high-end listening by providing full playback of SACD discs along with file-based or CD-based audio content based on the high-end MQA standard. Here, it is infact the first network CD player to provide full playback of SACD discs.
This unit’s digital-to-analogue path has been worked on through the use of premium DAC circuitry that is built with a dual-mono approach. It is as if two digital-to-analogue signal paths are created within the unit – one for the left channel and one for the right channel.
It also includes circuit-based isolation to prevent digital-processing noise from creeping in to the post-DAC analogue signal path. As well, a separate digital-analogue signal path exists for the unit’s headphone jack. There is an operation mode that effectively provides SACD/CD direct sound when you play a regular CD or high-end SACD.
As far as I know, the network aspect for the Technics SL-G700 network SACD player supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. There is support for AirPlay and Chromecast audio streaming from iOS, MacOS or Android devices. It also has access to Spotify, TiDAL and Internet radio online services.
What I see of this player is that it is another brand’s attempt to focus the network CD player towards the high-end audiophile market who may be maintaining their CD collections but make use of online music services. This is more so if the premium amplifier that they use has as few line-level inputs as possible.
Previously, Yamaha identified a product class in the form of a full-width network CD player which can either play CDs on its own CD transport or network and Internet sources obtained via your home network.
This product has filled a market niche with people with a hi-fi system equipped with an amplifier or receiver that doesn’t have enough line-level inputs for a network media player and a regular CD player. As well, these CD players can allow a person who is upgrading or replacing a CD player to benefit from the extra network-audio-playback functionality by simply swapping out one device.
It was very similar to what had happened in the MiniDisc era of the late 1990s where Sony, Sharp, JVC, Marantz and others offered a CD/MiniDisc deck as part of their product lineup.. Here, these full-width units housed a single-disc or multi-disc CD player and an MD deck in the same housing and you could simply hook these units up to your amplifier’s or receiver’s tape loop for CD or MiniDisc playback or to record to the MiniDiscs. In some cases, I saw these units as effectively “modernising” old stereo equipment by allowing you to add CD and MD functionality in one action. They also appealed to music playout setups for churches, theatres and the like due to being able to occupy one input on the mixing desk for a regular CD or a MiniDisc which appealed for having pre-recorded material “ready to play”.
As well, it was also similar to the popular DVD/VHS combos where these units were a single box that only took up one input on your TV to be able to play DVDs or VHS videocassettes. In a lot of situations through the late 90s and early 2000s, these machines became the preferred way to add access to the new DVDs and the old videotapes when it was time to set up new TV equipment or replace a broken-down video recorder.
Subsequently Yamaha offered a follow-up model to the CD-N500 network CD player in the form of the CD-N301 which omitted USB connectivity but was “Wi-Fi ready”. It was also offered in the black finish as an alternative to the traditional silver finish to complement hi-fi setups that mostly have black-finished equipment.
This year, Marantz have answered Yamaha by offering a high-quality network CD player as part of this year’s hi-fi product lineup. It was as though they were following on the legacy of their CD/MD decks, especially the CM-6200. The ND-8006 offers the high-quality CD playback that Marantz is known for and this applies to regular CDs as well as file-based CDs full of MP3 or WMA audio files. There is also the ability to play from USB Mass-Storage devices with this unit handling all the common audio file types including FLAC.
But it can connect to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet technology and uses this connection for a variety of applications. This includes access to Spotify, Amazon Music, TiDAL and Deezer “online jukeboxes”, and Internet radio via TuneIn Radio in the context of online audio services. You can stream audio content from your Apple devices or iTunes using AirPlay; but can play content held on your DLNA-capable NAS or media server. The Spotify functionality even supports Spotify Connect playback where a Spotify program tied to a Spotify Premium account can effectively become a controller with the music emanating from the Marantz network CD player.
There is some level of functionality as far as the Denon-Marantz HEOS multiroom system is concerned. At least you could set things up to stream a network or online source across multiple HEOS-capable speakers or amplifiers existing on your home network including the amplifier or speakers this CD player is connected to.
Very comprehensive level of connectivity shown on the back panel
You can use the Marantz ND-8006 network CD player as a high-quality digital-analogue converter for SPDIF PCM sources connected via Toslink optical or RCA coaxial inputs, which would come in handy with a smart TV, set-top box, DVD/Blu-ray player or MiniDisc deck. Or it could serve as a “virtual sound card” for your computer thanks to a USB Type-B input. There is even the ability for this CD player to stream audio content from your Bluetooth-capable smartphone or other device.
The Marantz ND-8006 network CD player is another example of the hi-fi digital-audio equipment where the manufacturer has invested heavily in the playback sound path in both the digital and analogue domains. The digital-filtering job is looked after by the “Marantz Musical Digital Filtering” circuit which was a home-designed circuit optimised for music quality. Then the digital-analouge conversion job is looked after by a ESS9016 Sabre digital-analogue converter circuit.
Let’s not forget that this network CD player can play “master-grade” digital audio files from USB storage or your home network’s DLNA-capable NAS. It also includes the ability to enqueue any of these files for subsequent play when the current one is finished, similar to building up an “Active Queue List” on some MP3 players. It can also convert “master-grade” digital audio presented over an SPDIF digital audio link.
As far as connecting to your equipment is concerned, you have a fixed-level analogue line output along with a variable-level analogue line output. Marantz even suggested using the variable output as a “pre-out” for connecting directly to active speakers (think Bose Acoustimass or B&O Beolab speakers for example) or a power amplifier. There is also SPDIF digital outputs in coaxial and optical form for connecting to a home theatre receiver, digital-analogue converter or digital amplifier based primarily around discrete componentry.
There has also been some investment in the headphone amplifier which caters for those of us who use high-quality headphones for private listening. Like most other full-width hi-fi equipment, this will require the headphones to be equipped with the traditional 6.35mm stereo phone plug.
Although the Marantz ND-8006 network CD player has a price within “premium-equipment” territory, it is more about being able to answer this product class at the premium level. What would need to happen to build out the network CD player as a product class would be to have other value-priced hi-fi names offer these products as part of their lineup.
Previously, I had touched on the issue of availability of “full-width” network-capable stereo receivers that have the same expectations as the traditional hi-fi receiver that has been seen as the heart of many hi-fi systems. This was when I had called out the Onkyo TX-8050 network stereo receiver and the Yamaha R-N301 network stereo receiver.
Here I was focusing on people who value the idea of creating a hi-fi system that is about playing music rather than a home-theatre setup that is about showing what Hollywood has to offer. Situations that I think of include creating a formal lounge area where you want to focus your activity on entertaining guests, reading and playing or listening to music; or simply maintaining a separate home-entertainment system optimised for playing music.
Yamaha are still pushing through with stereo receivers that can connect to your home network. The latest examples are underscored with the R-N602, R-N402 and R-N303D Natural Sound Network Receivers which integrate the concept of the stereo receiver with the home network and multiroom audio thanks to the latest iteration of the Yamaha MusicCast network audio technology.
This technology that Yamaha implements in these receivers isn’t interlinked with any overarching multiroom network-audio standard adopted by many manufacturers. But they can also work with network audio sources like DLNA-capable media servers including NAS units, or online sources like Spotify or Pandora. Those of you who use an Apple device running iOS or a recent iteration of MacOS can also use these Yamaha receivers for your device’s audio output.
One of the features I am calling out is the ability to stream audio from a source device connected to these receivers to other Yamaha MusicCast devices. For example, in the case of the R-N602, you could start a record playing on the turntable connected to this receiver in the formal lounge room. Then you use the Yamaha MusicCast Controller app on your iOS or Android smartphone to hear that record through the Yamaha PLUS (WX-030) speaker in the kitchen.
Similarly, these receivers are implementing Bluetooth not just as a source but as an alternate output. For example, one could hear a local radio broadcast on the receiver’s integrated tuner through their Bluetooth headphones without the need to worry about the length of their headphone cord thanks to this functionality.
The Yamaha R-N602 does cater very well for legacy media by providing an integrated phono stage for a turntable equipped with a moving-magnet cartridge, as well as two tape loops which can come in handy if you still record to tapes or other media, including using a computer to archive old recordings. But the Yamaha R-N402 and R-N303D has its analogue inputs being line-level only with one tape loop.
At least Yamaha haven’t forgotten about the network-capable stereo receiver as a product class for devices that serve as a hi-fi system’s hub. Instead, they have made sure that there is a range of equipment that suits different needs and budgets, allowing us to consider how to build out that music system as we want.
At the Australian Audio and AV Show 2013, I had a look at Arcam’s Solo Neo network CD receiver which is their entry to the high-quality network CD receiver marketplace. But I subsequently had a look for information on the Web about whether the Solo Neo still existed or was superseded by a better unit.
The Arcam Solo Neo was, at that time, the latest in their Solo range of CD receivers and DVD receivers that this British hi-fi name had designed. Then, it was on a par with the likes of the Cyrus Lyric and the Naim Uniti 2 which were systems of this calibre that were being offered by hi-fi’s “names-of-respect” to answer the needs associated with compact high-quality music systems that are simple to operate.
Arcam Solo Music – latest iteration of the Solo network CD receiver lineup
But I had found that they replaced the Solo Neo with a range of network-capable receivers that also had an integral optical-disc player. Here, they offer the Solo Music which has a stereo output and an SACD player which plays ordinary CDs as well which is to be seen as a follow-on to the Solo Neo. But Arcam also offers the Solo Movie 2.1 which has a Blu-Ray player along with support for a subwoofer for deeper bass along with the Solo Movie 5.1 which has the Blu-Ray player and supports a full surround-sound output through its own amplifier.
What are these Solo Music and the Solo Movie network-capable AV systems about?
Arcam of Cambridge: Solo Movie system incorporate the latest technology and components from Arcam’s 2016 AVR & Hi-Fi ranges, including the acclaimed Class G amplification, High-End Blu-ray and DVD Replay and full App Controlled music networking / streaming. Either available as a 5.1 full-surround variant or as a 2.1 two-speaker variant
All three of these units require you to supply your own speakers rather than being supplied with a pair of speakers as is common for this breed of equipment. Here, the Solo Music and Solo Movie 2.1 could put up 80 watts per channel RMS across a standard 8-ohm speaker load with 0.2% total harmonic distortion while the Solo Movie 5.1 could handle 60 watts per channel RMS with all channels driven into standard 8-ohm speakers, again with 0.2% total harmonic distortion. Here, these systems could handle most modestly-sized speakers that are in existence, thanks to Arcam’s “Class G” amplification technology which combines the sound quality associated with the Class A linear amplification method and the efficiency of the Class AB linear amplification method, serving as another way to achieve high-quality sound from compact equipment designs.
They all have four HDMI inputs for video peripherals along with an HDMI output for your TV with the ability to feed your TV’s sound through these systems courtesy of HDMI-ARC functionality. There are also SP/DIF digital inputs, one as an optical form and another as a coaxial form for other digital-audio devices like MiniDisc decks. Then there are two line-level inputs, one in the form of RCA connections and the other in the form of a 3.5mm stereo phone jack for connecting up other line-level audio devices.
As well as the aforementioned optical disc drives (SACD in the case of the Solo Music and Blu-Ray in the case of the Solo Movie models), there is a radio capable of receiving FM or DAB+ broadcasts along with the ability to play audio and visual media held on your NAS or other network media resource thanks to DLNA technology. It can also play file-based content that exists on a USB storage device like a memory key as well as being able to stream audio content from your Bluetooth-capable smartphone but using aptX for improved sound quality.
You can connect these Solo music and AV systems to your home network using Wi-Fi or Ethernet (including via a HomePlug powerline network segment). But I would prefer that this kind of equipment is connected to your home network using Ethernet or a HomePlug AV connection to allow for reliable home-network operation.
Why am I giving space to the Arcam Solo Music and Solo Movie systems?
The Arcam Solo Music matches its network-CD-receiver peers in so much that it can be the heart of a high-quality three-piece music system for your apartment, dorm or other similarly-compact living space. Here, you can choose to run it with a pair of high-quality speakers, with the fact that these could be a pair of brand-new bookshelf speakers, the traded-in floor/shelf speakers that the hi-fi store you bought the Solo Music from are clearing out or the pair of good-quality speakers you ended up with at the estate sale.
But the Solo Movie network Blu-Ray receivers take this further by integrating the concept of a network CD receiver with that of those DVD and Blu-Ray home-theatre systems that a lot of people in the suburbs are enamoured with. Unlike the typical “home-theatre” system offered at Best Buy, Harvey Norman and the like which are only supplied with small speakers for the front and surround channels and are engineered so that the subwoofer does all of the work in handling the bass, the Solo Movie units can be connected to bookshelf or floorstanding speakers that can reproduce the bass notes very adequately.
The Solo Movie 2.1 even impressed me more for people who want something with just two speakers but able to do video playback rather than being the full-bore surround system. Examples of this include a system used in a secondary lounge area, office or bedroom; or by those of us who are just satisfied enough with the two speakers for reproducing our video content’s soundtracks. You could even connect your computer through the Solo Movie 2.1’s HDMI connections so that the sound from YouTube and other online audio sources could be piped through the better speakers connected to that unit rather than your laptop’s or monitor’s tinny speakers.
Hotels and the like would even value this system as something to be installed in a guestroom, suite or apartment to provide the ability to play optical discs, network-hosted sources, the radio or smartphones and similar devices that a guest brings along; along with the TV’s sound through better speakers.
Arcam could provide inherent support for online audio sources like vTuner Internet radio, Spotify and Pandora and this can easily be provided using a firmware upgrade that effectively adds these sources.
But what they are doing is to use the Solo product lineup as their way of providing integrated audio and video systems that are about high-quality sound and vision in a manner that appeals to those of us who are more comfortable with this kind of product. They can also encourage others who offer the network-enabled CD receiver in their product lineup to look towards offering similar simplified products that can fulfil video-playback needs.
The Naim NDX and NDS network media players are an example of what high-end network-based audio is about
There are pieces of equipment out there that I have seen in action doing their job effectively and even demonstrating what their application is all about. In some of these cases, I may highlight the device and use them as a “poster child” for that application where I would use a photograph that I have taken of it to represent a piece of equipment that fulfils the application I am talking about. The device I am talking about in this example is the Naim NDX which is a high-end audiophile network media player made by one of the British names-of-respect when it comes to high-grade hi-fi sound.
I have heard the Naim NDX network media player and its subsequent model, the NDS Reference Network Media Player in action whenever I have attended the Chester Group’s Australian Audio & AV Shows and this unit was one of the first devices that showed that music content delivered via a home network can be about high-quality top-notch sound.
Previous to that show, I wrote “Serious About Music With DLNA” which underscored how the premium hi-fi names were implementing UPnP AV / DLNA technology to play out music held on your home network and the Naim NDX illustrated what this was about. This was a class of hi-fi equipment manufacturer who wouldn’t be ready to touch online or network-based audio setups unless they were totally sure that these setups were about top-notch crystal-clear sound.
But what is the Naim NDX network media player about that draws my attention?
This British-designed unit is totally designed by Naim to their ultimate hi-fi design standards with an emphasis on hardware upgradeability. For example, it is designed to obtain its power from Naim’s highly-strung specially-designed power-supply systems that are optimised to provide strong clean power to their components, but has its own power supply built to the same standard. The NDS “reference” model is even designed that it is only powered from one of these power supplies. The signal path that transitions between the digital form and the line-level analogue form is built around circuitry that would be equivalent to what would be in one of Naim’s standalone digital-analogue converter units.
Personally, this same device ticks my requirements for a piece of network-based audio equipment. One of these is that it can work on an Ethernet network segment including a HomePlug AV segment thanks to an Ethernet connection on the back, as well as a Wi-Fi wireless network segment. This is to have it work with FLAC, WAV or similar audio files representing 24-bit 96kHz “master-grade” recordings that exist on your home network. As well, the Naim NDX can discover music content on any UPnP AV / DLNA media server on your home network, something I have seen this unit do very well when I saw it in action at the Australian Audio and AV Shows. This unit satisfies the need for gapless playback for most codecs especially the lossless codecs so can handle most classical-music, live-concert or concept-album tasks. It also underscores the fact that the unit does handle the FLAC files very well and I have illustrated it as a “poster child” for the FLAC digital audio format. This is about placing importance on standards-based “open-frame” setup for network-based audio distribution.
The NDX also can “pull in” Internet radio content from your home network thanks to support for the vTuner Internet-radio directory. It can also support Spotify Connect and the new Tidal online music service that is pitched for hi-fi listening.
It is worth knowing that the Naim NDX network media player can work as a digital-analogue converter for CD transports, TV set-top boxes, MiniDisc decks and the like thanks to three SP/DIF connections – one in the form of an RCA coaxial connection, another in the form of a BNC coaxial connection and the third in the form of an optical connection. There is also a front-mounted “walk-up” USB socket so you can play a USB hard disk or memory key, or an iOS device full of music through the NDX. This also has the ability to accept content streamed from a Bluetooth-capable smartphone with support for the aptX Bluetooth-streaming codec.
There is a BNC coaxial digital output to connect the Naim NDX to a digital amplifier, DAC or digital recorder but the line-level analogue connections are available as a pair of RCA sockets and a DIN socket.
I have done some further research on this piece of equipment and had found that it had been rated very well by Gramophone, the UK’s classical-music magazine, and “Enjoy The Music”, an American audiophile Website
It is also worth noting that the Naim NDX has been used as the “hase design” for all of that company’s network-capable audio equipment like the Uniti network CD receivers. These network CD receivers were one of many devices of this class that I called out as representatives of the high-quality network CD receiver that, when used with a pair of high-quality speakers, could represent a three-piece system of a high standard for that apartment, office
I have similarly called out the Naim DAC-V1 USB digital-analogue converter as an example of a top-notch hi-fi DAC that is expected to work with FLAC audio files when I mentioned that Windows 10 was to have native support for these files. This use case was again highlighted at one if the Australian Audio and AV shows with this device serving as the sound module for an HP Elitebook 2560P and it ready to play through a pair of top-notch bookshelf speakers via a power amplifier from the same stable.
It is another example where file-based audio content including “ripping” CDs or salvaging legacy media to network-based storage is considered a viable music content source that can be played using top-notch audio equipment.
I have been keeping an eye on and given space on this site to the Yamaha CD-N500 which is a CD player that also doubles as a network audio adaptor and is a device I have called out for those of us who want to add CD playback and network media playback to our favourite hi-fi systems.
But Yamaha have also supplemented this player with the CD-N301 which is offered at a cheaper price than the CD-N500. It is also offered in a variant that has a black finish that would go along with hi-fi racks that had that same finish.
Both this player and its older brother, the CD-N500, connect to your amplifier or receiver via a line-level analogue input, occupying just one input on your amplifier’s source selector. But if you have a digital-analogue converter, home-theatre receiver or digital amplifier, these units also provide an SP/DIF PCM digital output via an optical or RCA coaxial connection. They connect to your home network using the tried and trusted Ethernet connection which also allows for you to use a HomePlug AV adaptor if your house isn’t wired for Ethernet or your router isn’t near your hi-fi system.
They also can pull in file-based audio content from a NAS according to DLNA 1.5 specifications or can stream Internet radio courtesy of the vTuner broadcast-stream directory. The file-based audio content can be handled all the way to “master-grade” quality (24-bit 96kHz WAV or FLAC files). If you run iTunes on your Mac or Windows computer or use an iOS device or recently-built Macintosh with recent version (Mountain Lion or newer) of the MacOS operating system, both these players support Apple’s AirPlay network-audio-streaming protocol.
The CD-N301 is based on newer construction but is what I would describe as being “Wi-Fi ready” where you can connect it to a Wi-Fi wireless-network segment of the home-network kind if you use an optional wireless-network adaptor module. There is also inherent software-level support for Spotify Connect and Pandora along with support for vTuner Internet radio and content held on your DLNA-capable NAS.
But it doesn’t have the USB connection for audio playback from USB storage devices or iOS devices. This may not be an issue if your network-based music exists mainly on a DLNA-capable NAS or an online service.
Yamaha shows again that a network-capable audio CD player does exist as a viable option for those wishing to upgrade or replace their existing CD player and add network-audio playback to their hi-fi system. Similarly they also see these players earning their keep for those of us wanting to add CD and network-audio playback to an existing hi-fi system at the same time.
Technics SU-R1 network media player / control amplifier
I have reserved my tickets for the Australian Audio And AV Show 2016 to he held at the Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto on 21-23 October this year. As I have noted in my coverage of previous shows that I have attended. there has been equal space given to the classic vinyl record, CDs and file-based digital audio at these shows. This includes some manufacturers playing music from the different media through the same hi-fi setups.
One of the main trends that is surfacing in the high-end audio department is the network audio player that is actually a control amplifier (pre-amplifier) and designed to be connected directly to a power amplifier or active speakers. This capitalises on the fact that serious hi-fi buffs have shown a liking towards the idea of hi-fi setups that implement the separate control amplifier connected to either a separate stereo power amplifier or a mono power amplifier (monobloc) serving each channel.
Technics SE-R1 power amplifier – a contemporary take of the legendary Technics stereo power amplifiers of the 70s, 80s and 90s
Between the 1970s and the 1990s, a typical hi-fi stereo power amplifier was built on a large chassis and had a pair of large “power meters” which indicated how much power these beasts were putting up. In some cases, these power amplifiers were considered one of hi-fi’s status symbols and Technics carried this forward in their design of the companion SE-R1 power amplifier illustrated on this site.
Similarly, there has been some interest in some of the sound-reproduction community concerning the design, manufacture and use of active speakers beyond the “computer-audio, designer-lifestyle-audio and PA-system” use cases thanks to right-sized frequency-specific amplification like biamplification and similar design techniques implemented in these speakers. This was something I had noticed at the Australian Audio and AV Show in 2013 when one of the manufacturers presented a set of active speakers as traditional hi-fi speakers. As well, some users may even use an active subwoofer along with speakers served by a power amplifier or a set of active speakers in order to put some extra bass in to the sound.
Auralic Altair network media player / control amplifier
I have called out two network media players – the Technics SU-R1 network media player / control amplifier which is intended to work with the SE-R1 power amplifier but can work with other power amplifiers / active speakers; and the Auralic Altair Wireless Streaming Bridge. Both of these units tick the boxes, not just for network connectivity and online source playback but for the kind of connectivity that can exist between them and a power amplifier or active speakers. These are designed to connect to any of these devices due to use of standard connectors and are proving that this class of device isn’t just for “lifestyle-class” equipment anymore.
JBL EON active PA speaker equipped with XLR connections – this can work with the Auralic and Technics network media player / control amplifiers
Firstly, they work using UPnP AV / DLNA technology for discovering content on media servers or NAS units. Similarly they also provide access to some online audio services like Internet radio, Spotify and others depending on the unit and the firmware in place at the time. Apple iOS users can use the AirPlay function to stream sound in to the sound system connected to these network media players. They also work as USB digital-analogue converters with them serving effectively as sound modules for your regular computer or Android mobile device.
.. as can this B&O Beolab active speaker equipped with RCA connections
As for connectivity to a power amplifier, they implement the traditional RCA outputs which work with most, if not all, power amplifiers on the market that are pitched for domestic use. These connectors also allow for someone to use active speakers like the Bang & Olufsen Beolab range or the Bose Powered Acoustimass range of active speakers, both of which are known for high-quality sound.
.. and Aktimate active bookshelf speakers with RCA connections
But they also implement the balanced line-level connectivity with the three-pin XLR plugs associated with professional audio and PA systems. This connection type is also being valued in the high-end hi-fi space for connecting control amplifiers and power amplifiers due to reduced interference but you could even get away with connecting these network media players to active PA speakers of the JBL EON kind.
It could raise the audio-reproduction question about the comparative sound quality of a high-end domestic-use power amplifier or active speaker; and a PA/sound-reinforcement power amplifier or active speaker as similar sound-quality expectations are being required for both classes of equipment.
What is showing up is that these network-media-player devices are being highlighted as a hi-fi option for those of us who want to build a sound system for file-based or Internet-hosted audio content and base that around high-quality active speakers or separate power amplifiers.
I had provided some previous coverage about Panasonic’s AllPlay multi-room audio setup which implements Qualcomm’s AllPlay network-based multi-room audio technology. Here, I called out two stereos, the SC-ALL5CD single-piece unit and the SC-PMX100 three-piece system, that can stream broadcast radio and regular CDs that you buy from Amazon or JB Hi-Fi from their own tuners or CD players through AllPlay-compatible multi-room speakers.
Now Panasonic have refreshed their control app for their ALL series speakers and offered a video which shows what the refreshed mobile-platform app can do. It is part of a video playlist that highlights what the Panasonic ALL series stereo equipment and speaker systems are about.
Previously in my series on IFA 2015, I have covered the trends affecting personal and mobile computing like the arrival of the Intel Skylake silicon which raises the performance of portable computers along with trends affecting the home network such as 802.11ac Wave-2 Wi-Fi wireless. Now I am covering the technologies affecting home entertainment.
There have been major strides forward with TV technology especially 4K ultra-high-definition TV.
Firstly, the cost of these sets is gradually reducing in such a way where they could start to appear in discount stores and supermarkets.
But another technology is appearing in the form of High Dynamic Range for video-content display. This is intended to create a more realistic image by preserving a high level of contrast between the brightest parts and the darkest parts. Here, the image would look like what you would see in real life like when you see the sun reflecting off the surface of the sea. Colour shades would be represented close to what they were to be, including the ability to handle bright exotic reds properly.
LG OLED TVs being launched at IFA 2015
LG have launched some flat OLED 4K TVs in the form of the EF9500 (65” and 55”) series and the EG9200 (55”) which are HDR-ready. With these sets, the flat-screen feature is underscored as being important for group viewing and whenever one is viewing on an angle which is something that curved screens cannot excel at. They also released a curved OLED 4K model in the form of the EG9100 series but this model omits the HDR feature. All these Smart TVs implement the WebOS 2.0 platform.
Samsung have covered all their bases when it comes to 4K TV technology by offering sets from 32” to 105”. They have announced that their UHDTV sets can be able to work with HDR material and these sets will benefit from this capability courtesy of a firmware update.
Panasonic have launched the CZ950 which is the first 4K OLED-based UHDTV to be launched by this brand. This 65” curved-screen set is tuned by Hollywood colourist Mike Sowia and is HDR ready.
Sony haven’t been quiet but launched their Bravia X91C series TV to Europe and Australia. This is while Philips launched their Ambilux TVs which use pico projectors to project images on to the surrounding wall to effectively enlarge the viewing area.
As for sources that supply video content in UHDTV, there has been some action lately on this front.
The 4K UHD Blu-Ray format has been launched as a way to cost-effectively deliver 4K material on Blu-Ray optical discs. It also has the ability to work with Dolby Atmos and other object-based sound-mix formats as well as supporting a digital media bridge function. Samsung has launched the first player capable of this format at IFA 2015.
As for broadcast content, Germany is moving towards DVB-T2 and implementing the HEVC codecs as part of this format which makes for traditional terrestrial broadcast TV being capable of being delivered in 4K UHDTV.
But there is more activity on the satellite-TV front with Eutelsat and SES Astra have been building out bouquets of 4K television content to be delivered this way. One example of this is the Fashion TV 4K channel that is being delivered by SES Astra satellites. CanalPlus is in on the 4K act as is Pearl TV, a German shopping channel. This is while Hessicher Rundfunk who is part of ARD is running demo transmissions via the Eutelsat Hotbird satellites. Sky Deutschland and a Scandinavian broadcaster have registered intent to establish 4K satellite content.
When a consumer-electronics show has computing and TV as activities of focus, it is easy to forget about what is happening with audio technology. This is as the technology is being more focused around file-based audio and wireless multiroom audio setups of which there has been a lot of activity in this department.
LG Music Flow P5 speakers
LG has built out their MusicFlow Bluetooth audio platform with the MusicFlow P5 speaker that supports Automatic Music Play that starts playing your music when you come in range.This device can run on its own battery for 15 hours. They also launched the SoundPop 360 which is a Bluetooth speaker that is the shape and size of a coffee cup and fires the music out around it. It has a playing time of 20 hours on its own battery.
LG SoundPop 360 Bluetooth speakers
These Bluetooth speakers support LG’s MusicPoint functionality which is effectively multipoint for Bluetooth speakers where you can connect two Bluetooth phones to the one speaker and play music through that speaker. There is also the DualPlay functionality where you can connect one phone to two LG Bluetooth speakers and set it up for improved stereo separation or many-speaker party-mode playback. The TV Sound Sync functionality allows you to link the Bluetooth speakers to a Bluetooth-capable TV and set up for better stereo or surround home-theatre separation or a private listening experience.
Samsung has answered LG on the Korean wireless-speaker front by offering 360-degree wireless speakers in the form of the R1, R3 and R5. These are cylindrically-shaped speakers rather than the previous egg shape and have a touch-based control surface so you can skip or recall tracks or “duck” the volume easily and they work with your Wi-Fi home network. Samsung’s Gear S and S2 smartwatches come with software to make them be remote controls for these speakers.
Philips have fronted up with the “Izzy” BMS range of Bluetooth speakers which can be synced to each other for a party-mode playback setup. These implement a pair of 2.5” full-range drivers in a bass-reflex enclosure.
Bang & Olufsen have fronted up at the IFA this year to show the BeoPlay A6 multiroom speaker which implements an unorthodox shape in order to fill a room with sound. The fact to remember about the way B&O speaker designs is that it isn’t just about their distinct looks but that these looks are to achieve improved sound dispersion across the frequency bands.This Danish-built speaker can work with B&O’s wireless iteration of the Beolink multiroom system or can cover all bases by working with Bluetooth or a Wi-FI home network supporting AirPlay or DLNA.
There is a desire by manufacturers and consumers to gang multiple wireless speakers together to play the same source. This is to permit improved stereo separation with that wider sound or to allow for “party mode” playback where all the speakers play the same music over a larger area. This extends to integrating subwoofers in to the equation to bring out that deeper bass, allowing the bass guitar or drum kit to come forward in popular music for example.
But there is a problem with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth setups where these networks are packet-based in the way they move data and there is a desire to keep the audio content in proper sync. This is limited due to chipset manufacturers and speaker / multiroom-system manufacturers designing their products so they can’t work with other products. There has been an effort in the right direction with Qualcomm’s AllPlay Wi-Fi-based system being implemented by different brands. Bluetooth could work harder on this goal for speakers that work in that domain while the Wi-Fi Alliance, IEEE Forum, the UPnP Forum and other alliances can work together to achieve this goal over IP-based local networks.
There is always a bit of action when it comes to new headphones and earphones to connect to your laptop, smartphone or tablet when on the train or plane. This is because most of us want to hear good sound from these devices to make our travel more easier and, in a lot of cases, these double as communications headsets for whenever we make and take phone calls on the go using the classic mobile or VoIP services.
Sony hear.on high-resolution stereo headphones
Sony have released their h.ear series of “cans” which come in different colours and are optimised for high-resolution sound. The first of these is the h.ear on which is a pair of closed-back circum-aural headphones that have a 5Hz-60kHz frequency range and are efficient for battery-operated devices by having a low impedance and 103dB/mW sensitivity. There is also a pair of h.ear in noise-cancelling earbuds that are part of the range.
These are pitched to go with their NW-ZX100 noise-cancelling Walkman file-audio player and the NW-A25 and NW-A26HN Walkman file-audio players with this model having noise-cancelling headphones.
Onkyo has used IFA 2015 to advance a pair of wireless earbuds which look larger than your typical earphones. Personally I see these earbuds a bit like a stereo take of those mono Bluetooth headsets that you slip over your ear to take calls in a hands-free manner while on the go.
Bose have used the IFA 2015 to premiere their Soundlink AroundEar Wireless Headphones 2 which are a pair of Bluetooth circumaural headphones based on their QuietComfort range of active-noise-cancelling “cans”.
Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server
The traditional hi-fi hasn’t been forgotten about courtesy of Panasonic who are staging an aggressive comeback for the Technics hi-fi brand. For vinyl, they are revealing a prototype direct-drive turntable that is modelled on the classic SP-10 turntable and the SL-1200 “Wheels Of Steel” DJ turntable. This will come with an improved direct-drive motor. They have also fielded a pair of hi-fi headphones in the form of the EAH-T700 closed-back headphones which implement a two-way speaker design based around a 50mm main drive and a 14mm super-tweeter for each channel.
But they also have built out their stereo equipment range further with the Grand Class G30 hi-fi which is based around the SU-G30 network media player / integrated amplifier and the ST-G30 music server which rips CDs to solid-state disk in a bit-perfect manner, more the reason to buy your music on CDs. This device serves the music out to your home network using DLNA technology and uses FLAC or WAV files to store the music. They have also fielded a single-piece hi-fi system with integrated CD player which can also draw in music from your home network in the form of the Ottava Premium Class C500 system. As well, they showed the C700 speakers to go with that above system.
Next in this series, I will be covering the Internet Of Things which will encompass home automation and home appliances. Stay tuned!
Part 4 – Home Automation and the Internet Of Things
Send to Kindle
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.