Welcome to the wonderful world of firmware and software updates. With almost every audio device now microprocessor-controlled, and the tasks to be performed increasingly complex, it's not surprising that "finished" products leave the factory only to be stymied by reasonable but unpredicted user practices. It's not that we're all becoming beta testers, but we are contributing to the intelligent evolution of product capabilities.
Last time in "Music in the Round," I wrote about the fading presence of SACD in the hardware and software markets. However, the enduring interest in LPs seems to tell us that where there is a demand for high quality by discerning audiophiles, there will be a supply.
Well, I cannot say that I saw everything at the 2008 CEDIA Expo, nor can I say that my dreams came true. However, my major expectation for this show was to see that the major high-end manufacturers had bitten the bullet for HDMI and HD audio. I am happy to say, almost all have: some with products ready to ship; some with availabilities before the end of the year; and some with prototypes and promises for the 2009 CES in January. To list and illustrate them all would take more energy than I can conjure at this late day but here are a few.
The first day of CEDIA, like the first day of CES, is clogged with highly structured press conferences by the major international electronics companies and, since the show floor is not yet ready for primetime and there is the minute possibility that they might actually say something interesting, all the press faithfully parade from one to the next. Sure, I am little less enthusiastic than most since my, and, I hope, our interests are focused on audio, much less so on video and progressively less and less on home integration and central vacuum systems.
While most of the speakers at CEDIA seem to be designed for concealment, from on-wall to in-wall and, even, behind-wall in the case of the Stealth Acoustics designs. The latter mount in the wall but with the expectation that the installer will plaster over them. As a result, no pix from me but you can imagine what they look like by viewing your own wall.
Recently, I got an e-mail from a colleague at another audio magazine complaining about the paucity of new SACD hardware. We've been hearing about the slowing pace of new SACD releases, and about Sony's neglect of a format they themselves developed, but I now realize that, apart from the High End (footnote 1), machines that can play SACDs have been fast disappearing from the middle of the market. When the battle of SACD vs DVD-Audio was raging, universal players that could play both formats were available from almost every major manufacturer. Even John Atkinson jumped on the bandwagon, acquiring a Pioneer DV-578A universal player for $150 to use as a reference. The exceptions were the very companies that had developed the new formats: Sony offered only SACD players, and Panasonic, at least at first, only DVD-A players. No matteryou could buy a universal player at any national electronics chain store, even if that store didn't stock recordings in either format and their staff had never heard of DVD-As or SACDs. Some things never change.
In January, I reported on my experiences with the Integra DTC-9.8 preamplifier-processor, which I found to be outstanding with digital sources. That assessment was due, in no small part, to the performance of the Audyssey MultEQ XT room-correction system, which is included in the DTC-9.8. With only a little serious effort, MultEQ opened up the entire soundstage, making possible a better appreciation of the hi-rez sources now available on all sorts of discs. I have no doubt that any careful user can achieve similar satisfaction.
Surround Sound: Up and Running (Second Edition)
by Tomlinson Holman. Published by Focal Press, an imprint of Elsevier (footnote 1) (Oxford, England, UK; www.elsevier.com). 2008. Paperback, 248 pages, ISBN 978-0240808291. $44.95.
For years, I have espoused the use of the same speakers (except subwoofer) in all positions for multichannel music. To have no speaker in the system contributing a different voice to the choir seems as intuitive as having the room acoustics not color the sound. Of course, this still doesn't guarantee perfect timbral match—positioning and room acoustics usually impose some unique characteristics under all but the most perfect and symmetrical conditions. You can hear tonal imbalances even between the left and right speakers of most two-channel systems simply by switching pink noise between them. On the other hand, there's no reason to superimpose on these unavoidable differences the additional imbalances inevitable with using different speakers in a multichannel array.
This is my fourth review of a Revel loudspeaker, and I was even more excited by the arrival of the Ultima Studio2s ($15,999/pair) than I was when their predecessors, the original Ultima Studios ($10,799/pair when first reviewed; $15,000/pair when last listed in "Recommended Components"), were delivered in 2000. (See my review in the December 2000 Stereophile, Vol.23 No.12.) After all, the Studios were my reference speakers for years and, along with the larger Ultima Salons, were statement products that were the product of the talented designer Kevin Voecks and the considerable resources of Harman International, parent of Revel as well as of JBL and Infinity. Over the years, I've also reviewed Revel's Performa F30 (May 2000, Vol.23 No.5) and Concerta F12 (July 2006, Vol.29 No.7), each outstanding at its price point. If, after all these years, Voecks and his team were ready to reconsider their statement products, they should be something special.