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.
This is the third and final installment in my CEDIA report for The Perfect Vision.
Note: To make things easier for online readers, I’m covering manufacturers in alphabetical order. As always, my apologies to manufacturers whose worthy products I fail to mention here. Enjoy.
Sherbourn Technologies characterizes itself as a dedicated manufacturer of “professional caliber” audiophile and A/V electronics components, explaining the difference between professional vs. consumer-grade gear as the difference between building products up to a desired specification (which is Sherbourn claims to do) vs. building products down to an intended price. As one upshot of this, Sherbourn products carry an impressive 10-year warranty.
Sherbourn brought an almost dizzying array of components to CEDIA, so for this CEDIA capsule report I’ve elected to focus on two of the newest and most impressive models: the soon-to-be-released PT-7030 home theater preamp/processor ($2999) and the astoundingly powerful PA 7-350 multichannel power amp ($4799).
The PT-7030 is a versatile and decidedly performance-minded 7.1-channel A/V controller with eight stereo analog inputs (7 unbalanced, 1 balanced), one 7.1-channel analog input, eight digital audio inputs (4 optical, 3 coax, and 1 USB), and a full complement of HDMI ports (6 in, 2 out). The controller also sports four stereo analog outputs (1 main, plus 3 remote zones), and two 7.1-channel analog outputs (1 unbalanced and 1 balanced). Technology highlights include twin Cirrus 32-bit dual-core processors “for true 192kHz performance,” a Genesis Torino video processing engine “for true10-vit processing,” DCDi Cinema Format Conversion and Truelife video enhancement functions, and discrete multichannel parametric EQ for precise room correction. In fact, a Sherbourn spokesman told be the long-term intent is for the PT-7030 to support TacT room correction functionality, which will of course need to be set-up and fine-tuned by a custom-installer.
Sherbourn’s PA 7-350 is a massively powerful (7 x 350-watts at 8 Ohms), very wide bandwidth (5 Hz – 150 kHz), high-efficiency, “Soft Switch” Class H multichannel power amplifier that seems reasonably priced for almost shocking amount of horsepower on tap. You might well ask, “How ‘efficient’ could a 7 x 350-watt bruiser of an amp ever be?” The answer, says Sherbourn, is that the amp is so efficient that “the PA 7-350 doesn’t even require a noisy fan to interrupt your blockbuster enjoyment.” The amp sports switch selectable balanced or unbalanced inputs for each channel, and provides dual sets of paralleled speaker terminals for each channel, for facilitate bi-wiring, if desired. Plainly, the Sherbourn guys are on the same page with audiophiles when it comes to small but worthwhile design details.
For CEDIA, Sony expanded its upscale ES-series family of home theater components through the release of two new A/V receivers: the 9 x 130-watt, 9.2-channel STR-DA5800ES ($2099) and the 7 x 100-watt, 7.2-channel STR-DA2800ES ($999). I asked a company spokesman, “What makes them special?” and he cited three subtle but important features, all of which have positive implications for sound quality-minded enthusiasts. First, the models features dedicated HDMI audio channels (enabling users to take advantage of components that provide separate HDMI audio and video output streams). Second, the models feature multiple LAN (local area network) ports specifically optimized for playing digital audio files directly from LAN-attached NAS (network attached storage) drives. Finally, the models use what Sony terms a “Fishbone” grounding scheme said to enhance perceived low-level sonic detail by lowering noise floors.
Steinway Lyngdorf chose CEDIA as its venue of choice for rolling out its very exotic new LS Concert speaker system (total stereo system price: ~$228,000/pair). Actually, calling the LS Concert package a “speaker” is somewhat misleading, since what Steinway Lyngdorf really offers could more accurately be called end-to-end music (and movie) playback systems, where Steinway Lyngdorf offers each of the building blocks from which the systems are comprised. Typical building blocks include: speaker modules, stereo and/or multichannel processor modules, all-digital stereo amplifier modules, and the firm’s signature RoomPerfect room EQ system.
The LS Concert, though, is a very special speaker module and one on which company founder Peter Lyngdorf has been working for a long time. It is a large, tall, slender, floorstanding dipole line source (hence the name “LS”) array comprised of 8 Heil-type AMT tweeter drivers and 15 5.25-inch mid-bass drivers. In typical systems, the LS Concert would be combined with available Steinway Lyngdorf bass modules to complete a full-range system.
For CEDIA, Steinway Lyngdorf showed the new LS Concert as part of a full-on Lyndorf surround sound system whose total price came in at (gulp!) a cool $480,000! Ah, but what a sound it produced. The LS Concert system sounded remarkably clean, precise, and well controlled, with pinpoint-precise imaging and downright shocking dynamics (actually, the most impressive I’ve yet heard from any speaker system, horn-loaded systems included). The LS Concert system was great fun to hear on action film movie clips, but really came into its own on a well-recorded high-res classical music demo, where it became easier to hear and appreciate the system’s terrific delicacy and finesse.
Sunfire took CEDIA 2102 as an opportunity to roll out of the smallest and most cool-looking subwoofers I’ve ever seen: the pint-sized Sunfire ATMOS subwoofer ($2000). OK, I exaggerated; the ATMOS is bigger that a pint container, but not by a whole lot since its enclosure measures only a little over eight inches per side. How much bass could such a small device produce? According to Sunfire, “the tiny ATMOS delivers performance superior to many 10” and 12” woofers.”
In concept, the ATMOS uses two very long-throw (up to a whopping 1.8-inch throw/driver) 6.5-inch bass drivers plus a huge amount of power (1400 watts) to accomplish what size alone cannot; namely, meaningful output (up to 106 dB) with low frequency extension down to 30Hz. But what’s with the name ATMOS? The name reflects the fact that internal pressures in the woofer’s tiny enclosure can be extremely high (up to 24.4 PSI or nearly two atmospheres of pressure). Not surprisingly, the pressures led Sunfire to create a beefy, solid aluminum enclosure for this little “pocket battleship” of a sub.
T + A Elektroakustik
The German firm T + A (yes, the company name seems a little, um, odd to English speakers, but it stands for “Theory and Application in the field of audio technology,” OK?) brought a very cool though somewhat unorthodox new home theater product to CEDIA: namely, a 3.1-channel Blu-ray player/receiver called the K2 Blu ($5750). The concept behind the K2 Blu is to provide a very high quality, versatile, all-in-one player/receiver system that’s suitable for high quality music or movie playback and specifically geared for applications where owners want high quality front (L/C/R + Sub) channels, but don’t have the space (or desire) to set up dedicated surround channels. (This is a fairly common requirement in Europe, but I suspect it’s an idea that could easily catch on here in the States, too).
Accordingly, the K2 Blu incorporates a very high quality Blu-ray player with built in upscaling for DVD playback, plus a powerful, high quality amp section that puts out 5 x 95-watts at 8 Ohms or 5 x 150-watts at 4 Ohms (the intent is that three channels would be used in a main listening room, while the other two channels would support stereo playback in a separate room. Note: Those seeking a full-on 7.1-channel Blu-ray receiver will want to check out T + A’s much larger K8.
The K2 Blu also provides extensive streaming functions with USB 2.0, LAN, and WLAN connectivity, and decoding support for the following formats: MP3, WMA, WMDRM 10, AAC, FLAC, and OGG-Vorbis. The K2 Blu also provides A2DP Bluetooth Audio support, a built-in FM tuner, and supports the vTuner Internet Radio service.
For several years, Theta Digital has been offering extensively modified versions of Oppo Blu-ray/universal players under the Theta name. Lest you picture this as a mere exercise in “badge engineering,” it helps to know the list of modifications that Theta provides, modifications that include:
•A heavy 16 gauge steel chassis.
•A chassis redesign that positions the drive mechanism lower in the chassis for greater rigidity and less vibration.
•3M damping material used on the drawer assembly to reduce vibration.
•New analog power supply featuring
oAn 80-watt toroidal transformer.
oSeparate 10-watt transformer for Standby circuit.
oA total of 7 amps of power to supply the unit.
oFour independently rectified and regulated power supplies.
oOver 40,000 µF filter capacitance, in small, low ESR multiples.
•Proprietary Theta Digital software.
For CEDIA, Theta showed its upcoming Theta Compli Blu 3D, which will replace the current Theta Compli (yep, the name is meant to rhyme with “fait accompli”).
In recent years Totem has concentrated development efforts on its Tribe-series on-wall speakers and Element-series in-room speakers, both of which leverage Totem’s ultra wide-bandwidth “Torrent”-type drivers—drivers that lend them selves to quasi-crossover-less speaker designs. For CEDIA, though, Totem chose to develop a range of affordable in-wall speakers intended to sound similar to Tribe or Element models, yet that could not—owing to cost and space constraints—use Torrent-type drivers. The result is the Tribe Kin range, comprising three models: the Tribe Kin LR ($750/each), the Tribe Kin Center ($600/each), and the Tribe Kin In-Ceiling ($750). For bass reinforcement, Tribe Kin systems are designed to use the existing Totem Tribe subwoofer.
For audiophiles, the significance of the Tribe Kin models is that they are among those rare in-wall speakers that can compete on a more or less even footing with good, like-priced, high-performance in-room speakers, which is saying a mouthful. To pull this feat off, Totem gave the Tribe Kin models rigid enclosures plus their own distinctive drivers, including a wide bandwidth ¾-inch high-excursion soft dome tweeter, a very wide bandwidth 4-inch mid/bass driver featuring ultra-light/ultra-strong MHEX cones, and a matching set of high-compliance, Mica-loaded polypropylene passive radiators. Those MHEX mid/bass driver diaphragms are pretty special and are said to be capable of supporting loads of greater than 50kg each—that is, an amazing 110 pounds+ per 4-inch cone!
How is the sound? After a brief demo, I came away thinking the Tribe Kins sounded a lot like the more expensive Tribe on-wall models, and also reminiscent (to a degree) of the new Element models. True, the Elements are better in an absolute sense, but they cost quite a bit more and also take up considerable space in the room. For audiophiles pressed for space or seeking a solution that will keep interior designers happy, the Tribe Kins could, I think, be just what the doctor ordered.
For some time now, Wisdom has been acknowledged as one of the world’s premier developers of ultra-high performance in-wall speaker system—and quite possibly as the best of them all. The only catch, really, is that Wisdom speaker systems have been very expensive and typically have required use of purpose-built Wisdom electronic crossovers, room EQ, and DSP systems, etc. But at CEDIA, Wisdom launched an all-new family of Insight in-wall speakers that could dramatically change the game, making it possible to configure very accomplished Wisdom in-wall systems at much lower prices than before.
At present, there are four Insight models in the line: three point-source speakers (the P2I at $1250/each, P4i at $1750/each, and P6i at $3000/each) and one line-source model (the L8i at $5000/each). Together, these are the first Wisdom models in recent memory to use passive, rather than active/DSP-controlled, crossover network—a design touch that makes Insight systems simpler to set up and to power, and markedly less expensive than Wisdom’s top-tier offerings. By design, the Insight models work beautifully when used in conjunction with the firm’s smaller SCS “Suitcase” subwoofer. I first saw the Insight models on static display in the main convention hall, and then later heard them in action in a separate Marriott sound room. While admittedly sacrificing some of the finer points of the large five and six-figure Wisdom systems, the Insights retained most of Wisdom’s core values in a sonic sense, delivering a well balanced, smoothly enveloping sound with a good measure of natural warmth.
Yamaha’s three biggest product rollouts for CEDIA involved a new flagship Aventage-series A/V receiver and two new Sound Projector-family soundbar systems.
The big new AVR is the 9.2-channel (9 x 150-watt) Aventage RX-A3020 ($219, which offers just about every feature known to the home theater world, plus a total of—count ‘em—23 DSP programs for sound processing, and Yamaha’s signature YPAO room EQ system with RSC (reflected sound control) and speaker angle measurement. But for integrators, one of the RX-A3020’s biggest draws is that it provides fully independent HDMI for Zone 2 operations, making the A3020 feel like on receiver for the main listening room and a completely different (and independent) receiver for Zone 2.
The two new sound projector-type soundbar systems are the very similar YSP-4300 ($1899), which sports 22 drivers, and the slightly smaller YSP-3300 ($1599), which features 16 drivers. Both units come with active, wireless subwoofers and provide sleek two-chassis solutions that claim to provide a true 7.1-channel surround sound experience. A Yamaha spokesperson explained that the YSP-4300 and -3300 both bring back a well-loved feature previous found in certain earlier-generation sound projector systems: namely, a “target” function that allows users to steer the optimal surround sound effect toward a specific listening position.