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.
Krell is a strong player in both the high-end stereo and home theater universes and it brought several new products catering to both camps for CEDIA 2012. For home theater aficionados, though, the most exciting new Krell product was the upcoming Foundation A/V preamp/processor ($6000). Apart from support for the expected audio CODECS, the Foundation sports a plethora of HDMI ports (ten in, two out), provides RS-232 and Ethernet connectivity, and make provisions for Krell’s proprietary ARES room EQ system.
MartinLogan is perhaps best known for its hybrid electrostatic/dynamic driver loudspeakers, so it is perhaps it is appropriate that the firm brought not one but two hybrid electrostatic center channel speakers to help round out its ESL-series product family: the Motif X center channel ($1895) and the Stage X center channel ($2995). Why offer two conceptually similar models? The simple answer is that the Motif X was designed with on-wall (or at least “near-wall”) applications in mind, while the somewhat larger Stage X is geared for in-room applications where the speaker might be placed several feet from the nearest wall.
Speaking of MartinLogan’s ESL-series speakers, I also got a chance to hear the newest (but perhaps most unsung) model in the ESL lineup: the EFX hybrid electrostatic on-wall speaker ($3095/pair). Last year, I had the chance to review MartinLogan’s terrific ElectroMotion ESL surround system and came away thoroughly impressed by the hybrid electrostatic ElectroMotion ESL floorstander on which that system is based (click here to read my ElectroMotion ESL system review). The new EFX is, in general terms, what you would get if you took the ElectroMotion ESL floorstanders and turned them into a wall mount speaker (which is saying a lot). True, the EFX has slightly less bass reach than the ElectroMotion ESL, but in every other respect—including pinpoint precise imaging—it is very similar. You could, then, build an ultra high-resolution on-wall system by placing a set of EFXs on either side of your flat panel TV, with a Motif X center channel placed above or below the TV, which I’m sure is exactly what MartinLogan has in mind.
For CEDIA, Monitor Audio announced a stylish new sat/sub product family collectively known as the MASS system (Monitor Audio Subwoofer Satellite), which loosely slots in above the firm’s popular and very elegant-looking Radius speaker line. MASS combo’s can be put together for stereo (2.1-channel) or surround (5.1-channel or 7.1-channel applications), with 2.1 channel packages starting at just under $880. The MASS satellite, called the MASS 10, features a quasi-cylindrical enclosure made of a polymer material, with each satellite sporting a 4-inch C-CAM mid/bass driver and a 1-inch C-CAM tweeter. The MASS subwoofer, in turn, features a 10-inch woofer augmented by a passive radiator with a DSP-controlled 220-watt Class D amplifier. MASS systems are bought as product bundles where customers would choose from MASS 2.0 packages (two satellites at $279/pair), MASS 5.0 packages (five satellites at $699/set of five), and then add one or more MASS subs ($599/each). The consensus among the Monitor representatives at CEDIA was the MASS system offered dramatic styling plus useful sonic gains vis-à-vis the well-regarded Radius system.
The Perfect Vision has not often done reviews of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, largely because of the logistical hassles such reviews almost invariably entail, but the last time we mounted such a project one of the best sounding general purpose In-ceiling speakers we found was the Noble Fidelity L85—an 8-inch, 2-way design developed with every bit as much care as might go into a typical in-room speaker.
At CEDIA, we were delighted to encounter Noble Fidelity honcho Greg Ford who showed us his firm’s newly updated L85 MkII ($749/pair) in-celing speaker. If you’re not yet familiar with Noble Fidelity, it helps to know that these guys take their architectural speakers very seriously and therefore sweat small details that other manufacturers might not know or care about.
An example: Ford has always believed that in-ceiling speakers sound best with what might be called “driver forward” placement; that is, an arrangement where the driver is more or less placed flush with the adjoining ceiling surfaces—not recessed into a deep, flanged hole. At the same time, Ford is also aware that many interior designers favor architectural speakers whose grilles are vanishingly thin and seem to blend in with surrounding surfaces. The problem, of course, is that if drivers are pushed forward and grilles are pulled backward, they are bound to conflict (not good). To solve this problem, the L85 MkII comes with grilles that are ever-so-slightly dome-shaped, so that they appear to offer a nearly flush fit at their perimeter edges, yet gently bow outward to provide clearance room for the driver to move back and forth. And, since Noble always sweats the little details, the L-85 MkII speaker frame provides very subtly beveled surfaces with plenty of embedded magnets to support the dome-shaped grilles around their entire circumference. Cool, no?
Following a trend I saw from several manufacturers exhibiting at CEDIA, Onkyo opted to roll out a minimalist, low-cost, self-powered 2.1-channel speaker system design as a simple, add-on for modern flat panel TVs (whose built-in speaker systems leave much to be desired). The system is called the LS3100 Envision Cinema package ($499), and provides three basic inputs (one digital optical, one digital coax, and one stereo analog), plus an easy-to-use remote control.
Paradigm is well aware that many prospective customers are frustrated with the sound quality (or lack thereof) of modern flat panel TVs and may also be in need of high quality sound systems for music playback. With both requirements in mind, and with an eye toward pleasing customers who want to keep things as simple as possible, Paradigm announced not one but three new attractively priced, self-powered, audio systems.
Two of the systems are sat/sub systems: the Millenia CT and Millenia One CT—both of which leverage technologies originally created for Paradigm’s popular Millennia One system. The less expensive Millenia CT system ($699) consists of a pair of 2-way satellites (which are essentially cost-reduced versions of the considerably more exotic Millenia One sats), plus a shallow-profile subwoofer that incorporates a 3 x 80-watt amplifier, with one channel for the sub and two for the satellites. The more expensive, but also better performing, Millenia One CT system ($1199) at first glance appears superficially similar to the Millenia CT package, but its internal design more closely follows that of the original high-performance Millenia One system. Accordingly, Millenia One CT modules use better drivers, more rigid cast aluminum enclosures, and a bigger (3 x 100-watt) amplifier than those found in the Millenia CT system.
The third system is a 2.1-channel soundbar/wireless subwoofer package called the Soundtrack system ($799). The soundbar features a total of six active and passive drive units: two 1-inch pure aluminum dome tweeters, two 4.5-inch mid/bass drivers, and two 4-inch passive radiators. The matching slimline subwoofer sports an 8-inch woofer housed in a bass-reflex enclosure along with a 100-watt, DSP-controller Class D amplifier.
All three of these systems will be offered through select Paradigm dealers throughout North America, but can also be ordered directly through the Paradigm SHIFT website: www.paradigm.com/shift
Joining in on the seemingly industry-wide move toward high-quality soundbars (and other on-wall speakers), the Canadian speaker maker PSB offered two new on-wall models as part of its critically acclaimed Imagine-series speakers. The Imagine W2 on-wall speaker ($600/each) is meant to serve as a general purpose L/C/R or surround speaker, and features a driver complement consisting of a single tweeter (patterned after the one used in PSB’s Imagine Mini speaker), two Imagine Mini-style mid/bass drivers, and a pair of passive radiators.
As a possible alternative to using separate L/C/R speakers in the first place, though, PSB also announced a three-channel high performance sound bar called the Imagine W3 ($1800). The W3, which sounds very much like a set of three Imagine Mini mini-monitors performing in unison, offer an elaborate driver array consisting of three Imagine Mini-style tweeters (one for each channel), four Imagine Mini-style mid/bass drivers (one each for the left and right channels plus two for the center channel), plus four passive radiators. Based on a brief listen, I’d say the W3 is right alongside GoldenEar’s new SuperCinema 3D Array in competing for the title as “the world’s most musically satisfying 3-channel soundbar.”
Earlier this year Revel previewed some elements of its comparatively affordable Performa3 speaker family, but as of CEDIA the firm announced that it had finalized designs and specifications for all of the Performa3 models and would begin shipping the speakers in December 2012 with the subwoofers to follow in January 2013. Just for the record, the Performa3 family comprises two floorstanders (the F208 at $5000/pair and F206 at $3500/pair), two monitors (the M106 at $2000/pair and M105 at $1500/pair), two center channels (the C208 at $2000/each and C205 at $1000 each), a surround speaker (the S206 at $1800/pair), and two subwoofers (the B112 at $3000 and B110 at $2000). Revel had the entire Performa3 range on static display at CEDIA, but also had a demo system featuring the flagship F208 floorstander, which sounded very, very promising indeed.
I had a chance to catch up with designer Kevin Voecks and to ask him about the Performa3 range. Voecks explained that, by design, many core elements of the Performa3 sound come quite close to the performance of Revel’s more costly, top-tier Ultima2-series speakers, though he conceded that the Ultima2s are superior in two important areas: lower diffraction and superior treble response (the Ultima2’s feature an exotic Beryllium tweeter that Voecks considers the finest he has yet heard or tested). Even so, the Performa3’s are no performance slouches; in fact, the opposite may be true. Voecks mentioned that in blind listening tests (which Voecks favors as a relatively unbiased means of evaluating sonic performance), a large majority of listeners had picked the F208 over a very famous and exclusive high-end floorstander that sells in the mid-$20k/pair range. If nothing else, Voecks has set Revel’s performance sights extremely high for the Performa3 range.