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Hi-Fi Show Report - June, 1996

By Stacey Spears

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HiFi 96 in the Big Apple!

I first attended this show series last year at the Double Tree in LA; this time I headed to NYC for HiFi 96, my first time in the Big Apple. I spent 3 days in and out of the convention. The show took place on floors 3-10 and 16-18. There were local shops giving demos, to manufacturers who were doing their own. And most of the major magazines were handing out free issues of their latest. I am trying to get this information out as soon as possible to everyone on the net, so if you want more info on what I saw, just write me with the question and I will try to answer. A little DVD was there, along with DTS. I missed the Krell demo, and Cello was always booked. Some of the best of the show, I thought, was the Audio Alchemy Visual Reality Engine 1.0, the Meridian DSP5500's, and the Video setup in the Linaeum site showing Joe Kane's new Video Essentials LD.

At the entrance, there was a sign with the winners of the 1996 Golden Note awards:

Angstrom showed their AC-3 add-ons: the 195 and 205. The first is a separate decoder that anyone who wants AC-3 can add to their own receiver. The other is built as an add-on for the Angstrom HED 200. The 195 is around $1,995 while the 205 is about $1,495. They were setup using Martin Logan Speakers with Muse electronics. Good demo. They played the opening of The Lion King, followed by Batman Forever. Their processor uses the Zoran chip with enhanced proprietary software. This was a nice demonstration of what AC-3 is capable of.

Audio Alchemy: One of the coolest new products at the show could be found in the AA booth. This is the VRE 1.0, Awesome! It made dot crawl extinct, and without the loss of detail! I will admit that the demo was setup in a way which favored the VRE, I mean I have never seen as much dot crawl at my house as the Mitsubishi exhibited in the AA booth. They said June 10th is the day it will ship for $750.00; you can bet I will be getting one, I hope, on June 11! They played several scenes from A Video Standard, including the famous super market scene. The fruit and signs where completely exempt of dot crawl. Even my CLD-99 has a couple of dots, so as soon as I have one in my hands I will put it up against my CLD-97, 99, and my TV to see just how good it is. I will report on it shortly after, here in SoHT.

The Citation booth made me sad. They gave the same old 7.0 demo from CES and HiFi 95, rather than showing their new 7.5 digital add-on. They played a segment of the Eagles Hotel California. Sounded good, but I was hoping to see their AC-3/DTS add-on.

Dolby had a unique demo. Instead of showing AC-3, they presented their 'S' type noise reduction, switching back and forth between cassette and CD. It was impressive to hear how good the cassette was against the CD. A lot has changed in the last couple of years! They handed out a sample cassette when we left. They also had a modified car stereo with S noise reduction. It was not as good as the home piece, but better than any cassette I have every heard before!

DTS was alive at the show, with a promise of 100, yes that's 100 LDs by Christmas!!! It seems like a long shot, since Dolby Digital (AC-3) has been pumping out discs for over a year, and they still have not reached 100. Brad Miller had several of his Music CDs for sale. They all retailed for $24.99. Unfortunately, there were no processors for sale at the show, and they said 30 to 60 days till they arrive. DTS announced the first 12 manufacturers who will be releasing DTS decoders: A.D.A, B&K, Counterpoint, Eigher Systems, Enlightened Audio Designs, Harman Kardon/Citation, Kinergetics, Krell, Mondial Designs, Rotel, Theta Digital, and Wadia Digital. The only demos I saw were the Eigher, Theta, and DTS's own. DTS used their prototype processor with a Runco Projector and NEW Runco Qaud. The picture was pretty good, although the motion artifacts did show themselves. It looked much better than their (Runco) line doubler ever did. The Rocket launch from Apollo 13 was demonstrated, and of course the scene from Jurassic Park where T-Rex escapes. Both sounded fantastic! Since MCA/Universal has no plans to release any titles using AC-3, I hope DTS survives.

Across the hall, Theta was showing their Casablanca model in DTS mode with music. WOW, I like multi-channel music!

Eiger Systems gave a THX, DTS, and AC-3 demo and also used the prototype DTS decoder. They will probably use the Motorola 56009 for their decoding. Although the music sounded beautiful, the video left a lot to be desired. First came Amadeus, then Casper in DTS with the morphing scene which started with Clint Eastwood, then morphed into Rodney Dangerfield, then Mel Gibson, and finally The Crypt Keeper. Cool! True Lies came last, but not least. The whole demo was very short.

Enlightened Audio Designs had a setup in two rooms. One was a music based room, using their transport and DAC. The other had their full system, TheaterMaster, SwitchMaster, Theatervision, and System Controller. Video was a Pioneer rear projector, showing Star Trek Generations, with Martin Logan Speakers. Nothing to brag about. There did not seem to be much motivation in the room. Perhaps it was the time of day.

Hsu Research showed their new HRSW12Va sub and 10V. This is a company that knows how to get down! Dr. Hsu always rocks the house with his demos. He had two of his new 12Va's in the front, one in the closet behind everyone, and a 10v in the closet next to the 12Va. He played the beginning of side three of True Lies, then he played a Drum CD. The bass was Tight and Deeeep! After the demo, Dr. Hsu told everyone that the only sub on was the little 10V in the back. Everyone looked blown away that a little sub could do so much. He said that he had the 12Va's going but neighbor exhibitors complained he was too loud. Not only does the bass kick, but the prices are ultra cheap: $750.00 for the 10v with amp, $450.00 without amp. $899.00 for the 12V. A price on the 12Va was not available yet.

Kenwood presented their new THX processor with AC-3. It looked very nice and had the unit with its top off. I did not stick around to hear it because it was late and time to go.

Lexicon showed a DC-1 with the lid off, but no demos though! Looks like a great piece, and my only complaint is the lack of digital outputs for external DACs.

Linaeum had a killer video setup, arranged by Joe Kane himself. They were displaying his new disc, Video Essentials. I can't wait for mine, and since I have attended the ISF course, I am getting one a couple weeks before the stores. I will tell you all about it when it arrives. I got to see Side 2, Chp 15, which is a video test that made the mighty Faroudja stress!! It also showed just how awesome the Faroudja is. I hate the thought of seeing what happens when I run that same chapter at home. The disc also has an AC-3 soundtrack.

Michael Green: I spoke to the man himself, who was very nice and helpful, while a lot of companies tended to blow off the attendees. He was really great, answered questions, and gave suggestions. He said that adding his room tunes, one on each side of the TV, helps make the TV disappear. Sounds good to me. You should experiment with the location. He was showing off what can be accomplished with his tuning racks, and said that a rack could be custom made for any application, including a rear projection TV.

Monster Cable: New cable called M2.4s, M2.2s, M1.4s, and M1.2s looks killer. These cables are replacements for the M1.5 and M1 line's. The 1.4 represents bi-wire, and 1.2 represents standard. Both of these cables have a new termination network which apparently helps to prevent rolling off frequencies above 2Khz. Their M100v video cable is now ISF certified. If Joe Kane says its good, well . . . .

Sony demo'd DVD, showing a prototype. The picture was not that great. It's funny how some of the hottest new products this decade got little attention.

Toshiba showed new 40" and 56" rear projectors with component inputs running DVD. These two TVs should be out by September, with the 40" around $3,000 and the 56" around $5,000. The 40" had an annoying glass screen that did not seem to be removable. If I get one, you can bet I WILL remove the screen. The 40" was in a room with some other TVs and a DSS dish. The other room was a full blown demo, but the picture was not setup properly, at least during my viewing. Both TV's were using the component input with anamorphic material (widescreen movies). Lots of potential. I asked if September 1 was still their goal, their reply was this Fall! They seemed very confident about that. Their DSS did not have Component or Digital outputs. How can a company that is smart enough to put these on DVD players forget to add them to DSS?

THX gave away cool badges, the latest version of their Home THX installation manual, and their Spring 1996 "Home THX Express." Inside it (Express) talks about a new THX laserdisc trailer, one that is said to be optimized for digital surround, with panning sounds from front to left and right rear channels. There are also several new THX video tapes coming: The Abyss, Heavy Metal, Last of the Mohicans, The Sound of Music, Speed, Tenchi-Muyo, and True Lies. There were seven demonstrations of complete home THX Systems: Atlantic Technology, Denon, Harman/Kardon, Citation, JBL, Kenwood, Marantz, and McIntosh.

Big Demo's:

McIntosh, Faroudja, and Vidikron had a very nice demo. They used McIntosh CD and LD players, Faroudja VP400 Quad., and Vidikron Ferrari RED Projector. They showed three different clips, the first two being Dolby Surround matrix, the last an AC-3 demo. The first scene was from First Knight, in which Richard Gere was dueling for money. This scene was mainly for visual purposes showing how it was filmed. The second was from Man of the House, the scene in the forest when Chevy Chase and son were being chased. This scene showed off some new filming techniques, very rich color, The third and final scene was from Golden Eye, the driving scene when Bond is racing his BMW against the Ferrari, mainly to show off the Faroujda. Amazing ability to handle motion on screen. Once the lights went out, I was drawn in, and awoke when the lights came on. That's what home theater is all about. I forgot about the equipment being used and just enjoyed. Nothing special about their AC-3 demo.

Meridian: They were showing off their new DSP-5500 loudspeakers. These fall in between their current high end and entry level Active Digital Loudspeakers. Their current top is the DSP-6000 at $16,000 a pair, then the DSP-5500 at $10,700, and finally the DSP-5000 for $5,400. The 5500s use the same electronics as their big brother, except there is one piece instead of two (head and base) and two forward firing woofers instead of four side firing. This allows them to be mounted in a TV rack/wall rack system. They also take a new approach at making them magnetically shielded. Instead of shielding the individual drivers, they slap two sheets of steel on the insides of the speakers. This also helps make the cabinet more rigid and keeps the drivers cleaner sounding. (They sounded AWESOME.) I first heard their prototypes at CES. The ones shown here (NY) had just started shipping the last week of May. Meridian also showed off their 518 Resolution Enhancer. This takes the 16 bit digital signal, and outputs up to 24 Bits, of dithered, de-jittered, not-digital-sounding music! I have lived with this unit for around 9 months. I am about finished with my review of the product and will publish it as soon as I am done!

Additionally, there was Meridian's new 566 true 20-bit DAC, feeding into their new 557 power amp. I only spent a few minutes in this room, and I kept going back to the other Meridian demos. In the main room they were showing what the 518 did to music, then they would show how their surround processor (565) yielded AC-3. When Bob Stuart was demonstrating the system, he played the Enya LD which was recorded using Ambisonic. This is the first time I have every heard it, and as soon as I returned home, I went out and purchased the LD!

For panel discussions, there was "Upgrading Home Theater for the Digital Age": Moderator was Lawrence Ullman. There were five panelists: Roger Dressler of Dolby Labs; Mike Moffat of MML, Inc; Bob Stuart of Meridian; Joe Kane of the ISF; and Mike Fidler of Pioneer.

First, Lawrence Ullman asked Roger to explain AC-3, then Mike Fidler was asked to explain about the RF and coax outputs of LD players and the need of a demodulator. Bob Stuart talked about the new music standard on DVD. He said it looks like it will be a couple of years away for music, and then he went on to explain the demodulator as well. He talked about laserdiscs and that the RF output is not going to be the main source of AC-3 in the future. By keeping the demodulator out of the processor, you can have a cleaner signal. Joe Kane went on to discuss the video portion of DVD, and his most important words were of concern. He is afraid that DVD could be killed by lack of consumer knowledge. This has to do with properly setting up the TV, and sharpness was his main point. Because DVD has much more detail than even laserdisc, the sharpness control needs to be turned down or even off. Sharpness does NOT really "sharpen" the picture but instead it adds noise and causes motion artifacts and dot crawl to become more visible!! Mike Fidler did not have much to say, but that Pioneer will support DVD. Then there was a question period from the audience. Joe got most of the questions; some were about copy protection. I think it was Gary Reber of Widescreen Review who asked about Macrovision on the component outputs. Joe said they are talking about not producing VCRs that can record in the component format, rather than protecting the component output. That is all still up in the air. Joe was also asked about component outputs on DSS. He said that currently no one is doing it at the factory, but there are custom installers who are modifying the Sony and RCA's by adding the outputs, as well as S/PDIF for better audio.

So there it is: Hifi-96.

Stacey Spears


Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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