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CES 2009 Report by Greg Mahoney

Another CES has come and gone. Although attendance was down, some would say that the people who did come really had business to conduct and that the quality of meetings being conducted was of a higher caliber for all manufacturers.

The primary buzz at the show centered on HDTV and the advent of 240 Hz refresh rates from all the majors, Sony, LG, Toshiba and Samsung in their new LCD and plasma sets. The 240 Hz refresh rate is demonstrable in the ability to produce a picture that is clearer and more defined when fast motion objects and very detailed still frames such as a test pattern are panned across the screen. Samsung had an excellent display of three monitors comparing 60, 120 and 240 Hz refresh rates and it is clear this technology works.

The trend of thinner and thinner HDTVs continues with some of the majors showing TVs that are now under a half inch in thickness. These panels are truly something that can be hung on the wall. Many of these sets will now use an LED light source which further increases the contrast ratios and richness of the available color palette. Yes, these sets will at first be expensive but like almost everything else in consumer electronics the advanced attributes of these sets will find their way to the masses.

There was also a plethora of 3D demos at the show and this is exciting technology, but it was also exciting in the 1950's and nothing really came of it. The demos at the show were for the most part, in my opinion, abysmal. The effect was excellent but resolution and color accuracy were lacking in most of the demos. One manufacturer the Da-Lite Screen Company showed their new 3D screen technology called virtual grey that sets a new standard in 3D polarization by virtually eliminating cross talk or "ghosting" In the past, the biggest obstacle in passive 3D stereoscopic projection was the ability of the projection screen to retain the integrity of polarization in the image reflected from the screen. I saw a demo of this and it is the best 3D I have seen in a home theater situation
This technology should accelerate the possibility of 3D in the home theater environment. I also see possible uses in the medical arena. This technology was also shown in the nvidia booth providing total immersion in the gaming experience and this is where the first practical use of 3D will prevail.

On the audio front, it is becoming apparent that more and more manufacturers and consumers are embracing the music server digital front end and there were many showing product at the show. Most notably from an audiophile standpoint Sooloos and Qsonic whose touch screen interfaces are the epitome of ease of use. Naim showed their excellent stand alone HDX player designed to replace your CD player with and audiophile grade hard drive player.

PS audio PerfectWave Transport

PS Audio PerfectWave Transport and DAC

The real news for audiophiles though comes from PS Audio with the introduction of the PerfectWave Transport and PerfectWave DAC. The Perfectwave Transport uses EAC (Exact Audio Copy) to rip files to an internal 64MB buffer to play back the music. This process pretty much eliminates jitter and the aural results I heard are incredible. The Perfectwave Transport is also the only player that will play back the new HRX 176.4 kHz 24 bit files from Reference Recordings. The Beta units of these PS Audio products are being tested now. The Secrets crew will ask for a review pair once production units are shipping.

There were some interesting new speakers and upgrades of existing product announced at the show.

Perfect 8s $300k glass speaker system

Two speaker manufacturers caught my eye, or was it the glint from their speaker cabinets, as their product cabinets were made from glass or as one manufacturer insisted crystal. Perfect 8 from Sweden showed the Force a $300K glass enclosure speaker system using cone and ribbon drivers. The system sounded fantastic, but there were other speakers at the show that sounded just as good for a fraction of the cost. The other glass speaker was from Crystal cables and called the Arabesque. It also sounded very good but no price was tendered.

The MBL 111F Speaker

MBL of Germany showed a new speaker the MBL 111F, the little brother of the 101 MKII. This is my candidate as the best sounding display at the show. The sustained pedal of the organ from Saint Saens Organ Symphony was amazing.

The other room that had a very lifelike sound was the Anthony Gallo Acoustics room. Anthony Gallo personally demonstrated his new Reference 3.5 speakers an upgrade from the 3.1s. These were probably the second best sounding speakers, next to the MBL 111Fs, I heard at the show.

Lastly, it was nice to see the high end preamp manufacturers finally embrace and include the latest DTS Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD audio codecs, it's about time they stopped dragging their feet.


CES 2009 Report by John E. Johnson, Jr.

The name of the game at the Convention Center was wireless and more wireless. Definitely, we are all headed towards computer controlled home automation through wireless networking.

There were lots of accessories for wireless components.

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Although iPod docks were prevalent, this is just a basic accessory, and what we will see is the use of an iPod, iPod Touch, and iPhone becoming much more useful in controlling various things in our homes by just punching in the commands from the iPhone rather than using wall panel controls.

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Marvell showed this digital picture frame that will stream photos from your PC as a slide show. The also announced a new version of Qdeo, which has additional image processing capabilities, such as first removing mosquito noise, then performing edge enhancement. It is the best update in image processing I have seen in a long time.

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If you want music other than from your PC to be streamed in your home, there are Internet-based music services that will deliver music of all genres to your local network. One of these is Rhapsody.

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Of course, there are lots of things that go with your home theater, whether it is wireless or not. Here is one company that markets photos and other memorabilia that you can mount on the wall in your theater.

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Several overseas factories have just come on line making flat panel HDTVs. So, we are going to be flooded with these products at a time when the economic situation might not support it. There will be new companies springing up, with their own brand and line of these HDTVs. Here are two such companies that I had not heard of before. The image quality was as good as what I have seen with name brand flat panel HDTVs.

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Flat panel displays are becoming very thin, and this makes them ideal for mounting on the wall. Several companies market wall mounts of various types.

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More accessories you might need are CD/DVD cabinets. Even though turntables are making a huge comeback, I didn't see any LP cabinets.

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Earthquake always has an interesting exhibit. Here is a car in their booth that has been completely tricked out with Earthquake products, including lots of subwoofers.

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Take a look at their latest subwoofer driver. Cynthia is in the photo to give you some perspective as to its size.

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They also had a new speaker line on display that has chrome trim. In keeping with modern designs, they are slim, but tall.

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SVSound has entered the on-wall, in-wall speaker market. Here is a photo of their on/in wall subwoofer. It uses two 12" shallow depth drivers, and if you want to put it inside the wall, you will need to remove one stud. If the included artwork does not suit you, the frame can be removed for remounting a grille cloth of your choosing to go with the room color scheme.

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These speakers by Swan are a bit unusual in that the tweeter is suspended in front of the woofer, off center. I would be very interested to measure the response.

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Epson, and other companies, had new models of projectors on display.

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TEAC showed this very interesting CD Player/Turntable combo. Notice the Record button. I assume this means you can copy your LPs onto CDs. But, since LPs are the hot item right now, why would you want to copy it? The whole idea is to have that visceral experience of putting the LP on the table and lowering the cartridge into the groove.

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3-D HDTVs are emerging. There are various technologies, but the one that will probably succeed is shown below. The TV scans at 30 non-interlaced frames per second, with 15 of them for the left eye and 15 of them for the right eye. The TV sends a wireless signal to a pair of polarized glasses that you wear. The left and right eye glass goes dark and light synchronized with the left and right eye images that are shown on the screen. Actually, this is not new technology. I saw it at a medical convention at least 10 years ago. But now, I think consumers are ready for this technology in their movie entertainment. Certainly, Hollywood is interested. All studios will be releasing 3-D movies this year. I suspect the high refresh rate flat panels that are now showing up will come in handy for increasing the number of frames per second that are shown for each eye.

If you look close at the TV screen, you can see the two stereo images. I shot this photo at a slow enough shutter speed to capture both the left and right eye images.

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On Friday evening, about 20 of the press were invited to an exclusive look at a Builders' Showcase Home about 20 minutes from the Convention Center. Microsoft, Paradigm Acoustics, and other vendors joined to put together this project as an example of complete home automation, with the core software being Windows Media Center.

It has several floors, with the main floor opening onto a large patio with an "Infinity" style swimming pool and a sunken barbeque pit. Here is a photo standing on the patio looking into the living room.

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After dark, the effect of custom lighting (all controlled) is spectacular. Below you can see a view from the living room onto the pool and patio at sunset, and then the same scene after darkness fell.

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Inside the home, nearly every room has a 50" flat panel HDTV mounted on the wall.

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One room is obviously set up for multiple viewing of sports events. There is a cascading waterfall on the left, open fireplace just in front of it, then the seating area to view three flat panel HDTVs.

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The home theater, located downstairs, consists of Paradigm in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, with two subwoofers enclosed within a bar and food serving area to its left side. An Anthem processor and power amplifiers drive the speakers. Lighting, motorized screen, and curtains are all controlled wirelessly from a handset.

Although you could control various functions in the home wirelessly, there are some wall panels (by NuVo), such as this one which controls one of the HDTVs and the wine cooling room.

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And, here is the equipment rack that is located in a closet. You can see a stack of Microsoft Xbox's on the right. This is to allow different movies to be shown on various HDTVs throughout the home. An Anthem D2 processor is at the upper right.

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Our group was given the grand opening tour, and we had to wait until January 20 to report on our trip to the home. There will be a steady parade of home builders from now on, to illustrate what can be done to deliver complete home automation, with an obvious emphasis on entertaining not only yourself, but giving jaw dropping parties for large groups of friends.

More from Piero Gabucci on next page . . .


CES 2009 Report by Piero Gabucci

I promised myself that I wouldn't talk about the economy and how it relates to the audio/video industry while attending CES 2009. But it was hard to ignore. All the same it was clear that attendance was down - I heard numbers in the 20,000 less visitors. It was obvious in the lines waiting for shuttle busses to and from the hotels and on the show floors whether in the main halls or on the hotel floors. Attendance alone wasn't the only thing missing and despite manufactures doing their best to keep the mood and tempo upbeat many of them merely showed what they had at CEDIA last fall. Some products just realized versions of prototypes. I can't speak for the gadgets or computer parts of the show, but merely in our beloved industry.

Having said all that on a positive note, what has impressed me during this show was the consistent quality from display panels and projectors to amplifiers and speakers - there's a whole lot of good product out there. The traditional gaps in quality are narrower than ever and at affordable prices. The quality of projectors especially has become affordable" what you get for under $3,000 is amazing. I'm sure Ross will have a great year reviewing these.

Not as affordable but well priced…

Although I had heard that Anthem was developing a LCOS projector with JVC, they are now ready in two versions, the $7,499 LTX500 and the $5,499 LTX300. Differences in the models include THX certification and 20,000 additional contrast ratio from 50,000 for the 500 and 30,000 for the 300. I find them very stylish with the red racing stripe and black enclosure. Can't wait to see one in action.

Anthem Projector

Still less affordable yet...

Projectiondesign based in Norway, is known predominately for professionally used projectors, has developed a line more in keeping with the needs of home theater with the DLP Avielo®. Five projectors, four at 1080p with a starting price of $12,000 up to the flagship 3-chip Helios (soon to be reviewed by JJ), is almost $70,000. None especially for color accuracy, the flagship will give superb 300 diagonal images.

Avielo Helios

Paradigm blew me away with a demonstration of their new in-wall subwoofer with integral backbox. Known as the RVC series, included is the X-850 rack-mounted 800 RMS sustained amplifier that can support two RVC 12SQ subs. The reference level unit has two 14 high X 4 wide polypropylene cones facing each other and each individually ported. The enclosure barely moved as it played, and is vibration-free. The RVC 12SQ is $699 with the backbox, and the X-850 is $999.

Playing amazingly and beautifully musical with the in-wall sub was the $159. Atom monitors!

Paradigm

 

Mark Aling

Always gracious showing me around was Mark Aling, Paradigm's marketing manager.

MKSound is back and better than ever. A great demonstration of the new THX Ultra 950 system that fits between the 750 system and the 150, the new 950 has 2-5 ¼ polypropylene woofers and 3-3 pulp cone drivers. Priced about 20% higher than the 750 series which is $999 per pair.

MKSound

McIntosh continues to prepare celebration for its 60 year anniversary with a retro re-issue $15,000 package. Those familiar with the C22 pre amp will recognize the design, although what's inside is modern circuitry. Also included is the MC75 monoblocks, and a signed Ken Kessler book. These will get scooped up with only 60 packages per country will be fabricated in a limited release.

Mac1

 

Mac2

Those that want a complete tuner, McIntosh will be delivering some time in March, the MR88 tuner with AM/FM/XM/HD channels. It will set you back between $4,000 and $4,500.

Mac3

Newcomer to audio is Quoc Nguyenngoe,Co-President of K&Q Sound Genesis, LLC in central New Jersey who was showing his Model 1 speaker and Model 2 tube amplifier. The names aren't very creative from this one time engineer from the famous Bell Labs in New Jersey but the sound was sweet and the speaker is built from solid cheery with an open back, no enclosure, this 3-way design with 1' horn speaker is amazingly simple and priced about $7,800 for the pair.

KQ

 

KQamp

An interesting concept in home speaker design, or should I say installation is called Solid Drive from Induction Dynamics. The SD1 speaker driver which is barely 3.5” diameter, is placed behind the drywall on a mounting plate, completely out of view. It gives a surprisingly decent sound for those decorators who do not want even a speaker grill visible. A powerful magnet converts audio signals to vibrations and the sound is transmitted through the surface.

The whole system includes the driver and mounting brackets, an EQ module and amplifier.

Solid1

Innovation awarded and soon to be published review by yours truly is the Definitive Technology STS SuperTower speaker. Why should I tell you more than you need to know here (so you won't read my review?) but this $3,000 pair of floorspeakers have made an impact since their introduction at Cedia last year. President Sandy Gross has an exceptional winner on his hands.

Def

Always great to see ADA's Albert Langella Chief Design Engineer, CEO and President and Richard Stoerger Vice President and COO who showed me their new theater preamp, the Suite 7.1 and 7.1 HD controller. Richard and I enjoyed watching and listening to a demo comparing lossless audio versus compressed. Pearl Harbor was a perfect choice and anyone hearing that would "never go back" as Richard exudes.

ADA2

 

ADA

Ever since I reviewed the Canton Vento line, I've been anxious to spend time with the Reference line. Shown here is the new Reference 3.2 DC in stunning cherry veneer with a piano gloss finish. This 3-way bass reflex system has 2-8.5' aluminum cone woofers, a 7' midrange driver and a 1' aluminum-oxide-ceramic dome tweeter. Bring it on, for $16,000 per pair.

Canton

I know JJ had been waiting to replace or upgrade his Theta Casablanca for some time before giving up but if he had waited a bit longer, he would have been rewarded with the new Casablanca III with full HDMI 1.3b. Finally high resolution audio such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master and 1080p switching and pass through. Should be out the second quarter of the year.

Theta

CES 2009 More from Piero Gabucci

Denon unveiled the flagship Universal Blu-ray player with the DVD-A1UDCI capable of playing every possible disk format out there. Features include; balanced 2-channle analog, SACD and DVD-Audio playback through HDMI, Denon Link 4th Edition or PCM conversion, 10-bit Silicon Optix Realta video processing, upconverting to 1080p, vertical stretch feature for converting 2.35:1 to 16:9 and of course decoding of the new formats from Dolby and DTS. MSRP around $3,800.

denon-blu

This is a new one for me, speaker "uffs" said to improve imaging and bass response. Westlake Audio has produced speakers for the professional and high end consumer for 30 plus years. At $16,990 per pair, shown is the 3 way bass-reflex BBSM-10VNF with dual 10' woofers, a 6 ½' midrange and 1 ¼' dome tweeter. Oh, uffs are also available for cables.

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Conrad-Johnson introduced their new flagship preamplifier, the limited edition GAT. At $20,000 only 250 units will be produced.

cj-gat

Also shown is the affordable new Classic preamplifier already shipping for $1,750 with an optional phono stage adding $750, available in March.

Classic pre large

And from sister company McCormack the new line which includes the LD-2 preamplifier with Burr-Brown volume control replacing the RLD-1. The LD-2 is $2,495 and $2,995 with the optional phono card. Add the DNA-250 stereo amplifier with 250 watt/channel at $3,995 or the DNA-750 mono-block at $4,750 each both available in February. Rounding out the new line is the DP-2 CD player with 24 bit/ 192 kHz sampling at $3,495 available in April.

McCormack

A picture can’t begin to describe the beautiful finish and construction of the new Nola Micro Grand Reference loudspeaker designed to emulate the massive Nola Baby Grand Reference loudspeaker. President Carl Marchisotto and family beamed with pride for the $12,000 per pair Micro. Key to the design of both is the double built in platform bass with ball bearing isolators. While the woofers are enclosed traditionally, the tweeters and ribbon are open to the rear eliminating port noise and coloration.

Nola

What's an audio show without showing off the latest power conditioner and power cables from Shunyata Research. Sales Manager Richard Coburn showed me the Hydra Model-8 version II. With 8 outlets and power outputs of 2,400 watts, this 20amp all aluminum chassis power distribution is $5,000.

Hydra

The CX Series Helix power cables include 5 models ranging from the $495 Sidewinder to the $3,495 King Cobra. Shown is the $1,095 Python.

Python

ZuAudio introduced the new Zu Essence with a full range driver and real ribbon tweeter. Essence's cabinet is a combination of Baltic birch plywood and MDF. The human voice inspired design is a very reasonable $5,000 per pair and comes in amazing colors!

Zu-Essence

I had gone searching for Rogue Audio and was delighted to see them sharing a room with EgglestonWorks and their new affordable The Dianne speaker. In fact they said they didn't purposely color coordinate their equipment, but the display said otherwise. Jason Serinus had reviewed The Nine and grew to love them. The very affordable The Dianne are $2,500 per pair!

Dianne-Rogue

Rogue Audio powered The Dianne with their wonderful 250 wpc Apollo monoblock amplifiers at $9,995 for the pair and the new Hera preamplifier at $7,495.

Rogue-Apollo

I hooked up with Jonathan Scull, PR guru extraordinaire in the Ultralink/XLO cables room where he showed me the affordable and beautiful Argentum cable line where Nate Mansfield, sales manager talked of the product. (Sorry Nate, my photo's didn't turn out well.)

I was anxious to hear Loiminchay's room so I twisted Jonathan's arm to run a demonstration. The Kandinsky Horn/moving coil speaker didn't disappoint me. Beautifully crafted of laminated layers of birch plywood, the tactile surface seduces you to run your fingers over the curves. This art sounded spectacular, I didn’t want to leave. Especially obvious and noticeable is the 19' horn driver with a 2' beryllium driver. I'm anxious to visit designer Patrick Chu's studio in New York.

loinchemay

My wrap-up of the show is with what I think was the best audio demo that I heard. The Thiel Bryston room was sublime auditioning the special edition CS2.4SE at 8,000/pair which cost nearly double the CS2.4 at $4,900/pair. What you get besides Jim Thiel's signature on these limited production units is hand finished Birdseye maple, and high quality polypropylene capacitors and high cost crossover design. Alongside the CS2.4SE was a pair of Thiel SS2 subwoofers.

The demonstration was actually from Bryston VP of Sales, James Tanner. His equipment melded with the Thiel using his BPA-26 preamplifier / BDA-1 processor combination and Bryston's 7B-SST monoblocks.

Give some credit to Torus for their power conditioner and Wireworld cables because the room just sounded great!

Thiel-Bryston