Non-audiophile friends and relatives raised their eyebrows when they saw the Classé Omega Omicron monoblocks. Not only is the Omicron more expensive than any other amp I've used; at 108 lbs, it's heavier than some of the speakers I've used. The Omicron is Classé's next-to-top-of-the-line amp in its Omega series, but is still definitely a "statement" product. Brian Damkroger reviewed the Omicron's big brother, the Omega Mono, in the July 2003 Stereophile. I refer you to that review for a more detailed description of the Omicron's basic circuitry.
Usually, I review a component after it has impressed me at a show or in a store. Though this approach reduces the possibility of a bad review—I pre-select based on real experience—it does not minimize the possibility of disappointment. This makes me a sort of stand-in for the consumer who would like to take something home for a real shakeout, and only then decide to buy it or send it back.
At the Las Vegas Convention Center, Dynaudio was showing—and playing—its new self-powered MC15 mini speakers. In three setups, they were connected to a laptop, a gaming console and an iPod dock, each setup clearly indicating that its high quality sound was an improvement over the usual powered computer speakers. Sporting a 6" woofer, an Esotec soft-dome tweeter (with 1st-order crossover at 1.5kHz), and a pair of 50W amps, this $1299/pair package, including elegant table mount, would be even more suitable as the basis of a deskop system with a good disc player.
While on-wall/in-wall systems were ubiquitous at CEDIA, the in-room speakers stood out for their imaging and sound quality. Even the tiny Dynaudio 2.1 system consisting of a pair of Contour SR speakers ($2200/pair) coupled with the Sub 250 ($1k) made sounds that many bigger installations would envy. Add another pair and a Contour SC ($1900) to fill out a 5.1 system that can do music as well as movies.
I have been a proponent of methodical modeling and room analysis as aids in setting up audio systems and rooms. They work hand in hand: Modeling predicts a feasible room arrangement, and analysis, along with careful listening, determines how close the outcome is to that predicted. Of course, there should always be another round of modeling to see if the current setup can be improved with more work. The spiral continues, toward, one hopes, perfection.
Late in the day at the Show, most glasses were filled or in the process of being emptied. This stack on the BG stand, however, was empty. It had been erected to show that Radia's new 210i Active Subwoofer is almost totally vibration-free in operation. At the time I took this picture, this sub, with its opposed 10" Kevlar drivers and 500w BASH amp was pumping out gobs of bass, cleanly and tightly. I could detect no vibrations at all with my hand. What's the point? Well, you can put something on top of them (vase, planter, cigar humidor!) without exciting spurious vibrations. Heck, you could even put this $1500 sub in a cabinet, if that suits your needs.
Back in the 1990s, I lusted mightily for the large ESP speakers with their tall, slim shapes and their angled driver panels. A large-room demo of the Concert Grands with Sonic Frontiers electronics still reverberates in my memory. Unfortunately, just as I evolved to the point where I could consider buying a pair of Concert Grands, the company folded its tents. Recently, I heard a rumor that ESP might be returning, and an email exchange with founder and designer Sean McCaughan has confirmed the good news.
Because I'm suspicious of just twiddling knobs to make the sound "nice," I didn't rely solely on my ears when I used the Z-Systems rdp-1 that I review elsewhere in this issue for speaker and room contouring. Instead, I used the ETF speaker/room-analysis software from Acoustisoft to help me manipulate the equalizer properly. This program can measure the first-arrival, on-axis speaker response, as well as the room response with its early and late reflections and its resonances.
Just a short note to tell you that the smaller brother of the affordably priced but high-performance Pioneer Elite S-1EX loudspeaker that I enjoyed so much last March has made its way to these shores. The S-3EX is slightly shorter and narrower, with 7" woofers in place of its bigger brother's 8" drivers. Retained are the CST Driver technology, the Aramid/Carbon-composite–shell woofers, the clean design and construction and, presumably, all the sound except at subwoofer levels. Not retained is about a third of the cost with the S-3EX estimated at $6000/pair instead of $9000.