Of all the components to be seen and heard at an audio show or in a dealer's showroom, the most memorable and attention-grabbing are inevitably the super-speakers—bogglingly expensive, filled with cutting-edge engineering and exotic materials, of mammoth size and weight, with full-range reproduction that shakes building foundations and extends far enough up top to disrupt the navigation of bats. Survey the field, and the biggest Wilson, Aln, JMlab-Focal, Burmester, EgglestonWorks, and Nearfield Acoustics models, to name a few, fit that description.
Does the modern audiophile want a sleek, compact, powerful, remote-controlled, microprocessor-driven, two-channel integrated amplifier? Perreaux Industries, based in New Zealand, thinks so. They've designed all that, plus good looks and impressive build quality, into the R200i. Despite its relatively small size—4.1" tall by 16.9" wide by 13.4" deep—the R200i packs a punch. It's rated at 200Wpc into 8 ohms and 360Wpc into 4 ohms, yet it weighs just a fraction under 30 lbs.
When I first got into hi-fi, stereo was just over the horizon and imported products were still rare. The inexpensive ones came from Japan, and you could find them, often with names that changed from week to week, in the open-air displays in and around Cortlandt Street in lower Manhattan. The more expensive brands were European, primarily British, and beyond my financial grasp.
When I unpacked the review samples of Earthworks' Sigma 6.2 loudspeaker, I was reminded of a Pop Art exhibition I'd visited 30 years before, in London. Along with a stuffed drum kit and other of Claes Oldenburg's exaggerated-scale floppy sculptures, hanging from the Tate Gallery's ceiling was an enormous three-pronged, US-style AC plug made entirely of hardwood (footnote 1). Although the Sigma 6.2 is available in plain-Jane black MDF for $3500/pair, the optional solid-cherry cabinet, with its polished grain-streaked panels, has the same carved-from-solid, feel of the Oldenburg plug. I found myself wanting to stroke the speaker.
One of the cooler toys being shown at the Westin–St. Francis is the $199 hp digital media receiver en5000. This nifty remote-controlled Ethernet device connects to any TV and stereo in your home and links it to your home computing network. After you've loaded its software onto the network's computers, it will instantaneously communicate with all of them, allowing you to access all digital media contained on any of them. You can create playlists, slideshows, or show movies from, say, the room containing your hi-fi without needing to have a computer in the space at all. This struck us as precisely the sort of product David Hyman was recommending in his keynote address on day one. Best of all, no noisy fans in the listening room!
Polk Audio completely redesigned its popular RTi series of loudspeakers. The RTis occupy the "better" position in Polk's good (R series), better (RTi), best (LSi) hierachy. The refurbished line features new drivers, higher quality cabinets, and handsome cosmetics—including real wood veneers in black oak and cherry.
The first day of the annual Home Entertainment shows is traditionally devoted to "trade" access only—that is to say, set aside for press conferences and dealer demonstrations (ie officially sanctioned schmoozing and cruising).
Multichannel music is the future. The two-channel reproduction that we have enjoyed for the past four decades is but the first step from monophonic (single-source) sound to true stereophonic reproduction. I intend to preach that to Stereophile readers who believe it and to convert the obstinate objectors.