Consumer Electronics Show: January 8, 1998

A continuing proliferation of formats is as likely in the audio realm as it is in video. The analog cassette was one of the most successful formats in history, and the industry has yet to find a replacement for it. MiniDisc, a Sony-originated format, required several attempts to introduce it to the American market.

It now seems to be well-established. Sony has lowered the entry fee to $350 for an MD package that includes a home recorder, a portable player, and two blank MD discs. Several other manufacturers are offering MiniDisc recorders, including Sanyo and Aiwa, which has introduced a pair of portable MD machines---one a player, the other a player-recorder with a backlit display. A prototype Yamaha mini-system, the GX-900, includes a carousel CD changer, an auto-reverse cassette deck, and a MiniDisc recorder, although a Yamaha exec we spoke with said it hadn't been decided whether to market the system or not. A similar system, the $400 GX-500, includes a 75Wpc amplifier and a pair of three-way bookshelf speakers. Its classy styling, with real-wood veneer and brushed-aluminum trim, recalls Tandberg products of the early 1970s---sort of the audio equivalent of the Mazda Miata. The system could be a nice addition to a dorm room or small office.

San Francisco's Parasound has unveiled its new lineup here, including the AVC-2500 24-bit processor, which uses three Motorola DSP-56009 Digital Signal Processing chips. The AVC-2500 will decode Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro Logic. An assortment of outboard decoders are among Parasound's offerings, as is the $1495 CDP-2000 Ultra, a belt-drive CD transport/player sourced from C.E.C. The machine features a highly damped chassis and a heavy disc clamp.

While multichannel systems are generating most of the sizzle at the Hilton and adjoining Convention Center, two-channel audio is far from dead, as evinced by new offerings from companies at the top of the hi-fi food chain (like Proceed and Krell) and those more in the middle (like NAD, which has introduced its "Silver Series" of amps and preamps in the $1200-$2200 range). Affordable high power has long been one of Parasound's hallmarks, a tradition that continues with the $2195 HCA-3500, which offers a whopping 600W out of each of its two channels, and pure class-A operation up to 15W. McIntosh, a classic name in American audio, is showing its MC122 two-channel power amp and C15 preamp at a combined retail price of $2700. Mac will bring a DVD player out at approximately $3700 sometime this year, according to sales exec David Black.

Is the High End headed for oblivion? Apparently so, according to Krell's always-outspoken Dan D'Agostino. Why? "The middle of the high-end market has been taken over by home theater" and "there are no Generation X audiophiles." Nonetheless, Krell is doing quite well with its top products, as well as with its $12,000 A/V Standard surround-sound processor---an item D'Agostino sells 80-90 of month after month, each accompanied by several amplifiers. It's hard to see what the guy's got to complain about.