CES & THE Show 2014 • TABlog

by Jason Kennedy | January 14, 2014

AudioQuest has identified a solution to a problem that affects everyone who wants a great audio system at home but can’t fit it into family life. The living room has become a shared domain and one in which it’s increasingly difficult to install a decent audio system, but the study or home office has the potential to become the new listening center. With the addition of an amp and speakers, your computer has the potential to be a high-quality source for both audio and video purposes, and AudioQuest has a range of cables to enhance the results.

At CES, the company had three setups that demonstrated the potential of such systems. The most affordable (above) consisted of a laptop with an AudioQuest Dragonfly DAC, connected via AudioQuest Golden Gate interconnect to a Denon CEOL Piccolo integrated amp, which was driving Pioneer SP-B22L/R speakers via AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cables. Power cords were AudioQuest NRG-X2s. For under $1000 plus PC, this was a surprisingly entertaining system.

The next step up was pretty big, the sort of thing many of us would be happy to have in the living room but for the most part small enough to keep on and around the desktop. This time a standalone DAC in the form of an Ayre QB-9 was connected with an AudioQuest Diamond USB cable to a laptop and AudioQuest Wild interconnects to an Octave V40SE tube integrated amp. This drove KEF LS50 speakers via AudioQuest KE-4 speaker cables. Power cords were AudioQuest NRG Wild. This system delivered serious detail, bandwidth and dynamics despite the compromised speaker positioning. Total system cost was $28,675, of which cables and accessories account for two-thirds.

The least desktop-friendly system in the room was demonstrating the benefits of decent but realistically priced cable upgrades to a system based around a Mac Mini and Apple TV. Using YouTube clips, AudioQuest’s Steve Silberman contrasted stock power cords, a generic HDMI and wireless router connection with AudioQuest’s entry-level cables and Pearl bulk Ethernet cable. Even at 128kbps, the result was good enough to convince even the most skeptical that spending around $1250 on cabling is worthwhile. It might even convince some families to make space for a pair of Vandersteen 2CE Signature speakers in the living room to use with their Pioneer receiver. Interconnects for the system were AudioQuest Yosemite, with Forest Carbon USB and Castle Rock biwire speaker cables also in use and pushing the total system cost (before you add the Mac products) into the $9000 range.

Finally, Philip O’Hanlon of On A Higher Note was demonstrating the neatest desktop system at the show. The Eclipse TD-M1 is a powered system featuring very compact and elegant single-driver speakers that will run off USB, analog or wireless signals. It harbors a non-oversampling DAC and has touch controls for input and volume. It provided a stunningly coherent and three-dimensional soundstage when fed by a MacBook running Audirvana Plus and proves comprehensively that desktop systems can deliver the musical goods without taking over the house. And these speakers will only set you back $1300 per pair.

Philip also mentioned that replacing the power cord on his Mac Mini with one of audiophile quality brought about a massive upgrade. Cables matter, even with computer audio.

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