At the end of the day on January 10, the last day of the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, we wrapped up our coverage for SoundStage! Global and headed out for a celebratory dinner at Las Vegas’s Aria Resort & Casino. There, someone on our team asked me to name my favorite product of 2013. I had two.
The first that came to mind was something that didn’t receive our Product of the Year award for 2013: the Aurelia XO Cerica loudspeaker. This stand-mounted speaker has, uniquely, three tweeters vertically aligned within a single waveguide. Above and below the tweeters are two small midrange-woofers. Due to the modest size of its cabinet and midrange-woofers, the Cerica can’t produce significant bass below about 40Hz, but above that it sounds commendably neutral, exceptionally clean, and as detailed as speakers costing multiples of its price. The pair also produced the best stereo soundstage I’ve ever heard in my room -- one as expansive as I’ve gotten from the very best speakers I’ve had here, but with better image specificity than any of them. That absolutely enthralled me.
The Cerica didn’t receive a Product of the Year award because of the way our award categories are defined. The Outstanding Performance award is about performance regardless of price, and the Exceptional Value award is based on performance and price. At $7100 USD per pair, the Cerica wasn’t the value leader of 2013 -- that distinction went to the $1500/pair KEF LS50. And as for sheer performance, the Magico S5 took the lead in that category. The Cerica fell through the cracks. But that doesn’t take away from what it achieves -- award or no award, it’s a fabulous speaker.
My other favorite product of 2013 did receive a Product of the Year award: EMM Labs’ DAC2X digital-to-analog converter ($15,500), from legendary designer Ed Meitner. Howard Kneller reviewed the DAC2X for SoundStage! Ultra last March, and I also received a sample to try, which I wrote about in a blog post for SoundStage! Global. The DAC2X’s sound absolutely blew me away and taught me a valuable lesson in just how good digital playback can be: correct tonality, superb musicality, exceptional detail, exemplary overall sound. To my ears, the DAC2X does everything right and nothing wrong -- something I’ve never heard any other DAC do. That easily makes it the best digital source I’ve ever heard, and fully worthy of the 2013 Product of the Year award.
In my opinion, the DAC2X has also blown away a myth that’s crept up in recent years: that a turntable is the highest-resolution playback system now available. I don’t know who was originally responsible for that assertion, but I’ve heard it said and seen it written at least a dozen times in the last year alone. I have nothing against turntables, and quite like the sound of vinyl, but when it comes to resolution, I say, “Screw that!” -- unless you think surface noise, along with ticks and pops, help you to hear more. They don’t. When I had a chance to listen for a while to a DAC2X in my system, any notion of buying a new turntable and spinning LPs vanished -- something I mention in that Global post. It should be no surprise why the DAC2X ranked so high on my list of favorite products of 2013.
Next month, I’ll tell you about SoundStage! InSight, our new series of videos about audio companies and products. By then the first video should be online, so you’ll know which company and product we’ve selected to begin with, and we’ll already be working on our second video. It’s a big, exciting move for us that will present companies and their products to our readers worldwide in a new and exciting way.
. . . Doug Schneider