This is Part 1 of a four-part report on High-Performance Audio at CEDIA 2011, which highlights new products from: AKG, Anthem, Atlantic Technology, AudioQuest, Audio Research Corporation, Bryston, Canton, Cambridge Audio and Cary Audio.
Part 2 covers new products from: Definitive Technology, Focal, GoldenEar Technology, Harman/Kardon, Integra, JBL Synthesis, KEF, Klipsch, Labgruppen, and Lexicon. CLICK HERE to read Part 2.
Part 3 covers new products from: Linn, Mark Levinson, MartinLogan, Monitor Audio, NAD, Onkyo, Paradigm, and Paradigm Shift. CLICK HERE to read Part 3.
Part 4 covers new products from: Pioneer, Polk Audio, Pro-Ject, PSB, Rotel, Soundmatters, TAD (Technical Audio Devices), Totem Acoustic, Wadia Digital, Wharfedale, Wisdom Audio, and Yamaha. CLICK HERE to read Part 4.
Also check out David-Birch Jones’ mostly video-oriented CEDIA 2011—Highlights, which highlights new products and technologies from Sony, JVC, Pioneer Elite, THX/LG, Panasonic Business Solutions, Sim2, Screen Innovations, Epson, Runco, and Lexicon. CLICK HERE to read CEDIA 2011—Highlights.
High Performance Audio, CEDIA 2011—Part 1
While not emphasizing new models at CEDIA, Harman’s AKG division focused its display on the firm’s Quincy Jones-endorsed range of headphones, including a specially styled Quincy Jones Signature K701 full-size over-the-ear headphone, and a range of smaller Jones-endorsed ‘phones, including at least one in-ear model.
Apparently, Jones’ favorite color is a distinctive lime green, which AKG calls “Quincy Green,” which figures prominently in the Jones models.
For the Canadian electronics manufacturer Anthem, the biggest news at CEDIA involved the unveiling of an all-new Statement-series monoblock power amplifier, known as the Statement M1 (estimated MSRP, $3500/each). The amp puts out a staggering 1000 watts per channel at 8 0hms, 2000 watts per channel at 4 Ohms, and greater than 2000 watts per channel at 2 Ohms, “depending on line voltage regulation.” Despite is terrific power output limits, the M1, which is based on Anthem’s own proprietary class D circuit topology, is only one rack space high, and is said to run very quietly without requiring the use of cooling fans. What is more, Anthem claims that the M1 offers sound quality as good as if not better than the firm’s famous class A/B linear amplifier designs, while further stating, “the M1 annihilates the perception that class D amplifiers aren’t suitable for hi-end systems.”
As accompanying photos will show, the M1 is very compact, features beautiful and well-organized internal component layout, and uses proven, passive “heat pipe’ technologies to enhance cooling capabilities. Anthem emphasizes that in the M1 (unlike some competing class D amplifier designs), frequency response is “load independent.” According to Anthem, “the difference in response between a 2-Ohm load and an open circuit is an astounding 0.1 dB,” while “between 4 Ohms and 8 Ohms there is no change in frequency response at all!” We’re looking forward to hearing the M1 in action.
Self-powered soundbar-type speakers, per se, are nothing new, but soundbars that claim to deliver near full-range bass extension without a subwoofer (or bizarre EQ schemes) are, which is precisely what makes Atlantic’s new PowerBar 235 so special. The PowerBar 235 is the latest Atlantic product to feature the firm’s signature H-PAS enclosure technology, which was jointly developed by Atlantic and Solus/Clements loudspeakers. In terms of basic configuration, the 235 is a two channel soundbar with a built-in digital amplifier and DSP-driven surround sound decoder.
At first glance, the PowerBar 235 appears much too small to produce meaningful low-end extension (the enclosure measure 42” x 5.25” x 5.75”), yet Atlantic says frequency response extends down to a more than respectable 47 Hz (-3dB), which makes subwoofers more of an option than a necessity. In practice, I found the subjective impression was that the little soundbar went even lower than that, perhaps because the bass this compact system provides sounds astonishingly clean and clear—at least most of the time.
But bass is really only part of the PowerBar 235’s story, as Atlantic demonstrated in a convincing way by beginning its demonstration with some audiophile-grade music material. What was impressive was to see and hear the 235 serve up a remarkably refined and musically engaging presentation, despite its modest size and relatively humble configuration. Overall sound quality was, I felt, far, far better than that of most of the HTiB (home theater in a box) rigs I’ve heard, regardless of price. The beauty, then, is to have a system that is compact in size and dirt simple to set up, yet that still gives satisfying, sophisticated sonic results. The price? Well, it isn’t set yet but educated guesses run anywhere from $599 (which is probably unrealistically low) to around $799 (which is probably much closer to what the final MSRP will be).
AudioQuest used CEDIA as a vehicle for rolling out its new “Bridges and Falls”-series cables, which are—you guessed it—named after famous bridges (e.g., “Golden Gate”) and waterfalls. But perhaps even more importantly, AudioQuest used the show as an opportunity to substantiate its often-publicized claims that, in today’s rapidly evolving world of HDMI-based components and computer-based audio systems literally “everything matters,” so that even seeming small changes can have a significant impact on sound quality. As you might imagine, “everything” pointedly includes digital interconnect cables, including USB and HDMI cables of the type AudioQuest manufactures.
To drive home its point, AudioQuest set up a simple but very revealing demonstration where a modest Blu-ray player was linked to a typical name brand A/V receiver via an HDMI cable with a good (but not ostentatiously expensive) pair of AKG headphones used for playback. Listeners first heard the system set up with a “Brand X” HDMI cable, then with a mid-line AudioQuest Carbon HDMI cable, and finally with a top-of-the-line AudioQuest Diamond HDMI cable. Were there audible differences between the various HDMI cables? There most certainly were, and they frankly did not require card-carrying “Golden Ears” to detect. As the demonstration unfolded, both of the AudioQuest cables handily outperformed the competitor’s cable, with the AudioQuest Diamond cable offering the best sound overall (the differences were readily apparent).
I recognize that many ostensibly learned (and typically quite argumentative) pundits say that it is theoretically “impossible” for digital cables to make any sonic difference at all. Be that as it may, the readily observable fact is that cables do make a difference, whether we fully understand why they do or not. If you find this assertion hard to swallow, all I can suggest is that you try a test such as the one AudioQuest set up in its booth, and see what results you get. But know this: once you hear what a good digital interconnect cable can do, there’s no going back…
Audio Research Corporation
As a relative newcomer to CEDIA, Audio Research was exhibiting out of the booth of its new parent company Fine Sounds. The firm chose CEDIA as a showcase for the rollout of its brand new Definition-series DSPre combination DAC/solid-state preamp—the company’s first ever product of this kind.
According to ARC’s Dave Gordon, the DSPre essentially combines the circuitry of the firm’s DAC 8 digital-to-analog-converter with a “fully balanced solid state analog linestage preamplifier.” The analog section has two fully balanced analog inputs and three single-ended inputs, plus a total of five digital inputs (USB 2.0 high speed inputs with proprietary Mac and Windows drivers, plus four S/PDIF inputs via coax, Toslink, BNC, and AES/EBU connectors). The DAC allows custom labeling for each inputs.
The DAC section offers resolution to 24-bit/192 kHz on all inputs, with user selectable sample rate conversion. The DSPre is based on quad DAC devices, with a single DAC device for each channel; one pair of DACs handles audio files with 44/88/176 kHz data rates, while the other pair of DACs handles files with 48/96/192 kHz data rate—a design approach said to help reduce quantization errors. Two digital filter slopes are provided, to give users further options in terms of fine-tuning the sound of the DAC.
Projected price for the DSPre will be “around $7495 (pending final costing analyses)” with shipments beginning “near the end of September 2011.”
Headphone enthusiasts rejoice: the Canadian manufacturer Bryston is well on the way toward releasing its first-ever headphone amplifier—the BHA-1. The BHA-1 is based on “fully discrete class A Bryston operational amplifiers” and incorporates a plethora of features that will make the amp of particular interest for high-end headphone enthusiasts. Among those features are switch selectable gain, true dual mono circuit design, balanced parallel outputs (via a single 4-pin and dual 3-pin connectors), both dual single-ended outputs, (via a ¼” phone jack and 3.5mm mini-jack), and a very high quality Noble volume control.
The prototype unit shown on the Bryston stand did not yet have its final cosmetics package installed, though it looked very good indeed. The final production units will be styled (and sized) to match the appearance of other existing slim-line Bryston components such as the BDP-1 disc player. Like all Bryston products, you can also expect the BHA-1 to be built like the proverbial “tank.” Projected price: “about $1295.” Availability: Q4, 2011.
The German speaker firm showed significant updates to two of its speaker families for CEDIA, announcing its new Vento.2 and Chrono SL.2 speaker ranges.
In simple terms, the Vento.2 range now gets the special ceramic dome tweeters previously found only in the firm’s upscale Reference range models, plus other changes (revised midrange/bass drivers and crossovers) that pull the Vento models closer than ever before to the performance of the top-of-the-line Reference speakers. In terms of price, Vento.2 models run between $1600/pair and $5500/pair, whereas the References sell for between $4000/pair and $30,000/pair—a big difference.
The affordable Chrono.2 range receives conceptually similar changes designed to give the Chrono SL.2 models near-Vento levels of performance.
The British firm Cambridge Audio highlighted two key products for CEDIA: the Azur 651 BD Blu-ray/universal player and 551R A/V receiver.
The 651 BD is intended as a cost-reduced little brother to the firm’s flagship 751 BD Blu-ray universal player. The video performance of the two units is identical, but the 651 BD uses Cirrus Logic DACs and does not provide upsampling features, while the 751 BD uses more costly Wolfson DACs and features Cambridge’s proprietary upsampling technology. Price: $799 (651 BD), $1299 (751 BD). Available now.
The 551R is a slim-line 7.1-channel AVR that provides 7 x 110 watts per channel. When you first see the unit, its compact dimensions might lead you to think that class D amplifiers are in use, but this isn’t the case. Instead, the 551 R uses class A/B circuitry backed by a beefy toroidal transformer-equipped power supply and Cambridge’s signature X-TRACT cooling tunnel system. Price: projected MSRP is $1299.
Cary Audio announced a handful of new models at CEDIA, including the firm’s new Cinema 12 third-generation surround-sound processor, plus the SA-500.1 and SA-200.2 solid-state power amplifiers.
The Cinema 12 features fully balanced circuitry and the latest generation of HDMI inputs. The unit also uses 32-bit/192 kHz DACs and surround chips—a design choice said to dramatically lower the unit’s noise floor. The power supply is heavily regulated, again to help drop the noise floor. Price: $4995.
There is also a matching Cinema 11V companion video switcher, which provides “six of every flavor of video input” with elaborate (commercial grade) switching capabilities. Price: $3995.
Though it might not seem so at first, the SA-500.1 monoblock amplifier and SA-200.2 stereo amplifier—both solid-state designs—are modular amplifiers that, beneath the hood, share a common design. By changing input modules and output panels, it is possible to convert an SA-200.2 into an SA-500.1 (or vice versa).
The SA-500.1 puts out 500 watts at 8 Ohms, 1000 watts at 4 Ohms, and has, says Cary’s Tony Weber, “about 3 dB of headroom beyond that, so that it puts out virtually unlimited power.” The SA-200.2, in turn, puts out 2 x 200 watts/channel at 8 Ohms. Prices: $4995 (SA-500.1), or $3995 (SA-200.2).
Finally, Cary announced some running improvements to its MS-1 music server, dramatically increasing the unit’s overall playback functionality, especially in terms of opening up options for streaming audio.