Irony. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas each January isn’t for consumers. A B2B event, it’s for anyone but. Manufacturers show off their wares to other businesses and their representatives. For its four day duration the majority of audio companies take up residence in the upper floors of the Venetian Hotel.
The UK’s Chord Electronics got this commentator really high. The view from their level 35 suite was glorious:
When I stopped by first thing on Sunday morning John Franks and Rob Watts were tied up in a meeting with their Japanese distributor who had (incidentally) put on a most splendid booth at the e-earphone Portable Audio Festival just four weeks earlier. Like the Munich HighEnd Show, Las Vegas is where many manufacturers and their oft-numerous distributors convene. New products are teased and developmental input is sought. Much of this takes place out of sight, often behind closed doors.
CES also offers an opportunnity for manufacturers to chat with the press. With nothing new to show, Chord Electronics’ message was one of consolidation, specifically Rob Watts’ D/A converters: the statement ‘DAVE’ – “digital to analogue veritas in extremis” as launched at Munich HighEnd 2015 – and the entry-level Mojo (US$599) landing on the heels of October’s RMAF.
The Kent-based company are rumoured to have shifted 12,000 Mojo units in the intervening three months. “We can’t make em fast enough,” says Chord Electronics’ young gun Tom Vaughan. That’s no doubt the result of white hot demand colliding with full UK (and not Chinese) production practices.
I suggest to Vaughan that no manufacturer has yet solved the issue of exactly how to attach a portable DAC/amplifier to a smartphone without obstructing the latter’s touchscreen with rubber bands. The Mojo therefore calls to first generation Astell&Kern portable players more than any other source device.
However, with many two-channel listeners recognising the Mojo as one of the most detailed and spacious sounding DACs below US$1K, I’d wager that the majority of Mojo-ers are dropping ’em into loudspeaker setups, firing ’em up in line-level mode with one of the two 3.5mm outputs wired directly to the rear of an amplifier.
Vaughan explains that the Mojo’s chassis just wasn’t quite tall enough to accommodate a pair of RCA outputs. The same reasoning holds for the handheld device’s coaxial digital input where 3.5mm stands in for a single RCA or BNC socket.
The upshot? End users are taken out of their RCA-to-RCA comfort zone. An analogue 3.5mm jack that splits to twin RCAs is easy enough to source but a digital interconnect with RCA termination at one end and 3.5mm jack at the other is not. I’ve already suggested to my contacts at Nordost and AudioQuest that they consider offering yet another skew in their digital interconnect line up.
Yet it’s the nimbler smaller manufacturers that are likely to bring something to market sooner. Case(y) in point: Zu Audio have already pressed a Mojo-specific digital interconnect, based on their Mission S/PDIF, into my palm. It’s for those want to keep the Mojo’s internal battery charging over USB but fed with ones and zeroes via a coaxial-socketed source (e.g. a Sonos Connect or CD player). Contact Zu Audio at their Utah HQ for tech specs and pricing (which varies with cable length).
Also on heavy show in Chord’s CES suite was ‘DAVE’ (US$16,000 w/ stand), which According to John Franks is not only his top-flight decoder but the Pompidou Centre of DACs, the current distillation of the upper limits of Rob Watts-coded FPGA decoding technology. Let us not forget that it’s Watts’ software, a “20 element pulse array DAC with 164,000 taps”, that provides the magic here as it is with the Hugo (review here), Hugo TT (review here) and Mojo (review here, intro video here).
DAVE’s styling isn’t for everyone but a reference D/A converter of such uniqueness both inside and out deserves to be demonstrated with equally unique ancillaries, all of which are designed by Franks himself: “My background is in avionics design. I draw influences from aerospace and great architects like Antoni Gaudí, Richard Rogers and others like Frank Lloyd-Wright,” says the man himself via email follow-up. Franks designs the amplification circuits too.
In his absence, Vaughan talks us through Chord Electronics’ CES 2016 system: a DSX-1000 streamer (US$13,000) feeds DAVE before its analogue output is passed to a CPA-8000 dual-mono pre-amplifier (US$45,000) and then a pair of SPM-14000 MKII monoblocks (US$86,000/pair) for the final push into Vienna Acoustics Klimt series ‘Music’ floorstanding loudspeakers (US$35,000/pair). That’s a whopping US$195,000 for the whole shebang – high end audio gear that looks like no other. Different with a capital D.
Further information: Chord Electronics