I've been enthusiastically tracking the development of Bel Canto's class-D amplifiers, from their original TriPath-based models to their more recent designs based on Bang & Olufsen's ICEpower modules. With each step, Bel Canto has improved their amps' sound quality and reliability.
It was love at first sight when I saw a Jamo Reference R 909 loudspeaker in sparkling red lacquer on the floor of the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show. It made no sound, but it was beautiful, and I wanted it. It summoned up all my latent predilections for snazzy colors, striking shapes, and dipole speakers. But, as with many passing encounters in life, nothing came of it.
Sometimes, I think life would be easier if I were an audio customer. If I didn't have to wait on the priorities of the electronics companies, I might have gone out and bought a Blu-ray player months ago. Had I done so, I would have been shocked to find that almost all BD players are released with fewer than the advertised number of features, and sometimes require firmware updatessometimes even a return to the manufacturerto have them installed.
In my February 2000 review of Meridian's multi-talented, multichannel, multi-kilobuck Digital Theatre system, I fumed about the lack of a medium for discrete multichannel music. Even more loudly, I railed against the irresponsible mastering of many Dolby Digital and DTS discs, which place the listener in the middle of an ensemble and swirl the voices around his or her head with little concern for musical or artistic coherence.
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.
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.
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.
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.