Analysis: Audio technology back in fashion at IFA 2015

posted on Friday, 11th September 2015 by Steve May

Hi-fi  High-end  High Res Audio  IFA 2015 

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New audio products could be heard loud and proud across the IFA 2015 halls, amplified by wide ranging announcements and product reveals. Once a category in the doldrums, every aspect of hi-fi appeared to be dancing again at the big Berlin expo – from portable players and high-res headphones, home cinema to premium stereo kit. 

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the freshly reborn Technics brand took early ownership of the show. Director Michiko Ogawa introduced a new Grand Class of components, which sit between its Premium and Reference lines. Incoming is the G30 series comprising SU-G30 network amplifier and SA-G30 music server with fast SSD hard drive, as well as its audiophile T700 headphones.

“This is a special year for us,” said Ogawa. “We're looking for new ways to provide emotionally engaging experiences for all types of music. The way people have enjoyed music has diversified in recent years. We aim to provide the types of products that can deliver optimum listening experiences.”

I had an early listen to the SU-G30 amp, and was blown away by the clarity of its presentation. It images much like the brand’s Reference line, which costs ten times as much.  Both units look likely to be priced somewhere around £3,500. Also revealed was the Ottava, an all-in-one network/CD/amp music system that takes the brand squarely into the lifestyle arena, where the company believes it can compete against the likes of  the Naim Muso.

Technics also made the crowd pleasing announcement that it was developing a next generation turntable. The new direct drive disc spinner aims to build on the legacy of past models, albeit with a newly designed drive motor.

Another sonic highlight of the show came from Yamaha, which offered an early opportunity to listen to its YSP-5600 Dolby Atmos compatible soundbar. The first thing that strikes you about the new unit is its size. This is no average TV audio booster. Packed with 44 sound beam drivers, 12 of which fire upwards to create the Atmos channel, it’s an extraordinarily sophisticated home theatre proposition. Impressively, this array really does create a 3D audio soundfield of some power. Demonstrations of Dolby’s standard Atmos clips, along with specially remixed sequences from Game of Thrones and other content proved surprisingly effective. The unit is also part of Yamaha’s MusicCast wireless system, which only adds to its appeal.

Pioneer also unveiled its new flagship AV receiver, the SC-LX89. This nine channel receiver looks much like its predecessor, but adds compatibility for DTS:X as well as Dolby Atmos, and has been retuned for better performance.

Reassuringly, High Res Audio also continued to garner support. Sony extended its product offerings, with a new a high performance desktop stereo system, the CAS-1, comprising stereo speakers, digital amplifier and headphone amp, using technology trickled down from first gen High Res Audio hardware. The company also unveiled a range of vividly coloured headphones under the H.ear branding.

Significantly, Sony has also partnered with Qobuz to offer its Sublime hybrid subscription service through the brand’s High Res Audio system components. “A firmware update to bring Qobuz Sublime support to our hi-res Audio products is imminent,” product specialist Eric Kingdon told Inside CI.

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Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology journalist, who also writes for T3, TechRadar, Home Cinema Choice and ERT (amongst others).

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