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1997 WCES Report - January, 1997

By John E. Johnson, Jr.

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The 1997 WCES (Winter Consumer Electronics Show) was held in Las Vegas from January 9 - 12, 1997. As usual, the core of activity was at the Convention Center, but this time, much more activity was devoted to the Internet. Some of the home theater and audio booths were moved to the Las Vegas Hilton, and the High End Audio booths were now at the Alexis Park Hotel. Although the Alexis is not within walking distance (the high end audio was much closer to the convention center last year, but that hotel was torn down), this made for much less local traffic, and it was much easier to get around.

Probably the two most interesting features of the 1997 show were the DVD and DTS. DVD (Digital Video Disc, or Digital Versatile Disc) was finally being shown in the actual (presumably) production models of players and movie releases. SONY had an exquisite booth, and they had the model DVP-S7000 dedicated DVD player, which, along with about 20 movies on DVD, will be released in April, 1997. The player is their top-of-the-line model, and their reasoning is that the aficionados (that's you, the readers, and us, the Secrets editors) will likely jump in first, so they want to have their top player available for a good first impression. It is to be priced at $1,000 US. It has on-screen programming for selecting the aspect ratio (Letter Box or Pan and Scan), Language (English, Spanish, French, Japanese, etc., depending on how the movie was programmed), and various digital formatting. Outputs include Toslink Optical, Coaxial, and Component Video (Y, B-Y, R-Y). To access the DVD drawer, the front moves out and down, and then the drawer comes out. Several other companies showed production model DVD players, including Pioneer, whose player (DVL-700) is a combination Laserdisc (LD), DVD, and CD player, also at about $1,000 US (they all will play CDs, but the SONY is for DVD and CD, not LD). Pioneer also had a neat little receiver, the VSX-D906S that has AC-3 built in, at $970, available in February.
This unit should be able to handle AC-3 from laserdiscs, and also the digital AC-3 output from DVD players. As a last gasp for analog audio cassette tape players, Pioneer introduced two new models that use digital processing to reduce tape hiss. Performance was stunning at 90 dB hiss reduction, and goes far beyond what we are used to in noise reduction technology. The players were priced at $285 and $300, and I hope they use this technology in some higher end units.

The image quality with DVD was spectacular. Whatever motion artifacts (pixelation) that troubled DVD last year have been corrected. However, the problem now is in the hands of the disc (software) manufacturers, not the player manufacturers. Apparently it is more expensive to program a movie for DVD than it is for laserdisc. DVD programming (MPEG-2) is about $70,000 per film, and a technician must program the film scene by scene to allocate the number of bits available, depending on the amount of action in the scene. Columbia Tristar is closely associated with SONY, so the 20 films that are being released along with the DVD players will be programmed as well as can be done, I'm sure. Some of the films were being shown in the booth, and they looked excellent even in the high action scenes. I examined the image up close, and they appear to have more detail than laserdisc images. The final analysis will have to wait until we have the players here to test, with DVD movies. The component video outputs improve the image quality significantly, and I understand TVs with component video inputs are on the way, with a couple of them already in stores.

DTS is the competitor to Dolby AC-3 (Dolby Digital). It has more bits assigned to the sound, and the number of channels is 5.1, like Dolby Digital. CDs and laserdiscs ("Jurassic Park") were at the show, in DTS. The sound quality is wonderful. I was truly impressed, and I think if the quality holds up, it is going to be very successful. In particular, some of the DTS CDs had imaging that was far beyond anything that could be done with standard two-channel stereo. However, I think the maximum effect is achieved with music that has been recorded specifically for DTS, rather than remixed older recordings. A few of the DTS CDs sounded harsh, but that is true even for regular CDs. Several manufacturers had DTS processors, and one company that had some for sale at the show, sold out of them on the second day (The Millennium 2.4.6 DTS Decoder - $699 US; 5.1 Marketing and Sales, E-Mail
FivePoint@aol.com). This bodes well for the format.

Advanced Technology Group showed the Realeyes 3D System. I have seen 3D with LCD eyeglasses before, but it required high scan rates. This system uses a regular NTSC TV, and splits the frames into right and left fields. LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) eyeglasses connect to the control box, and alternately turn dark and transparent in time with the left and right images from the TV. It works very well with TV programs that have been produced using two cameras. I think that advertisers would be much more amenable to paying the higher prices of HDTV (High Definition TV) if such technology were incorporated. Right now, they probably feel that HDTV is not going to sell any more product just based on higher resolution. Three-D could be just the thing to have them jump right in. There was at least one other company showing this type of technology. The LCD eyeglasses were $25/pair! It will all work with NTSC or HDTV. This could REALLY be good stuff for future TV programming. Maybe when movies are transmitted to the theater with HDTV signals rather than using film, we could just bring our own glasses when the movie is in 3-D.

One of the first items we saw in the High End Audio, at the Alexis Park, was incredibly beautiful, but incredibly expensive. Horn speakers have been around as long as audio, because the first amplifiers were not very powerful (a few watts), and horn speakers were very efficient (100dB/w/m or more). I have not been all that impressed with the horns I have heard, but did not care because we have amplifiers in the hundreds of watts to power whatever we want. In this case, however, the sound was something else. The Air Pulse 3.1
, made by Platinum Audio, is as tall as a person, uses a split composite horn which is corner loaded. This gives low frequency output down to 20 Hz. There are low frequency drivers, mid-range driver, high frequency driver, and super high frequency driver. Harmonic distortion was very low, as manifest by the extremely loud playing levels demonstrated with no harshness (in excess of 100 dB). The price? $120,000/pair US.

Now to things somewhat more practical. Ever since the problem with Audio Alchemy (most of the people left), we have all been wondering what has happened since. It appears that many of them ended up at Camelot Technology. Howard Schilling joined his father Mel, who founded Camelot, and now they have introduced some new products, including a CD transport, jitter reduction device, DAC, and other goodies. Mark Schifter, who co-founded Audio Alchemy, and who is now at Genesis, wrote an open letter (published on the newsgroups and later will be in the printed trade) which stated that he supports and recommends Howard Schilling and others at Camelot.

OK, so what about Audio Alchemy? Many of us have AA equipment (we have a full AA CD system ourselves), and want to know who will repair them and update them. AA makes really nice products that have been recommended by all the audio magazines, including ours. It seems improbable that such a good company will just roll over and fold. This would be a tragic loss to everyone. The CES did not provide answers to these questions, but time will.

There were lots of tube amplifiers, including new stuff from Italy, China, and Mexico. For example, the Graaf GM-200 (from Italy), which is an OTL (output transformer-less) two channel power amp, rated at 200 watts rms/ch into 8 Ohms, has an MSRP of $12,500 US.
An OTL design does not have an output transformer, so there is nothing between the plates on the output tubes and the speakers except a short piece of internal wire, the banana plug jack, and speaker cable. Interestingly, as the impedance of the speakers drops, the output of the amp also drops . . . just the opposite of a conventional amplifier design. However, the sound is magnificent, as exemplified by the Graaf connected to electrostatic speakers in the exhibit. One of the amps from China was 25 watt monoblocks of pure Class A triode. They appeared to be very well built. The price of $4,000 is quite competitive for this quality of amplifier.

Lamm Audio Industries, of Brooklyn, New York, showed their M1.1 hybrid Pure Class A monoblocks (100 watts rms per channel into 8 Ohms). The input stage is tube, and the output stage is MOSFET (solid state).
This is not a new amplifier, but the sound was absolutely phenomenal, so I wanted to mention it. Of course, the price is steep for this quality of performance . . . $18,000 the pair.

Baltlines Audio is distributing some very nice looking speakers that are made in Latvia.
Apparently, the company made speakers for most of the (previously) Soviet Union, and now they are selling them in other parts of the world, including the USA. The prices are very competitive (e.g., $995 for a wood veneer-covered pair of floorstanders).

My vote for curiosity of the year goes to the SAL (Speaker Array Logic) Star-1 Speaker. It is is a spherical shaped enclosure with 32 speakers on each sphere (for a stereo pair), 12 of which are woofers and 20 are tweeters.
The speakers have a control unit (SAL DSP-1) from which inputs, equalizer, high pass filter, volume (SAL ATT-1), and other factors can be adjusted. Although it is quite strange to look at, it sounds very good. Unfortunately, the package is $35,000.

All in all, the 1997 CES was a great meeting, except for the cold front that moved in the last day. DVD and DTS are extremely promising. I can't wait to get my hands on these products, and I have this feeling that you can't either.

John Johnson

1997 WCES Report - January, 1997
By Stacey Spears
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Well, once again the CES has arrived, and along with it are some of the COOLEST toys yet! This year, the show was SPREAD way out; not only were companies exhibiting in the four listed convention centers/Hotels, they were also at just about every place else. New this year for the High-end audio was the Alexis Park. This was actually a nice change from the Sahara, and the fresh air was a nice welcome compared to the old place. Unfortunately, some high-end audio was also located at the Hilton, and numerous other places. Enough about the environment, lets get to the good stuff. Like the Hi-Fi 96 report, I am going to break it down by companies.

While everyone was showing their DVD players and other new equipment, there was a difference of how they were presented. The big Japanese and American corporations were very flashy (lots of bells and whistles). They hired actors and actresses to stand on stage and give their little speech of how good it is and what the features are, then played about 2 minutes of video which showed nothing. The high-end companies, on the other hand, had substance. They showed appropriate examples of how good the video can look and sound.

Snell & Wilcox

For the first time in who knows how long, the Faroudja WAS NOT providing the best picture at the show! Who was on first, besides Lou Costello? Snell and Wilcox that's who! No, it's not a line doubler, and it's not a line quadrupler either. It is an Interpolator, and its name is, "Interpolator." Actually there are two models, the Interpolator 1 and 2. What this machine does is determine what the best scanning rate is and then uses it. They call it the "Golden Scanning Rate." The reason they do this is because some projector doublers do not provide enough lines, and quadruplers might provide too many lines. The Interpolator places each line so that it touches the next, allowing the projector to work more efficiently and provide more light output. For the demo, they used a production model Toshiba DVD player with a sampler disc along with T2 on laserdisc. The DVD was AWESOME! Nowhere else in the show did DVD look that spectacular. The demo also included scenes from "Eraser", "Twister", and "Tin Cup". The laserdisc demo was from T2, and again LD has never looked this good. Joe Kane of the Imaging Science Foundation presented the demo. They were also mixing computer graphics with the video, and the resolution was 1280 x 1024. The text was crystal clear. There were no artifacts from the two mixed together . . . this is the best I have seen from video. The projector used was the $45,000 Vidikron.

Camelot

Well, Audio Alchemy was nowhere to be found at CES, but Camelot was. I mention this because some of the crew who left Audio Alchemy have found a home at Camelot. A few months ago I raved about the Audio Alchemy VRE, and now Camelot is introducing their version entitled Lancelot V1.0. The Lancelot has been designed by a former Alchemy VRE man, and he has re-written the software algorithms. They are claiming a major improvement. This product will retail for $499. There will not be a TBC or 3D filter that the VRE had planned, rather, the improvements are supposed to be better than any 3D filter could be (3D filters only work on a static image, and when motion is introduced it reverts back to a 2D filter.) Here is a list of coming attractions: The next product is the Lancelot PRO, which is their $1,000 line doubler. It will also provide S-Video outputs to improve standard NTSC. Neither product was on display, but as soon as I get my hands on them I will tell all, including a comparison with the VRE 1.0. Apparently, the doubler is supposed to interface with the Alchemy VRE as well. Lancelot AV Link is a microprocessor-activated audio/video control center. It has the ability to handle component video and will offer a plug-in comb filter. Arthur V1.2 is a low cost HDCD 20-bit D/A converter with I2S input. Uther V1.0 is their no-holds-barred D/A converter.
It has jitter reduction, HDCD, dual differential 20-bit DACs with I2S, and selectable dither. The display is HUGE, so you can see it from across the room with no problem! Excalibur Video is a powered S-Video cable which allows you to go long distances without signal loss. Camelot will have an updated Merlin, which is going to be one of the first high-end DVD machines, estimated cost to be under $2,000.

Faroudja

While Faroudja did not have the best picture at the show, their image quality was still nothing short of spectacular. They introduced several new products this year. I think the most exiting is their new VP 100 "TV Enhancer". This is the first product that has been introduced to help improve any TV rather than just data quality projectors. It is similar to the Alchemy VRE, and they have taken the comb filter out of their doubler and put it in a little black box. It also provides detail enhancement and color alignment. They had two Sony Rear Projections set up side by side, one with the VP 100 and one without. The colors on the processed TV looked crisp, but there was some ringing on the edges of the picture. This was probably because the prototype being displayed had a fixed detail enhancement. The final product will have 2 adjustable knobs on the front to vary the amount of detail and to align the color. The retail price is expected to be $699.00 and should be available in the Spring. I can't wait to put the VRE up against the Lancelot and Faroudja for a shootout.

Faroudja has also introduced their new laserdisc player (LD1000) and DVD (DV1000) player. These units are expected to cost $5,500 each. The LD player used the CLD-99's transport with some serious mods to fix the problems the CLD-99 has. The DVD uses Toshiba's transport, again with heavy mods to improve the performance. The DVD will provide "Component Video" outputs, and both units have reclocked digital outputs to reduce jitter.

In a side room Meridian had their new 800 Reference series on display. They are now in all black, much better looking than the gray shown in New York at Hi-Fi 96. These two pieces (800 CD Machine and 861 Surround Sound Processor) are state-of-the-art. Consisting of audio computers, they use plug-in cards in the back to add new features, and they are set up using a PC/laptop. Flash bios updates software, so when new software becomes available you just plug your PC into the serial port and push a button . . . viola, instant upgrade. The 861 has the same surround sound options as the 565 . . . all the same modes, AC3, DTS, MPEG, etc. They have the ability to support more than 8 channels, and the architecture allows for up to 64 channels. There are several option cards coming out, including balanced and unbalanced cards, broadcast grade video switching cards (Component, S-Video, Composite). There will also be a tuner card and Room EQ card in the future. The 800 CD Machine has a SCSI controller and an ATAPI controller card to support external CD changers with SCSI interfaces and internal IDE CD-ROM drives. The 800 series has their most advanced de-jittering technology to date. They use a RAM buffer to read the data off the CD-ROM, breaking the timing link between transport and data. The LCD display is now MUCH bigger, so you can clearly read it from a long distance. You also have the ability to change the contrast of the display.

Theta

This exhibit showed off the Casablanca, and they are offering Circle Surround which is a new matrix technology that is supposed to provide true stereo surround (from two channels of initial sound). Another new surround mode is the Spatializer Technology. This is supposed to provide you with a surround sound presentation using only two speakers. Theta did not have the Casablanca set up at the show with these two new modes, but they should be fitted soon. There will also be a new line doubler card for data and graphics grade projectors. Theta also has a new CD Transport and CD player. The Miles is Theta's first compact disc player. It will be offered with either single ended or fully differential balanced. The Pearl is their lowest cost transport to date, and which is based on the Pioneer stable platter.

SONY

SONY showed off their new high-end DVD player, the DVP-S7000 which is a reference quality DVD machine, offering component video outputs. It uses 10-bit D/A converters for improved picture quality.
The player is priced at $1,000 They want the public's first impression of DVD to be the best possible, so they will offer lower end models at a later time. SONY plans to release the player in April. They also have a DVD-ROM drive coming.

They are also releasing the SDP-EP9ES Dolby Digital AC-3 decoder. One of the features exclusive to this processor is their Digital Cinema Sound. This is supposed to replicate the architectural acoustics of SONY Pictures' sound studios. The processor is part of the ES line and is expected to retail for $800.

5.1/HDS

One of the cool/affordable new products at the show was the Millennium DTS decoder available from 5.1 (Brad Miller). This unit was built by MSB, and will retail for around $699. The unit is based on the Motorola 56009 DSP engine. It contains three 20-bit Delta Sigma DACs, and it has a phased lock loop for jitter reduction. It is fully software upgradeable, and has a proprietary re-equalization to tame the high frequencies on film soundtracks. The unit is very small, and it sounded wonderful. From everything I heard at the show, DTS is the best thing to happen to CD in a long time.

HDS had approximately 24 DTS CDs for sale at $20 apiece, or you could buy 6 for $100. I picked up Alan Parsons – "On Air", "Pavarotti and Friends – Modena 96 for War Child", and "DMP Big Band – Glenn Miller Project".

Other DVD players

Panasonic unveiled two DVD players, the DVD-A300 (Deluxe Model) and DVD-A100. The deluxe model has a built in Dolby Digital decoder, and it also supplies an S-Video out, dual audio/video outs, 6 AC-3 (5.1 channels) outs, an AC-3 digital out, and an AC-3 RF out. The A-100 has no Dolby Digital decoder, and only has one set of outputs. Neither model has the component video outputs (DSS and DVD are recorded with component video which is required for the highest possible picture quality).

Pioneer has two DVD players in their standard line, the DV-500 and DVL-700. The DVL-700 is a combi player, DVD/CD/LD. The unit has what Pioneer Calls, "Heads Up", a remote control and Graphical User Interface (GUI). There are onscreen menus which allow you to just "point-and-click." The unit has a Dolby Digital output (for DVD) and a RF AC-3 Output (for use with LD). The suggested retail is $999. The DV-500 is a dedicated DVD player which uses a new 9-bit Video D/A converter. It has both coaxial and optical digital outputs. The suggested retail is $599.

Yamaha will be introducing a DVD player this year called the DVD-1000 which will play DVD, Video CDs, and CDs. There has been no price announced at this time. They have also introduced the DDP-2 as the successor to the DDP-1 AC-3 decoder.
This new unit uses one Yamaha–developed IC for DD and another for Tri-Field Cinema DSP, which is supposed to enhance the Cinema experience. Suggested retail is $499.

Sherwood

Their Newcastle line has introduced a Dolby Digital/DTS receiver, the R-945. The unit is rated at 125 watts per channel in stereo, and 100 watts x 5 in surround mode. The unit has coaxial, optical, and RF inputs, and it uses two Motorola 56009 processors. This provides Pro-Logic, Dolby Digital, and DTS. The suggested retail for this is $1,299.

Rocktron has introduced their consumer Circle Surround decoder. This is a new super matrix process which has the ability to create true stereo surrounds in the rear along with stereo in the front, all from the original two channel stereo. There are three modes available: Surround Video, Surround Music, and Stereo. All of the trim controls are located on the front, and there is also a cinema contour to control the bright sound tracks (similar to re-equalization from THX).

RCA

RCA has two DVD players coming, the RC5200P, and RC5500P. The 5500 is their high-end unit, and it has a shuttle on the front as well as a built-in Dolby Digital decoder. Neither of these units offers component video outputs.

Imaging Science Foundation

Joe Kane and Joel Silver were constantly moving around the show. Everyday from 11:00 – 12:00 they could be found at the Faroudja booth, and on Sunday, Joe was showing Video Essentials on DVD. This was a test version that came in the night before. Joe showed some examples of how DVD "can" look better than LD. The biggest part is in the encoding process. If the studio does not spend the money to transfer the film, you could end up with a DVD that looks worse than VHS, but when done correctly it looks AWESOME!! Joe played the famous "Snell & Wilcox" bouncing ball test pattern on Video Essentials. First he showed it using the composite output, and then he switched to component. With the composite, the ball displayed the usual moire pattern. When component kicked in, the ball remained black and white. He also pointed out that by using the component input, you bypass the TV's chroma decoder (the part of the TV that breaks the S-Video/Composite signal down to component), which is deficient in about 99% of the TV's out there, and gives you what the studio created. It will now be even more important for the studio to properly transfer the films to disc.

Mirage

Upstairs in the convention center, Runco had a room with a double stack of 980 graphics grade projectors, and used the new Mirage OM-6 loudspeakers. Runco also had a prototype DLP projector (it looked like the technology is still not quite ready). With their Line Quadrupler, the picture was a little soft. The OM-6 is a floor-standing three-way Omnipolar loudspeaker with an internal 150 watt amp that powers two 8" subwoofers. There was a neat little product called the Transducer in the floor and some of the theater chairs for some added rumble. They played a clip from "The Shadow" (DTS) and some other material. The Mirage speakers just disappeared as the sound filled the room.

Martin Logan Ltd.

The return of the Statement is what ML was saying at the show. They had their demo set up at the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas, away from the rest of the show. The equipment consisted of their new Statement speakers as the left and right, their Logos as the Center, and the ReQuest as the surround channel speakers. The front end was Theta's Casablanca and LD Transport. Power was supplied by YBA, cables by Cardas, and video by DWIN. The demo started with some musical pieces, then followed by the Eagles on LD (Hotel California), then moved onto some film clips, one in DTS and the other in AC-3. The demo was rushed because there were so many people wanting to experience it. Each Statement had a large subwoofer tower with it, four individual 12" woofers stacked on top of each other. The ReQuest will retail around $4,500/pair. The Statement will start around $65,000/set.

RoomTune Inc.

Michael Green was showing off his new Variable Tuning pressure zone controllers. These were like his existing room tune products, except the front is a hard surface (tuning board) with a tuning bolt. Once you mount the pieces on the walls, you use a hex wrench and adjust the pitch and harmonics within your room. I have used the corner tunes and echo tunes for a couple of years now. I had to remove them once I moved in with my girl friend (the color of the pillows does not match our walls). With these new products I can paint the tuning board the same color as the walls and take control of my room once again. There are Mini-Corner tunes, Mini-Echo tunes, Floor Standing, and even strips that run across the corners of the room and look very nice. The strips do not have the tuning bolt but the other pieces do.

Stacey Spears

1997 WCES Report - January, 1997
By Colin Miller
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My first time at the big bad show of all shows, and the most salient of all qualifying statements I will make is, there's so much stuff I didn't see. I didn't see any of the DVD players, which may or may not make it to the market. I didn't view any super huge mongo screens that nobody but a Casino could find a practical application for, which flirts with the oxymoron genre itself. The show was so spread out in different buildings and complexes, I needed a camel to get from place to place, and I only had a finite span to wiggle between the rooms and booths. Arriving late Friday, a lounge singer, holding a depressed audience of one, set the mood at check in. I took the cue and went to sleep after thumbing through an amazingly thorough and colorful section of "Entertainers" via the yellow pages. Only in Las Vegas.

Aside from the monstrosity of what I didn't see, or see and hear, what I did bump into was well worth the trip, in ironic fashion. Levinson and Aerial Acoustics made an impressively refined statement dancing with the dinos of Jurassic, while Martin/Logan, or Gayle Sanders more exactly, stood proudly by some new Statements of his own, backed up by Theta Digital and YBA. Wadia, the prince of digital, earned positions in many rooms other than their own, including Thiel's, which sported a pair of their CS 6s escorted by an imposing Krell stage center. I never spoke to Mr. Thiel himself, but the rest of the room took notice when I gave them a worthy recording of Celtic Folk music to take the place of a dreadfully poor representation of Nashville merit. Sometimes I wonder if people pay attention to their listening material. In fact, I wonder if some pay attention to anything in their presentation at all.

Although I can conservatively say that all of the above sounded better than the average exhibit, I can also say without any fear of competent rebuttal that competence does not uniformly infiltrate the high-end of audio, or even predominate.

I was, however, impressed by a room occupied by Margules Audio. The technical explanations didn't wow me as definitive, but the system comprised of components that most could realistically own delivered a convincing and, more importantly, personally enjoyable performance. A skin drum sounded like a skin drum, not a generic boom-thud thingy, no squeaky emphasis or muddy artificial softness detracted the perceived detail of the sound, and with bona fide full-range response. Just a nice, easy to swallow, detailed balance.

In contrast, some tenants, to remain anonymous, boasted exorbitant price pedigrees, and absolutely awful sound. Between the rare occurrences of muzzled envy, pilfered off of individual components such as the new Classe digital processor/preamp/surround decoder, or Aragon Palladium II monoblock amps, many of the more pompous citizens of CES's High-End neighborhood left a pasty, bitter, abrasive taste, much like Ajax in a mushy mouth. I asked one exhibitor, "Is it supposed to sound like this?" As she poured water past the potted plant and down the front of the speaker, I exited in all haste.

Was I disappointed by the whole inconsistent mess? Straight ahead, back to Mother's rocking chair lap, high-five, toothless grin, No Way Man! Don't misunderstand. I like new improved toys just as much as the next tweak. I want my DVD too, but until it actually hits the market, there's a lot to be said for satisfaction. After this excursion, I've got a bit more of it at home, arguably where it belongs most. I wouldn't mind Palladium IIs, or a Wadia front end to top it off, but I'm happy where I am compared to what I might have been conned into for the price a small ranch.

Colin Miller


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