This is Part 1 of a two-part blog. Click here for Part 1.
MartinLogan continued a process it had begun at CEDIA 2010, with the release of the full ElectroMotion surround system. The system is comprised of ElectroMotion ESL hybrid electrostatic main speakers ($2000/pair), the ElectroMotion C2 center channel speaker (Heil-type tweeter and dual conventional mid-base drivers, $799.95/ea.), and ElectroMotion FXL surround/effects speaker (dual Heil-type tweeters and a single conventional mid-bass driver, $649.95/ea.).
In part to show how good the $2k/pair ElectroMotion ESL really is, MartinLogan’s demo room was set up so that, using high-quality electronics and source material, listeners could compare the ElectroMotion ESL with the firm’s more costly Theos hybrid electrostats ($5000/pair), and with a new and as yet unannounced higher-end hybrid electrostatic model tentatively named the Summit X Jr. ($9000-$10000/pair). How did the little ESL fare in these comparisons? Better (by far) than it hand any right to, given the huge price differentials involved.
A major theme in the Monster booth at CES involved the release of a group of Tron-themed products, including headphones, an iPod dock/speaker, and—get this—a 5.1-channel headphone-oriented processor module that will, in some product packages, be bundled along with the Tron ‘phones and a surround-sound copy of the soundtrack disc of the film score for Tron.
I can’t help but think that, over time, headphones could potentially win more widespread acceptance as convenient vehicles for enjoying surround-soundtracks for movies. After all, a high-quality headphone system is simpler and much less expensive than a traditional surround—sound speaker system, and it can give you the freedom to enjoy dynamically, um, vigorous movie soundtracks late at night, and with bringing angry neighbors to your doorstep bearing pitchforks in hand.
NAD showed the very latest in its evolving series of MDC (modular design construction A/V components, including the T757 A/V Receiver ($1499), the top-tier T787 A/V Receiver ($3499), and the new T187 A/V Controller ($2499), which is essentially the front-end of the T787, but without onboard power amplifiers.
For those unfamiliar with the MDC concept, the key idea is to build A/V components whose video and audio sections are built upon modular, slide-out circuit boards. In this way, as new technologies evolve (for example, the shift from HDMI 1.3 to HDMI 1.4), users can upgrade their receivers and/or controllers, rather than having to replace them in order to keep pace with technology. Apart from the benefit of making NAD components more or less obsolescence-proof, the MDC option allows gives owners the freedom choose when to upgrade, and in what way or ways. For instance, a user might decide that new video features are a high priority, but that audio features don’t—for the time being—need to be updated (or vice versa).
Nola founder and chief designer Carl Marchisotto is known for his ultra high-end loudspeakers, but at CES 2011 Mr. Marchisotto explored the opposite end of the pricing spectrum, introducing his superb new three-way Contender tower-type floorstanding main speakers ($3400/pr.), which are indirectly based on the very popular Boxer bookshelf speakers announced at last years. But Carl didn’t stop there; instead, he also introduced a matching Announcer center channel speaker ($1500/ea.), so that home theater enthusiasts can now put together a sensibly priced Nola surround-sound system, using the new Contenders as L/R main speakers, the Announcer in the center, and the original Boxer bookshelf monitors ($1500/pr.) as surround speakers.
Here’s the deal with the Contender (and, by extension, the Announcer and Boxer): the speaker looks fairly straightforward and—dare I say it?—not particularly exotic, but its sound is flat out stunning. This is definitely one of those designs where A) God is in the details, and B) the whole is much greater than the apparent sum of the parts. As I said in a recent show report prepared for The Absolute Sound, the Contender “conveys the elusive sense and sensibility of music—in all its intellectual and soulful beauty—as few high-end speakers at any price are able to do.” Truth.
Among the many products NuForce showed at CES, one we think will soon win the hearts and minds of sound quality-conscious home theater enthusiasts is the new NuForce-modified version of the brand new Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray/Universal player ($900). In NuForce’s hands, the Oppo is treated to an entirely new and improved audio circuit board (as shown in the photos here). If past history is any indicator, the NuForce/Oppo BDP-93 should be a sub-$1000 do-all player that sounds simply fabulous.
At CES Paradigm demonstrated a compact but very high-performance surround sound speaker system it had first announced to CEDIA 2010: namely the Millenia One system. The core of the system is the two-way MilleniaOne satellite (1-inch aluminum dome tweeter and 4.5-inch aluminum mid-bass driver, $249/each). Millenia one will be sold in bundled packs of either two or five speakers, and are meant to be used in conjunction with a matching MilleniaSub ($1399), which features a thin-line enclosure that can be floor or wall-mounted, that is equipped with dual 4-inch x 14-inch woofers, that sport a 300-watt woofer amplifier and that is set-up so that it can be used with the firm’s PBK-1 “Perfect Bass Kit” (a software driven woofer/room EQ system).
The upshot is that the MilleniaOne system, which is part of Paradigm’s upper-end Reference series by the way, looks compact and “lifestyle-oriented,” but sounds in every way like the serious high-end surround system it actually is.
Sherwood Newcastle (Sherwood’s upper echelon brand): As a more affordable follow-up to its flagship R-972 A/V receiver, Sherwood Newcastle announced its new 3D-ready R-876 A/V receiver ($1199), which should become available around July and that will—like the R-972—feature the powerful Trinnov Optimizer room EQ system. At the same time, a companion 3D Blu-ray player, called the BD-876 ($399.95) will also be introduced.
Sherwood America (Sherwood’s value-priced brand): Arriving in May of this year will be Sherwood’s firm’s new HDMI 1.4a-equipped (and thus 3D-ready) RD-6065 (5 x 100 Wpc, $269.95) and RD-606i (5 x 100 Wpc with Internet Radio, $349.95) A/V receivers. The two 5.1-channel receivers are very similar, but with the 606i serving as a step-up model that incorporates built-in Internet Radio functions. Users who need 7-channel receivers can tap into the similar RD-7505 (7 x 100 Wpc, $399.95) and RD-705i (7 x 100 Wpc with Internet Radio, $499.95) receivers, which are essentially bigger brothers to the RC-6065 and RD-606i.
T + A
The German firm T + A announced both its K-series surround speakers, and a fascinating new combo product called the K8.
The K-series speaker family includes the KS300 tower-type floorstanders ($4800/pr.), the KC550 center channel ($1000/ea.), the K-Mini surround/bookshelf monitors ($1000/pr.), and the KW 650 subwoofer ($1800).
The K8, in turn, is a combo Blu-ray player, headphone amplifier, high-performance DAC, and 7.1-channel A/V Receiver (7 x 150 Wpc, $9500). The K8 will appeal, I think, to people who know and appreciate the benefits of top-tier electronics, but who simply don’t have space for an entire stack of components. With the all-in-one K8 in your system, the problem’s solved
While Totem’s CES demo room focused primarily on two-channel speakers, the firm had its amazing Tribe V (say “five”) L/C/R speaker ($5000/pr.) and companion Tribe Subwoofer (with 500-watt amp, $1695) on display. The Tribe features four small-diameter but ultra-long-throw “Torrent” mid-bass drivers, plus the same tweeter that is used in the firm’s new “Element” high-end floorstanding speakers. In short, the big Tribe V has excellent design DNA.
But here’s the kicker: the tall, slender Tribe V is arguably one of the most capable on-wall/stand-mount speaker you could ever hope to find, with sumptuous mids and high, and the kind of low-end performs that more or less defies belief (in truth, most users would never feel any need for the matching Tribe sub, except in cases where the system was used in very large rooms or where absolutely thunderous bass output is required for watching action films at raucous, theater-like levels (or beyond).