Archive for February, 2008


Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

ISF-Certified Supernova Technology now Available in Curved Screen Format

COSTA MESA, CA — February 19, 2008 — dnp denmark, the world’s leading supplier of optical projection screen technology and developer of the first-ever screen that allows viewing in brightly lit environments, announced that its revolutionary Supernova™ Epic Screen is now shipping.
Designed to be used in the very finest dedicated home theaters, the new Supernova Epic Screen provides uncompromised widescreen reproduction of movies in all aspect ratios displaying superior high-contrast images in 100% neutral color. Maintaining a constant image height as in a movie theater, the Supernova Epic’s motorized masking system is fully adjustable from closed to 2.40:1 settings delivering the ultimate viewing experience for even the most demanding videophile. (more…)

ZR-4 MultiZone Receiver Kit Now Shipping—The First of Three New MultiZone Systems fro

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Prominent industry executive to help shape the future of consumer electronics retailing

MIAMI, FLORIDA – February 19, 2008 – Niles Audio Corporation, The First Name in Custom Installation®, today announced that Frank Sterns, the company’s president, has been selected to serve on the Professional Audio/Video Retailers Association (PARA) board. PARA is a membership division of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and represents over 250 professional audio, video, home theater and custom electronics specialty dealers and installers. Members share a common interest in continuing education, maintaining competitiveness, enhancing the marketplace and improving financial performance. Sterns’ vast experience in marketing, sales and product development, along with his dedication to mentoring colleagues and dealers will reinforce PARA’s status as a vitally important resource for its members. Throughout his 24-year career, Sterns has been an active figure in the consumer electronics and custom installation industries, and his participation in PARA reinforces his commitment to these disciplines. (more…)

Daily Blog – Jason Serinus – February 19, 2008: WHAT MUSIC HAS LOST.

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Last month, a Wall Street Journal book review by James F. Penrose focused on After the Golden Age, a 304-page book by Kenneth Hamilton. Hamilton’s thesis is that, especially in the realm of classical piano music, interpretive license has been supplanted by an emphasis on absolute fidelity to the written note.

In the musical realm, vocal critics such as Gramophone’s John Steane and yours truly have long lamented the dearth of embellishment, rubato, and other expressive devices that characterized the great singing of an earlier era. One need only to compare 78s of French song by Maggie Teyte, who coached with Debussy, or those of the songs of Richard Strauss by Elisabeth Schumann, whom the composer lovingly accompanied, to hear how unimaginative much of today’s singing has become.

Listen to Schumann’s incomparable performance of Strauss’ “Traum durch die Dämmerung” (Dreams at Twilight) while reading the score. Yes, she freely plays with tempi, arriving at a sunny climax, holding it far longer than written, then stretching relationships as she descends the scale as though her voice were a feather floating on a gentle breeze. But after hearing how perfectly she conveys Strauss’ meaning, would you want it any other way?

Today’s voices, in general, are more homogenized and possess more surface beauty than of yore. Interpretations, on the other hand, are often far more commonplace, lacking the idiosyncratic personal stamp and heartfelt commitment of singers of older generations. Hence we have such disappointments as a recent Berkeley recital by Rolando Villazón, one of the finest operatic tenors of our age, in which he performed Schumann’s Dichterliebe with total sincerity and great beauty of tone, yet with a textual fidelity that failed to move most of the audience.

There are of course analogies to the audio realm. Equipment that measures perfectly can leave some listeners cold.

On forums and in letters to the editor, we have folks who insist that test results are everything, and that achieving optimal test results will automatically yield the best sound. On the other end of the spectrum, we have those who claim that all that matters is what they hear, test results be damned. Somewhere between those two diametrically opposed camps reside people like myself who honor test results, expect some correlation between test results and what they hear, but ultimately find that listening, and only listening, can serve as the ultimate arbiter in realms of personal taste.

Hence, even if we cannot fully explain how something works – the human body, human life, and the origins of the Universe could serve as ultimate examples – we can still appreciate what it does, and take advantage of its existence if we so choose.

Music is ultimately a mystery. As much as we may analyze the mathematics of Messiaen and Bach, or the vibrational relationships in a twelve-tone row, we cannot explain why one performance of Messiaen or Bach, or the differences between the instruments upon which it is played, affect us more than others. It is simply a case of emotional impact. Depending upon the listener, some performances convey more emotional truth than others. The ultimate arbiter in music is the human heart, not a series of graphs and charts.

For those who care about music, the true arbiter of the worth of any piece of equipment – be it amplifier or ridiculously expensive tweak – is how it makes you feel as you play your favorite music. The same holds true for those who mainly watch DVDs on home theater set-ups. If you value, above all, a system that delivers the ultimate wallop in crash scenes, your chosen subwoofer will be the one that delivers the clearest, strongest, most direct punch. Ideally, that same subwoofer will also boom true for jazz and classical lovers, who value pitch, clarity, and impact from double bass.

The issue, then, extends beyond “What Music Has Lost” to what sound systems have lost. Yes, the equipment of an earlier era, especially tube equipment, was often less accurate and far more colored than the best equipment nowadays. But, for many listeners, it conveyed a wealth of emotion untouched by the rows of mass-market equipment that line home electronics stores.

The bottom line: yes, absolutely pay attention to charts, graphs, and test results. Many reviews on this website contain some of the most detailed technical evaluations of any available either in print or on the web. But, once you see the test results, listen.

Yes, we can be deceived in listening as much as we can be deceived in relationships. But unless you are convinced that the only way to build a long-lasting relationship is to find someone with the perfect stats, it would be great to hang out for awhile – long enough to discover how the relationship makes you feel. The same is true of equipment. What sounds great for a 15-minute listen may prove fatiguing after several hours. Only by taking sufficient time to listen and evaluate in the comfort of your own home can you begin to determine what is right for you. Otherwise, you may end up with a system so devoid of soul that you too lament about what music has lost.

Audioengine W1 Premium Wireless Adapter Now Shipping

Monday, February 18th, 2008

SAN JOSE, CA – February 18, 2008 – Audioengine, devoted to audiophile-quality sound, easy-to-use products at affordable prices, today announced the launch of its Audioengine W1 Premium Wireless Adapter that makes virtually any audio product wireless. Simply plug the Audioengine W1 (AW1) Sender to any audio source – computer, TV, iPod – and the Receiver to any output device – stereo, powered speakers, or subwoofer – and in seconds you have wired-quality sound without the wires. The AW1 requires no software downloads, has a 100-foot range and provides uncompressed, CD-quality sound without dropouts, static, latency or interference. (more…)

Niles Announces New Limited Lifetime Warranty on All Loudspeakers

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Great-sounding loudspeakers are now backed by Niles’ best warranty

MIAMI, FLORIDA – February 18, 2008 – Niles Audio Corporation, The First Name in Custom Installation®, today announced the introduction of its new Limited Lifetime Loudspeaker Warranty program. The warranty is offered to original retail purchasers and covers all Niles passive loudspeakers, including the highly-acclaimed StageFront Home Theater Solutions® loudspeaker line, the popular Ceiling Mount models and the company’s entire line of indoor/outdoor and GeoRealisticTM rock loudspeakers. Under the new warranty (see the warranty statement for complete details) Niles will, at its option and expense, repair or replace any passive loudspeaker product found to be defective in materials or workmanship. The adoption of this warranty program reinforces Niles’ commitment to providing the highest-quality, most reliable products available. (more…)

Daily Blog – Steve Smallcombe – February 18, 2008: HD DVD IS ABOUT TO BE DELETED. DID YOU GUESS WRONG?

Monday, February 18th, 2008

The fat lady has sung.

HD DVD´s fortunes vs. Blu-ray in the high definition DVD format wars suffered several setbacks lately. The first serious bump in the road was Warner´s announcement for exclusive Blu-ray support on the eve of the CES show in January.

The next blow and sign of empending collapse arrived in my in-box a few days ago. It was an e-mail from Netflix letting me know that since most of the major studios have decided to go exclusively with Blu-ray, they would no longer support HD DVDs and would go exclusively with Blu-ray as well. I was informed that movies in my queue that were previously available in the HD DVD format would be changed to standard definition DVDs. Bummer.

Best Buy had recently made a similar announcement regarding their support for HD DVD and Blu-ray in their stores, followed the next day with a similar announcement by WalMart.

Then, on Saturday, February 16, rumors started from Toshiba insiders suggesting that Toshiba is pulling out of the HD DVD format. They will sell the players they have, the HD DVD movies will be sold, and then good bye HD DVD. The official announcement is expected sometime this week.

For me this is good news and bad news. The good news is that this format war was not the best thing for the industry and the transition from standard to high definition DVDs, so now there will be just the one format. If I can watch broadcast and satellite TV exclusively in high definition, it is silly to not have DVDs in high definition as well. The format war slowed down this transition. Having a single high definition format is a good thing and certainly should eliminate the consumer confusion and resistance caused by the format war.

The bad news is I really like my Toshiba XA2 HD DVD player, and it will be a pity to see its use come to a halt other than with the HD DVD movies that I have already purchased and/or will purchase in the near future. On the other hand, my Panasonic Blu-ray player will now become the workhorse for my high def disc collection.

So, for the early adopters like myself, if we bought both players, one will become obsolete. For those of you who just bought one player – HD DVD – well, you guessed wrong. So did I at first, so we both lost an investment. I am not about to replace the HD DVDs I own with Blu-ray DVDs, so I´ll likely keep both players hooked up for a while.

In fact, you will undoubtedly be able to pick up HD DVD players and stacks of HD DVD movies on several websites over the next few months. Some movies were released in HD DVD and not Blu-ray, so you will need a player if you want to own those movies. The cost will be very little, I am sure, and it will probably be some time before those movies are re-encoded in Blu-ray format, so if you want them now, go shopping on the cheap.

If you have been waiting to see which format is going to win the war before you purchase a player, the victor has emerged. If you are waiting to see the price drop, maybe one more year before we see the $99 Blu-ray player at the grocery store. But, if you do wait, you are missing some of the most spectacular home theater images you will ever see.

Long live Blu-ray. Now let’s just hope Sony gets it right!

Daily Blog – John E. Johnson, Jr. – February 15, 2008: 3D MOVIES ARE THE NEXT BIG THING.

Friday, February 15th, 2008

I have read recent reports in several news arenas that 3D is the next item on the Hollywood agenda for getting us back into theaters instead of our just sitting on the couch at home watching DVDs. If you are not aware, there have already been several of them released at theaters, including Ghosts of the Abyss (2003), Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006), Meet the Robinsons (2007), and Beowulf (2007). In 2008, we have Fly Me to the Moon, Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert, U2 3D, and Journey to the Center of the Earth (in production). Actually, 3D movies date all the way back to 1915 (Jim the Penman). The ones I listed above are just some of the most recent. All of the studios apparently have 3D movies (live action) planned for 2009.

So, why all of a sudden, is Hollywood saying that 3D movies are the future and audiences will pay a premium to see them? Let’s go back to the early 1950’s for a moment. TV was exploding, and all of a sudden, everyone stayed home to watch TV instead of going to the theaters. So, Hollywood came up with CinemaScope, which was the “widescreen experience”. It worked, along with having the movies in color (color TV was yet to be). We all went back to the theaters to watch anything in CinemaScope.

The next horizon was surround sound. Star Wars in the late 1970’s was as much a sound experience as it was visual. So, there were two big things that got us to go to the movies: multi-channel sound and computer generated imaging. Hollywood was rolling.

In the 1990’s, DVD players changed everything. Now, we could watch great video quality at home, and we got the surround sound too. It was almost as good as being at the theater, and when HDTV came along at the beginning of the 21st century, the “almost” disappeared from that sentence. The Home Theater of 2008 can be actually much better than a commercial theater. For one thing, the picture can be brighter and sharper, because if you have a large flat panel display, the image is not going through a lens. At a theater, they use an anamorphic projection lens, and this will often have distortion at the edges. They also use lots of speakers to give the entire audience a surround sound effect. Where is the sweet spot? I sure don’t know.

In all cases, audiences went to the theaters because of the touted new technology as much as for the story itself. Sound, Color, CinemaScope, Surround Sound, and Computer Generated Imaging. When you finally bought that HDTV, didn’t you watch anything and everything you could find that was in high def? You bet. I sure did.

But now, the novelty of the technology is wearing off. We are back to evaluating the movie or TV program for its content rather than the new technology it might have, because all of the technology used for movies and TV programming is yesterday’s news.

Except for 3D. And the only reason that 3D is not yesterday’s news even though it has been around for a long time, is that we were not ready for that technology, and Hollywood just ran little experiments with it. No big budget movies with Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, etc.

But, I think that is about to change. The timing is right. We have the technology to take the experience far beyond the red and blue glasses of earlier 3D motion pictures. The 3D cameras are now controlled by computers and servo motors, CGI will add incredible 3D special effects, and we will likely be wearing polarized glasses.

I can’t wait to see these movies. I will forsake my home theater and go back to the cineplex. I will pay $10 for the ticket, $5 for a box of popcorn, $3 for a large drink, sit there and be amazed. I figure a good two years before I will start caring about the story again, so Hollywood can go ahead and make whatever silly movies they want, as long as I get to see them in 3D.

Daily Blog – Chris Groppi – February 14, 2008 – MY TAKE ON SUBECTIVISM VS. OBJECTIVISM IN MUSIC LISTENING.

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

I just finished a review of cables. I also have a Ph.D. in astrophysics with a concentration in electrical engineering. How can this be? In this little blog, I want to give you my take on objectivism and subjectivism in evaluating audio equipment. This is my personal take on the subject, and I have no desire to change your mind if you have strong feelings on the subject. I figure it would be good for you all to know my ideas so you can take what’s in my reviews accordingly. Just a few bullet points should do the job:

The primary reason we all have home theater and audio equipment is to listen to it. Therefore the primary tool for reviewing audio equipment should be the human ear. What sounds subjectively better is better, period.

It really doesn’t matter why a person thinks some change in their system makes it sound better. If whatever change, imagined or not, makes the system sound better to them, then it does. The brain listens to the sound, so if the brain thinks it sounds better, then it sounds better.

What sounds better to one person might not to another. When I review something, I try to give you my personal impressions. Those may or may not be the same as your impressions listening to the same equipment and recording.

Measurements can help in determining why one piece of audio gear sounds different or better than another. They have little place in determining if a piece of audio gear sounds better than another.

If a given measurement is identical for two pieces of audio gear, but they sound different, then you measured the wrong thing, or didn’t measure well enough. To think that a few simple measurements decided on by the audio industry decades ago can explain all there is to know about the sound of a component, is in my opinion, ridiculous.

If two pieces of audio gear measure slightly differently, it is not valid to blindly conclude “you can’t hear the difference.” Research in pyschoacoustics is not advanced enough to conclude that we know all there is to know about how the brain hears and interprets sound.

Double blind testing is great, but requires a HUGE sample size to detect small differences. Huge meaning thousands or tens of thousands of samples. Doing a double blind test with a few random listeners each listening to a few recordings could statistically tell the difference between a cassette tape and a SACD. Maybe. Double blind testing with a large enough sample to test small differences between components is not feasible for pretty much all audio companies and reviewers. That doesn’t stop some from trying and making statistically unsupported conclusions from those tiny samples like “all amplifiers sound the same” or “CDs have perfect sound.”

I could come up with plenty more bullet points, but that’s enough for now. If there are any rabid objectivists or subjectivists that would now like to have a verbal cage match throwdown, feel free to have it amongst yourselves. I personally have no desire to argue with you, but I’m sure there are others that will oblige.

Daily Blog – Steve Smallcombe – February 13, 2008 – SHOULD YOU BUY AN AppleTV? I WON’T, YET.

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

At MacWorld recently Apple announced the ability to download movie rentals and purchases via the iTunes store. Of course there are many other movie download services and other recent announcement, e.g. HBO, Comcast, Netflix, etc. and this is definitely the way the industry is going.  No doubt someday the neighborhood Blockbuster movie rental store will go the way of Tower records.

What made Apple’s announcement newsworthy, but hardly a surprise, was that Apple was offering movies from “every major Hollywood Studio”.  This was expected to give a boost to Apple’s AppleTV sales, but, for me, I am still not ready to buy one. AppleTV is also often noted as the one disappointing offering from Apple in the last few years.  It just hasn’t taken off the way some might have expected or Apple might have hoped.  When AppleTV was first announced, I almost bought it immediately.

I am a Mac fan and have been one for as many years as there have been Macs, and I am typing this blog on my MacBook Pro laptop.  At first AppleTV seemed like the perfect way of getting video content from my Mac desktop computer in our study to my front projection HD TV in the living room, the video content largely being HD recordings of our dogs romping in the snow, or other “home video”.  Convergence is a good thing, and media servers are all the rage, I am just not sure it is ready for me, or visa versa (except as noted below).  The trouble is I am sold on HD video and high quality multi-channel audio.  On my Sony 1080p front projector, HD content looks fantastic.  Yes, up-converted standard def DVDs also look great, but not as good as true HD content.

When it comes to audio, same thing; a Dolby Digital soundtrack is good, but the new higher definition audio codecs are better.  So I am not likely to add any device to my system that does not support at least 1080i resolution and/or download movie content that does not at least includes a Dolby Digital soundtrack.  Right now, the AppleTV/iTunes movie combo does not pass that test.

OK, I am an AV snob or a troglodyte, or an early adopter, or some combination of the above.  That said, I do have an iTunes account.  We have lots of audio books that we listen to when driving, using either my iPhone or my wife’s iPod nano as a player, as well as downloaded music, etc.  Perhaps one of the more attractive parts of the iTunes store are podcasts and videos from various news sources all over the world.  It is a great way of getting a global view of local and global events.  Such video looks fine on the screen of the iPod nano, or even on a portion of a computer monitor, I just don’t think it would look that good on my front projector.  I guess I should try it.

In my particular case, another problem with downloading large video files such as HD movies, is network bandwidth.  As I live in a rural area and don’t get either DSL or cable access, I use Wildblue for Internet access, and they have a “fair use” policy that limits my monthly downloads to 12Gb.  One could chew this up pretty quickly with a few high def videos.  Download speed in another potential issue with Wildblue, although I can’t really complain as it allowed contact with the outside world for 5 days recently when power was out in the area and even cell phones were not working.  Satellites don’t seem to care about local power outages.  (We have a generator.)

Despite all of the above, the funny thing is that I do download high def movies all the time via satellite and use a media server to play them back, so maybe I am not so backwards after all.In this case, I am using my DISH network high def ViP 622 DVR for downloading and recording.   What brings this closer to a media server is that ability to add (and swap) additional USB disk space for archival storage.   I added a 750Gb disk, and now have quite a few unwatched and/or favorite high def movie and TV episodes, most all with 5.1 DD soundtracks, just waiting for the right moment to be played back, when I want, and as many times as I want.

As for music, there are so many music only stations available via DISH that one hardly needs to archive music for casual or background listening.  As one may have guessed by now, for me the ultimate AV source however is high definition DVDs.  I have a HD DVD and a BlueRay player in my system and either buy high def DVDs or rent them from Netflix.  For me Netflix works great as it stocks both HD DVDs and BlueRay.  I drop a movie in my outgoing mailbox one day and two days later a new high def movie from my queue arrives in my mailbox. 1080p, high def audio codecs, relatively low cost per movie – works for me.  I do agree with John’s earlier blog however that scratched or dirty HD DVDs can be a problem with a rental service.  I have had to clean several to get them to play properly, but have only had one HD DVD where certain chapters just could not be played.

I am sure YOU are handling your rental movies properly, but do tell your friends to do the same.


Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

If you watch the economic measures in the world – shame on you if you don’t – you know the US dollar is losing value against the Euro dollar. Right now, the Euro is worth about 1.5 dollars USA. What this means is that all the goods we purchase from Europe, including hifi products made there, will cost more than they used to. Organizations overseas are now starting to have their dealings made in Euros instead of US dollars (I have bought several things having to convert to Euros first). It does not mean that food, water, housing, and other things that are made here in the US will cost you more (which is good, because they are expensive enough as it is), but everything made outside the USA, and brought here for consumer purchase, paid for by American companies importing the goods with Euro dollars, will cost more. Cars (lots of the parts are made elsewhere), clothes, shoes, toys, plastic goods, just about any consumer product . . . all going up.

Well, if you have shopped for just about anything, anywhere in the USA, you know that a tag somewhere on the product says “Made in China”, “Made in India”, “Made in Malaysia”, Made Wherever. This includes a lot of consumer electronics. The first factory run of our favorite Japanese electronics will say, “Made in Japan”. After that, the next ones are all outsourced to one of the above. In China and India, the labor costs are going up, so they have to raise their prices even without a Euro/US Dollar exchange rate alteration. Now, India is starting to outsource. So, we outsource to India, and India outsources to somewhere else where the labor costs have not gone through the roof, like the Philipines. Sooner or later, planet earth will run out of cheap labor, like it will run out of oil.

The bottom line is that all of the goods we like to buy are going up in price for a number of reasons, one of which is the devaluation of the US dollar overseas.

Maybe it is time to return to building things here, at home.

Leaving all the other goods alone, because this is a hifi magazine, let’s just talk about A/V consumer products. Probably 99% of the mass market electronics (DVD players, receivers, flat panel displays) consumed in the USA are made somewhere else, and the companies making them are outsourcing the manufacture of those goods to other countries with cheap labor. The reason is that American consumers focus on the bottom line. “I’m waiting for the price to come down before I buy one,” is almost a proverb in American purchasing behavior.

So, what has happened is that there comes a point where cheap labor can no longer deliver on a lower cost product, so the quality suffers. Go down to one of the superstores and look at that receiver which boasts 100 watts per channel x 5, all for $349. What kind of quality do you really think you are getting here? Do I even have to answer this rhetorical question?

I know a couple of audio companies who build their products here in the USA (in the midwest) and sell them at prices competitive with those of other companies who are making everything in the Pacific Rim. The quality is superb. All made here in the USA. I think what has happened is that the increasing labor costs of the outsourced products are finally catching up with what we can do here at home. Canada is also a good example. One of the best speaker companies in the world is Canadian. They build all their speakers there in Canada. They remain competitive in price and quality.

So, the economy is sliding, the Euro is gaining, oil is not getting any cheaper (that increases the cost of getting that overseas-built product shipped back here). USA workers are ready and willing.

For all you guys out there who make your stuff overseas to keep the prices down, we love you, we love your products, we love being able to get good stuff at good prices, but it is time for a change. You probably can do the same thing here now. Keep in mind that the economies of other countries are affected by our economy. If we do well, their stock markets are stable too. If we falter, their stock markets hit the skids just like ours. The remedy is to make our own economy stable, and the rest of the world will follow.

So, A/V companies might well think of contacting manufacturing firms here at home before they outsource all of their next models overseas. How about making even just one of them at home? Or, how about just making them on the American continent? Canada, Mexico, South America. It will save on all that oil being used for the ships across the Pacific ocean.

The time is right. Americans want to purchase products made by other Americans, and from other countries that make their products in their own countries. Do it. The entire planet will benefit. We are outsourcing ourselves to death.

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