MartinLogan showed some enticing and very reasonably-priced two-ways with real electrostatic drivers. The Purity (left) and the Source (right) are similar in size and appearance (at least so far as the electrostatic elements are concerned), but differ significantly. The Source ($2000/pair) uses an 8” woofer and has a wedge-shaped base that allows you to tilt the entire speaker to suit the needed vertical listening angle. The Purity ($3000/pair) has a pair of 6.5” woofers and a 200W digital amp, which permits it to be driven by a CD player or preamp or, even, by an MP3 player.
All of us have excuses for why we cannot acoustically treat our rooms but a lot of the underlying reason is that many are not convinced that they should make the physical or financial effort. I’ve discovered what I think of as training wheels for room acoustics. Tom Gorzelski of mytheater acoustic panel showed me his simple and inexpensive kits; these are enough to get anyone started. The panels are only 1" thick and, with their polyester filling, light enough to hang with a single nail. Don't expect them to work into the bass, therefore, but Tom acknowledges that they are most effective at 1–2kHz. Also, they come in packages of four 24x40 panels ($120) or two 24x24 panels ($45) because you cannot expect just one to make a difference. Still, hanging a 4pack of the bigger panels should reduce reflections if placed at ear level and, especially, at the first reflection points on the side-walls. It's likely you'll like it enough, perhaps, to do even more.
A beaming Gregg Dunn hailed me over to the Cary booth and said, "I know what you are looking for!" He was right. In his hands, he was holding the new Cary Cinema 11V, the video-input/processor that mates with the Cinema 11 (now 11A) audio-only pre-pro that I found to be a really wonderful performer in my July column. What the 11V adds is a useful array of video (and audio!) inputs and outputs but, most significantly for audiophiles, it strips the hi-def audio content from HDMI inputs and pipes it through a proprietary digital connection to the 11A. Add an RS232 connection and the two are linked to work as one, although they can function independently. Specs are decidedly cutting edge, with six HDMI 1.3 inputs and capability for 1080p video at 120Hz!
There was a lot to see in the Lenbrook Group rooms and I was pleased to see that the anticipated T-175 multichannel pre-pro was ready for prime-time. However, the unit that caught my eye was a little stereo unit, the T-715. This trim, $499 beauty has a 25Wpc amp, a CD player, an AM-FM tuner, and a subwoofer output in addition to the usual audio line-level inputs and outputs and headphone jack. It also sports a USB input for playback of MP3s or of anything streaming off the Internet. It's just about the size of a shoebox. Add a pair of small speakers, like PSB's $279/pair Alpha B1s, and you have an ideal and compact second system.
Continuing with European speakers, on static exhibit at the Klipsch Group complex was one of the most cleanly and beautifully simple speaker designs I've seen in a while. It was Jamo's S60, the largest in a new "S" line that, so far, includes a tiny bookshelf, a small center channel, and a subwoofer. These looked like many European small designs, almost too small to be effective. But the graceful three-way S60 sports a dome tweeter, a vertically arrayed pair of 4" midrange units, and a side-firing 8" woofer. Everything fit and matched, and the materials and textures just screamed quality. I just had to find out the price. It's only $450/pair! For that money and their graceful appearance, this speaker is a bargain even unheard!
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.