Home Entertainment 2002
Hi-Fi and Home Theater Event
Report By Bill Gaw
here to e-mail Reviewer
Thank G-d, I'm on the Acela Express heading back to Boston after a grueling day at the Home Entertainment Show at the New York Hilton from Thursday May
30th, to Sunday June 2nd. Today was press day, with three-day pass holders allowed in as well, and the crowds weren't too bad. Happily I only had today to see the show as I have to work my regular job all weekend, and believe it or not, one day was sufficient. The numbers of exhibitors appeared to be down this year, but the quality of the exhibits' sounds improved. Also, the exhibits were on floors one through seven, and the stairwells were open, so long elevator waits were not a problem like last year.
This year, a large number of the exhibits were home theater based; with fewer two-channel demonstrations, but those, especially the analog based, were still way ahead of the others for sound quality. Coming up close were several SACD demo's, especially the one by Sony, where Abkco Records announced that they have remastered the entire early Rolling Stones discs to two channel SACD. Happily, their playback of several discs showed no gimmicking with the sound, which was superb for 30 plus year old analog tapes. All were redone as two channel, and sounded almost live. Even I, the classical fanatic, loved the sound. Then Sony
played a DMP disc by Tom Jung in multi-channel surround of gospel music titled Grace which was about as close as any recording medium today will get you to the absolute sound. I can't wait for that one.
Aix Records demo'ed several of their 24-bit/96kHz multi-channel recordings which are interesting in that one side does DVD-A and the other does the same recording in DVD-V with both DD and DTS and video of the performance. Interestingly, the latter sounded excellent, coming close in show conditions to the DVD-A. I bought several to review at home. Stand by.
Horns were unhappily lacking at the show, with only Audio Reproductions, Rethm and Calix
demo'ing units. While I awarded Rethm high honors at the last CES I attended, they didn't sound so great this time around, and the other two sounded poorer. I wish I could say something better about them as I'm a horny type of guy, but I can't. Again, show sound can be poor even with the best of equipment. Take Dynaudio, which
demo'ed two of their new speakers, the Confidence C-2 and 4. They were both set up in the same room, and while the C-2 sounded very good for a
$6,000 speaker the C-4 sounded worse. The punch line is that the C-2 costs $12,000 and the C-4
$16,000. Again who knows how they really sound, this was show conditions. The only thing that can be said is that if a piece of equipment sounds really good under show conditions, then it probably is.
While the Wilson, Pipedreams, and Tact rooms sounded superb, this is to be expected when megabucks equipment is mated with talented people. Don't miss them if you go, especially the Tact room where they were
demonstrating their new digital preamp, amplifier, Audio LS-1 speaker combination, which used the TACT preamp to do room correction and most of the crossover functions thus allowing just one cap and inductor for a crossover. The system is optimized to work best together and the sound was amazing. Sorry, but I didn't get the price but I'll bet there are other speakers alone that cost more and don't give as fine a sound.
Other rooms that sounded very good were the ThorAudio and 47 Labs-Konus
Audio. I had a set of Paul Marks' toroidal chassis preamp and phono stage years ago, and they were two of only a few pieces of equipment that I still cry over selling. Why did I
do it? Because I got my Allen Wright phono-preamp-active crossover monoblocks and I love them even more. Build quality is superb and the preamp, phono stage and amps, based on EL-34's looked gorgeous. They weren't set up for sound when I got there, but if the new equipment is as good as what I owned before, they should be
The 47 Labs demo was even more of a surprise as the Essence series that they
were showcasing, consisting of a CD transport, D/A converter, two amps, wiring and their Konus single driver crossoverless speakers only cost
$8,600 for the system. I do not know how they would sound with organ or orchestral, as they only go down to 50Hz, but the jazz and voice recordings they played had that natural quality and imaging of single cone
loudspeakers. The sound was almost best of show, but I'll reserve that honor for the end of the article.
Walker Audio Turntable
Lloyd Walker of Walker Audio had his megabucks turntable, recently given a sterling review in Absolute Sound, set up another great sounding room. Again the sound was great, but maybe
I am biased because I own one. Do not miss this room if you go.
Best home theater demo was given in the Krell - Faroudja room. Faroudja has developed a video processor, the DCS, which has a built in DVD transport, will accept several composite, S-Video, component or RGB inputs, uses Faroudja technology to scale at any predetermined number of lines up to 1080P, optimized for your projector, everything done in the digital domain. They have also developed a DILA projector with a special lens that uses the entire surface of the available 4:3 1068
x 768 chip to do 1.86:1 HDTV. The picture was the finest I have seen from a home unit, including my Electrohome 9500LC projector, looking better than what one usually sees from film at the nearest videoplex. This is the same projector used by many theaters to show films on video, just highly modified with Faroudja circuitry. Price for the projector will be
$32,000, and the combo $42,000 so I guess the DCS unit will cost about $10,000, and well worth the price, as the Faroudja 1080P present unit without DVD and switching costs
$20,000, and some of the best CRT projectors cost $60,0000 plus without the Faroudja circuitry.
Krell's big news was their Showcase home theater preamp and five channel amp. With switching for both video and audio, balanced and single ended inputs and outputs, and every video input imaginable except RGB, built to Krell standards, and with a list price under
$5,000 each and with the best multi-channel home theater sound I've heard, except for my system of course, the Krell units will be the ones to beat.
Every show, I try to find one standout system that has great sound at a price that even a Scot like me can see spending. One that gives great sound for the dollar, and maybe beats the cost is no object system. This year I award this honor to:
Plinius - Roman Audio.
I am sure you have heard of Plinius, www.pliniususa.com, maker of solid state components at very reasonable price for their quality. Their big amps can be biased for either Class AB at high wattage or Class A at a lower value by the flick of a switch. I've heard their 100 and 250 watt units, which come as close to the beauty of tube amps with the solidity of solid state, and own two of their 50 watt amps which I use in class A for my bass horns, as they match superbly with my SET 300B amps used on the mid-tweeter horns and keep the woofers in check. Well, they were using their 8200MKII integrated, and for
$2,995 with phono stage, four inputs, and 175 watts per channel it was sounding superb.
And what was it driving? Roman Audio Systems Centurion loudspeakers,
www.romanaudio.com. Founder Dale Fontenot, an audiophile for years, certainly has learned the laws of physics and musical reproduction. Each cabinet is made of 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inch thick MDF, with a granite top with multiple internal baffles and lead and asphalt dampening materials. All the knuckle rap test gets you is sore knuckles with these things. They use the Diaural series inductorless crossover circuit between the
eight inch woofer and tweeter, both of which are flush mounted. A downward firing port is invisible with these beautiful looking things, which are only
30 x 16 x 10 inches in size, and would certainly pass the wife acceptance factor. Amazingly, they are flat from 35Hz to 20kHz, with a very linear 8 ohm impedance, put out 93dB/W/m, but do weigh a backbreaking 100
Sound? Phenomenal. Driven with the relatively inexpensive Plinius integrated, playing only CD's, everything I heard had a natural quality that I have heard only from the best, most expensive systems in the past. From voice to small ensembles to big orchestral, the system matched the best I heard that day, and exceeded most. And the best part is the price. $6,000 the pair. While not cheap, they far surpassed their price point, bettering others I heard that day in the $12,000-16,000 range. And obviously, the Plinius must have been doing something right to get that quality from the speaker. Unhappily, Roman only has four dealers at present and none in the northeast, but after this show
they will hopefully have plenty.
So who says that this hobby has to break the bank? While not cheap, for $10,000 you can have a two-channel system that rivals the best. And each company does produce multi-channel speakers and amps at different price points. If I didn't have my single ended - horn system, I might be tempted to give them a try, but I'll leave that to other reviewers.
That's it for this reviewer and this show. Try to stop by this weekend if you get a chance. And remember,
the nyNOISE show is also on in New York this weekend. Wish I could attend, but Steven R. Rochlin will be there and I'm sure his report will give us, as usual, a show report of good accounting.