THX had a lot to talk about. Tascam is a new brand among THX-certified receivers with the PA-R200, shipping in January for $1299. It is THX Select2 certified. The German manufacturer Teufell has earned THX Multimedia certification for the G850 satellite/subwoofer set, including a dual six-inch sub said to reach down to 35Hz. It ships in February or March at a price to be determined. The first THX-certified (for video) 4K display is the Sharp LC60HQ10, a Japan-only model. Finally, a pair of A/B demos showed the fruit of THX's collaboration with Sontia on a means of correcting acoustic defects in loudspeakers, as opposed to room correction or other forms of DSP magic. With satellite speakers the SPT Optimized version had noticeably greater bass extension. With monitors, there was better focused soundstaging and more detail, though also more brightness, that last part not necessarily an improvement. Initial applications would include soundbars and other products where speakers are matched with amps.
There weren't many surround receivers on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center, but Sherwood was a hardy exception, showing a half-dozen new ones shipping between April and May. The top-line model is the R-977 with a rated 145 watts times seven into six ohms. It features Anchor Bay video processing, internet radio with vTuner, DLNA, direct USB connection of iOS devices, and a phono input. Perhaps more interesting is what's missing: Sherwood is no longer the lone receiver brand supporting innovative Trinnov room correction, a prominent feature of the old (and more costly) R-972. Instead it is relying on the proprietary SNAP room correction that it has also used previously. Price is $1000. At the opposite end of the line is the 5.1-channel RD-5405, selling for a mere $170.
Bucking the trend of “smaller is better”, HP brought what’s probably the largest Ultrabook to CES. I know personal health is a big deal at CES this year, with companies such as Omnimount promoting easy ways of making changes to our largely sedentary lifestyles through the use of the company’s full-motion TV mounts and fitness-promoting, adjustable workstations. But maybe the JustStand.org “Wellness Uprising” has gone a little too far. Typing up a 200-word blog post with your feet will definitely give you a good workout, but getting the ultra-Ultrabook to fit under your seat on the airplane is going to be much harder. And I, for one, certainly don’t want to have to lug around the Smart Car-sized power supply…
Lantos Technologies demonstrated how simple and relatively discomfort-free it is to take an impression of the average person’s ear canal with their new 3D digital ear scanning technology. Taking an accurate and complete impression of the ear canal is incredibly important when it comes to making custom earpieces for hearing aids, noise protection, and custom audio (i.e., high-performance earbud-style headphones). The traditional process of taking an ear canal impression involves examining the ear canal, inserting an otocblock into the ear canal to protect the tympanic membrane from harm, and then filling the ear canal with an pliable impression material that takes about five to ten minutes to solidify before it can be removed. (Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?) The Lantos technology uses
emission re-absorption laser induced fluorescence (ERLIF) [and] was developed by Dr. Douglas Hart at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Using the intensity measurement of two different wavelength bands of fluorescent light as they travel through an absorbing medium, ERLIF generates a highly accurate 3D map. The medium selectively absorbs one wavelength band over the other, thus the intensity ratio of the two wavelengths as they travel through the medium can be measured using a standard camera…
During a sparsely attended press conference at CES, Lantos representatives demonstrated the process using the Lantos Scanner, which is a small, handheld device that includes a fiberscope enclosed in a conforming membrane. Once gently inserted in the ear canal, the membrane is expanded and conforms to the shape of the ear canal. As the fiberscope is retracted, it creates a 3D image of the ear canal in real time – with the entire process taking less than two minutes per ear. The resulting scan is typically much more accurate than the standard impression technique provides and has the advantage of immediately being available as a digital data file that can be sent electronically to a manufacturer.
Currently it’s somewhat expensive (>$100), time-consuming, and often uncomfortable to go to an audiologist who can make a custom ear canal impression which can be sent to an earphone manufacturer (such as Etymotic) in order to create an individually customized earbud insert. Once FDA-approved in the US, the Lantos 3D Digital Ear Scanner promises to make customized earpieces much more widely available.
At first look, RCA’s Mobile TV Tablet is just another one of the many Android tablets on the market. But beneath the tablet’s eight-inch (1024 x 768) screen is what RCA claims is the “world’s first” dual-tuner mobile TV. In addition to a standard over-the-air DTV tuner, the new tablet includes a Dyle mobile TV-compatible DTV tuner that provides access to around 130 mobile TV stations in 35 markets around the country. (The built-in mobile DTV tuner also receives mobile digital TV channels from broadcasters not affiliated with Dyle. You can see if there’s a Mobile DTV station in your area here.) The multifunction tablet includes a built-in telescoping antenna, Wi-Fi connectivity, dual cameras, and GPS functionality. The tablet (Model DDA850R) has a battery life up to four hours in mobile TV mode, or up to 10 hours when web browsing. It will be available this Spring with a suggested retail price of $299.
I hate – no, I loathe – headphone cords. Maybe it’s because I was traumatized as a child by a menacing coiled cord on an old landline phone that was mounted on the wall in our home. I can’t tell you how many times the handset was yanked out of my hand when I reached the outer limits of the coiled cord’s length. Nor can I tell you how many times I’ve had one or both earbuds forcibly ejected from my ears after I’ve gotten the headphone cord caught on something. In fact, I’ve broken more than one pair of earbuds that way… So you can understand my appreciation of CordCruncher’s new Earbud Headphones that come with a unique, tangle-free, "crunchable" headphone cord. There are two main aspects to the CordCruncher Cord Management System. The first is the special kinked-cord design that allows the cord to resist tangling as well as compress when not in use, in some ways similar to the way a coiled cord functions. The second component of the system is an elastic sleeve that covers the all or as much of the crunched headphone cord as you wish. The sleeve covers the cord and keeps it from tangling when you’re finished listening to music and have thrown the earbuds in your briefcase, purse, or on your desk. The 3.5 mm headphone jack can be inserted into the other end of the elastic sleeve to create a necklace or, when doubled up, a wrist band. Currently the CordCruncher Earbuds are available in Glo Orange, Matte Black, and Pearl Blue color options for $24.99 each. Unfortunately, the CordCruncher cord/sleeve combo isn’t available in a universal version to use with other brands of earbuds and headphones. (The sleeve, by the way, is made from 95% protein-free, medical-grade latex rubber, so people who are allergic to latex may want to look for some other type of cord management system.)
Tablets and smartphones are becoming constant companions - even more so now that there are so many apps and automation systems available that allow you to control your TV or multiroom audio system using an iOS or Android device. But not every place where you might use a smart device is as “environmentally friendly” as your living room. LifeProof's nüüd case is designed to protect an iPad in just about any situation you can think of. It's waterproof. (You can fully submerge it underwater down to two meters or 6.6 feet, whichever comes first.) It's dirt-proof (and totally sealed from minute dust particles to IP-68 standards). It's snow-proof (also to IP-68 standards). And it's shockingly shock-proof. (LifeProof says it's designed to military drop survivability specs of 4 feet - or 1.2 meters.) Although they didn't truck in a mountain of snow or build a dirt bike track at CES, they did bring a large tank full of water in which they regularly submerged a nüüd-clad iPad. When out of the water, the fully enclosed casing allows easy access to the charging and headphone ports. When under water, the access ports seal up tight and keep iPad warm and dry. (Well, not necessarily warm, but most certainly dry.) The nüüd case also includes a special “Sound Enhancement System” that channels the iPad's audio through the case cavity in order to improve the sound quality. Pricing for the nüüd case starts at $99.99 for the iPad 2/3/4. In addition to LifeProof cases for a variety of iPhone and the iPod touch Gen4, the company also offers a bright orange LifeJacket ($59.99) that prevents the iPad/nüüd combo from sinking when dropped in the pool, lake, or stream.
HiFiMan is introducing two in-ear headphones aimed at “audiophiles on the go” and a high-performance portable music player at CES. The RE-600 “Songbird” ($399) and RE-400 “Waterline” ($99) earphones use custom-designed Titanium-coated drivers, neodymium magnets and premium cabling. Both are due out in the coming weeks.
The flagship HM-901 music player ($999) is slimmer than previous models, has a simplified user interface, and accepts most lossless audio formats, including Apple lossless. It uses 32-bit DAC chips and accommodates 24-bit/192 kHz upsampling. The player will be available in March with an optional $399 docking station to follow in April.
Harman Kardon, the company that brought us the world’s first audio receiver nearly 60 years ago, unveiled two affordable, forward-looking A/V receivers at CES. Both models have wireless connectivity via AirPlay, Wi-Fi and DLNA and include a vTuner for access to thousands of Internet Radio stations. Other common highlights include 4K upscaling for all inputs, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, multizone capability for simultaneously playing two audio sources in two rooms, an eco-friendly digital-power supply, Harman’s EzSet/EQ system and multiple HDMI inputs, including those for 3D playback, CEC and Deep Color.
The 7.1-channel AVR 2700 ($799) is rated to deliver 100 watts per channel, while the 7.2-channel AVR 3700 ($999) is rated at 125 watts per channel and provides two subwoofer outputs and a remote control for the second zone.
Both models are slated to hit stores over the next couple months and are compatible with Harman's free remote control app for Apple and Android mobile devices.
MK celebrates its 40th anniversary with three new THX-certified subs, all with dual drivers in a push-pull configuration that has the front-firing driver operating in phase and the bottom driver operating out of phase, as shown in the brochure we photographed on our hotel room bed. Each driver is in a separate chamber with electronics in a third one. Driver sizes are reflected in the models numbers: X12 ($3200), X10 ($2600), and X8 ($1900). Rated power is 400 watts RMS and 700 watts peak for the X12, 350-650 for the X10, and 300-600 for the X8. Shipping between February and April depending on model. Fans of the venerable MK 150 might want to given a listen to its new tweeter.
"Blue" and "Air" has become our notebook slang for products including both Bluetooth and AirPlay wireless capability. There are quite a few of them at this CES. HRT, a new company, features them in the Stage speakers, with analog amplification, preamp, and USB DAC built into a separate module. One-inch tweeters are treated fabric, 3.5-inch woofers are aluminum, and the system sounded fabulous with CD-resolution files of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (and we think it could have sounded even better with a 24-bit file). The price is $999 with Blue and Air or a hundred bucks less without—but why would you do that? Shipping in June.
Every CES is loaded with exhibits from hopefuls looking to make their mark. Many of these tales of aspiration and struggle are never told. Let us say up front that Taiwan-based oBravo does not yet sell its products in the United States. However, its AI-25P powered sat/sub set got our attention with its folded ribbon tweeter, which produced remarkable detail with violin, acoustic guitar, and other stringed instruments. The 2.1-channel system including speakers, sub, compact amp, and dock would sell for $2500. Note that the dock has the 30-pin Apple connector but a snap-in module adapts it to the new Lighting connector.
If you want your floorstanding speakers to have Bluetooth, the Crystal Matrix Tower does it with a small module that plugs into the back and a separate transmitter with 30-pin, USB, and mini jacks. Also interesting is the way the half-dozen tweeters are divided into two groups of three, each group aimed outward at a slightly different angle, to ensure wide dispersion. Pricing is $3000/pair.