With true wireless headphones and smart speakers being all the rage in the audio world, the announcements of new contenders to those markets during CES 2020 this week were as inevitable as the controversy over Ivanka Trump’s Keynote Speech.
The showfloor of the biggest annual tech world in the world played host to many brand-new AirPods rivals and smart speaker and voice assistant tech, plus some core hi-fi product of course. And here’s the best of the two-channel lot…
NAD Masters M33
As comprehensive as Las Vegas’ pizza offering, the all-new streaming amp from NAD has pretty much everything you could possibly want from just-add-speakers streaming solution today – the fully fledged BluOS streaming platform, AirPlay 2 and aptX Bluetooth support, an array of digital and analogue inputs (including eARC HDMI and phono), Dirac room correction and even bi-wiring speaker terminals and a modular upgrade path. Phew.
The Masters M33 is an evolution of the brand’s Masters M10 and shoots straight to the top of our list of all-new hi-fi to test in 2020.
See, we told you true wireless headphones featured; we just didn’t let on how exciting the launches were. Yes, Technics has launched its first ever pair of truly wireless buds – and they sound much more interesting than their name does.
Priced £239, the EAH-AZ70Ws bravely challenge the best-in-class Sony WF-1000XM3s with a stylish design and a feature set that includes proprietary, customisable noise-cancellation, an 18-hour battery life and a load of companion app features. If sound quality doesn’t let the side down, these Technics will surely be a winner.
Belkin Soundform Elite
If you know anything about wireless charging specialist Belkin and digital audio pioneer Devialet, you shouldn’t be surprised to read that the first fruits of their joint venture is a Google Assistant smart speaker that combines a Qi-compatible wireless charging pad with ‘push-push’ woofer architecture (which works to help cancel out any vibrations and help deliver deep bass).
The Belkin Soundform Elite ambitiously carries the HomePod-matching price tag of £280, but arguably on paper it justifies it, promising unique features and excellent sound.
JBL L82 Classic
Our unofficial award for the most Instagrammable speakers of 2019, which we’ve just right now decided by the way, goes to JBL’s L100 Classic, “thoroughly modern sounding retro speakers” that we very quickly decided we loved. We’re rather excited JBL has uncovered a new entrant in its Classic line, then: the L82s.
They ooze similar vintage styling (of course with those distinctive Quadrex foam grilles), but they’re a more compact, eight-inch, two-way design. They sport the L100’s one-inch titanium dome tweeter with an acoustic lens waveguide and front-panel HF level attenuator, while below it is a cast frame white poly cone woofer that works together with a front-firing Slipstream bass-reflex port.
Audio Technica ATH-ANC300TW
Also out to threaten Sony’s supremacy in the premium true wireless earbuds market are Audio Technica’s most advanced pair yet. Three-step noise-cancellation, aptX Bluetooth, a water-resistance design and app features work in the ATH-ANC300TWs favour, while Qualcomm’s TrueWireless Stereo Plus tech (which transmits music directly to each earbud rather than use a master-slave configuration) is onboard for improved latency and power consumption.
There are no on-bud touch controls – the japanese brand says touch sensors have the potential to interfere with sonic performance – but that aside these look very promising indeed.
The true hi-fi of the vinyl revival peaked this CES with the PE-505 dedicated phono preamplifier. Tucked away in the high-end audio corner of CES, this dual mono phono stage will arrive in spring for a yet-unspecified (but likely high) price.
It supports balanced (MC) and unbalanced (MM/MC) inputs from a turntable, with different amplifier circuitry for each. It also has a knob for selecting the RIAA correction circuit, as well as old EQ curves reportedly used on Decca and Columbia classic vinyl releases, effectively adjusting the tone of the amplifier in line to best suit certain records.