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.
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.
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).
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.
The Consumer Electronics Show doesn't start till next week but news is already leaking out. The first dual-format DVD player, handling both Blu-ray and HD DVD, will be announced by LG. Solving the same problem from another angle, Warner will announce a hybrid disc covering both formats, so you early adopters with single-format players needn't fall on your swords (if other studios fall in line). Perhaps the best news of all is that non-portable audio sales may be recovering after a long period of sitting in their room and moping. November figures from the Consumer Electronics Association show home component sales rising a whopping 54.9 percent, beating the 27.2 percent increase of iPods and other portables.
Are your fingers itching to store and manage 7500 CDs by dragging and dropping on a touchscreen? The Q100 Digital Music Entertainment (DME) System is the first music management system to include a drag-and-drop user interface, according to the manufacturer Qsonix. You can D&D tracks or albums, fool with playlists, and so it all without navigating multi-step menus. The product comes with capacity of 160-400GB and a 15-inch TFT LCD touchscreen controller. Says Mike Weaver, president of Qsonix: "Qsonix re-unites users with their music by incorporating an intuitive, engaging and visual presentation that allows music to be accessed with the simple touch of the finger." Re-unites—I like that part. He continues: "Designed for even the most technology-phobic users, our system can be mastered in minutes and enjoyed for years by the whole family." If he does say so himself. Qsonix also sells industrial level gear to bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants, eateries, coffeehouses, hotels, department stores, retail outlets, and offices. Price: $5495.
Would I stoop to running a news item just because it comes with a cool pic? If you thought otherwise, how little you know me. Congratulations to the Blu-ray family on the birth of the quad-layer disc, first shown in prototype at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show. Existing Blu-ray discs (inasmuch as they can be said to exist) use a single layer for capacity of 25 gigabytes or two layers for 50GB. Double the number of layers yet again and what do you get? A 100GB quad-layer disc that can store up to nine hours of high-definition video, at least in situations where digital rights management would so permit. As the picture shows, the disc actually has nine layers if you count the spacers, the second-from-top cover layer, and the Durabis layer—that's the name TDK has given the specially formulated top layer. Blu-ray players read data at a much shallower depth than regular DVD, so the top layer has to be both thin and hard. Otherwise it would need a protective caddy, like 2003-vintage Blu-ray in Japan. The quad-layer prototype is a write-once disc (not rewritable) and there's no word on when it will become available.
After more than a year of relentless lobbying, I've finally both HD DVD and Blu-ray players in my rack. Since my home/office cave is but a minor outpost of the Home Theater Magazine empire, this took a fair amount of begging and pleading. Thanks to Toshiba for the second-generation HD-A2, and to Pioneer--by way of video editor Geoff Morrison--for the BDP-HD1. I installed them on the shelf that sits between my receiver slots, with the Rotel RSX-1065 above and various guest receivers below. Naturally I the first thing I wanted was to see video in each format. Would my Sharp LC-32D4U 32-inch LCD HDTV (768p) and LG RL-JA20 LCD front-projector (720p) deliver pictures that would justify adding new HD signal sources to the rack? Even with the Sharp's sometimes iffy conversion to its native resolution of 768p? The answer was yes, and how. But the real impetus--as if amazing picture quality weren't enough--was the new ability of the new formats to deliver next-generation surround codecs, both lossless and lossy. I'm talking about you, Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus, and you, DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio. Every future reviewed receiver with HDMI 1.3 capability will get a chance to strut its stuff with the new surround technologies. But what about my reference receiver, which has no HDMI? This is what we in the business call a cliffhanger. See you next week.
Last week I greeted the somewhat tardy arrival of Blu-ray and HD DVD to my rack. Happy happy joy joy, as Ren & Stimpy would say, but what to do about my reference receiver? My beloved Rotel RSX-1065 (and its seven-channel equivalent, the 1067) has no HDMI inputs. And regrettably, Rotel tells me it has no immediate plans to update its receiver line for HDMI. That means there's no way to get the new surround codecs into the receiver by a digital path at full resolution. As the magazine's audio editor, I am more than eager to hear lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. I'd also like to plumb the potential of the new & improved lossy formats, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio. The only way to get them into the Rotel at full resolution was via the receiver's 5.1-channel analog inputs, relying on the player's built-in surround decoder. That took care of the Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player, and I threw in a digital coaxial connection to continue feeding the receiver's old-style Dolby Digital and DTS decoders. But even if I'd been willing to swap six analog cables from player to player, the Toshiba HD-A2 HD DVD player has no 5.1 analog-outs! I had to settle for the digital optical interface, which handles the new codecs at reduced resolution as a backward-compatibility move. This introduced me to a quirk of Toshiba's HD DVD players, which is that they convert Dolby Digital Plus into PCM and then transcode it into DTS. Thus the optical connection lights up the DTS indicator on my receiver even when I'm not playing a DTS soundtrack. Having at least temporarily licked my connectivity problems, I set about upgrading the firmware in both players. Details next time.
No sooner had the Toshiba HD-A2 HD DVD and Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray players hit my rack than I decided to update them. No point in struggling with buggy firmware when shiny new firmware is available, right? The Toshiba website says Firmware Update Version 2.2 "improves network connectivity for supporting the download of web-enabled network content associated with certain HD DVD discs, and also addresses certain disc playback and HDMI/DVI related issues identified by Toshiba." As a matter of fact, it said the same thing about version 2.1 (I ended up running both). It applies not only to my HD-A2 but also to the HD-XA2, HD-A20, HD-A2W, and HD-D2. Stringing my trusty super-long network cable from the router on my desk to the rack, I plugged it into the Toshiba and navigated to the maintenance menu (top picture). At the manual's request, I turned on DHCP and DNS, and told the machine I was using a cable modem, all of which was quite easy. I clicked through a few screens of end-user license agreement. Then I started the update and went away to make dinner. When I came back, the Toshiba was good to go. Then there was the Pioneer Blu-ray player. Firmware Version 3.40.1 brings Dolby TrueHD compatibility and of course that is a must-have. Though the player has an Ethernet jack, there's no way to simply plug in and run the update. Instead I downloaded a zip file from the Pioneer website to my IBM desktop PC, unzipped it, copied an ISO image file to DVD-R, and fed the disc to the player. The update showed up in one of the video menus (bottom picture). So what audio goodness would I get out of my two freshly updated players? Tune in next week.