This is Part 2 of a four-part report on High-Performance Audio at CEDIA 2011, which highlights new products from: Definitive Technology, Focal, GoldenEar Technology, Harman/Kardon, Integra, JBL Synthesis, KEF, Klipsch, Labgruppen, and Lexicon.
Part 1 covers new products from: AKG, Anthem, Atlantic Technology, AudioQuest, Audio Research Corporation, Bryston, Canton, Cambridge Audio and Cary Audio. CLICK HERE to read Part 1.
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 2
Definitive’s new product rollouts for CEDIA focused on two product categories: high-performance bookshelf speakers and powered subwoofers.
In the bookshelf monitors arena, new offering comprised three new models, with the primary Definitive demo emphasizing the middle model called the SM55 ($599/pair)—a 6.5” 2-way with bass output enhanced by a somewhat unusual, top-firing passive radiator. Other models include the smaller SM45 (a 5.25” 2-way priced at $399/pair) and the larger SM65 (a dual 5.25” 2-way/three-driver design sporting a D’Appolito-type array, and priced at $899/pair). The new monitors become available in late October or early November 2011.
Commenting on the design of the SM55, Definitive SVP Paul DiComo said, “we’re maximizing the available bass radiating area (of the speaker), while still keeping the enclosure compact.” The speaker also features the second-generation version of Definitive’s signature BDSS mid/bass driver with its distinctive linear response waveguide—a design element that first appeared in Definitive’s recently updated Bipolar SuperTower speakers, which debuted at CEDIA a year ago.
Using a combination of revealing digital and analog (i.e., vinyl) source material, DiComo convincingly demonstrated the well-balanced sound of the SM55, which offered levels of sonic sophistication that belied its modest price. After playing a good selection of demo cuts on the SM55 alone, DiComo then moved forward to show what the SM55 could do when supplemented by one of the firm’s new SuperCube subwoofers.
In a nutshell, the new SuperCube models feature all new “class HD” amplifiers, with new, more compact enclosures. The SuperCube 4000 will sell for $799, while the somewhat larger SuperCube 6000—the model featured in Definitive’s CEDIA demos—will sell for $999. Both amps provide 56-bit digital front ends and unusually flexible remote controls that allow for tuning on the fly. The 6000 features a 9” active driver and two 10” passive radiators. The bottom line is that the new SuperCubes are smaller and less expensive than the old SuperCubes they replace yet sound better. Both SuperCube woofers are in productions now, and should be available from dealers in a matter of weeks.
After listening to a handful of demonstration tracks rich in demanding bass content, I was struck by the fact that the SuperCube 6000 not only goes deep and plays loudly, but offers really impressive levels of transient speed and pitch definition, so that the woofer integrated exceptionally well with the SM55 monitors. According to DiComo, the SuperCube’s “performance optimizing” remote control deserves much of the credit for this seamless integration, since it not only offers a wide range of woofer set-up controls, but also allows listeners to assess adjustments on the fly and in real-time from the comfort of their favorite listening chairs.
Focal showed a broad spectrum of its full-size speaker systems, but focused its demo room on some of its newest and smallest products, many of which are calculated to appeal to personal/desktop audio enthusiast.
First among the highlighted products was the highly innovative, self-powered Focal Bird 2.1-channel compact audio system with wireless support for Apple iDevices (prices starting at $995). This astonishingly sophisticated little system was recently reviewed in Playback.
Next, the Focal demo room provided a working sample of the soon-to-be-released XS Book self-powered desktop speaker which will be price around $399/pair in initial release form, with a more expensive DAC-equipped model planned to enter the lineup later on.
Finally, in a move that took many show attendees by surprise, Focal showed a mockup of its exquisite new full-size Spirit One headphone, while will arrive later this year and which is the result of a two-year design effort. The design, as can be seen from photos here, exhibits very fine fit and finish with ear cups carried in frames that allow vertical and horizontal swiveling for a more comfortable fit. In turn the ear cup frames are mounted on collapsible arms for a quasi fold-flat form factor. And check out those ultra comfy-looking ear pads!
GoldenEar’s demo room was featuring the firm’s new Aon 3 bookshelf monitor, which essentially migrates some of the technology that originated in the firm’s Triton Two floorstander into a speaker with a smaller form factor and a considerably lower price point.
Actually, there are two new Aon models—the relatively compact Aon 2 ($798/pair) and the Aon 3 ($998/pair). Both speakers feature the superb Heil-type HVFR (high velocity folded ribbon) tweeter originally created for the Triton Two, with the Aon 2 sporting a 6” mid-bass driver and the Aon 3 sporting a 7” mid-bass drivers—with both mid-bass drivers borrowing design elements from the very responsive mid-bass drivers used in the Triton Two. Finally, both the Aon 2 and Aon 3 use dual side-firing passive radiators (6” units in the Aon 2, and 7” units in the Aon 3) to augment bass response.
GoldenEar founder Sandy Gross explained the genesis of the Aon design by saying that a colleague had raved to him about the performance of an exotic, $6000/pair of stand-mount monitors. After hearing the monitors, and reflecting on what he had heard, Gross was convinced that the GoldenEar design team, led by GoldenEar co-founder Don Givogue, could create a product that could meet or beat that level of performance, but at a much lower price. The result is the Aon design.
After hearing a variety of pieces of music on the Aon 3s in the GoldenEar booth, we suspect Gross and company are on to something. As it happens, I visited the GoldenEar booth just after hearing a very expensive floorstanding speaker elsewhere at the show, and I felt the Aon 3 was—on the whole—the better speaker. As in the Triton Two floorstander, a crucial key to the Aon 3’s sound is the remarkably smooth integration it achieves between its HVFR tweeter and the adjoining mid-bass driver (Heil-type drivers can be tricky to integrate with piston-type drivers, but Gross and Givogue have certainly mastered the art). The other aspect of the speak that caught my ear was its surprisingly deep bass extension, which is pretty remarkable considering its compact size (see photo of Sandy Gross holding the Aon 3 in his arms).
Harman’s display focused, at least in part, on two compact “BDS” systems—a 2.1-channel version and a 5.1-channel version (the BDS 800). The BDS systems are, a Harman spokesman noted, in the midst of a re-design and will be released with new, improved HDMI features and (where appropriate) 3D Blu-ray capabilities, early next year.
Prices will go down when the updated BDS systems arrive, with the 2.1-channel version selling for around $900 (the current version sells for $999), while the 5.1-channel version will sell for about $1200 (the current version sells for $1499). In both cases, the aim is to provide better features, higher performance, and a smaller footprint—all at reduced prices.
Integra’s primary product release news for CEDIA involved two new A/V receivers—the DTR-80.3 and DTR-70.3, which add DTS NeoX processing and incorporate both HQV Vida video processors and a Marvell Qdeo 4K upscaler. The latter processor is used specifically to upscale 1080p signals to 4K resolution levels, which may well be the practical answer to the question, “What comes after HD?”
DTS NeoX, in turn, is characterized as a multi-mode surround processing system that can provide additional width and height channels, theoretically expanding to as many as 11.2 channels, though Integra’s new DTR-80.3 and DTR-70.3 are in fact 9.2-channel models. Interestingly, though the onboard amps have “only” 9 available channels, the receivers provide 11 sets of speaker taps, allowing the possibility of having, say, multiple zones of speakers wired up, and then reassigning amplifier channels to those zones on the fly—to best fit the user’s needs.
Also figuring heavily in the Integra display was the DHC-80.3 A/V controller. The controller has similar features upgrades to those seen in the new DTR-80.3 and DTR-70.3 AVRs, but with the addition of balanced outputs to support use with high performance balanced input-equipped amps, such as Integra’s DTA-70.1 multichannel amplifier.
Final pricing on the new models is still being finalized, but should be locked down soon. In keeping with past practice, though, prices are expected to be more than competitive with those typically seen for products of Integra’s caliber.
One important, but easy to overlook, aspect of the Integra display featured, where Integra showed documentation demonstrating its exceptionally high rankings in terms of customer satisfaction as perceived by custom installers and therefore, by extension, with end-users.
Integra also showed two new 3D Blu-ray players, the DBS-50.3 and DBS-30.2, the former THX-certified, with both models supporting streaming video and providing DLNA compatibility.
JBL Synthesis (Harman Luxury Audio Group)
The JBL display highlighted the firm’s ARCOS room correction system, a new certification program for ARCOS installers and master installers, and—especially—the rollout of Harman’s new Quantum Logic surround technology (which will be featured not only by JBL but also other Harman HPAV brands, including Lexicon and Mark Levinson).
But perhaps the visual highlight of the entire booth involved one of the first public showings of the spectacular new four-seat Ferrari FF, which incorporates a 1280-watt, 15-speaker, JBL-branded Quantum Logic surround sound system that is the first commercial application of this new surround technology. Day after day of the show, the gleaming silver Ferrari was surrounded by groups of admirers who just couldn’t get enough of the car (to see it is to want it, no matter how impossible a dream that might be).
Also on display at JBL were the firm’s Studio 5 series loudspeakers featuring true compression drivers in a range that includes three floorstanders (the 570, 580, and 590), a center channel, a dedicated sub, and more. For the show, the Studio 590s were paired with Harman/Kardon stereo electronics.
The KEF booth revealed an embarrassment of sonic riches, perhaps the most impressive of which was the firm’s new flagship Blade loudspeaker, which is the new, fully-“productionized” version of the famous Concept Blade speaker shown in past trade shows.
In somewhat oversimplified terms, the Blade takes the core concept behind KEF’s signature Uni-Q driver (where KEF positions a tweeter within a mid/bass driver for maximum coherence), but expands it to include the entire loudspeaker. Thus the large floorstander positions a very high performance Uni-Q driver at the exact acoustic center of a four-driver, side-firing woofer array, with the aim of giving the speaker the sound of one perfectly coherent, single full range driver. In the Blade, this approach works brilliantly—as the KEF demo made clear. KEF calls the Blade a “single apparent source” loudspeaker.
Having heard the KEF Concept Blade proof-of-concept speaker some time ago, I feel confident in saying the new production Blade sounds not just a little but a lot better than the Concept Blade did, with tighter, more well-defined bass, and a generally more open and vibrant sound. What is more, the Blade is capable of very high output, so that a brief “hey, let’s crank it up” demo track had show attendees swaying to the music as an admiring crowd quickly formed in the aisles adjacent to the KEF booth.
The Blade’s arrival coincides with KEF’s 50th Anniversary, which is being celebrated this year. The price: $30,000/pair.
Also launched at CEDIA were the firm’s new R-series models, which draw some technical influences from the Blade, but are much more traditional in appearance. A KEF spokesman said of the R-series models that, “we’ve gone as far as possible into ‘shoehorning’ as much Blade technology as possible into an affordable box.” The new R-series range sits just below KEF’s famous (and quite expensive) Reference range in the overall product pecking order. The R-series range includes two bookshelf models, three floorstanders, two center channels, a dipole surround, and a subwoofer. R-series models are available now, except for the subwoofer, which will arrive later on. The flagship R900 floorstanders will sell for $5000/pair, while the smallest R100 bookshelf speaker will sell for $1200/pair.
Klipsch Group focused its effort in three key areas for CEDIA 2011: Specialty-series subwoofers with wireless capabilities, Gallery-series thin-line loudspeakers, and headphones/earphones.
The Specialty series subwoofers, which include the model 110, 112, the all-new 115, the 308, 310, and the 311, all support Klipsch’s cool new WA2 (wireless access, 2-piece) wireless modules. The WA2 kit sells for just $129, meaning that signal cable-free subwoofer connectivity should be affordable for more users than ever before.
Klipsch’s chief of product development Mark Cassavant described the 115 as “a bad-ass new 15-inch subwoofer.” The 115 is a sizeable subwoofer, priced at $849, and is said to be “naturally” flat to 20Hz (or-3dB at 18Hz) without requiring any lift from EQ systems at all. Cassavant observed that the model 115 represents “an engineering bargain” relative to other subwoofers capable of offering true 20Hz bass extension.
Klipsch’s Gallery-series speakers are extremely slender “flat panel-friendly” models that, despite their shallow enclosures, just manage to fit in Klipsch’s signature Tractrix horns for their high frequency drivers (see photos). One of the most interesting new elements of the Gallery family is the self-powered, iDevice friendly, Airplay-enabled G-17 Air tabletop speaker, which will sell for about $549 and should be released in October 2011. In a nutshell, the G-17 Air is said to “offer the benefits of a dock-type speaker, but without the dock.”
Headphone announcements centered on the all new Mode M40 headphone—a full-size, over-the-ear, self-powered, noise-cancelling model featuring 2-drivers per earpiece. The Mode can run for up to 45 hours on one AAA battery. Projected price: $349. Availability: late October 2011. Based on a brief listen, I’d say this is by far Klipsch’s most sophisticated and sonically ambitious headphone to date.
Also new within the Klipsch headphone lineup were the new Reference-series headphones, which are re-voiced, upscale versions of previously released Klipsch models. The Reference range includes the Reference One headphone ($199, an improved version of the Image One recently reviewed in Playback), the Reference S4 earphone ($99, an enhanced version of the Image S4), and the Reference S4i earphone with mic/remote module ($119, basically an iPhone/iDevice-compatible version of the Reference S4). Last but not least, Klipsch rolled out its new Image S4a earphone, which is billed as the industry’s first designed-for-Android earphone.
Though best known in the pro-sound world, the Swedish company Labgruppen makes some very accomplished (and not terribly expensive) high-performance amplifiers that I suspect might eventually find their way into high-end theater applications. Labgruppen was founded in the early 1970’s and is at this point the number one seller of “touring amplifiers” in North America. The firm’s amps are also popular for home use in distributed audio applications.
Labgruppen amps are so-called “green designs” that are known for their extreme efficiency and reliability. Models range in output from 125 Wpc all the way up 20,000 Wpc (no, that’s not a typo).
Lexicon (Harman Luxury Audio Group)
The Lexicon display highlighted the firm’s upcoming MP20 A/V controller, which will—upon release—be the first home theater product to incorporate Harman’s Quantum Logic surround technology. The MP20 is a 20-channel “media processor” featuring a 12.4-channel main system (7.1-channels + 5 additional height channels + 3 additional subwoofer channels = 12.4), with four spare assignable channels.
The video section features a 12 x 2 video matrix switcher. There are 8 HDMI inputs, with HDMI outputs for multiple zones with separately adjustable resolution levels, etc., for each.
The user interface is very simple, with a large front panel-mounted display screen surrounded by ten context-sensitive “soft keys” whose functions change depending on the control application at hand. Interestingly, there is a four-microphone room EQ system supported by six (!) SHARC processors, so that, as HPAV marketing manager Jim Garrett put it, “there’s no shortage of processing power.”
The MP 20’s digital audio circuitry offers native resolution of 24-bit/192 kHz throughout. Pricing for the unit has not yet been finalized, but the target is “around $17,000,” with release slated for Q2 of 2012.