As Stereophile's minister without portfolio, my goal was to find something interesting that didn't quite fit into traditional categories. The prize was an introduction, at a Harman demo room in the Hard Rock Casino/Hotel, to Lexicon's SL-1 loudspeaker prototype (price TBD) and the SoundSteer technology that distinguishes it.
In the January 2015 edition of "Music in the Round," I reviewed NAD's latest Masters Series preamplifier-processor and multichannel power amplifier, respectively the M17 ($5499) and M27 ($3999). I was taken with both, but the M27 made a special impression. In many ways, it personified what a modern power amp should be: quiet, transparent, cool running, and compact. Its neat package of seven 180W channels inspired me to consider that stereo or mono versions of such a thing could supplant the ungainly monster amps I was using in my main system. So I asked NAD to send me not just one but two samples of their new two-channel power amplifier, the Masters Series M22 ($2999): Although this is a review of a stereo amplifier, I did want to have my front three speakers identically voiced.
Most new preamplifier-processors now fall into one of two categories. First are the fully featured models, with ever-growing numbers of channels to support such immersive surround-sound formats as Dolby Atmos, Aureo3D, and DTS-X. An example is Marantz's 13.2-channel AV-8802, which replaces the 11.2-channel AV-8801a sample of which I've owned for barely a year and use only in 5.2! The second category is that of such high-end models as Classé's Sigma and NAD's M17, which offer only 7.1 or 7.2 channels, and from which nonessential features have been trimmed in favor of audiophile-grade circuit components and construction. But if money is no object, there is a third class of pre-pro, exemplified by Trinnov's Altitude32 and Datasat's RS20i, in which no compromise is made in any of these parameters.
I spent most of my time at the January 2015 Consumer Electronics Show exploring amps and preamps for Stereophile's on-line coverage of the show, but there were a few items of interest to fans of multichannel. There were demonstrations of Dolby Atmos, Auro3D, and dts:X, but these mostly focused on moviessave for Auro3D's thrilling demo of 2L's Magnificatan album of music by Arnesin, Gjeilo, and Kernis, with Anita Brevik conducting solo singers, chorus, and the Trondheim Soloists and recorded in a cathedral (Pure Audio Blu-ray, 2L-106-SABD). The ambience was more enveloping with Auro3D's added height dimension, compared to what I hear from 5.1 systems, but I'm not sure whether this will be enough to encourage music listeners to make the necessary investment.
I'm writing this in the dog days of a hot August. Over the past few months, a couple of interesting devices have accumulated, but were bumped from the column in favor of bigger things, as it should be. So this column is an end-of-season close-out.
In my last column, in November 2011, I mentioned that preamplifier-processors are generally at a price disadvantage in comparison to the same manufacturer's A/V receivers. The economies of scale almost ensure this. Typically, to design a pre-pro, a manufacturer uses one of its AVR models as a platform; the result is most distinguished from its parent AVR by its lack of power amplifiers.
Kal reviews the Yamaha Aventage BD-A1000 universal Blu-ray player and remarks "a sharp-looking, great-sounding machine that will play any extant digital format well. It sounded better in my better system, where I could really relish its low-frequency performance." He also takes a listen to the Meridian 861 Reference v6 Digital Surround Controller and ponders "how to reconcile the internal complexity of Meridian's 861 Reference v6 with the disarming purity of the sounds it reproduces?"