HSU Research is best known for its affordable high-performance subwoofers, but Dr. Poh Ser Hsu is also a dab hand at speaker design, as generously illustrated by the HB-1 "bookshelf" (to sensible people, that means stand-mounted) speakers. They had all the efficiency of horns with, to my ears, none of the beamy feeling that affects other horn designs. The sound remained consistent as I moved up and down and around the room. At only $125 each, this speaker may become the underground bestseller of 2006.
Onkyo, a speaker company? Don't laugh. These two monitors were among the best things I heard at the show. The neat cube-shaped monitor at the left, the D-312E, threw out a highly natural and realistic soundstage with orchestral music. Unfortunately it's available only in Japan. The D-TK10, at right, is slightly smaller, curvier, and features a cabinet made by guitar maker Takamine. It will be available for maybe $1600/pair though the price was not finalized at presstime.
Lukas Lipinski poses with the L-707 ($4950/pair). Even in a room full of people this chunky stand-mount speaker had something that made a voice in my head say "let me review it pleeeease." Maybe it was the amps built into the 3601 stand ($2595/each) that did it. The company has its roots in pro audio but now sells bleeding-edge gear to the high-end market.
Dave Wilson's venerable Watt Puppy is now available in baby blue for $27,900. Having heard it with a recording of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I think I may have to spend more time in Utah. Even in an acoustically imperfect room, the massed vocals were so beautiful, they tax my powers of description. You just had to be there. This is why events like the HES are so precious—and why high-end dealers with good demo rooms deserve the big bucks.
If there is a god, and he has a drawer full of headphones, this is what it would look like if the contents of that drawer were strewn along a very long table. I got in some face time with the new Grado Reference 1000 ($995) and it was like wearing a concert hall on my skull.
This could be one of those large jars of formaldehyde in a mortician's lab, or a really cool fish bowl, but in fact is the first liquid-cooled power amplifier: the Von Gaylord Uni Signature. Mustering 200 watts per channel, each mono-block comes with a separate boxy power supply. The four pieces retail for $59,000 (goldfish not included).
Here is Barb Gonzalez, author of The Home Electronics Survival Guide Volume 1—I like the Volume 1 part!—flanked by two chimps. Ken Kessler, left, author of Quad: The Closest Approach, drew the most traffic with his world-class charisma (sorry about the flash). At right is the unedited original of my blog pic, with lovely pink and blue background, shot at the Paradox Coffeeshop in Amsterdam, a moment of bliss captured for posterity. Have you heard about my annually updated home theater guide? Just checking.
At this moment in the Anthony Wilson Nonet's performance, the guitarist and bandleader had just triggered a guitar sample, over which he then soloed. It was eerie and moving and that's why I've chosen this ludicrously out-of-focus picture—because it was the greatest moment of HES 2006. If you want to share moments like this, you'll just have to come to HES 2007.
Under a court settlement, Sony BMG has agreed to compensate consumers for exposing their computers to CD-borne security hazards. If you bought a title with the now infamous XCP rootkit, you get a replacement disc, $7.50 in cash, and a free download (or no cash and three downloads). Not too shabby! Wish I'd bought a few myself. Purchasers of titles contaminated with Suncomm MediaMax get only the downloads. You've got to hand it to Sony BMG. The label has done an awful lot to atone for its error. Details here.
Cablevision's digital video recorder has the movie studios and television networks up in arms. ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Disney, Paramount, and Universal have sued over the nDVR, or network DVR, claiming copyright infringement. The nDVR stores up to 80 hours of programming on a remote server. Program it to record your favorite stuff in perpetuity and you have, in effect, a limited version of video on demand. Since the disc drive is not in your rack, you can operate it just using an dDVR-enabled cable box. Cablevision says the suit is "without merit." Analysts say the suit was expected, and if Cablevision prevails, cable ops will be able to deploy the dDVR on a larger scale and save big bucks in the process, both for consumers and themselves.
Hitachi bills four new 42-inch plasma models as 1080-line-capable. The following information is for numbers-obsessed videoholics only: The relevant model numbers are 42HDF39 ($2299), 42HDS69 ($2499), 42HDT79 ($2999), and 42HDX99 ($5299). Nominally these are 1080i, as opposed to 1080p, displays though at 42 inches that distinction is negligible. However, it's the vertical resolution that's 1080 lines. Horizontal resolution is actually 1024 lines, as opposed to 1920 in the 1080i ATSC broadcast standard (1920 by 1080). So three of these models are 1024 by 1080, and the lowest-priced is actually 1024 by 1024. Got all that? The difference probably stems from the inherent limitations of Hitachi's highly rated plasma manufacturing technique, which involves vertical channels of pixels crisscrossed by horizontal lines of electrodes. I got a preview at last week's press event in New York though production models will not arrive till later in the year. Up close and personal, the prototype looked pretty spiffy. I could see the dots only from two or three feet. Beyond that the picture looked seamless. The bottom line is that these 42-inch plasmas can show 1080 lines in a test pattern. Try that with a crayon and a piece of paper. Bet you can't do it.
The explosion of flat-panel and microdisplays has multiplied the number of manufacturers and products on the market. Unfortunately this happy profusion leaves a performance gap on the audio side. My Sharp AQUOS LCD HDTV has excellent speakers—by TV-speaker standards—but I don't depend on them for movies. And the sound on a typical no-name LCD set is simply wretched for any content, even sitcoms. So what do you do when you've uncrated your new display only to discover that the other half of the home theater equation is a shaping up to be a big zero?
Interesting piece by Wired columnist Leander Kahney on the iPod's steady rise to acceptance as a hi-fi audio device. But I think he oversells his point when he says the iPod has audiophiles "spinning in their soundproof graves." He also oversimplifies, asserting that "to purists, only old-fashioned vinyl platters cut it." This stereotype (pun intended) ignores a whole universe of digital audio developments such as SACD and DVD-Audio, great concert videos in lossy surround formats, and the use of Dolby Pro Logic II to coax surround out of stereo source material (whether from CD, WAV, MP3, AAC, or none of the above). Speaking as an audiophile, I find these things just as interesting as my LP collection or, for that matter, my iPod. The biggest problem with high-performance audio, according to 56 percent of consumers in one survey, is that not enough of them have heard it.