Back in October 2001, when Larry Greenhill told us about the Sony TA-P9000ES multichannel preamplifier, it seemed the best thing since sliced bread. This affordable ($700) analog controller had two six-channel inputs, a six-channel bypass input, level controls for all channels, and a stereo bypass input. For those of us just dipping our toes into multichannel, it was welcome. Though no longer manufactured, the Sony is still a unique component, and one highly prized in the second-hand market. The TA-P9000ES was not, however, the answer to all our prayers—made to complement a digital processor, it basically has only two 5.1-channel inputs, if the TA-P9000ES is used independently.
The great format battle of our time continues to rage between the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps. For many reasons, some discussed in the July installment of this column, this battle may be the last one waged over physical media formats. But whether either or neither format wins, the outcome will be decided on the basis of video quality—issues of audio quality are being ignored. This is unfortunate for audiophiles for two reasons. First, we have a big stake in whatever will be the standard medium for movies and music, but second, this battle makes it apparent that the major forces in the marketplace are ignoring what matters most to us.
Meridian’s collaboration with Ferrari bore fruit as the F80 CD-Radio. "CD-Radio," by a long shot, is an unworthy designation for such an unusual device. Sure, it is an AM/FM radio of high quality and, yes, it will play CDs and DVDs and do all sorts of other neat things but you can go to www.thef80.com for all that info. What I want to tell you is that this $2999 clock-radio is drop-dead gorgeous and is a serious audio instrument. In a press conference room that I estimate was 25'x50' with 15' ceiling, Meridian's Bob Stuart popped in first one disc and then another to the amazement of the press crew. The f80 really filled that larger-than-domestic and nearly bare room with balanced sound. Now, I am not saying that it will replace a full component system for you or me, but I cannot think of another product that compares with it for size, appearance, or performance.
That's a pretty snazzy new pre-pro from NAD, the T-175 ($1999). It sports four HDMI inputs, lots of analog and digital audio inputs as well as "legacy" video sources. Of special note is the inclusion of Audyssey MultEQ XT room correction, with a custom response curve option developed with PSB's Paul Barton. In addition, this is one of the first of a new generation of AVRs, pre-pros, and processors that are compatible with the potent Audyssey Pro Audio Calibration intended for professional installation. Others capable of Audyssey Pro include NAD's T775 and T785 AVRs, and Denon's AVR-5805CI, '5308CI, '4308CI and '3808CI AVRs. Also on Audyssey's lists are the Denon AVP1HD pre-pro, the Integra DTC-9.8 and OnkyoPro PR-SC885 pre-pros, the Integra DTR-8.8 AVR, the Crestron Adagio Media System, the Phase Technology dARTS system, and, of course, the Audyssey Sound Equalizer.
Just a short note to tell you that the smaller brother of the affordably priced but high-performance Pioneer Elite S-1EX loudspeaker that I enjoyed so much last March has made its way to these shores. The S-3EX is slightly shorter and narrower, with 7" woofers in place of its bigger brother's 8" drivers. Retained are the CST Driver technology, the Aramid/Carbon-composite–shell woofers, the clean design and construction and, presumably, all the sound except at subwoofer levels. Not retained is about a third of the cost with the S-3EX estimated at $6000/pair instead of $9000.
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!