I got a chance to listen to a 5.1 setup of small HM series monitors ($1699 each) from Adam Professional Audio, the same speakers that the recording had been mixed on. Even amidst the hustle and bustle of the CEDIA floor, they made a good showing. Even more impressive were the new Tensor series, all of which use ART (Advanced Ribbon Technology, inspired by the old Oskar Heil ribbons) HF and MF drivers, along with active Hexacone woofers in substantial cabinets. The larger Beta and Alpha models have additional cone midrange drivers. All are also available in fully active versions and the line runs from $8199 for a semi-active Gamma to $24,999 for a fully active Alpha. Klaus Heinz proudly explained his design philosophies, but the show floor was no place to really appreciate the speakers' performance. These look really promising.
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!
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.
I finally got a chance to look at, but not yet hear, Bryston's first venture into a source component, the BCD-1 CD player. James Tanner gave me a tour of the innards which were even more impressive than the beautifully carved front panel and sturdy disc tray. He said that, while they used a Philips transport, all the control electronics were replaced by discrete Bryston-designed drivers and DACs and that separate transformer windings powered separate power supplies for the transport and audio electronics, with multiple isolated and regulated supplies for individual circuits and channels. That allows the class-A output stages to function best. In addition to the analog outputs, transformer-coupled S/PDIF and AES/EBU digital outputs are provided.
Pioneer showed a number of interesting new products in two-channel electronics and speakers. but pride of place was ceded to their new flagship A/V receiver, the SC-09TX. This is almost, but not quite, a pair of separates with the 10-channel, ICE-powered class-D amp confined to a chassis separated from the rest of the digital and line-level electronics. The main 7 channels are rated at 200W, operated simultaneously. I thought it notable that the amplifier chassis is configured to be under the main chassis and that indicates that we’ve reached a point where the efficiency of class-D amps allows the power-hungry DSP and video processing to breathe out the top. Fans help, too. Every conceivable input and output is provided including 6 HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs, accommodations for XM, Sirius, and iPod input, and a talented EtherNet link. I show you the back panel to impress you with the connectivity and the distinct chassis for the power amp. The front panel sports a 4" LCD for control and video previewing.
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.
I hate all those automobile reviews that go on and on about a car's design aesthetics. C'mon, I can see what it looks like, even if only in the pictures. Just tell me things I can't appreciate without a run on the Autobahn.
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.
More than a decade ago, I bought a new pair of speakers and sought to find the most suitable cables for them. After auditioning a number of borrowed sets, I enlisted my daughter to confirm my selection. She grew up in a household where there was always good music playing on good equipment, but had no active interest in either. To placate Dad, she listened to a few of her own recordings with each of the various cables and then, lo and behold, reached the same conclusion I had. In fact, she described the differences almost exactly as I would have. I was ecstatic. Not only did it confirm my opinions about the cables, but it confirmed to me that any motivated listener can hear what golden-ear audiophiles obsess about. As I tried to express my joy to her, she left the room with this parting shot: "Yes, of course, but who cares?"
My first exposure to Burmester electronics was some years back at a New York Hi-Fi Show, where they were powering a pair of B&W 801s and impressed the hell out of me. But Burmester's distribution seemed sporadic and the prices beyond my consideration, so I put them out of my mind.