If a long line at registration is an indication of a show’s success—and it’s certainly one indication—then Home Entertainment 2007, held this weekend at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, could be pronounced a success by an hour after it was open to the public. The line was long enough that some people were grumbling—but their complaining stopped when they got in and had a chance see and hear all the neat stuff at the show. Exhibitors John Atkinson talked to at the end of the day seemed very happy with the turnout.
For Stereophile writers, a show like HE 2007 is not just an opportunity to find out about new audio equipment, but also to meet their colleagues and catch up on the latest industry gossip. Here, by the booth selling Stereophile CDs (including the new Attention Screen Live at Merkin Hall) we have (from left to right) Stereophileassistant editor and primary blogger Stephen Mejias, Home Theater techical editor Geoffrey Morrison, illustrator Jeff Wong (known to readers for his cartoons in the www.stereophile.com forums), editor John Atkinson, and senior contributing editor Wes Phillips. Jeff subsequently took my picture; I wonder if it’s to help him work on a cartoon...
Outlaw Audio had a press conference, at which Peter Tribeman talked about all their new products in a way that effectively combined modesty with a not-inappropriate touch of blowing your own horn. He freely admitted that there are a number of companies making excellent speakers—naming several that he admired—but suggested that Outlaw Audio’s new speakers stand comparison with these industry standards. He said their aim was not to sell a boatload of speakers, but to use the best components and designs, tweaking the crossover of each speaker to produce true audiophile results. The speaker he’s holding up here is the prototype of their LCR ($700), which can function as a center-channel speaker in vertical or horizontal orientation, with switch-selected modification of the crossover, hence lobing pattern, to take into account orientation. All of Outlaw's speakers will be made in the USA.
The press conference that I personally found the most exciting on the Show's first day was by Ralph Glasgal (left) on his Ambiophonics system. I knew about Ambiophonics (a signal-processing system
designed to cancel out interference between a pair of loudspeakers,
creating something akin to binaural listening but from speakers instead of headphones), but somehow I’ve never heard a demonstration, or at least not a convincing one. The demo setup at HE2007 was rather unusual, with a pair of giant Sound-Lab electrostatics at one end of the room, and another pair of floor-standing TacT speakers at the other end, the setup intended to demonstrate how the system works with these two types of speakers. I only heard the demo with the Sound-Labs, but I must say I was quite blown away with the huge soundstage, precision of imaging, and sheer ease of the sound. The Ambiophonic processing was performed by the latest TacT RCS 2.2 XP ($6000) which also functions as a full-feature preamp, a digital room correction device, and a D/A converter. Tact’s President and Designer, Radomir Bozovic (right), was also on hand to answer questions about the Tact system.
Aurum Acoustics is one of the Canadian audio success stories. Located in Newfoundland, well away from the Toronto-Montreal technology axis, they've succeeded in breaking into the heady world of ultra-high-end audio with an unusual product: an integrated CD player/amplifier/loudspeaker combination. The price is $32,000, with extras like an isolation rack, special power cables, etc., adding another $4k or so. It's a "turnkey" system, and it works. Designer Derrick Moss has to be given a lot of credit for creating the synergy among the different components of the Aurum Acoustics system. In true audiophile fashion, he continues to tweak the system; the most recent tweaks were some internal changes in the mid/high amplifier, and the use of Crystal Cable for internal wiring. The system at FSI sounded great, particularly when playing Ray Charles' version of "Over the Rainbow."
Adam Professional Audio is a German company that makes loudspeakers aimed at, as the name suggests, the professional market; their list of users include Abbey Road Studios and Lincoln Center. They're now poised to enter home audio. They had several of their speakers on display, but the only ones actually playing were in a large home theater demo room. The demonstration piece was the "chase" scene from the latest James Bond movie, Casino Royale, and all I can say about the sound was that it was loud. (Putting on my ultimateavmag.com hat, I can also say that the projector's color saturation was set too high.) However, reading the product literature, it's clear that the speakers represent a formidable amount of technology. The tweeter and midrange driver are based on the Air Motion Transformer principle developed by the late Oskar Heil, called Accelerated Ribbon Technology (A.R.T.) in Adam's implementation. (Klaus Heinz, Adam's chief engineer, worked with Heil.) The woofers have a honeycomb-structure diaphragm. The Adam Tensor Betas that served as the front L and R speakers use two 11" woofers and a 7" one, plus two midrange units and a tweeter. Powered with B&O ICE module. class-D amplifiers, a pair of Beta Tensors cost $60,000. There are two other speakers in the Tensor series, all semi- or fully active, the prices varying from $30k to $80k.
I have to admit that Monitor Audio has been one of those companies whose products I've just taken for granted. I went into the Monitor Audio room at FSI more-or-less from a sense of duty, but was almost literally stopped in my tracks. What's this? A new speaker that doesn't have the conservative look that I associate with Monitor Audio, and sound that was arrestingly lifelike. The speaker was the Platinum 300 ($8995—all prices in this report per pair), the top of the Platinum range that will be available in May 2007. It uses a ceramic-coated aluminum-magnesium ribbon tweeter, honeycomb-sandwiched midrange and bass drivers, in an enclosure made of a cast anti-resonance composite material. The claim bandwidth is 28Hz–100kHz. (I could hear a small peak at 45kHz, and another one at 82kHz.) If I remember correctly—I wrote this info down but can't find it—the source was a Simaudio CD player and the amplification was courtesy Linar Audio.
Readers with really long memories may recall the ESS Heil speakers, which had a tweeter whose working principle was described in ads as being like squeezing a cherry pit. Oskar Heil was undoubtedly a gifted inventor, and the Heil "Air Motion Transformer" principle is gathering new adherents. Elsewhere in this show report blog, I discuss the products from Adam Professional Audio, whose Accelerated Ribbon Technology is a variant of the Air Motion Transformer principle. Speakers from the Chinese company, Mark & Daniel, fall in the same category. They call their drivers "Directly Responding Emitter by Air Motion Structure" (DREAMS). The pair of Mark & Daniel Aragon Monitors (CN$5500), mounted on Aragon stands ($1900), which act as bass extenders. They sounded quite good, driven by the new Audio Oasis AMP-D1 amplifier (100Wpc, class-D, Made in Canada, CN$1495).
As well as being the 20th anniversary of FSI, 2007 also represents a change in its leadership. Marie-Christine Prin, whose hard work, efficiency, and charm had built up FSI to its current success, has passed the reins to Michel Plante, an industry veteran with an impressive background in audio at the technical as well as the sales/marketing level. The transition in leadership appears to have been seamless, a fact that Michel credits largely to the work of Céline Roy, who was Marie-Christine Prin's second-in-command, and who has stayed on with FSI. Michel Plante has ambitious plans to expand the mandate of FSI, making it appeal more to the trade as well as consumers, and finding more ways to attract young people to the audiophile hobby. His rationale for including gaming in FSI is that young people with no current interest in audio may come to check out the latest in games, but in the process of attending FSI would be exposed to some high-quality audio as well, and come to appreciate what it has to offer. Listening to Michel Plante talk about his plans, it's impossible not to be impressed by his commitment and enthusiasm. He's pictured here with one of the lovely FSI hostesses, Virginie Fisette.
Attending a show like FSI can be a tiring business, what with walking up and down corridors, and even when you sit down to listen you may experience tension, trying to discern the character of the sound. A few hours of that, and you can probably use a massage. If that's how you felt at FSI, the remedy was at hand: Jennifer Sunde and Mireille Beaudry are massage therapists who were at the show, offering a choice of Swedish and Shiatsu massage. Here they are in a brief break between clients.