Look at the picture and tell me that those don’t look like speakers! They are, of course, but they are not intended to be driven by audio signals directly. What subwoofer manufacturer Bag End was demonstrating is a small, active bass trap, the E-Trap, and they are driven by the bass frequencies in the room. Each of these small boxes contains a driver, two microphones, and some pretty snazzy electronics that let the driver cancel the energy at the frequency (or two) of your room’s major mode. Sure, acoustic treatment is generally best, but that can get awfully cumbersome below 100Hz. Adjustments allow you to select frequencies between 20Hz and 65Hz and adjust the amplitude and shape of the cancellation. For critical success, you need to experiment with placement (although that is almost always at a room boundary) and, at the moment, have access to some nice FFT software. Bag End's James Wischmeyer promises that, eventually, some simpler setup software will be provided. Mebbe, but I asked to try one ASAP.
It was disorienting to arrive in the Denver Convention Center and both have to re-learn where everything is and to try to maintain my bearings on the Show floor. The grid of floor sites is very approximately regular, with each numbered row thickening and thinning to complement its neighbors. At one point, I had let myself be led around to three different booths by a press representative, only to look up and not know which was the front and which was back!
I've been reading and sometimes participating in a number of Internet discussions that begin with something like "Is SACD (and/or DVD-Audio) Dead?" Regardless of your one-word answer, it seems that the issue is still quite lively. I won't address the question here (you know where I stand), but it almost doesn't matter. Many high-resolution multichannel recordings are still being made. It's just that they may be distributed in different ways.
Good things come in threes, they say. Well, three-channel power amps suit me just fine. My main component rack is at the back of the room, so I split power duties between a two-channel amp under the rack to drive my rear-channel B&W 804S speakers and, way at the front, either three monoblocks or a three-channel amp for the front three B&W 802Ds. I do this to ensure that the timbre of the front three channels is consistent. The outstanding performance of the Simaudio Moon W-8 dual-mono power amp (Stereophile, March 2006) almost tempted me to go with a stereo amp and a monoblock, but voicing and balancing a multichannel system with equanimity makes me want as much simplicity as possible. I guess manufacturers and users see it the same way; many new three-channel amps are coming on the market.
Iván Fischer, founder and conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, has performed with many major orchestras and recorded for a number of major labels, most significantly with Philips, from 1995 to 2004. Fischer/BFO made the first multichannel orchestral recording for SACD, which Philips used as a demonstration disc for their first SACD players. I still treasure that disc—it demonstrates many of the advantages of the medium with a wide and varied program—but it has never been commercially released.
My reviews of the TacT RCS (Stereophile, September 2001) and the Rives PARC (July 2003) are ample evidence that I've been fascinated with room equalization for quite a while. This is because I don't have a dedicated, purpose-built listening room in either of my homes, and having experienced what such rooms can do for recorded sound, I've always been somewhat dissatisfied with what I do have. Sure, I've got lots of great equipment, and a wife who understands enough to let me install some acoustic treatments (as long as she approves their appearance). Still, I'm sympathetic to those audiophiles who, when I suggest acoustic treatments to resolve their particular problems, say that it's simply not possible for them, either because of the Spousal Acceptance Factor or the need to accommodate other activities in the same room. Room equalizers seem to offer the hope for a panacea for what ails such spaces.
One of the highlights of such annual events as the Consumer Electronics and Primedia Home Entertainment shows has been the demonstrations of loudspeakers from TAD, the professional division of Pioneer Electronics. Designer Andrew Jones is always generous in using recordings brought by visitors, and enthusiastic in explaining the technology behind these beautiful behemoths. Among these speakers' unique features are a beryllium dome tweeter mounted concentrically inside a beryllium midrange cone, and a cabinet built of stacked, carved horizontal sections, for incredible rigidity without using exotic materials or excessive mass. The concentric upper-range driver is a reminder that, some time back, Jones worked for KEF, where the coaxial UniQ driver was developed, but the materials and details of the TAD drivers are all new. While the TAD Model 1s are always good for musical and audiophile thrills, their price is in the upper five figures, which put them out of serious purchase consideration.
The last Classé power amplifier I reviewed, back in November 2004, was the imposing Omega Omicron monoblock ($20,000/pair), which made glorious sound with the Revel Ultima Studio speakers. But things change. First, my reference speakers are now B&W 802Ds. Second, my system now has three front speakers, supplemented by two B&W 804S speakers for surround sound. While a quintet of Omicrons would undoubtedly be dandy, five such monoliths would take up so much space that I'd be wondering about their effects on the room's sound. With so many channels, it seemed time to investigate whether a multichannel amp could carry the load.
Erstwhile Stereophile scribe Jonathan Scull, now firmly established in the worlds of public relations and marketing, conducted an in-room presentation of new Furutech products including an LP flattener, an LP demagnetizer and, with especial relish shown in the picture, an LP degausser. Also, shown were some beautiful AC receptacles and <$100 power cords with various connectors. Beautiful stuff.
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.