Listening to multichannel music with the new SACD and DVD-Audio players has produced equal parts contentment and consternation. The contentment is easy to understand: Here are media that can reproduce music with better-than-CD resolution and, for the first time, re-create a believable illusion of the entire acoustic space in which the performance was recorded. The consternation is related to those same two issues: 1) maintaining the resolution and tonal balance relished with high-quality stereo, and 2) making the psychological transition from two-channel to multichannel listening. Both of these are barriers to audiophile acceptance of multichannel music.
I anticipated the installation of the TacT Audio RCS 2.0 room-correction processor with mixed emotions—I already liked my system and room, and such a device threatened to make all my studied efforts trivial. What if one might use any decent amps and speakers, cables that were merely conductive, and no room treatment at all? And what if, on top of that, you could just put them wherever your significant other thought they looked right? What if all the magic you needed was contained in this box? Scary.
Back in Atlanta's World Congress Center for the second year it is hot (around 90°F) and humid outside but it is cool at the 2010 CEDIA Exposition. On the very first full day, I found a slew of interesting new loudspeakers and that's despite having seen less than a third of the Show floor. Undoubtedly more will be discovered but it is great to say that all of the most intriguing new ones are relatively inexpensive.
I start my second report from the 2010 CEDIA Exposition by returning to MartinLogan. As well as their $2000/pair ElectroMotion electrostatic hybrid that I described in my first report from CEDIA, the Kansas company showed the appealing new 2-way Theos. This hand-built floorstander combines a 9.2"-wide by 44"-tall XStat electrostatic transducer with a 8" aluminum-cone woofer in a bass reflex enclosure. Its large electrostatic radiator and passive woofer can be bi-wired or not with a unique tool-less binding-post design. At $5000/pair, the Theos will be the most affordable speaker in the Reserve Series of floorstanders.
Looking back at the 2010 CEDIA Exposition, I was struck by a couple of new products which, I hope, presage a rethinking of modern electronics design. Today, the streaming of program content can be accomplished by TVs, by Blu-ray players, by dedicated servers and, for all I know, someone will put that capability into a speaker system. The result is that, unless one chooses very carefully, one will be buying the same technology redundantly. By contrast, high-end companies have striven to separate their dedicated analog/stereo products from their digital/multichannel products, forcing the very picky among us into a kludgy home-theater-bypass. Again, we end up buying more boxes and interconnections than should be necessary.
PS Audio's Paul McGowan was leaning so comfortably on these nice new AC Power Plants that it wasn't until my second visit that I realized the products carried the Ethereal label, the first fruits of a collaboration between these two companies. In addition to the 1500W Power Plant with its inbuilt harmonic distortion analysers, Paul also has the new surge-protected Power Center tucked under his arm. He looks pretty happy.
We audiophiles are ever hopeful that, however satisfying our present equipment and setup, we can achieve even greater enjoyment with a tweak or an upgrade. And we never stop: It was only 16 years (and three turntables) ago that I bought what I declared would be my last turntable, and there's no doubt that this "dead" format has improved substantially since then. Now, even as we make another (but less paradigm-shifting) format transition, from CD to SACD and DVD-Audio, new two-channel DACs continue to appear that show us how far we still are from wresting all the music from the original "Red Book" 16-bit CD format. I reviewed the wonderful Weiss Medea DAC in February 2003, and there are still on my auditioning rack are two more Swiss DACs that might redefine the category: the Orpheus 1 and the Nagra DAP.
Some people believe that high-end audio is mostly fluff whose cost, compared to standard professional studio electronics, is not justifiable. Moreover, they argue, if the music has been piped through any number of studio devices before it gets to your home, you can't expect to get more out of it than the studio devices will pass. Just as the argument is made about the final 6' of power cord, how can one Over-The-Top device make up for the foibles of those that precede it?
Wilma Cozart Fine died Monday September 21 at age 82. Together with her husband Bob Fine, Cozart was responsible for producing and engineering Mercury's superb-sounding series of "Living Presence" classical recordings in the 1950s and '60s.