|February 8, 2005
In This eNewsletter:
By John Atkinson
I had never seen it happen before. At January's Consumer Electronics Show, the crowds came to a standstill in Las Vegas' cavernous Convention Center. The crush of retailers, manufacturer representatives, and writers heading in one direction was exactly balanced by the crush heading in the other, an indication that the 2005 event was the largest, busiest ever. The official figures release by the CEA, promoters of the Show, were 142,585 attendees, including 23,028 from overseas, 2550 exhibitors, and 1.531 million net square feet of exhibit space. And those statistics don't include Mike Maloney's high-end-audio-related T.H.E. Show, run in parallel at the St. Tropez Resort Hotel, and the outboarding manufacturers exhibiting at such hotels as the Mirage and Bellagio.
Stereophile sent a full team of editors and reporters to CES. Wes Phillips offers a report on the hardware and demonstrations that impressed him most in this newsletter, while Ken Kessler lists the new software releases at the Show. As we have done for several years now, we published daily reports from CES on our website, while also running a series of stories from Stereophile assistant editor and CES "virgin" Stephen Mejias. I presented the magazine's 2004 "Products of the Year" Awards at CESyou can find the winners here. The May issue of the paper Stereophile will wrap up our coverage with a photo essay of the highlights.
For me, a highlight of the Show was a press conference announcing the creation of a new organization, the Music Engineering & Technology Alliance, Inc., or META. With its membership of "A-List" engineers and producerssharing the podium with META president Rory Kaplan at the conference were Phil Ramone, Elliott Scheiner, Frank Filipetti, Al Schmitt, George Massenburg, Ed Cherney, and Chuck AinlayMETA's mission is to "ensure the implementation of optimum standards and practices for the highest-quality music recording and delivery achievable by uniting audio professionals, technology providers, and consumer electronics manufacturers in a collaborative effort."
This goal was music to my ears. One of the factors that has increasingly marginalized the high-end audio industry is the lack of attention paid to sound quality in the music industry: If there's no more quality to be retrieved from an overcompressed, overequalized, overprocessed, underdithered, underperforming MP3 than can be obtained from playback on a computer via a pair of pitiful plastic PC speakers, then why should anyone bother with putting together a high-performance audio system? At the 2005 CES, it appeared that the people responsible for capturing and creating the sounds we worship feel the same way.
"There has been too much emphasis on convenience rather than [sound] quality," was how multi-Grammy winner Frank Filipetti put it at the CES conference. "The highest-quality audio to have ever been produced for mass consumption is currently available to all lovers of music, and yet most channels of current delivery fall well short of what's possible," he continued. "We intend to . . . bring back to listeners the unbridled passion that comes from listening to a beautifully recorded work played back on a high-quality sound system." Filipetti was echoed by ace engineer George Massenburg (shown here with the legendary Phil Ramone on his left), who added that "We have watched as the record industry has dumbed down. . . . We'd like to bring quality back."
To do this, META proposes introducing a certification program for production and playback hardware, with unanimity required from its members for a product to be certified. This, feels META CEO Bill Neighbors, ex-COO of DTS, will "raise the bar" on technology standards. META's plans also include "facilitating research and development, standardization and cross-platform interoperability as well as education and mentoring."
We shall see how META's initiative develops, but I applaud the fact that, finally, those responsible for creating the sounds we play on our systems are taking a proactive step. I saw what was perhaps a first sign that those in the record industry are listening to audiophiles' concerns about quality when, on the third day of the Show, I went into VTL's CES room at the Alexis Park Hotel for some late-night listening with Wilson's Peter McGrath. There were legendary record producer Rick Rubin and Atlantic Records' cochairman and COO, Craig Kallman, digging some of the CD-Rs Michael Fremer had burned of LPs played on the awesome Rockport turntable!
When Frank Filipetti mentioned "The highest-quality audio to have ever been produced for mass consumption," he was, of course, referring to the promise offered by SACD and DVD-Audio. Writing about the fifth anniversaries of the launches of these hi-rez media in last month's Newsletter on the eve of CES, I forecast that "Predicting what is going to happen with these media in the next year is . . . no task for the faint of heart."
CES made my crystal ball no clearer. In fact, the situation grew even murkier, with Sony announcing the umpteenth rerelease, for February 8, of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (one the first classic recordings to be released on SACD), this time on DualDisc, with CD data on one side and DVD data on the other. (The DVD side appears to be DVD-V rather than DVD-A, as Sony lists the content as "5.1 Surround Sound and enhanced LPCM Stereo.") I'm waiting for a review sample as I write; I'll let you know what I discover.
I write more about the state of SACD and DVD-A in my "As We See It" essay in the forthcoming March issue of Stereophile, but for now I will leave you with an exchange I had with Erick Lichte, music director of Minnesotan male-voice choir Cantus, about future release plans for the recordings on which he and I have been collaborating.
Up to now, all the recordings I have made of Cantus have been released as conventional CDs, the most recent being of Christmas music, Comfort and Joy: Volume One, which can be purchased at our website. As you can read in the various articles I have written about the Cantus recordings, other than the first, Let Your Voice Be Heard, I have recorded all of them in hi-rez, specifically 24-bit data at a sample rate of 88.2kHz. For Comfort and Joy and its companion, Volume Two (to be released on CD in September 2005), I added a pair of rear-channel mikes for surroundsee www.stereophile.com/news/112204Cantus.
So, if the sessions are captured in hi-rez, wouldn't it be appropriate for Cantus to release the material in hi-rez? That's where it gets confusing. Cantus is a commercial entity; it becomes increasingly apparent that, without seeking sponsorship support, the group will probably not earn back their investment in an SACD or DVD-A release for a long time, if ever.
"What do you think will make us the most money?" asked Erick.
"The short answer?" I responded. "Neither. The longer answer: An SACD may well get you back your investment in mastering and disc costs, if it is a hybrid. If you do a DVD-A, then I don't think you'd ever get back your costs, unless you do a DualDisc."
"The SACD venture is moot if it costs too much to make the actual discs," mused Erick. "What if, we offered a special edition of Comfort and Joy: Volumes One and & Two that would include a free companion DVD? Instead of releasing an SACD, we throw in a DVD-V with the two-CD set? I'm sure that more of our audience would be able to listen to it in surround in this format than in SACD. We would just do a 'best of' from the two discs."
Again I was skeptical. "If the DVD-V is a free extra for the double-CD set, I doubt that you can increase the price of the set to cover the additional mastering and manufacturing costs."
"Because DVD-V is a standard format now, the extra cost of including a DVD-V in the double-CD set would be minimal," responded Erick. "So are the costs of reproduction. All of Cantus' audience have DVD-V players, and this would allow almost everyone to enjoy the album in surround as well as give audiophiles some hi-rez content. Plus, we can include pictures and perhaps a video. Can we include a two-channel mix as well as hi-rez surround on the same DVD-V?"
"That's the problem," I explained. "DVD-V does not include an option for hi-rez surround, only for two-channel hi-rez content in addition to the Dolby Digital surround, which is limited to 448kbps. If you want hi-rez surround, you're back to thinking about SACD or DVD-A."
"Another rosy picture from the world of hi-rez audio!" lamented Erick. "By the way, the iTunes-like shop we put up on our website makes us a little bit of money every month after paying for the extra server space. This month we earned more from the sale of individual track downloads than we did from CD sales. That's with no advertising, no promotion, no nothing. So which way do you think audio is headed?"
I think Erick answered his own question!John Atkinson
PS: I would still like to have my readers experience my surround recordings of Cantus in high resolution, so we are currently talking about the possibility of licensing the material to release as a Stereophile SACD. Stay tuned.
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From Wes Phillips
If Jeff Rowland were to offer an iPod: http://homepage.mac.com/sideriver/cubesite/ipodcase/ipodcase.html.
|New From Mirage!
Mirage has become recognized as one of the leading manufacturers of high performance loudspeakers for today's lifestyles. Mirage recently introduced a variety of innovative products, such as the UNI-Theater, an OMNIPOLAR speaker solution that integrates the 3 front speakers into one simple enclosure, again proving Mirage's position at the top of the audio industry. www.miragespeakers.com
By Ken Kessler
CALOUNDRA, AUSTRALIA: Thunder from Down Under
Reminiscent of the fondly remembered Diva, the Definitive is a tall panel made up of two sections. The mid and treble ribbons use a "non-Kapton, non-Mylar, non-Kaladex single 'trade secret' true ribbon" material that Perigee's Graeme Keet proudly describes as "a unique combination interface that's 'amplifier friendly'." Their impedance range is between 4 and 3.2 ohms, so Keet doesn't anticipate any problems with modern amplifiers.
Perigee's ribbons move on from the Apogee types in having ribbon faces that are magnet-latched, and damper-latched by height as well as at the ends; their returns are field-encapsulated, set solid. The mid- and treble ribbons are said to have 99.2% (treble) and 99.5% (midrange) clear paths at the back, 100% clear to the front. Bass-wave deflectors are used on the faces, combined with mini-horn loading, as in Perigee's FK1 speaker, while backwave air resistance is said to be low, due to the aperture size being of the same dimension as the driver.
Perigee has employed all-perimeter clamping for the Definitive's bass panel. The ribbon is made from a non-Kapton single-sheet construction, with low-energy polymers and plastics, while the adhesives are a very high dielectric, exceeding that of silicone by a factor of two. The ribbon attachments are nonmagnetic, molecular-bonding pressure clamps, with no tightening device in the audio circuit; Keet tells us that they are made exclusively for the Definitive. The rare-earth magnets are field-focused, their coercivity being (for example) roughly seven times that of the Apogee Grand.
All ribbons are made in-house using the same CNC machinery as is used to produce Perigee's Apogee upgrades.All the ribbons share a common mid-physical alignment point. Keet says that "The bass ribbons are lower in mass than any Apogee design. Resistance is a true 4 ohm load, and tuning is multipoint/sweep rather than area-defined tri-point. All the damping is a new-style proprietary system, not susceptible to foam rot!"
Both the bass and mid/treble sections have frames that are claimed to be 3D laser-machined to 0.3mm accuracy, while all wiring is silver-plated "six nines" copper strands air-sealed in Teflon, copper-terminated, silver-soldered, and ground-screened, with direct ribbon-to-amplifier connections. The plinth is solid steel faced in Corian and is available in most Corian colors. The mass of the panels is suspended on two hardened points per speaker. The Definitive's crossover is active and digital, with time alignment and phase/level correction.
Perigee states the Definitive's frequency range as 20Hz-35kHz, in-room and "acoustic power" as "115dB+." The Definitive requires six amplifiers, but can use as few as 20W thanks to its easy load. Price? To be decided.
Perigee Acoustics. Tel: (61) 7-5439-6439
LONDON, UK: Angus McKenzie
KALLETAL-AUF DEM STREKEN, GERMANY: Teutonic Tubes
A comprehensively equipped unit, the Sundila has switching for MM/MC mode for each input, rotary selectors for the different loads, and a quartet of toggle switches for other functions. In MM mode, the Sundila's gain is 20dB lower than the MC gain, and it has a fixed impedance of 47k ohms. The RIAA equalization is passive and split between the first and second stages; designer Helmut Becker feels that dividing the RIAA network over two amplification stages dramatically lowers the insertion losses of the passive network. Furthermore, the design boasts a total absence of feedback, thus increasing the overall dynamics.
The external, solid-state-regulated power supply is housed in a separate aluminum case and connected through a computer-grade ribbon cable. Becker says that "This is the best way to obtain low noise and a supply line with a very low impedance that will increase the performance in the lower frequency range." The Sundila comes in a laser-cut, 4mm-thick chassis of steel finished in black or silver and styled to match the Eklipse.
Specs-wise, the MM gain is 40dB, the MC gain 60dB. Selectable impedance values are for 47, 100, 220, 470, 1k, and 47k ohms, while capacitance values are 0, 100, 220, and 470pF. AudioValve states the frequency response as 20Hz-65kHz, ±3dB, while the subsonic filter rolloff is set at 20Hz. RIAA accuracy is claimed to be ±0.25dB and distortion is 0.24% (1kHz, at 10V peak output). S/N is said to be 76dB in MC mode. The circuit is triple-staged and single-ended, with buffered outputs. Other functions include standby and mute modes. The chassis measures a substantial 16.4" (420mm) W by 12.5" (320mm) D by 5.5" (140mm) H; the weight is a confidence-inspiring 44 lbs (20kg).
With the dollar on its knees to the euro, the Sundila might end up costing around $4000 Stateside. But if it's anything like the Eklipse, it will still be a bargain. Word has it that a Sundila is already on its way to Stereophile's Michael Fremer for the scoop review.
US: LAS VEGAS: New Software
Mark Levinson, established in 1972, is a world-renowned manufacturer of the finest stereo and multi-channel electronics. Products range from awe-inspiring monaural power amplifiers to the industry benchmark CD processor. For more information on all Mark Levinson products, please visit www.marklevinson.com.
By Wes Phillips
Dream Baby Dream
The cabbie disturbs my reverie. "Where are you going?"
"That has always been my dream."
He's not alone. My flight is packed with folks who can't wait to escape the New York winter. They're dreaming of a desert getaway, I reckonbut I'm wrong. As the seatbelt sign flashes off, the entire plane begins to unpack portable DVD players, headphone amps, elaborate MP3 players, and the latest laptops. Not a civilian in sight: We're all headed to the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show.
If you watch the network TV coverage, the big stories out of CES 2005 are that cellular phones are getting smaller and televisions are getting bigger. Wow, really? That's what floats the big electronics companieswhich, fortunately, I don't have to cover. I get to scour the demos from the high-end companies, places where TV and cell phone are dirty words. Hard as it is to believe, some companies still think that music matters.
They're dreamers, of coursebut what a lovely dream.
"This is the product I always dreamed of"
"The Summit has technology that took us 20 years to develop," said Sanders, "but this is what I had in mind when we first introduced the Sequels back in the early '80s." He pauses, then corrects himself. "No, this level of performance is actually what I had in mind when we introduced the original Statements even earlier than that. But now that we have this level of technology, we're going to redefine that, too." (The Statement e2x is due later this spring.)
I've always loved ML's Aerius, not so much because it was ambitious, but because its balance of featuresit was affordable, and its fast, accurate midrange was mated to just enough bassdistracted me from its weaknesses (one-person sweet spot, MIA top and bottom extremes). The Summit was a revelation. It had lots of top-end sparkle and what seemed like serious low-end slam. I jumped from seat to seat in the nine-seat listening area, and it had good off-axis imaging, too.
I want to review these speakers. A man can dream, can't he?
Sweet dreams are made of this
While talking about the "approved" products on display at CES, Thiel let it slip that he's been working on a new iteration of his classic CS3.6. "How do you go about redesigning a speaker like that?" I asked. "Do you start with the cabinet and try to design all of the elements so that they fit in, or do you . . . "
Stupid, stupid, stupidI'm talking to one of the sharpest guys in audio and I go and ask a dorky question like that! I wanted to melt through the conference table.
"I don't really start with anything in mind," Jim Thiel answered politely. Then his eyes lost their focus on the room we were in and he began to muse. "Well, no, that's not so. You know that anything I design is going to be phase- and time-coherent, which means that it's going to have a first-order crossoverand, at that point in the product line, you know that it's likely to be a three-way design. And I really like the tweeter we designed, but all other bets are off.
"Well, I guess I knew I wanted to use a 10" woofer, but I had some new ideas about the diaphragm, and I wanted to get even better integration between the tweeter and the midrange driver, but basically I really wanted to . . . make the 3.6 even better. And there's so much you could do . . . "
At that point, I wasn't so sure I'd asked a dumb question. More accurately, it probably was a dumb question, but the difference between an audio hack like me and an audio genius like Jim Thiel is that he never treats any question as too basic for reconsideration. I could be wrong, but I think he might have been redesigning the CS3.7 while Stephen and I were in the room.
It's a nice dream.
I was a little disappointed that C-J didn't have any fantasy two-channel products, however. After I got back home, I received an e-mail from Lew Johnson. "We received a last-minute delivery from one of our vendors, so we were able to show another new product at CES beginning Friday afternoon. I think you probably missed it."
It's the LPM142, a 140W, linearized-pentode monoblock amplifier ($6500 each) built to conform to C-J's new retro-futurist styling (think the ACT2 preamplifier, featured on the March Stereophile's cover). It's also the first tube amplifier to employ the new Teflon CJD capacitors (again, think ACT2). The LMP142 boasts an "improved power supply topology" and uses an advanced version of the linearized-pentode (ultralinear) circuit found in many of C-J's classic early amplifiers. It comes configured for 4 ohm loads, but can be ordered set up for loads of 2, 4, 8, or 16 ohms; the wattage remains 140 at all outputs, although Lew Johnson stresses that that's a "conservative estimate." Dealers should have 'em by late spring.
Dreams so real
Several doors down from my room at the San Tropez, I was blown away by the sound of the deHavilland Electric Amplifier Co. demo. I listened, I marveled, I jotted down notes, I took away fact sheets. When I wrote up my daily report, I even ran down the hall to jot down some more notes. I still got stuff wrong.
George Kielczynski, deHavilland's director of sales and marketing, wrote me a few days later. "You reported that the GM70 50W SET monoblocks were $8995 each, but they're $8995 a pair."
I guess the fit'n'finish fooled me. I also got the GM70's tube complement wrong: the amp uses an Ulyanov GM70, a 6AU5, and a 12SN7not the 845, 300B, and KT88 I reported. D'oh! Guess that explains the model number.
Kielczynski also took me to task for neglecting the connecting fiber of the system. "Joe Cohen's PranaWire cables are an integral part of the sound you experienced in our showroom. If our sound was magical, PranaWire certainly was responsible for part of that magic." My bad.
It gets worse. When I waxed rhapsodic about the music in the DeVore FidelityShindo room, I said, "Seriously cool, although not heard, was the Shindo 301 Player System ($19,500), which is a completely refurbished Garrard 301, complete with a beautifully finished rosewood cabinet. For any audiophile boasting my years, this turntable is a ticket to the fantasyland of my youth: it's the turntable I always wanted, only better."
John DeVore graciously wrote me a few days later: "You mention three tracks (Dave Holland, Cat Power, and PJ Harveyall my personal favorites!), then you say you didn't get to hear the Shindo-Garrard 'table. I guess you didn't realize that all three of those discs were about a foot in diameter and black!"
What a stupid I am! The only excuse I can offer is that I was so moved by the music I forgot to take notes and, when I later reconstructed my visit, I had absolutely no memory of John DeVore sliding those LPs out of their sleeves and onto the Shindo-Garrard.
Some dreams are nightmares
"We were robbed," he said. "Someone entered our room last night after we'd packed everything up and sliced the wrap open on our shipping pallet and took some gear."
That was bad enough, but the thieves had also scarfed tools, clothes, records, and gifts. What an ending for all of the hard work that had gone into the show; what a sense of violation.
There's probably nothing that can be done about that sinking feeling or the personal stuff, but audiophiles should be on the lookout for the gear. It's pretty specialized gear, so the market for it is really confined to enthusiasts. I'd like to think that no audio enthusiast would feel good about listening to any component with such a load of bad karma.
Here's what the gonifs took:
If you're offered any of this stuff, ask the seller to come back later (say you need to get the cash together), then call the cops and John DeVore (718-855-9999) or Jonathan Halpern at In Living Stereo (212-972-1273).
Simaudio Ltd., celebrating 25 years of excellence, manufactures state-of-the-art components for both 2-channel and home-theater systems. Maintaining a world-class reputation, we continually push the performance envelope to the next level with each new product. Visit us at www.simaudio.com.
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