Innovative Audio Cabinet Speakers
I'll wager that, if you were to poll the attendees at January's Consumer Electronics Show as to which was the most intriguing audio demo at the expo this year, a large majority would respond with Tom Holman's 10.2-channel sonic roller-coaster ride over at Alexis Park. Sure, the high-resolution demos were purer, and I'll be damned if the two-channel rigs at that same venue didn't, on the whole, sound better than ever (two-channel ain't dead just yet, gang). Still, when it came down to pure entertainment value, Holman's demo undoubtedly stole the show.
What does this mean to you, you ask? The handwriting is on the wall, people: The audio world appears to be adopting a philosophy of the more channels, the merrier—and that, of course, means more speakers. Whether its 10.2 (I'd guess that, right now, the only question surrounding 10.2 is when, not if), Surround EX, DTS ES, or some other megachannel scheme, the fact is that we're all going to have to put more and more speakers into our homes to keep up with the times. While some of us relish the idea of adding more ceiling-high monoliths with fully exposed drivers to our living rooms, the popular perception remains that incorporating standard loudspeaker designs into one's living space represents an aesthetic compromise that increases exponentially as the number of channels goes up. The choices seem simple: Learn to appreciate the beauty of a speaker in its natural state, or find a way to add speakers to your home in a more-seamless and aesthetically pleasing way.
For years, high-end manufacturers have addressed the issue of visual presentation with beautifully crafted hardwood cabinets, a wide variety of custom finishes, and unique planar and electrostatic models. The current proliferation of in-wall models and other alternative designs (such as flat-panels and cubes) also indicates that the consumer's design concerns have not fallen upon deaf ears. Progress? Yes. Panacea? Hardly. High-end speakers are, of course, expensive. To many, even the most beautifully designed speaker cabinet is still a speaker cabinet, somehow unworthy of artistic praise. In-wall speakers and the like have improved considerably since their inception, but most still represent a sonic compromise that is simply unacceptable for dedicated theaters and listening environments.
Another solution that has existed for some time in the custom market is integrating speakers into existing structures, furniture, or custom cabinetry. This method can yield outstanding sonic and aesthetic results if done properly, but it's usually an expensive and time-consuming process that requires the work of skilled professionals. If done improperly (e.g., throwing a speaker into any available hole and covering it with grille cloth), the result will noticeably infringe on the integrity of both the speaker and the surrounding structure.
Enter Innovative Audio, a relatively new high-end company based in Southern California whose basic goal is to take the custom work out of owning a custom speaker by offering production lines of speakers that are already integrated into top-quality furniture designs. Innovative Audio's tongue-in-cheek motto, "The Alternative to Divorce," is a clear indicator of their goal to offer a loudspeaker with a considerably wider aesthetic appeal than the standard offering.
Innovative's current models utilize different configurations of three basic drivers: a Peerless 1-inch silk-dome tweeter, a Seas 5-inch composite midrange, and a proprietary 10-inch composite woofer developed by Innovative to meet the unique criteria of their Performance Furniture system. The foundation of that system is the Cabinet Speaker, a vertical-baffle, three-way design using a single tweeter, midrange, and woofer. The sealed inner cabinet is extensively braced to reduce image-smearing internal vibrations, and the mid is mounted in its own internal sub-enclosure. The speaker cabinet is then set into the outer cabinet, with crossover adjustments to account (as much as possible) for first reflections and the particularities of the dual-cabinet design. The Cabinet Speaker measures roughly 37 inches high by 18 wide by 17 deep and weighs in at 125 to 140 pounds (dimensions and weight vary by style and wood type). The speaker is also a freestanding table that can be placed along a wall. The outer cabinet includes a beveled platform top and a crafted pocket door that can be closed when the system is not in use to hide the speaker components and, with them, all indications of the piece's dual nature.
Two specialized designs—a horizontally aligned center channel and an active subwoofer—round out the multichannel presentation. The center channel employs the 1-inch tweeter flanked by two 5-inch midrange drivers, while the subwoofer uses two of the 10-inch woofers powered by a 270-watt internal amplifier. The center-channel speaker is integrated into various types of furniture pieces, the choice of which is determined by the type of video display used in the system. The Center-Channel Table is approximately 30 inches high by 52 wide by 17 deep, weighs 115 to 130 pounds, and looks like a standard hall or art table—good for plasma screens or front-projection systems. For direct-view sets, Innovative offers a range of armoires that integrate the center channel and house the monitor, additional components, and software. The armoires are configured for both conventional 4:3 and widescreen sets, with varying screen sizes and weights up to 375 pounds. The subwoofer enclosure is built into their SubTable piece, which measures 24 inches high by 20 wide by 20 deep, weighs 145 to 160 pounds, and takes on the guise of a well-crafted end table. Like the Cabinet Speaker, it offers a beveled platform top, faux drawers, and a pocket door to enhance its aesthetic role as a high-quality piece of furniture that's independent from its sonic alter ego.
As you might expect, there is a wide variety of wood types, colors, finishes, and even cabinet styles to choose from. Considering our limited space, I'll direct you to Innovative Audio's Website (www.innovative-audiousa.com) for the full rundown and also mention that they are open to cosmetic customizations (stone inlays, custom colors and finishes, etc.). Our demo system for this review consisted of four Cabinet Speakers, a High-Definition Armoire center channel, and a SubTable to round out the 5.1-channel configuration. They were mated with the Lexicon MC-1 pre/pro, the Krell KAV-500 five-channel amplifier, and the Sony DVP-C650D DVD player.