The Home Entertainment Expo
God help me, I do love audio shows! Yes, they're crowded
and confusing and it's impossible to get good sound in hotel rooms built either for
sleeping or conferences. But they're also filled with energy and excitement and people
just like me -- audiophiles. My people.
Of course, by the end of every show, I swear I never want
to see another audiophile in my life -- the reality is, we are a solitary folk, and we
also spend a lot of time in the dark. Pity us.
Ah, save your pity, I had a ball at this show -- and I
don't care what they keep changing the name to, in my heart of hearts, it will always
be the Not the Stereophile Show.
The show started for us working journalists with a Sony
press conference, which announced Sony's latest generation of SACD players -- many of
these models have multi-channel capability, including a tank-like jewel of a player, the
SCD-XA777ES, which will retail for about $3000.
Sony also introduced a multi-channel SACD/CD/DVD player (no
DVD-Audio, of course), the DVP-NS500V for $300. It should ship by next fall.
Sony demonstrated multi-channel SACD, and the demonstration
highlighted the problem very nicely. It's software. Sony demoed three music tracks when I
was there. The first, a choral performance, had singers in the rear channel, which I found
distracting. The second was an excerpt from Midori's new recording of Mozart's concerto
for violin and piano, produced by Steve Epstein, and it was done properly with nothing
coming from the rear channels except hall sound. The third piece was a remastered James
Taylor performance, which perversely filtered only part of the synthesizer to the rear
channels -- which was intensely annoying.
Polk's Paul DiComo with the new LS speakers
One out of three! And that's what they cherry-picked for
demo -- imagine how bad the "regular" multi-track stuff must be.
And yes, you guessed it! Sony has remastered Kind of
Blue for release as a multi-track SACD. What can that mean? One player per
channel? It's a frightening possibility.
Another big company with big news was Polk Audio,
which has undergone a logo change after 30 years. Polk introduced a few Home Theater In a
Box (HTIB) products -- the $2599 DS7200 features five satellite speakers, an 8"
(sub)woofer, and a 250Wpc surround sound processor/amplifier, while the $2999 DS7600
upgrades the speakers, beefs up the woofer to 10" and delivers 500Wpc through its
Polk also debuted an upscale speaker line, the LSi
series, which ranges from the LSi7, a two-way monitor at $399/ea to a floorstander
with a built-in side-firing powered subwoofer, the LSi25, for $1499/ea. The line
features upgraded cosmetics, custom-made drivers, and rigidly-braced enclosures. I didn't
get to hear a lot of music from the LSi25s, but what I heard I like. I asked for a
review pair, so stay tuned.
I dropped in on Cary Audio and saw their new $4000
monoblock CAD-280SE "V-12" power amplifier, which was
drop-dead gorgeous in its Jaguar-red livery. This is an amplifier for the man who really
likes tubes (and for the women who love them -- my wife was also drooling over it). The
sound they were getting from a pair of Vandersteen Vs was scary. I don't know who
was singing the blues, but he was the real thing.
Krell was showing their new small monitor, the
$10,000/pr. LAT-2. LAT, in case you didn't know -- and I sure didn't -- stands for
Lossless Acoustic Transducer. The LAT-2 has a curved all-aluminum cabinet with a
wall-thickness varying from ¾" to 1". Its drivers include the same tweeter used
in Krell's LAT-1 and a 7" multi-faceted cone mid-bass unit. Driven by an all-CAST
system, these little guys were producing fabulous music, full of life and detail. And the
LAT-2 has an astounding amount of bass energy for a speaker its size, as Krell's Irv Gross
demonstrated with a track featuring B.B. King and Heavy D. They might be made in CT, but
they got soul!
I stopped by to visit two old pals, Nick
Wingate and Dale Fontenot, who were so impressed with Ray Kimber's DiAural crossover, they
went and started a speaker company, Roman Audio. I don't know what I was expecting,
but their $5700 Centurion loudspeaker was one of my show highlights. Driven by another
Krell CAST system, the Centurions were articulate, full-bodied and fast. And talk about
open? These speakers are the closest thing I've heard yet to the legendary cross between a
full-range loudspeaker's frequency response and a mini-monitor's imaging. I had no
problems with their bottom-end, but I'm a well-known sucker for a color-free midrange and
tend to overlook things like that.
If you don't, have Nick and Dale got a subwoofer for
you! Based on Focal's 21" inverted dome cone, the $6295 Vesuvius is supposed to go
down to 14Hz! Papa papa ooooh mow mow! Way to go, guys.
I kept hearing that Tyll Hertsens was having waaayy
too much fun at his HeadRoom Booth, so I wandered around the show's audio souk
until I found him. The reports were true -- Tyll had a huge exhibit that included just
about every type of headphone amplifier I'd ever heard of (and even a few I hadn't, which
is hard to imagine), all wired with Larry DiMarzio's M-Path interconnects. Yes, Tyll even
had Sennheiser's chrome wetdream Orpheus on display (lust, lust, drool, drool).
Tyll has redesigned the
HeadRoom line from top to bottom and has even improved his already pretty darn nifty Max
headphone amplifier (upgrades are available for current Max owners). The new Max will cost
around $1700 -- upgrades will run around $259. But the big news was Tyll's no-holds-barred
balanced BlockHead, which went for a staggering $3333. Balanced, you say, how can that be?
Well, it goes without saying that Tyll had to re-wire the Sennheiser HD-600s he was using
to eliminate the common ground, but man-oh-man did that ever make a difference!
Let's just say that you've never heard the potential of the Sennheisers until you've heard
'em run without the common ground through the balanced MonoMax. Watch for a review here
But some of the coolest news Tyll had concerned the
HeadRoom website (www.headphone.com),
which was already pretty cool. It seems the lad has gotten a hankering to re-tool that,
too. You might not know it, but over the years, Tyll has been quietly amassing an
impressive archive of real-world, scrupulously honest headphone measurements -- trust me,
these are nothing like the near ruler-flat measurements included with most
headphones -- and now he has figured out a way to allow you to use them to comparison shop
for headsets. Just choose a few headsets you're interested in, press enter and shazaam!,
you'll get a graph with each set's response color-coded and superimposed on one another. I
tried it with a few models and was stunned by some of the measured responses. This
function hasn't gone online yet, but when it does, it will be an indispensable tool for
anyone contemplating a headset purchase.
Speaking of websites. I ran into Ken Kessler, now
officially the world's busiest audio journalist, and he has a new project (in addition to
writing for 100 magazines!). It's a website: www.secondbeat.com/html/article/index.html.
I spent some time there and it seems fun and informative. I
know audiophiles and I know that you're never satisfied with just one website, so you can
go there occasionally without my getting jealous, but remember that you were with me
first and that I expect you here at least twice a month or you will hurt my
feelings. Especially after all we've been through together. (sniff)
The award for the most radical design at
the show has to go to Niro Music Systems. That's Niro, as in Niro Nakamichi,
legendary designer of high-fidelity cassette decks, and his new project stems from his
belief that the mechanical aspects of electronic design have been given short shrift over
the years. That's why he founded the Mechanical Research Corp. in 1998 -- and
that's why he has come out with a preamp and power amplifier that look like no other
designs on earth.
He calls 'em a Control Engine and a Power Engine, by the
way. The $22,000 Niro 1000 Monoblock Power Engine puts out 150W in class-A and looks like
a satellite minus the solar sail. Nakamichi paid attention to such details as the
mechanical resonance of the heat sinking and the potential for chatter in the AC plug
(it's spring-loaded). A stereo version is also available, as is an integrated. The entire
line is gorgeous, in an I've-never-seen-anything-like-that-before kind of way.
Needless to say, I want to be the first kid on my block to try one.
I walked into Dynaudio's room and didn't even notice
that the large speakers on display weren't the company's flagship $85,000 Evidence. Nope,
they were the (slightly) scaled-down Temptations, which are "only" $30,000.
Driven by an all Gryphon Audio Design system that totaled about $65,000 and strung
together with Transparent Audio cables (probably another $30,000 worth), the system
sounded extraordinary -- far better than the nearly $300,000 system down the hall, I
Like the Evidence, the Temptation comes in three parts,
with the center section, which contains the crossover and the two-tweeter/two-midrange
array, milled out of a solid block of aluminum. Two woofers each are mounted in the top
and bottom thirds of the speaker. Bass was tight and ultra-fast -- well matched to the
effortless transparency of the rest of the speaker's range. And pure? I played the
Persuasions singing "Ripple" from Might As Well [Arista GDCD 4070] and
their voices just floated on the air like aural kites. The entire audience sighed with
The Home Entertainment Expo 2001 was a big show --
and a crowded one. There were lots of other deserving displays, but I didn't make it to
all of them. My apologies to anyone I missed. I'll try to catch you next year when HE
2002 returns to the NYC Hilton.