This is Part 3 of a four-part report on High-Performance Audio at CEDIA 2011, which highlights new products from: Linn, Mark Levinson, MartinLogan, Monitor Audio, NAD, Onkyo, Paradigm, and Paradigm Shift. CLICK HERE to read Part 3.
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 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 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 3
The venerable Scottish high-end audio firm Linn Products was well represented by a product that, while not new for CEDIA, certainly points toward what may be the future of high-end music reproduction. I’m speaking, here, of Linn’s Akurate DS digital stream player ($7000), which is designed to play just about every kind of digital audio file you could name, from comparatively low-resolution MP3 files right on up to high-resolution “studio reference quality files.” Specifically, the Akurate DS (most Linn names feature peculiar usages for the letter “K”, just in case you were wondering) can decode “FLAC, WAV, ALAC, MP3, WMA, AIFF, AAC and OGG audio formats with up to 24-bit 192 kHz native sample rate.”
The DS is designed to play digital music over a standard Ethernet network, but can also “stream Internet radio, podcasts, and ‘listen again’ broadcasts. The player is compatible with UPnP servers and UPnP AV 1.0 control points. Balanced and single-ended analog audio outputs are provided, along with S/PDIF digital outputs via BNC jacks.
Mark Levinson (Harman Luxury Audio Group)
The Mark Levinson display focused primarily on the No. 53 monoblock amplifier, which was reviewed not long ago in The Absolute Sound.
To show off the inner workings of the No. 53 amp, including its distinctive four-quadrant switching amplifier design, Levinson set up a display version of the massive, tower-type amp with clear side panels that afforded an unobstructed view of the circuitry within (see photo).
MartinLogan built its reputation on spectacularly good full-range and hybrid electrostatic speakers, but for CEDIA 2011 the firm sought to pull off one of the most difficult tricks in all of high-end audio; namely, replacing a model that is quietly but widely acknowledged to be one of the best values in its entire product range—the Spire hybrid electrostat. Replacing the well-loved Spire is a new hybrid electrostat called the Montis ($9995/pair).
Drawing technology elements from the firm’s more costly Summit X hybrid electrostat, the Montis features the firm’s latest-generation CLS (curvilinear line source) electrostatic panel married to a piston-type, self-powered, mid-bass driver. The woofer, in turn, is driven by a built-in 200-watt class D amplifier that is controlled by a 24-bit Vojtko DSP engine said to help provide, “a seamlessly blended woofer system that delivers mid-range clarity, a richly etched soundstage, and tight low-frequency performance with efficiency and finesse.”
During a brief listening session I came away with mixed impressions (probably attributable to a far from optimal temporary sound room setup at the show). On the one hand, the Montis delivered MartinLogan’s vaunted transparency, transient speed, and detail, and exhibited very good electrostat-to-woofer blending—especially in the tricky lower midrange/upper-bass region. On the other hand, the CEDIA setup gave the Montis what I think may be an uncharacteristically bright, piercing sound that was far from relaxed, and that also lacked mid-to-low bass weight and punch. If past experience with MartinLogan hybrid electrostats is any indicator, however, I expect the Montis will ultimately prove capable of much better performance under real-world, in-home conditions. (CEDIA sound rooms can be notoriously fickle, because their walls and ceilings are frankly pretty flimsy and thus have somewhat unpredictable resonant and reflective characteristics.). The Montis will certainly be one to watch.
The British firm Monitor Audio has been moving from strength to strength of late with its Silver RX, Bronze BX, and Gold GX-series loudspeakers (each of which sounds markedly better than the speaker lines they replaced). But for CEDIA, Monitor new product announcement focused on various on new architectural speaker (which for the most part fall outside our window of coverage) and on a new series of i-deck tabletop stereo speaker systems.
Though very compact and stylish, the new i-deck 100 ($499) and i-deck 200 ($599) both look and sound like something more than traditional “lifestyle” products (although they fill that role quite nicely). Technology, in a word, is what sets the i-decks apart for other devices of their kind. For example, both i-decks use Monitor’s proprietary and comparative exotic C-CAM (ceramic-coated aluminum/magnesium) tweeter and mid-bass driver technology, while providing—get this—built in bi-amplification systems with digital active crossovers.
But the technology story goes even further, because the i-decks also incorporate a very sophisticated Automatic Position Correction system that automatic plays a set of test tones when the units are powered up, monitors those test tones with a built-in microphone, and automatically runs onboard processing to determine where in the room the i-deck is located and then uses DSP circuitry to calculate and apply correction curves so that i-deck delivers balanced sound no matter where users may have placed the units. Who knew you could pack such sophisticated circuitry into products that sell for between $499 and $599?
But wait; there’s more. The i-decks also include a bass level management system, which is essentially a smart “loudness contour” feature, plus what the manufacturer calls “sophisticated power limiters,” which detect possibly overload conditions and temporarily throttle back output levels to prevent gross clipping or other audible forms of distortion. Finally, the i-decks also provide pivoting iPod docks that can fit all types of iPods without requiring any adapters.
I can’t say for sure since I heard the i-deck 200 only briefly, but I think these products stand a very good chance of being “best in class” performers.
NAD offered one of the most expansive and comprehensive product rollouts I’ve ever seen from any manufacturer at a CEDIA show. Specifically, new offerings included:
•The Viso 1 ($700)—a compact, self-powered, Bluetooth-enabled iPod speaker (designed with considerable input from PSB’s Paul Barton)
•A new Masters-series Digital Suite including the M50 Digital Music Player ($2500) the M52 Digital Music Vault ($2000) incorporating a 3TB RAID 5 array, and the M51 Direct Digital DAC ($2000).
•New NAD-classic family digital audio products, including the DAC1 ($300) point-to-point wireless audio USB DAC, which doesn’t take bandwidth from you home network; the MDC DAC ($250), which is a plug-in MDC-format module that can add onboard DAC functionality to NAD’s MDC-ready C 356BEE or C 375BEE integrated amplifiers; and the new C 390DD Direct Digital Amplifier (2 x 150 Wpc, $2600), which is essentially a scaled-back version of the spectacular but also far more costly NAD Masters Series M2 Direct Digital Amplifier. The C 390DD features a very high quality internal DAC with 35-bit/844kHz upsampling.
•A family of new NAD A/V receivers including the T 748 ($900), T 757 ($1600), T 777 ($3000), and T 787 ($4000), plus a new A/V Controller called the T 187 AV Tuner Preamplifier ($3000).
Many manufacturers would have been happy with product releases equivalent to any one of the bullet-point highlights above, but NAD pulled out all the stops and announced the entire batch all in one go. Most impressive.
But while all of the products noted above have valid and noteworthy talking points, the one that perhaps had the most immediately gripping “Wow!-factor” was the little Viso 1 system. We’ve all seen so-called iPod speakers before, some better than others, but even so the Viso 1 is simply spectacular. Co-designer Paul Barton explained that the Viso 1 features a digital amplifier whose technology is drawn directly from NAD’s big M2 Direct Digital Amp. One interesting feature of the M2 amp modules, Barton pointed out, is that they offer a large number of built-in digital filters that designers can use to apply frequency and phase response shaping as desired or needed. Thus, Barton said with a shy grin, the Viso 1 offer frequency response that measure “flat to within ± 0.5 dB from 50 Hz all the way up to 18 kHz”—results that are shockingly good given the speaker’s size and press. The real proof, of course, is in the sound, and the Viso 1 does not disappoint; based on a brief listen, I felt the Viso 1 was one of the best iPod/Bluetooth speakers I’ve ever heard.
Onkyo’s CEDIA display highlighted three main blocks of products:
•Three top network-enabled A/V receivers, including the TX-NR5009 (MSRP, $2899), TX-NR3009 (MSRP, $2199), and TX-NR1009 (MSRP, $1399).
•A top-tier of Reference Hi-Fi Series stereo components, including the M-5000R stereo power amplifier (MSRP, $2699), the C-7000R audiophile-grade CD player (MSRP, $1699), and the P-3000R stereo preamplifier (MSRP, $1899).
•A trio of Apple iDevice-friendly self-powered speaker systems called the iOnly Play (the ABX-100), the iOnly Stream (the ABX-N300), and the iOnly Bass (the SBX-300).
Unless I am mistaken, I believe The Absolute Sound will be taking a look at some of the Reference Hi-Fi series stereo components in the future, while Playback/The Perfect Vision will be sampling one of the new AVRs—most likely the TX-NR5009 or TX-NR3009. From a purely aesthetic point of view the new network receiver represent a break from past Onkyo design practice, as they sport very large, yet still very simple and sleek chassis and faceplate designs that convey a decidedly upscale vibe. All three of the big TX-NRxxxx models are 9.2-channel receivers, but with expanded features sets appearing in the top two models, including support for Spotify.
Paradigm’s offerings focused on three lines of speakers that have either been newly updated, or recently updated. Among these three are the new Monitor Series 7 models, which I spoke about in a recent blog on AVguide.com and which are now under review by Playback/The Perfect Vision. The core concept behind the Monitor models is to make technologies pioneered for Paradigm’s more expensive Studio speaker range available in a smaller and lower price-point format.
Also highlighted were the sleek Cinema series speakers, which offer a wide range of affordably priced, modular sat/sub system options. The idea behind Cinema models is to offer real Paradigm sound quality at a relatively low price and with very refined “lifestyle” design treatments.
Finally, Paradigm also emphasized its very high-performance, thin-line Millennia LP speakers, which are geared to fill the bill for customers who like the idea of super-slim “flat panel” speakers, but also offer far better performance than is typically the norm for speakers of this genre. Check out our photo of Paradigm’s Erin Phillips, marketing and social media specialist, holding one of the Millennia LP speakers edge-on to the camera so that you can see how this it really is.
Paradigm Shift is essentially a brand within a brand and represents a new initiative into the world of personal audio products for the Canadian speakers. Interestingly, though, three of Paradigm Shift’s debut products aren’t loudspeakers, but rather earphones.
The earphone range will launch with three models: the entry-level E1 ($49); the mid-line E2F, which will be configured as an earphone/headset with a built-in remote/mic module ($99); and the top-of-the range E3M ($129). All three models should be come available in mid-October 2011, and supported by their own dedicated web site, which will launch on October 1, 2011. A brief listen to the E3M suggested that Paradigm has a good handle on neutral yet also full-bodied tonal balance for this range of products.
Paradigm Shift’s other initial product will be the self-powered A2 (“Active Atom”) desktop speaker, which will sell for between $279/each in black ash, or for $329/each in various painted finishes (vermillion red, gloss white and gray, and satin black). The speakers feature both 3.5mm mini-jack and RCA inputs, and also provide outputs so that it is possible to daisy chain multiple A2s together. Each speaker can be configured for left, right, or monaural playback. There is a receptacle on the back for an available Airplay module.