Pre-CES press events are notorious for emphasizing message over substance. Sony's message was "Transformation." Nevertheless everyone's favorite electronics giant and whipping boy had a few surprises in store at yesterday's big do, and the first was violinist (and Sony Classical recording artist) Joshua Bell in a huge display of virtuosity. It got CES off to a great start! Sorry about the picture. It hardly does justice to Sony's 1080p Bravia LCD display. What do you expect from a Panasonic camera being operated by a monkey?
The HD-capable Bravia Internet Video Link (pricing and availability TBA "within the next few months") will bring free a/v content to the majority of Sony's 2007 TV line, starting with Bravia LCDs. It is intertwined with content partnerships involving AOL, Yahoo, and of course Sony's own music and motion picture divisions.
The Sony Vaio WA1 Wireless Music Streamer ($350, availability TBA) looks like a boombox. A real smart boombox. It streams music from a PC via wireless home network or wireless P2P connection. Compatible file formats include MP3, AAC, unprotected WMA, and Sony's own massively popular ATRAC codec.
Most noise-cancelling products are either headphones or earbuds. But wouldn't it be nice to put the noise-cancellation circuit in the player? That's what Sony has done with some new Walkman MP3 players. Now you can enjoy the considerable benefit of noise cancellation while using any headphones or earbuds you fancy. Not your father's old cassette player.
Finally, the Pioneer EX series speakers mentioned in my Day 1 report (below) were producing some of the best sounds at the show—at the Alexis or anywhere else. Thew demo here was 2-channel only, using the big S-7EX floor-stander. I found very little to criticize in what I heard, but hope to get the chance to review these speakers very soon in a full mulichannel array. I'm not convinced that Pioneer's decision to market these speakers under their own name is a wise one. US audiophiles have never made a beeline for Japanese speakers (though many of them are now listening to Chinese ones!!). But the speakers are actually a hybrid of Japanese manufacturing, British design (from speaker designer Andrew Jones, who also designed the up market TAD speakers that use similar but not identical drivers) and French (cabinet) styling. If you're in the market for a $9000 pair of speakers, or a surround package built around them, they definitely deserve a listen. I'll have more to say in an upcoming review. .—TJN
Thiel's new 3.7 loudspeaker replaces the 3.6, a model that has been in the line for 13 years! The 3.7 (shown in prototype form only and not actively demonstrated) looks radically different, with its new cabinet design and cone material. Particularly interesting is the design of the coaxial midrange-tweeter driver. The ring-like midrange that surrounds the tweeter is ribbed for rigidity, and driven by a 3-inch voice coil at the center radius of the driver. Shipment is planned for early spring, at a price to be announced later. A new center channel will also be designed around the new coaxial driver, but is still some ways from completion. .—TJN
HSU Research is now shipping its new VTF-3HO flagship subwoofer. It may also be enhanced by the Turbo package, an outboard enclosure linked directly to the main sub to extend the port length. It is said to produce the output of two non-turbo VTF-3HOs. Po Ser Hsu had top of these puppies in the corners of a room about the size of two walk-in closets, and to say that the bass was powerful would be an understatement. It also sounded very deep; don't let anyone tell you that you can't do bass in a small room.—TJN
Conrad-Johnson has two new home theater components to go with its current CAS200 6-channel preamp. The latter offers no processing, but instead relies on the Dolby Digital and DTS processing in most DVD players. To go with this, an updated universal DVD player will be available both from C-J and McCormack (essentially the same player, but with different face plates). It's an extensive updating of the previous McCormack player, using premium parts, and will be called the Conrad-Johnson Edition of the McCormack UDP-1. The price will be $3995. There will also be a MET150 multi-channel power amp ($8500) in the spring, with 150Wpc into 8 ohms and single ended triodes used for voltage gain, with solid-state output stages.—TJN
Taking a break from speakers, I stopped in on Swedish manufacturer Bladelius. Designer Michael Bladelius worked on Threshold and Forte amps back in the early 1990s, and now has a complete line of amps, preamps, and home theater electronics bearing his name. They're beautifully done, all named after Norse legends, and all will induce sticker shock. The Grendel 5-channel power amp is priced at $9200. For that you get 350Wpc into 8 ohms and a switching power supply (a conventional supply will make the amp too heavy with that power output!). It's a modular design that may be configured many different ways (prices will vary with other configurations). The Enris pre-pro offers a front-panel widescreen display, HDMI switching, on-board video processing, balanced operation, and a price ranging from $15-$18K. It will ship in the spring.—TJN
The line of speakers from the Italian company Bolzano Villetri may not have been the best sounding at the show (though they may have had the must unique sound) but they were certainly the most unusual (obvious from the photos), and possibly the most gorgeous as well. Briefly, they consist of drivers firing upward and downward, in most cases two woofer-midranges and two small tweeters. The resulting sound fires out on all sides, for a (nearly) omnidirectional sound. The largest floorstander shown, the Great Torre, is priced at $9000. The slightly smaller Piazetta (love those names—sounds like a small pizza) goes for $6000 (its 6.5-inch woofers would likely be a good match for a subwoofer), and the short Cantora center is $3000. Also shown was a smaller line of speakers using similar technology in less complex enclosures (no prices available yet). But even those were beautiful.
Genesis Advanced Technologies had two major new introductions, plus new subs. The Genesis 3 employs midrange/tweeter line arrays in a dipole configuration, together with an on-board subwoofer. But the new, small F7.1p ($2950-$3250/pair, depending on finish) might be more home-theater friendly. I heard them in a 2-channel configuration, along with the new S2/8 sub ($TBD), and they sounded very honest and neutral. And while they could be used with a Genesis center, they are small enough that they could work nicely in all channels. A bit pricey, perhaps, but Genesis speakers have never been low-end designs. —TJN
Dali was featuring its flagship MegaLine driven by McIntosh components, and they sounded spectacular. But at $42,000/pair, they have to. In the real world, the new Dali IKON line offers a complete range of speakers, including center channels, surrounds and subwoofers. The large floor-standing IKON 6 ($1595/pair) sounded very promising. All the models employ a ribbon tweeter; most are 3- or 4-way designs (only the smallest center channel is 2-way).—TJN