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Report Wrap-Up

 

Below are final notes and photos from the writers who attended the show:

Brian Florian:

Topics which seemed prevalent this year were DVD-Audio, Pro-Logic II (DPL-II), and SACD. I sat down with Dolby's Brent Butterworth to discuss the first two.

Dolby's role in DVD-Audio is in the licensing of the MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing) encoding.

DVD-Audio (DVD-A) discs, which began to show up this last year, are in a new DVD format which requires a new DVD-Audio player. The discs contain up to 6 channels of high quality MLP audio with up to 24 bit words at up to 96 khz sampling rate (higher if you are only going with 2 channels). Almost every DVD manufacturer was either showing a DVD-A player, or at very least a prototype, including a bookshelf system from Panasonic. Though much of the material we listened to at the show conforms to the ubiquitous 5.1 channel layout (see diagram below, left), DVD-Audio permits all 6 channels to be full range. This has lead some studios, such as Chesky Records, to be experimental with their use. In particular, we heard some recordings at the Meridian booth that used the center and LFE channels as discrete 'side' channels. This layout is becoming known as 2+2+2 (see diagram below, right), where you have two speakers in front of you, two speakers behind, and two to the sides, preferably quite elevated. But while the Meridian system was able to digitally switch from 5.1 playback to 2+2+2 mode, most systems (in the short term at least) will be playing these titles in 5.1-compatible mode.

What is most promising about the DVD-Audio format is that it can have two 'zones', i.e., a DVD-Audio Zone and a DVD-Video Zone. The Video Zone is 100% compatible with the myriad of DVD-Video (DVD-V) players already out there. The reason this is so significant is that Dolby is encouraging the studios to include a Dolby Digital 5.1 copy of the album in the Video Zone. In so doing, people who have yet to purchase a DVD-Audio player can still enjoy the new 5.1 music mix, although without the MLP quality.

Dolby Pro-Logic II showed up in many products and will probably be in $300 receivers before long. While it does decode Dolby Stereo material better than its predecessor (regular Pro Logic), the real fire is in playing non-encoded stereo material.  Suddenly, your entire two-channel music CD collection can be enjoyed over the 5.1 speaker layout with what I found to be very satisfying results.  Vocals don't necessarily collapse to the center, and the surrounds provide engaging stereophonic envelopment. So interestingly enough, Pro-Logic II may be of more interest to music lovers as oppose to film buffs.

CES: A home decor show?

The other trend that seemed ubiquitous at the show is the drive to make home theatre components, especially speakers, more decor friendly. Ideas ranged from intelligent to outrageous with many simply finding a way to put a speaker in a cabinet or offering more variety in the finishes. One product that sticks out in my mind as being quite ingenious is Atlantic Technology's new in-wall subwoofers. These are not just big drivers mounted to your drywall. Rather, they are complete, sealed enclosures which just happen to be the right dimensions to fit inside a wall cavity between two of the wall studs (overall dimensions are about 90" x 14" x 3.5"), with each enclosure featuring two 8" drivers (wall studs are usually 18" center to center). As if that was not cool enough, Atlantic has included an outboard 350 watt per channel power amplifier that features current sensing feedback and parametric EQ to dial in the system. Add a remote control and you've got deep bass without any visible boxes, except of course the amplifier in your equipment stack. It will be available later this year in a one or two sub configuration, and THX Ultra certification for the latter is pending.

Most impressive

Ironically, the best video presentation I saw was not at a video display per-sé. It was the video system that was put together in the Meridian booth for demonstrating movie soundtracks. The video chain consisted of Meridian's 800 DVD player, digitally feeding a Snell and Wilcox G2 Interpolator via encrypted SDI. This in turn drove a massive Runco DTV1100 front projector. The result: Absolutely stunning film! Naturally, the associated audio was top shelf, and their presentations of said hardware were as good as one can hope to do in just a few minutes at a trade show. Highlighting the audio presentation was DVD-Audio being fed digitally to their processor via a proprietary encrypted link.

- Brian Florian -

John Kotches:

This was the first time I attended CES and the second show I've covered for Secrets. Because I live in the Midwest, I didn't have time to get all the photos loaded onto our site before I headed out to catch my flight back home. At the end of my wrap-up, I'll have more pictures and captions. 

Analog is alive and kicking

At both the Alexis Park (0fficial home of specialty audio) and T.H.E. Show, vinyl was spinning in many of the demos. Properly done, vinyl still sounds good. Particularly noteworthy were rigs running in the Neat/Exposure/Neuance and the Manley Labs/Coincident Speakers rooms. I couldn't tell you exactly how many turntables were available, but there were far more than I had anticipated. This makes a silver disc guy want to put together a black disk setup again. Sumiko had a static display of the Pro-ject turntable lineup as well. I'm sure there are plenty of others I'm missing, not by intent -- just because I was surprised by the availability of vinyl. 

Statement Speakers vs. Real World Speakers:

That's another popular item that seemed to abound. Off the top of my head were the Wisdom Audio Adrenaline Rushes, Dynaudio Evidences, Impact Airfoils, Avant Garde Trios, Neat Acoustics, and Krell. Seems like everybody has to have one (statement piece, i.e., very expensive), including companies that have typically focused on more affordable speakers, like RBH sound.

At the other end of the spectrum, there was a fair number of far more affordable speakers on display. The Wraith electrolytic speakers (ESLs without need for a power supply) ranging from $1,900 for Home Theater wall-mounts to $3,800 for their top of the line 6'x2' speaker. They were able to produce excellent sound using modest receivers and separates. Other (relatively) inexpensive gems included Eminent Technology's LFT-14R2 (under $4,000), and Final Electrostatics ($2,600/pair). PSB introduced a new intro line that will offer a glimpse of what the high-end can sound like at an affordable price for the average consumer. 

Analog Brutes vs. Digital amplifiers:

Speaking of statement products, what's up with these brutish multi-channel amplifiers? I saw several that tipped the scales at well over 100 pounds. There were also several mono amplifiers in that category. The real trend to watch is digital amplifiers. Several examples were there, and the ones I heard sounded uniformly excellent. Those were the Bel Canto EVO 200.4 and 200.6, and the Pulsur Technologies amplifier (they were a neighbor of ours at the show). Pulsur will probably not be marketing under this name in the US, but rather acting as an OEM supplier of parts for digital amplifiers. Also on display but not heard by me were Spectron and Tact Audio Digital Amplifiers. One great feature of digital amplifiers is their very high efficiency, exceeding 90%. No longer will you need to draw 50 watts to output 25; it will be more like 30.

Once the content providers, i.e., Record Companies and Movie Companies, get their act together, I can see a time when the reproduction chain remains digital all the way to the loudspeaker. With DSP and a digital amplifier in the speaker, each speaker could be corrected for in-room response prior to amplification. While this may be several years out, such a day will arrive. Meridian is pretty close, but in the end they are using conventional amplifiers to drive their digital active loudspeakers. I get the feeling in a couple of years, they'll be changed over to digital amplifiers as well. Some subwoofer amps have already moved over to digital, and the car stereo market also seems to have a number of them.

Multi-Channel Music is here to stay:

With Home Theater the rage of the consumer electronics industry, and DVD-A and SACD players hitting the $400 price point, Multi-Channel music is with us for good. Regardless of whether we're talking SACD or DVD-Audio, people will want to use all their speakers as much as possible! You've likely heard poor presentations of multi-channel music; I know I have. On the other hand, if you throw away your biases and listen, the sound can be quite enveloping. I've heard details in multi-channel music that I had not previously heard in stereo. The problem is perspective. Most multi-channel mixes put you right in the middle of the action, with instruments and voices all around.

One of the most convincing multi-channel recordings I heard at CES was provided in the SLR loudspeakers room. They were playing a new DMP SACD multi-channel disc, by a favorite of mine - the Bob Mintzer Big Band. The whole band was presented across the front, with the surrounds used only to provide a sense of room ambience.

Another convincing multi-channel demonstration was of a symphonic recording with antiphonal chorus. I think it was Beethoven's 9th symphony, 4th movement, and it was in the Panasonic/Technics DVD-Audio demonstration.

I also brought along some of my own DVD-Audio discs for an upcoming review, and got nice immersion in EAD's room, even if it was a tad too small for the speakers and amplification they were running.

More photos

Side by side, shown below, left, are two complete racks of Rega gear. The left side is topped off with the Planar 9 turntable and the redesigned Jupiter CD player, which  is now an integrated CD player. The right side is topped with the  redesigned Planar 3, now called the P3 along with the Planet 2000.

Eminent Technology is about ready to unleash the diminutive LFT-14R2 on the world, shown above, right. These push-pull Planar Magnetic speakers are able to deliver roughly 40 Hz - 20 kHz from a panel that is about 28" x 13". Retail price is expected to be under $4,000.

EAD (below, left) continues their push into the DVD arena with the soon to be released Ultra Progressive Scan DVD and DVD-Audio player. As usual, the silver  finish is much more attractive than can be captured in a poorly lit room with a camera. The player has an internal volume control, so it can directly drive an amplifier in a single component system.

Greybeard and Atma-Sphere had a shared presentation. Pictured (above, right) are the Greybeard Model 2W, Atma-Sphere MA-1 Mk II amplifier and MP-3  preamplifier. While the 2Ws are not the last word in bass reproduction, the system itself had a balanced, clean sound.

Earlier we showed you the Manley Neo-Classic 300B amplifiers. Shown below, left, is a  complete system context. Included in the shot are the Coincident Total  Eclipse and Eclipse loudspeakers, the new Manley Steelhead phono stage (1mm, 2mc inputs and fully tweakable to get the last bit of performance from your cartridge) and the Manley Wave DAC/preamplifier.

Paradigm has made upgrades to their subwoofer line (above, right), incorporating new "seismic" drivers with massive voice coils and 3" excursions along with improved Class D amplifiers and servo feedback on two of the models.

Shown below, left, side by side are the Quad 988 and 989 electrostatic speakers --- followers to the Quad ESL (57) and Quad 63. Pricing is said to be $6,000 and $8,000 respectively. This was a static demonstration only at T.H.E. Show, so I am unable to report on their sonics. Private listening sessions were available, but time ran out before I could give them a listen.

This shot (above, right) shows the massive transformers (4) and capacitor banks (6) as well as the striking faceplate on the Jeff Rowland MC-6 power amplifier. As with other behemoth Home Theater amps, you are advised to use two (or more) people to move this giant around.



Samsung released a variety of new HDTV (has tuner built-in) and HDTV-ready (you have to buy an outboard tuner) sets, shown above. Their newest introductions were both Flat Panel conventional CRT and RPTV sets. The two top of the line RPTVs are supposed to contain satellite receivers (Dish and DirecTV) as well as over-the-air HDTV reception. They are true HDTVs as opposed to the ever confusing HDTV-ready or HDTV-compatible monitors that require some type of set top tuner box.

- John Kotches -

Paul Knutson:

Time truly is our most precious resource.  I ran out of it at CES and unfortunately had to leave early Monday morning.  Two additional days of visiting, listening, and learning would have been great, because the two days I did spend there were a blast.

The vibe at CES 2001 was similar to what you feel during your first day of school.  Remember back that far?  The stage is being set for the upcoming year, and the companies I visited with are feeling equal parts excitement and anxiety.  The cause of the excitement is obvious, but why the anxiety?  Well, the raucous bull market seems to have ended, and the bears are out of their nearly decade-long hibernation.  With less discretionary income floating around, consumer spending will be more cautious.  It may be that the consumer electronics industry, and more specifically high end audio, feels the brunt.  But there is so much amazing, cutting-edge (and affordable) high performance audio gear coming out this year, that I’m predicting a great year for the high end, bear market be damned. 

As the newly anointed Editor of Tube Equipment for Secrets, I try to spend the majority of my time visiting with companies that manufacture gear that falls into my realm.  One of the things I love about CES is that business gets done there.  The business to which I refer takes many forms, but in our case, it’s arranging equipment reviews for the upcoming year.  Along those lines, CES was a major success.  I won't go through a laundry list of what’s on tap for review this year, because I don’t want to jump the gun until shipping details are worked out and the gear is actually received.  Rest assured, however, that I’ve got lots of intriguing stuff in store – tube amps, preamps, high-efficiency speakers, DACs and more.  You are going to love reading about it all. 

Because of my truncated visit, I didn’t have the opportunity to hear all the demo rooms, so it wouldn’t be fair to identify an overall Best of Show.  Besides, show conditions, as alluded to by other Secrets writers, are typically less than ideal for critical listening.  I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention a couple of the demo rooms I heard that simply blew me away. 

The ever-gracious Tash Goka, the North American distributor of Divergent Technologies, played a pair of high-efficiency Reference 3A MM deCapo monitor speakers with the Antique Sound Lab MG SI-15DT ($699) tube integrated amp.  The front-end was a modified Pioneer player that I need to learn more about.  Talk about musical, dynamic, balanced sound – I was astounded at what I heard from this modestly priced combination of equipment.  Joseph Lau of Antique Sound Lab was also on hand to respond to technical questions about this exceedingly exciting lineup of affordable tube gear.  If all goes as planned, we will have lots to tell you about these products in 2001. 

Vince Christian, Ltd. speakers and Birdland Audio teamed-up for a room that proved to be absolute ear candy for me.  The VC E6 Studio Deluxe speakers ($3,500) and B12WP ($2,500) bass module threw a marvelous soundstage with lifelike transients and tremendous coherency.  Could it be the use of a series crossover?  Perhaps that’s part of the magic.  I’ve heard similar things from other series-crossover speakers before.  The speakers were powered by a prototype 35 wpc amp from Birdland Audio (hopefully this prototype becomes reality at some point) and their Odeon Lite DAC.  Positively a treat. 

One tube amplifier manufacturer that you are going to hear a lot more about in the near future is deHavilland.  They played their new Aries-845 monoblock amps with Buggtussel speakers, and man, was it ever impressive!  Kara Chafee has designed a potential groundbreaker with the Aries-845 – we plan to cover this amp in detail for you soon. 

Space and word limits prohibit me from going on and on about other rooms I enjoyed.  But I’ve just gotta’ list some manufacturers that, based on what I heard, are worthy of your time and effort to keep an eye out for what they have on tap in 2001: Joule Electra, Loth-X, Silverline Audio, Manley Labs, Merlin, Wavelength Audio and more. 

CES was great kickoff to the year in high-end audio, now stay tuned for a fun 2001.

- Paul Knutson -

Colin Miller:

There didn't seem to be a whole lot of the spanking new. Most of the encouraging things that I saw were a maturation of previously introduced technologies, such as better Plasma and DLP displays, the gradual delivery of promises past, such as DVD-A material and SACD players, and a very slight shift in the industry away from the status quo.

For instance, Runco showed a plasma panel with a reasonable (in my opinion) black level, something plasma screen notoriously suffer with. Sony's Grand Wega LCD rear projection televisions could display a real 720p HD signal, a difficult task for CRT-based rear projection TVs, without any need for constant convergence. Even the not quite astronomically expensive and physically small Yamaha DLP projector looked FAR better than what was available just a few years ago for the same price.

Video isn't offering so much that's very new, yet, but it's improving at a good clip. As much as good CRTs were the best you could get in terms of image quality a year ago, I think they might be buried within the next couple years. Some day, I might even be able to afford some of the better light toys.

On the audio side, the biggest controversy appears to be the competition of SACD vs. DVD-A. There seems to be a bit of misinformation flying around about the inherent superiority of one vs. another as a playback format. I've heard examples of both, and in terms of raw sound quality, I don't have any problems with either. The sound quality of one MAY be superior if anyone would do a back to back comparison, matched within a 1/10th of a dB, in a suitable environment (no, a noisy trade show is nowhere near a suitable environment for a serious evaluation). Still, 99% of recorded material will be hindered most by the recording and mixing processes. What I'm really interested in is the possibility to intelligently exploit additional channels for the purpose of more realistic sound field presentation. I mean the whole beet, not just center stage. Or, at least perhaps open up the potential for somewhat tasteful artistic use of that potential. The vast majority of multi-channel music released in lossy formats, so far, has fallen very short of that goal.

In the end, market forces will decide which of the two falls to the wayside (maybe even both of them, perhaps neither). However, in my opinion, or at least if I was forced to bet, DVD-A looks to have an advantage in logistics, not only due to the marketing tide of DVD itself, but because of being backwards compatible with existing DVD players with full 5.1 via either DD or DTS. On top of that, the option of MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing) provides not only lossless compression for DVD-A and far easier methods of subsequent DSP (because of the use of PCM) for common surround processor functions. And, MLP remains an open architecture for future flags or other metadata that may prove useful for expanding the functionality of music reproduction. A case in point is Chesky's use of "6.0" vs. the traditional "5.1," where a flag encoded in the MLP data can alert the processor to route channels traditionally used for the center and LFE to left and right "height" (on the sides) channels instead, better rending ambient information.

JJ mentioned that perhaps players will simply evolve to support both, such as receivers do with DTS and DD. We'll see if he's right. Digital in general is coming of age. Encrypted digital video has opened the potential a bit wider for video processing. The quality of digital audio is getting good to the point of awesome. In fact, the most significant future advances in digital audio may not be higher resolution than either DVD-A or SACD, or the impractical use of more channels, but rather the application of DSP to correct the inherent flaws of loudspeakers. Peter Madnick of Perpetual Technologies seemed very excited about the potential of this area, but realistic about the acceptance of something genuinely innovative. Ironically, in this case, it may take the public, and loudspeaker manufacturers, more time to recognize the advantages of the technology, than the time to develop it. An early version is already here, and a few members of the old guard are reluctant to embrace it. Perhaps we can do something about that. We'll try.

Digital is also bringing about a greater number, and refinement of, digital power amplifiers. I don't know that a digital amplifier is going to be necessarily better than a conventional one. Like most things, I think the results will depend more with the intelligence with which the technology was implemented than the specific technology itself. Regular analog amplifiers, unlike loudspeakers, do a pretty darn good job if they're designed well. However, if the emergence of digital amps can eventually result in less expensive, lighter, and smaller products of the same quality, or an alternative to eliminate extra components (like D/A conversion at the amplifier) by all means, please continue.

Saw a lot of products for future reviews. I'll be following up with Swans, Outlaw Audio, M&K, Meridian, RBH, Panja Control Systems, Mondial, Paradigm, and perhaps even explore that loudspeaker correction front with Perpetual. Not to imply that these companies have an exclusive on good value or performance, only that they offer products that intrigue my own personal interest, my own agenda in audio/video psycho-therapy.

Probably one of the most interesting things at the show, to me, was us. Oh, I don't mean the encouraging words that people were kind enough to lay on us for Stacey, Brian, and Don's exhaustive work on the Progressive DVD shootout, which I will admit, was nice to be remotely associated with. Nor am I referring to the reluctantly increasing acceptance of our publication by the "big kids" in the industry. I mean more so the display of different perspectives and personal agendas between members of our own group. All of us had a pretty definitive view of what is and what should be. Rarely did that coincide much more than it differed. That may play out to be a great advantage, strengthening the sum of what we can offer, perhaps saving us as individuals from the smugness of our own truths. I'm optimistic. If not, at least it provided a means to poke a bit of fun at each other, which kept things interesting.

All in all, my vacation was well-spent. Back to work.

- Colin Miller -

John Johnson:

Although there was no major new technology presented at this year's CES, most manufacturers were showing products that incorporate the technology that already has been developed in the last few years, such as DVD-A and HDTV. To me, that's a good thing. It means the products are finally catching up to the available technology, and consumers will be able to get them at good prices. Fujutsu told me they think plasma screen technology will max out at around 100" sized screens. That is more than 8 feet. If it happens, and the screens are less than $10,000, and the image quality continues to improve, the industry can count on most people wanting one over a conventional rear screen projection TV. Digital amplifiers are really coming out now. I see their use not only in high-performance audio, but in the mass market industry, where the existing sized power supplies would be able to give us much more power at the speaker because the digital circuits are so efficient.

As to DVD-A and SACD, Sony is now releasing a multi-channel version of SACD. They should have done this in the first place. Although the two formats are extremely competitive with one another, I think the only real course is to allow DVD player manufacturers to incorporate both formats into their decoding chips, just as DD and DTS are now. Then each faction can release their music, and consumers would buy both types of music. If they continue to fight each other, well . . .  let's put it this way: would you buy two players just so you could play both formats? Me either. On the other hand, we may all just have to go to someone like MSB Technology, who is already making upgrade boards you can have installed into your DVD player that will then output 24/96 DVD-A in digital form, which you can then feed to an outboard DAC. The big consortiums won't allow the player manufacturers to put a board like this in at the factory, but with MSB, you are essentially hiring them to do this for you. The upgrade card is $599 installed. Here is a picture of it (below). It uses Cat 5 output jacks (like the ones we use for network cards in our PCs). This is because standard SPDIF jacks (such as RCA jacks) won't handle the high frequencies needed with 24/96 and 24/192 digital bitstreams. You can see the three Cat 5 jacks on the bottom of the card. If MSB or other companies can supply us with the necessary upgrade, which may include a change in the actual drive mechanism, that will allow us to play DVD-A and SACD on one player, for $1,000, I imagine many of us would place the order.

Denon is licensing those wonderful animated graphics that Brian Florian (Secrets Editor, CANADA) designed for one of our DVD Benchmark articles. They want to use the graphics for teaching courses to their dealers about DVD player functions. Denon is also joining Secrets as a sponsor.

ButtKicker, whose product we reviewed last year, had a booth 4 times the size that they had at CES 2000. There were so many people there, I could hardly get into their booth. They have some major players negotiating for licensing their technology, which includes such things as a 26" subwoofer, driven by the 3 pound cylinder in their ButtKicker shaker. The intensity of this large subwoofer was almost shaking the entire auditorium. In fact, it was so loud, I figured this company is developing killer products, so I asked them to join us as a sponsor. They agreed, and their logo is on our pages now.

We had several venture capitalists come by the booth and offer financial support to develop new sections in Secrets. I can't tell you about them right now, of course, but will let you know as they are firmed up. We even had a vice president of one of the major TV networks make a point of introducing himself to us, so our little journal is moving up to new plateaus right on schedule.

- John Johnson -

Stacey Spears:

A new year is upon us and another CES has gone by. What was the highlight of the 2001 CES for me? I think it was probably the Krispy Kreme doughnuts located in the Excalibur hotel across from the NYNY where we were staying. The NYNY actually had a small Krispy Kreme located upstairs, but the doughnuts were brought over from across the street. Anyone who is familiar with Krispy Kreme knows you must get them fresh off the conveyer belt, and they simply melt in your mouth.

For the non-doughnutophiles, there were plenty of electronics on display at the LVCC, HCC, Alexis Park, and St. Tropez. What was the theme of this years show? I honestly don't know. Many of the larger companies were showing portable music on MP3s and new memory cards that could hold 256 MB of data for these devices. Pioneer was showing a new car deck that had a hard drive built-in. You simply insert a CD and the deck will rip it, convert to MP3, and store it on the hard drive. How cool is that?

This year Meridian was announcing their upgrade plans for the 800 series. The upgrade is expected around the 2nd quarter of this year. Both the 800 and 861 will get upgraded at the same time. The 861 will get a new digital input card for DVD-A called the IE96. The 861 will also get new DSPs that will add a tremendous amount of horsepower for future work. The current DSPs in the Meridian products are nearly 7 years old. Even though they are old, Meridian has managed to squeeze out one more format before the DSP upgrade, and that is Dolby Pro Logic II. DPL II should be available on the net shortly, for free. Meridian was the first company to have DPL II approved by Dolby. The 800 will get a new MPEG decoder card and a new digital output card for DVD-A called the OE96. The IE96 and OE96 will be equipped with a 15-pin VGA style connector. Meridian is calling this MMHR or Multi-channel Meridian High Resolution. The new MPEG card will also add DTS support for those 800 owners who do not have it. Meridian is rewarding current 800 series owners by offering the upgrade at a lower cost than if you were to purchase the system new after this upgrade has occurred.

Meridian had their new 588 CD player sitting quietly off to the side. This new CD player is a replacement for the 508 CD player. It is based on 800 series technology, and it uses a CD-ROM drive w/ FIFO buffers.

In their demo, Meridian played some up-sampled MP3s running at 320 KB. They also played some DVD-A. One of the discs played was from Chesky who was using a new speaker layout, and the 861 could play it back correctly.

Arcam, another British company, had their new progressive DVD player on display. This DVD player is also built from the ground up and will feature the Silicon Image SiI503 engine like the Camelot Roundtable. They said that their current DVD player will be upgradeable to progressive DVD and both will be upgradeable to DVD-A. This is exciting news!

Denon also had a new progressive DVD player on display that was using the SiI503 engine. However unlike everyone else, the Denon will retail for $799! This may truly be a break-through product that sets the standard for all DVD players under $2,000! The DV-2800 uses a ROM drive and has the fastest layer change I have seen. I clocked it, using WHQL, at 0.25 seconds. Along with playing DVDs, it will also play MP3s. This may turn out to be a much less expensive alternative to the Roundtable.

Runco had their usual press conference at The Beach. It's a club located across the street from the LVCC. They were again showing off their video processors. This year they displayed a 72" rear projection TV that was using a 1280x720 DLP chip. They also showed a couple of new single-chip DLPs that were using an anamorphic lens. This $3k accessory allows you to use the full panel of a 4:3 chip for anamorphic movies. For 4:3 movies, their scaler will resize and add black bars to the sides. They also showed two 3-chip DLPs projecting onto a Stewart Gray Hawk screen. This gray screen is supposed to offer improved blacks over a traditional white screen. One of the 3-chip projectors was fitted with an anamorphic lens too. The 3-chip lens is a $30k add-on.

Perpetual Technologies had their new P-5A on display along with a DPC 200 power regenerator. The DPC 200 will supply 200 watts of clean power for $299! It uses a balanced digital amplifier based on PWM technology. The P-5A is a P-1A and P-3A all in one chassis. Actually it is more like 2 P-3As because the DACs are in a differential (balanced) design. They also had their speaker correction on display. They had two systems setup in the same room. First was the B&W 802s with a Classe amplifier being fed by two ExactPower units, and the P-5A. The next system consisted of a pair of Diva speakers plugged into a P-1A and P-3A being driven by an Outlaw Audio receiver. Both speakers were being corrected by the Perpetual gear. For those B&W owners who think your speakers are perfect, you are in for a surprise when you hear how good they "can" sound. Perpetual had a full blown Swan theater system running with an Outlaw Audio receiver, and it too was impressive. The demonstrated Swan speaker system is going to retail for $2k, which should please a lot of people.

PS Audio had their Ultimate Outlet and Video Lens sitting out for people to see. The Video Lens is a two-way transcoder for video. It will convert Y'Pb'Pr' to RGB and visa versa. It also has a built-in powered cable solution which will correct YC delays in S-Video. It is said to retail for around $1,699. The Ultimate Outlet is designed to replace your current outlet. It uses a balanced transformer which is supposed to lower impedance by a factor of 3. It is also has a 2-way brick wall filter for bad AC. It will retail for $299.

Theta was showing off their new monoblock amplifier, the Citadel. It is a 400-watt, fully balanced zero-feedback amplifier that is based on the same technology as the Dreadnaught amplifier. They also announced that the 5-channel Dreadnaught could be upgraded to 10-channels. At 5-channels you get 200wpc, at 10-channels you get 100wpc. They had full surround system on display that included sides and a rear center speaker. This was all being controlled by the Casablanca II. Video was being sent from the SDI digital video output of a Theta David II to a digital display device. Theta calls the SDI output 4:2:2 digital video. Wilson speakers were being used in their demonstration.

Silicon Image had a small display hidden away in the LVCC, showing their new iScan Pro. This is the latest external de-interlacer (line doubler), and it not only accepts component inputs, but it also has front panel controls. They were also showing DVI  video to digital display devices. They had some modified DVD players feeding the display just to show you what can be done.

- Stacey Spears -

Jason Serinus:

When I attended my first CES over a year ago, I arrived with the naïve notion that by playing something from my favorite stack of demo CDs, I would get a decent sense of how a chain of equipment sounded. I did not understand that CES exists far more for marketing to dealers and distributors than demonstrating to reviewers and consumers. Talk, product, and business agreements reign supreme at CES; listening is secondary. No wonder that some manufacturers don’t even bother to play music, while others use it mainly as background for wheeling and dealing. 

When I wrote my CES 2000 show report for a different magazine, I actually critiqued the sound in many of the rooms I visited. I named names, and there were lots of negatives. My esteemed editor cut most of my critical comments, assuring me that, under the difficult Alexis Park/St. Tropez conditions of small rooms and minimal set-up time, the disturbing things I heard were not necessarily indicative of anything more than a manufacturer’s lack of time and sleep. 

This year, I found his attitude correct. I left both my CDs and my expectations of hours of uninterrupted, blissful listening back home in Oakland. Instead, I arrived determined to visit key manufacturers with whom I wished to make contact, and acquire equipment for a year of reviewing. I especially focused on speakers and amplifiers, because these are the two items in my system that I wish to eventually upgrade. I talked over music like the rest of them, listening only in small snatches. I knew that it would be rare indeed to hear sound the equal of what one could achieve with sufficient break-in and set-up at home.

Many of the rooms I visited exhibited a smooth, somewhat shiny sound, almost as if all the instruments had been coated with either Mylar® or some thin viscous plastic. It was a very seductive sound, but it was certainly a case of “Mirror, mirror on the wall, where’s the real music in this hall?” Perhaps it was sound the designers sought after, but it sure didn’t seem natural to me. As the days passed, I found myself longing for the sound of my extremely neutral Pass Aleph 5. Though the Pass’ bad impedance match with my preamp only compounds its dearth of brilliant highs and deep bass, my Aleph 5 has long been pardoned because its extremely relaxed neutrality lets me sink into the “ah” of music. 

One set of speakers which I will definitely be reviewing, and which four reviewers have now bought as their reference, didn’t sound great at all on the first day at the CES. Neither did the new reference amp/preamp combo for a highly-trusted reviewer. Fabled electronics sounded, well, electronic. Another amp/preamp chain that I will be reviewing before long sounded very different than when connected chez Serinus, leaving me cringing at the resonance on a soprano’s high notes. Most disappointing of all was a highly lauded, new iteration of a fabled set of speakers . . . speakers which have, at one time or another, served as references for countless reviewers. Many of my colleagues are now singing the praises of this new edition, and I have no reason to question either their hearing or their integrity. Nevertheless, these speakers (which I hope to review), when displayed in front of a huge mirror and connected with inferior cabling, emitted highs which grated the ear far more than those from many a $29.95 clock radio. As for the bass, it made my Pass sound like a Krell. 

But I know better than to judge equipment by what I heard at the show. Reviewing is about taking all the time necessary to fully appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of a component, and to convey that to the listener. This I plan to do for you in the coming year. 

Most impressive were the warmth and excitement of various designers and manufacturers. Bill Low of Audioquest graciously gave me a ride to the Golden Nugget, and shared his philosophy about the future of two-channel sound and the high-end in general. Caelin Gabriel was just plain super, as was Michael from Talon. (I write this not yet unpacked, with cards and names buried under piles of review CDs.) It was great to meet Steve McCormack, and to sense him understand and connect with where I’m coming from, and where my heart is, as a music lover. Robert Stein and Steve from the Cable Company were great, and the fabled Bob Cohen somehow managed to survive even more questions from yours truly. The bright-eyed Paul McGowan was on a much-deserved roll once again. The owner of NHT sat next to me on my plane ride home, and offered to show my around his facility in Benicia. Finally, the great and generous Mark Schifter proved himself, once again, the great Mark Schifter of Perpetual Technologies.

Sonically, the most impressive demo I heard was Perpetual Technologies’ comparison of the B&W Nautilus 802s with and without P-1A speaker correction. The 802 is a fine speaker to begin with – I’m hoping to review a pair – but it sounds even better with correction. Most striking were the increase in depth and veracity, with images sounding far more rounded and natural, and the air around them sounding far more like what would encounter “in the hall.” I very much look forward to applying Perpetual Technologies’ speaker correction technology to my present and future speakers, just as I look forward to the eventual issue of their P-5A, one-piece DAC that interpolates and upsamples to 24/192, plus offering all the features of the current P-1A.

Update on Experiences with the PS Audio P300 Power Plant

It happened again. For the second time in three months, at least one of my tubes burned out in my Bruce Moore Companion III preamp. This time, whenever the preamp had been cooking for awhile, the left channel almost totally disappeared. 

What could be causing such rapid tube deterioration, I wondered? When I mentioned the problem to our own Stacey Spears, he told me he had discovered that, with certain MultiWave settings, output voltages reached 130 or above. Since most U.S. equipment is made to operate with no more than 120 volts, we speculated that excessive voltage might well have contributed to premature tube failure. 

While at CES, I raised the voltage issue with Paul McGowan. Paul told me that voltage output of the MultiWave-equipped Power Plant is adjustable once one is in voltage mode. On my P600, the voltage mode is the second of the three mode settings available by toggling the right “Mode” button on the front panel. The first position allows selection of the MultiWave combination, the second the voltage. The third provides a highly inaccurate display of the amount of watts equipment connected to it consumed – the actually amount is far greater – and the fourth dims the front panel. Depressing the button once more returns you to the MultiWave selection mode. 

Unfortunately, the displayed voltage number, which is set at the factory to 117, is not the voltage the Power Plant outputs in any other than Sin mode. Voltage output varies greatly depending upon the chosen MultiWave setting. In the MultiWave PS2 setting, for example, a Power Plant front panel which displays 117 in voltage mode is actually outputting 130 volts! Once in voltage mode, voltage output must be adjusted by hand in order to keep it within  safe limits. None of this information is supplied by PS Audio in its literature. 

It just so happens that, when I set the Power Plant to optimal SS1 MultiWave mode, the power supply in my Theta DAC emits a low whirring sound. When not listening to music, I had begun setting the Power Plant to PS2 mode, which does not cause whirring. Unfortunately, this was resulting in an output of 130 volts to my preamp’s tubes. No wonder the tubes were burning out! 

When I asked Paul McGowan what I should do, he replied, “Have Stacey Spears go through each MultiWave setting and measure the voltage output for you. Once you set the correct voltage for the MultiWave setting you’re using, things should work fine.” 

Less than 48 hours after returning from CES, Stacey completed his measurements. This information follows. I encourage you to share his findings with all MultiWave users by sending them the URL for this page.

Voltage settings for the MultiWave Power Plant

Mode  FP117       115            117            120

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Sin      116            116            117            120

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SS1    121            111            113            116

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PS2    130            103            105            108

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SS3    122            111            112            115

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SF4     116           116            118            119

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SSS    130           104            106            109

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SS6    130            104            105            108

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SF7     116           116            118            120

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SF8     116           116            118            120

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SF9     116           116            118            120

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The first column lists all the possible MultiWave settings plus the basic default Sin, which deactivates MultiWave. The second column shows the actual default voltage of the P600 when the front panel’s voltage mode setting displays 117. The next three columns are the values you need to set on the front panel to actually get the Power Plant to output 115, 117, or 120 volts.

I heard SACD demos both at the Sony SACD Pavilion at the San Tropez, and at the Philips booth in the Convention Center. Both were impressive. But even though Sony offered a large space, filled with five B&W 801s connected to expensive electronics, the Philips  comparison between two-channel CD and two-channel SACD proved most  revealing. Certainly I would expect SACD to sound worlds better than 16/44.1 discs played through a $2,000 Philips player equipped to reproduce standard as well as SACD two-channel formats plus SACD  multi-channel. Nonetheless, the SACD formats allowed me, in a far  less-than-high-end set-up, in a space surrounded by convention noise, to reach deeply into the soul of the music at hand. There can be no greater reward than to touch the heart of beautiful music.

In Conclusion

I found myself quite impressed with the energy of John, Susan, and Cynthia Johnson, and the rest of the Secrets staff. Most of the staff are from a later generation than John and yours truly, and approach music, and life in general, in a different manner. The majority of our writers are soft spoken and self-effacing, drawing virtually no attention to the fact that they are highly respected, if not acknowledged as geniuses, in their fields. While I may not join them in the “ButtKicker” seat, or find myself involved in the details of their worlds, I have fast grown to respect them as individuals of capacity and integrity. We have a fine crew here, one that will serve you well in the years ahead.

- Jason Serinus -


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