Home Entertainment 2003 Hi-Fi and Home Theater Event
Saturday and Sunday By Chris Boylan
On Saturday, I returned to the MartinLogan/Parasound/Faroudja/Transparent room to see
if they had figured out what the trouble was. They had. Apparently
they had been having a problem with the processor and they had blown a tweeter
in their center channel speaker. Talk about bad luck at a trade show!
On Saturday, with these problems corrected, the system sounded a whole
lot better. Excellent tonality and dynamics, good channel balance and
crisp articulate dialog. Their speaker complement included the Odyssey
(Left, Right) and Theater Center up front, Aeon-i in the rear and Clarity
on the sides for a 7.1 configuration.
The picture, with Faroudja DCS (processor with built-in DVD drive - $9,995)
and Faroudja DLP and DILA projectors, still looked just as stunning as it
Faroudja's DVP1000 processor and DCS processor/DVD drive.
Meridian and Dolby Labs sponsored
a DVD-Audio demonstration room, with the emphasis on audio (a plasma screen
was present just to show the DVD-audio menus and supplements). The all
Meridian system with Transparent Audio's Reference Meridian cables and power conditioning (total system price $160,000) highlighted the new V. 4 version of Meridian's 861 pre-amplifier processor ($20,000) which includes digital correction for the room/loudspeaker interface. Demo material included the Eagles Hotel California and Deep Purple Smoke on the Water on DVD-A and sounded fantastic with a huge expansive soundstage.
all-digital system showcased the DVD-Audio format.
Speaking of DVD-Audio, 5.1 Entertainment Group was on-hand selling DVD-As from their catalog of nearly 200 titles on their Silverline, Immergent and MyUtopia labels. John Trickett, CEO, said sales of their DVD-Audio
titles have been extremely strong including their new "Front Row Live" series
which features popular artists such as Pat Benatar, Foghat, BTO and the Romantics.
Coming this Summer are titles from Deep Purple and Billy Squier, among others.
"From the Front Row Live" goes back to the original live master tapes of
definitive performances and creates new high quality 5.1 channel mixes for
DVD-Audio. Although the releases are always authorized by the labels,
the artists themselves are not always a part of the process. When I
asked Billy Squier whether he was heavily involved in the re-mastering of
his soon-to-be-released live performance on DVD-Audio, he said "I'm coming out with a live performance on DVD-Audio?"
Trickett (left) - CEO, 5.1 Entertainment
Group - poses with a sample of his wares.
I asked John whether we might see DVD-A releases of titles that have already
come out on SACD, like, for example Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon,
to which John replied with a wink, "Well, you'd have to ask EMI about that..."
hmmm. Very mysterious. Let's see how things progress over the next
Alon by Acarian teamed up with deHavilland and Prana Wire to showcase Alon's
Lotus Elite Signature ($7,999/pr.). The speaker features all Alnico
drivers and an external passive crossover. The system survived my Rush
2112 torture test with great dynamics and no congestion even
at fairly high volumes. It also did classical and jazz very well too.
Lotus Slite Signature loudspeaker
with DeHavilland amps and Prana Wire.
The system featured deHavilland's Aries 845-G 30 WPC Single Ended Triode ($6,000/pr.), and Ultraverve preamp ($3,000).
Cables were provided by
Prana Wire - made up of silver ribbons wrapped with 26 layers of insulation.
Another good-sounding room was that of speaker manufacturer Silverline Audio,
who featured their Bolero loudspeakers ($8,000/pr), driven by Conrad-Johnson electronics. Unlike at CES, where Silverline's speakers were a bit too
large for their room, the Boleros were well-suited to the space and had an
excellent tonal blend.
Bolero loudspeakers driven by Conrad-Johnson electronics.
In San Jose dealer Tailored Technology's room, the Vandersteen model 5a ($14,400/pr) was being
driven to good effect by the Specton Musician II amplifier, a 500 WPC solid-state
"Class D" amplifier ($3,495 to $3,995 depending on configuration) "Class
D" amps tend to be extremely efficient because they only fire up when a signal
is actually flowing through them. But it is difficult to get a "Class
D" amplifier to sound good due to the on/off switching noise inherent in the
design. Somehow Spectron must have found a way around this, as I did not
notice any egregious distortion in the signal. In fact, the system
sounded quite nice with solid imaging and refined musicality.
Musician II amplifier driving Vandersteen 5A loudspeakers.
Most "Class A" tube amplifiers are lucky to have a 15% efficiency rating and even most
Class AB solid state amps usually reach no more than 30% efficiency. Spectron claims a 95% efficiency rating of power consumed to power output.
If you have a few amplifiers in your system and leave your system powered up all
the time, this could actually decrease your utility costs a hundred dollars
or more every month. I guess this makes it the first EnergyStar compliant
high-end power amplifier. I can see the marketing campaign now: "Reduce
our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, buy a Spectron amplifier!"
On the analog front, Clearaudio
was showing off their Master Reference AMGb turntable feeding Wavestream tube amplification and Avalon Acoustics loudspeakers.
Clearaudio Master Reference AMGb.
And next door you could find the Quad 988ESL (pictured below) being driven
by Airtight 211B monoblocks ($12,000/pr).
Both systems sounded warm and liquid fed on a strictly vinyl diet.
Quad 988ESL loudspeakers with
In the "best snacks" department, Resolution Audio provided a welcome relief to tired hungry audio geeks (like me) with free wine, cheese and hors d'oeuvres. And proving that they were indeed the "hostess with the mostest," they
also asked me if I had any particular music I wanted to play. Well
at this point I was getting so sick of the standard audiophile crap that
I handed them my Beatles "1" CD. They happily put it on and played
three rockin' non-audiophile-approved tunes, and that's when the party
started. Wine, cheese, good electronics, accommodating hosts and "The
Beatles" combined to make this a room the "most fun room at Home Entertainment
2003." People were piling in, stuffing their faces with endives,
slopping down wine, and dancing in the aisles. A good time was had by all.
Jeff Kalt and Michael
McDermott, from Resolution Audio.
As for the actual equipment on display, Resolution was making some pleasant
sounds with their CD player with volume control ($3,500), driving a pair of
Avantgarde powered horns ($7,500/pr). They also had their integrated amp
on hand ($2,500) and talked about plans to introduce a tuner in the near future.
Resolution's components are mini-sized and modular. A single
power supply box feeds multiple components with independent cords, and components
fit together with a computer-style connector. Think of it as a high-end
lifestyle system for those who want audiophile quality sound without components
that dominate the living room. Resolution sells their gear factory-direct,
and, taking notes from Dell, they make their components to order. They generally
have a same-day turnaround. If you order an amp and CD player today,
they can probably have them out the door today or tomorrow.
Down the hall, J. Scott Russ from MSB Technology was playing Mr. DJ on a
system comprised of MSB's Super DVD-Audio player ($7,999) which supports
CD, DVD, SACD and DVD-Audio and has variable outputs for driving a power
amp directly. That power amplifier in this case was provided by Atma-Sphere, and the speakers were Chesky's C1 reference
J. Scott Rust from MSB prays
to the great audio gods
that his demo will
go over well... it sounded just fine.
Nearby was the room of Innersound,
makers of tube and solid state amplifiers and electrostatic panel speakers.
They were annoying the hell out of the neighbors playing their Silver
Eros, Mk III ($9,500 with active crossover electronics, $6,000 without) electrostatic
loudspeakers and ESL800 monoblock amps ($6,800/pr.) at extremely high levels.
Again, I whipped out my torturous Rush 2112 disc which Wes Bender
their Director of Marketing cranked up for me with glee. This system
really rocked out, but with plenty of subtlety. I may have to get my
hands on a pair of these for review. Innersound also offers pre-amplification,
cables and a 400 GB music server that can store up to 1,000 of your favorite
CDs with no compression or loss of quality.
Eros, Mark III loudspeakers and
ESL800 monoblock amplifiers really rocked the house!
Over in the Outlaw Audio
room, they were demonstrating a $23,000 home theater system driven by a total
of $1,598 in Outlaw Electronics. Like Resolution Audio, Outlaw offers
their products directly to the public, so you eliminate the middleman and
get an exceptionally high bang for your buck. One product that has
done particularly well for them is their model 950 preamp/processor ($799), which supports Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES, and Dolby ProLogic
II. $799 may sound too good to be true for a preamp/processor, but things
sounded pretty good in the Outlaw Audio room, so they must be doing something
right. Mate it with the matching 7100 7-channel amplifier ($899) and you
get an additional $100 off for a total price of $1,598, which is less than
most high-end receivers.
Of course, it probably didn't hurt that the Outlaws were driving Atlantic Technology's
new top-of-the-line 8200 surround speaker system ($10,000 to $25,000 depending on configuration and finish). In fact, this THX Ultra2-certified system certainly had a lot to do with the good sounds coming out of this room.
Outlaw Model 950 pre-amplifier/processor
Rounding things out on Saturday was an offsite press conference at Dolby
Labs, where several folks from Dolby, 5.1 Entertainment Group, Warner Music,
and Meridian talked turkey about the present and future of DVD-Audio, including
giving some sneak previews of upcoming DVD-Audio releases. After more wine, cheese and hors-d'euvres (are you sensing a trend here?), they rounded
us up and sat us in the Dolby Theater for a series of presentations. This
was an updated version of the dvd audio conference first held in August of last year, and reviewed here.
Dolby had on display
some of the gear that currently supports
DVD-Audio from Denon,
Pioneer, Panasonic, Meridian and others
(but not Sony...
The panel estimated that by 2004, 50% of all DVD players will include native
support for DVD-Audio (though all DVD players can already play the Dolby
Digital tracks on current DVD-Audio discs). There are currently 500
DVD-Audio titles in the catalog with new labels coming on board all the time,
including EMI, who has apparently vowed "aggressive support"
for the format.
The new Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac albums released earlier this year were
released day and date on CD and DVD-Audio as will the upcoming "Best of REM"
disc. New titles recently released or planned for release later this year
include albums by Elvis Presley, the Flaming Lips, REM, Annie Lennox, Santana
(Shaman and Supernatural) and Iggy Pop, plus several jazz and
Also announced was the new DVD-Audio Marketing Council, which includes members
from hardware manufacturers and labels who are dedicated to advancing the
format. When I asked whether there was any intention to create a hybrid CD/DVD-Audio (so that you could buy one disc to use in your car, portable, home machine and computer) the reply from John Kellogg of Dolby was pretty encouraging. He said that plans to release a dual-layer disc where the CD layer and DVD-Audio layer were on the same side had been abandoned, however... "As Yoda said in Star Wars... there is another." I believe the implication of this was that every disc has two sides and there's nothing to stop anyone from putting out a dual-sided disc with DVD-A on one side and CD on the other. We shall see...
In short, the future's looking pretty bright for DVD-Audio.
After the Dolby press event, we were whisked back to the hotel for our front-row
VIP seats at the free Richard Thompson concert.
Thompson belts out a tune...
while crazed fans Ian White and Chris Boylan go wild.
Not just an excellent guitarist,
Mr. Thompson is also an extremely entertaining performer. The high point
of my evening was when he broke into his "1000 years of music" abbreviated
medley which featured modern interpretations of a renaissance-era Italian
diddy, an American folk tune (Shenandoah), and my personal favorite, Britney
Spears' "Oops, I did it again" (needless to say, Thompson's version was
superior to the original). All in all, a nice way to finish off an
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