In search of new or recently released home theater audio components, I attended CEDIA Expo 2012, which was held in Indianapolis, IN from September 6-8, and will be preparing a multi-part show report.
Note: To make things easier for online readers, I’m covering manufacturers in alphabetical order. As always, my apologies to any manufacturers whose worthy products I fail to mention here. Enjoy.
Home theater enthusiasts of a certain age will recall that not so very long ago audio electronics from a firm known as Mondial Designs were very well regarded and coveted by many. Mondial products were sold under two related brands: Aragon and Acurus, companies whose products are still widely discussed online to this day. In 2001, however, Mondial was sold to Klipsch Group where, for a variety reasons, both the Aragon and Acurus brands languished. Now, I’m pleased to report Rick Santiago and Indy Audio Labs (a spin-off from Klipsch) have brought both Aragon and Acurus back in a big way.
At CEDIA, Acurus showed a range of components, but the one that caught my eye was the potent 5 x 200-watt A2005 amp ($3499). Santiago says that the amp preserves many of the same circuit topologies that made Acurus amps so desirable in the first place, but with contemporary parts upgrades and a handful of convenience features (such as remote performance monitoring and 12V controls) that should make the amps more appealing for custom installers. Stereo enthusiasts will want to note, though, that beautifully made and sensibly priced 2-channel Acurus models will be entering the market very soon. A good case in point would be the 2 x 200-watt Acurus A2002 power amp, which will sell for $2499.
At CEDIA the German firm ADAM Audio GmbH showed an exotic new two-channel oriented speaker called the Tensor II Gamma ($22,000/pair), but home theater enthusiasts would surely have been drawn to a separate corner of the ADAM display where the firm showed a completely self-powered surround sound system comprised of various models from ADAM’s popular new line of ARTist “prosumer grade” self-powered speakers. The 5.1-channel system on display was comprised of a pair of ADAM ARTist5 stand-mount monitors used as surrounds ($1200/pair), a pair of ARTist6 mini-floorstanders as LR main speakers ($2000/pair), an ARTist 6 Center as the center channel ($1100), and an ARTist SUB as the subwoofer ($800)—bringing the system price to $5100. Whether you choose to use the self-amplified ARTist speakers as the centerpiece of a minimalist desktop system or as elements in a larger in-room system, the have the freedom to go directly from control components to the speakers, with no need for outboard amplifiers of any kind.
To learn more about the ARTist5 and ARTist SUB, check out the Playback review written by my colleague Steven Stone (click here to read the review).
At last year’s CEDIA event Atlantic showed a proof-of-concept prototype for an adventurous new self-powered home theater soundbar that promised wide-range frequency response sufficient to allow the compact surround soundbar to be used without a companion subwoofer. Now, after several beneficial evolutionary changes, that soundbar, which is known as the H-PAS Powerbar 235 ($899), is ready for production and will enter the market soon.
Words cannot easily convey just how compact the Powerbar 235 is and when you see the unit with its grille removed you will immediately notice that it is configured as a two-channel system fitted with two 4-inch woofers and two ¾-inch tweeters. Despite this fact, however, the Powerbar 235 uses sophisticated DSP algorithms to offer four different modes of operation: 2-channel, 3-channel, 5-channel, and 5-channel “enhanced” (hence the “235” moniker). DSP also allows the Powerbar 235 to provide a cool “speech intelligibility enhancement” feature that specifically improves perceived movie soundtrack dialog clarity, yet without changing the overall character of other soundtrack elements.
H-PAS speaker enclosure technology, as licensed by Atlantic Technology from loudspeaker manufacturer Solus/Clements, enables the small system to produce surprisingly deep bass, with a very respectable -3dB point of 47 Hz. The unit supports two stereo analog inputs (via a 3.5mm mini-jack and a pair of RCA jacks) and three digital inputs (two optical, one coax), and provides built-in Dolby Digital and DTS support. The H-PAS Powerbar 235 represents a compact, cost effective add-on for those who wish to give their flat panel TVs a high-quality “voice”.
Last year Cambridge rolled out its tiny but mighty Minx sat/sub system (click here to ready my The Perfect Vision review of the original Minx system), but for CEDIA 2012 the firm revealed a redesign of the Minx satellites that yields substantial—and quite audible—improvements on the inside while leaving the oh-so-cute exterior of the speakers virtually unchanged. As before, both Minx satellites use BMR-type (balanced mode radiator) drivers, but where the drivers have been revised to provide more radiating area and 50% more throw—differences said to give the Minx satellites purer and more open-sounding mids and much broader dynamic envelopes. One fairly major change is that the two-driver satellite, which previously used dual BMR drivers, now uses just one improved BMR driver plus one conventional driver. In a brief demo session, I noted that the Minx revisions have, as advertised, made a good system better for a sound that is at once more open and more relaxed.
To denote the changes made, the Minx satellites get new nomenclature with the smaller, cube shaped model becoming the Min 11 ($95/each) and the larger two-driver model becoming the Min 21 ($180/each)—prices slightly higher than for the original Minx satellites. 2.1-channel Minx sat/sub systems range from $569 - $929, while 5.1-channel Minx packages ranges form $849 - $1849.
Definitive Technology has been working for quite some time on what I regard as one of the most brilliantly conceived home theater products seen at this year’s CEDIA Expo: the 5.1-channel SoloCinema XTR system ($1999). At first glance, the SoloCinema XTR rig appear to be (ho-hum) yet another soundbar, but—trust us on this one—the genius is in the details.
Here’s the deal. The SoloCinema XT package includes a self-powered five-channel soundbar that is just 2.375 inches thick, plus a slimline wireless subwoofer that is only 6.5-inches deep. The soundbar features a very elaborate array of drivers grouped as follows:
•Left and right front channels each use a 1-inch pure aluminum dome tweeter and a 3.5-inch XTDD anodized aluminum dome mid/bass driver,
•Center channel uses a 1-inch aluminum tweeter and two 3.5 inch mid/bass drivers grouped as an M-T-M (midrange-tweeter-midrange) array, and
•Left and right surround channels each use a single 3.5-inch mid/bass driver.
Accordingly, the power section of the SoloCinema XTR provides nine (!) dedicated Class D amplifiers—one amp for each driver in the soundbar—with a total output of 200 watts. The power section includes three HDMI inputs and one HDMI output, 1 optical digital input, and one stereo analog input, and also provides—get this—full Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby ProLogic II, Dolby Volume, and DTS HD-Master Audio decoding support. A cool and very thoughtful detail, Definitive has configured the soundbar with an IR receiver on the front and several IR repeaters on the back so that, if the soundbar happens to be placed in front of the IR receiver on your TV, commands from the TV’s remote will still get through (see what I mean about attention to detail?).
Then, to help ensure a believable surround sound experience, onboard DSP supports an interaural crosstalk cancellation feature (which helps make soundtages sound well focused but also very spacious), active vector response curves, and SRS TruSurround functionality. In short, this is one soundbar that completely eliminates the need for any sort of outboard A/V receiver (because it provides all the essential functions an AVR would normally offer).
The matching, slimline, wireless SoloCinema XTR sub, in turn, features a long-throw 8-inch woofer, a built-in 250-watt Class D amplifier, and wireless receiver functions. Definitive claims low frequency extension to 30Hz. By design, the same remote that controls the main soundbar also controls the sub.
What sets the SoloCinema XT system apart? Performance, pure and simple, just for starters. This is one of very few soundbar systems I’ve heard that actually sounds like a performance-minded speaker system and really does produce a convincing illusion of full-on surround sound over a very broad listening area. But the other aspect of the product that will win friends is Definitive’s “we’ve- thought-of-everything” thoroughness in developing the design—thoroughness that in this case yields a clean, simple, straightforward user experience. Would-be home theater enthusiasts who’ve been intimidated by overly complex 5.1-channel systems in the past should love this elegant two-box solution.
Hailing from Sweden, DLS specializes in manufacturing slim-line on-wall speakers for serious audio enthusiasts—speakers collectively known as the Flatbox series. While many of you might feel the phrases “on-wall speakers” and “serious audio enthusiasts” don’t belong in the same sentence, the DLS products might change your mind, in part because they have been designed by people who earnestly believe that a properly designed on-wall speaker can potentially outperform its freestanding in-room counterparts.
To drive home this point, the DLS team played for me a neat little 2.1-channel package comprised of a pair of DLS Flatbox XL main speakers and a Flatbox Flatsub8 (~$1900 for the package), which I felt was thoroughly competitive with many of the equivalently priced floorstanders I’ve heard. But the real piece de resistance cam in the form of the firm’s larger and all-new M2 on-wall speakers (~$3000/pair), which a company spokesman described as a three-way, on-wall studio monitors. Although the M2s tend to blend into the walls in a visual sense, they produce a dramatic and impressive sound—open, articulate, dynamic, and possessed of taut by potent bass.
As I see things, the whole point of the DLS speaker family is that it offers solutions that are visually unobtrusive (good news for interior designers), offer sound quality on a par with if not better than that of freestanding in-room speakers (good news for audiophiles), and are equally well-suited for music and movie applications (good news for us all).
Note: if you have any difficulty finding further information on DLS, it helps to know that their products are distributed through Simplifi Audio (www.simplifiaudio.com), which is the same firm that also distributes Gradient, Klangwerk, and PSI loudspeakers, audio electronics from Bladelius and Resolution Audio, and critically acclaimed room/subwoofer correction systems from DSPeaker.
Earlier this year, GoldenEar’s founder Sandy Gross gave high-end audio-minded enthusiast a preview of an upcoming product, which—as of CEDIA—is now ready for production: the SuperCinema 3D Array ($999). Here again we have a product that seems at first to be yet another soundbar, but just one listen will convince most listeners that there is something markedly different and better about this product—something that sets it far apart from its competition. That elusive “something” is real live, no-jive audiophile-grade (and I do not use that term loosely) sound quality.
When you first see the SuperCinema 3D Array you might have a reaction something like this (at least if you’re a committed audiophile): “Hmmm, it appears to be an attractive little slimline soundbar, but seriously, how good could one of those possibly sound?”
Once you hear the SuperCinema 3D Array in action, however, my bet is that you’ll be singing a different tune—something along these lines: “Holy bleep, this SuperCinema 3D Array sounds like three high-performance studio monitors playing in unison, and in a good room! A soundbar that can actually kick butt in high-end music applications? Who knew?”
The SuperCinema 3D Array is a 3-channel speaker with each L/C/R channel featuring a Heil-type HVFR (high velocity folded ribbon) tweeter and two 4.5-inch MVPP mid/bass drivers. More importantly, the 3D Array also incorporates interaural crosstalk cancellation technology—technology that Sandy Gross helped pioneer back at Polk Audio, further refined at Definitive Technology, and is now applying in GoldenEar’s SuperCinema 3D Array. The upshot is that the 3D Array, which is only 49 inches wide, can produce unusually wide and coherent soundstages, sometimes creating the uncanny illusion of precisely focused sound source that emanate from far to the left or righthand side of the array.
In a sense, GoldenEar has tried a less-is-more approach, here, in the interest of sound quality. The SuperCinema 3D Array does not attempt to provide a self-powered solution, nor does it attempt to re-create surround-channel information. Instead, it strives to provide three shockingly good-sounding front channels—a mission it accomplishes with real refinement and grace. If asked to recommend a soundbar likely to please finicky, hypercritical audiophiles, this one would be my hands down choice. It’s that good.
Integra was showing its full line at CEDIA 2012, but the highlight had to be the impressive, hyper full-featured DTR-70.4 A/V Network receiver ($2800). The 11.1-channel receiver provides full 11.1-channel support for DTS Neo:X, plus support for Audyssey DSX and Dolby Pro Logic IIz. Interestingly, the DT-70.4 can stream high-resolution 192/24 audio both via the network and USB, while a front-panel MHL-enable HDMI port can, says Integra, “stream video from Android devices and Roku’s new Streaming Stick, with other devices on the technology horizon.” What is more, the DTR 70.4 provides Zone 2 HDMI support. The receiver is offered with an optional DMI-40.4 iDevice dock ($250).