I spent a few hours this week browsing the CE Week Line Show in New York. This is a small show with a handful of the big companies in consumer electronics and a whole bunch of small ones. Nothing really directly applicable to pro audio or music production, but it’s a good excuse to get away from home for the day and get a good pastrami sandwich before catching the long haul bus back home. Lots of health and wellness apps for iOS devices, remote home control with iOS devices, Bluetooth speakers and whole-house audio, as well as a bunch of pretty silly stuff that’s very important to the developers.
One thing that might be of interest to the on-the-go recording musician or producer is the iStick, a plug-in flash drive with two connectors, the conventional USB plug and a Lightning plug. Not being a member of the iGadget class, it never dawned me that the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch didn’t have a USB port (even with the camera connection kit) that was capable of hosting an external disk drive. The Lightning port on the new new generation devices, however, can do that, so here’s a way of plugging in additional storage for your device. It’s just a little larger than a standard USB flash drive with a slider in the center to expose one connector or the other.
The obvious consumer application is filling it up with movies, a pro audio application could be to use it with a program like Auria for multitrack recording sessions. It’s a Kickstarter-funded project and, kind of pricey compared to standard USB flash drives, ranging from $80 for 8 GB up to $300 for 128 GB. I expect some of that is for the mechanical design and assembly with the slider (I’m sure there’s a good reason why they didn’t just put one connector on each end and mold them in place), and there’s probably a license fee for the Lightning connector. But if it’s really a useful product, the price surely will come down within a year or so. It should be available now. More info at the iStick web site.
I reported on the WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio) organization, a group hosting a new wireless technology for multi-channel audio. They were at the show again this year showing some new high grade home speakers from B&O, and they’ve picked up a few new members planning to incorporate the technology into their products. New and of interest this year is the group recently under the Gibson umbrella including Gibson (guitars), TEAC, and Onkyo. We talked some about hooking up a pro audio company to apply the technology to stage and studio wireless headphones and I suggested PreSonus, since they’re already big on wireless remote control of their digital mixing consoles and active loudspeakers. Keep up with them at the WiSA web site.
In the world of silly stuff, how about a 1990s cordless phone, brought up to date? The Brick has the look and feel of an early portable phone. It’s actually a Bluetooth accessory that can connect to your modern cell phone and serve as a speaker phone or a handset with some heft that almost feels like a real phone handset that you can hold against your ear with your shoulder when you need a free hand and don’t have an earphone setup. The Brick does that, looks really cool, and, in its most basic version, isn’t very expensive. There’s a version in the works that accepts the SIM card from your modern cell phone and lets you use The Brick on your phone network. (No, I didn’t ask about locking, or which network). Meet The Brick here.
Lots of pulse rate monitors for those who want to keep up with your exercise regimen, and a sensor that you place on a muscle and get a report of the strength, fat content, and a few other things you thought you’d never need to know. And by golly, a collar for your dog that measures vital signs and reports things like body temperature, calories burned, heart and respiratory rate, all to let you know how your dog is really feeling.
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With all the recent commotion about high resolution audio, I was expecting to see some high grade file and media players at the show, but surprisingly, there was only one, the Sony HAP-S1, two if you consider its close cousin the HAP-Z1ES on the same table. As is becoming more typical of trade shows, Sony had no literature on this product at their booth, and when I got home, while I could remember most of the important features and details of the unit, for the life of me I couldn’t remember the model number (they said “just go to our web site for all the info”) so it took me a little time to locate it.
The HAP-S1 is a tabletop unit that’s capable of playing nearly every audio file format available today including DSD formats. OGG was the only one I’m aware of that’s missing, but you can’t have everything. There’s a 40 watt per channel power amplifier as well as a hefty headphone amplifier, and it plays files off of an internal 500 GB hard drive which can be expanded by connecting an external drive to the USB port on the rear. I asked why, for a thousand bucks, they didn’t include at least a 1 TB drive, and the only answer they could come up with was that they designed the unit three years ago when half a terabyte was a big drive.
The hard drive is important, because, while there’s computer connectivity via an Ethernet port and built-in WiFi, those only serve to transfer files from the computer to the player. Although it includes the vTuner streaming player which covers a wide range of streaming Internet radio stations, you can’t use your computer’s web browser to find on-line music and pipe it into the HAP to take advantage of its high quality D/A converter. The USB port serves only for connecting an external disk drive, and it’s worth noting that it doesn’t use the standard FAT32 disk format. Connecting a virgin drive to the USB port brings up a prompt telling you that it isn’t formatted for the device, and inviting you to do so. If this was a review rather than a report, I’d rant and rave about that. If you have an audio interface for your computer that has a S/PDIF coax or optical output, the HAP-S1 has connectivity for it, so that’s a route getting what’s in your computer out through what reports to be a very good sounding D/A converter. There’s also two pairs of analog inputs on RCA jacks for your turntable, tape deck, or other analog source. The HAP-Z1ES, for an extra grand, leaves off the power amplifier, headphone output, analog and S/PDIF digital inputs, but includes a 1 TB hard drive and a DSD up-sampler to convert your files to DSD (which doesn’t really improve anything). Both models include an “enhancer” that claims to restore some of the high frequency detail lost in the MP3 data reduction process. More info on the Sony High Res Web Page.
One great feature of this show, and I wish all the trade shows I attend would adopt it, is that they periodically bring out free snacks during the afternoon so we don’t have to survive on booth candy. It’s a bit ironic that, with all of these health and wellness monitoring gadgets on display, at around 2 o’clock, out came the hot dog cart. They were good hot dogs, though.
I’m skipping the Summer NAMM show, so the next stop will the AES show in Los Angeles in October.