Denon and Marantz are the first non-Apple manufacturers to incorporate AirPlay audio streaming without the use of an AirPort Express device. An AirPlay logo appears on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch (running iOS 4.2 and up). Press it and a drop-down list of compatible devices appears. Thus you can take music from an Apple mobile device, or a PC or Mac running iTunes, and stream it hither and yon to your Denon/Marantz toys. The capability is built into four Denon a/v receivers -- the AVR-4311CI, -3311CI, -991, and -A100 100th anniversary model -- plus the N7 tabletop system. Also on board are Marantz products: the SR7005 receiver, AV7005 pre-pro, NA7004 network audio player, and M-CR603 network CD receiver. You can get the software upgrade for $50 two days from the publication of this item. (Photo: Lisa Cazzola.)
While I can't say I had any complaints about the sound of this system featuring Lamm tubed electronics and Wilson Alexanria X-2 MkII, at around $675,000 (2-channels only, of course) it was a bit, um, over the top.
Panasonic demonstrated 3DTV from a DirecTV feed, presumably using the using the side-by-side 3D technique. But while the images would likely satisfy the uncritical viewer, the pictures lacked that last spark of detail. The side-by-side technique discards 50% of the horizontal resolution, resulting in 960 x 1080 images.
LG's new LED LCD TVs are now ultra slim, including one model that is an incredible 6.9mm thin. The Infinia range includes full LED backlighting technology (Full LED Slim, in LG's phrase, but a bit thicker than that 6.9mm set). Some LG sets will now offer 480Hz operation thanks to a newly developed ASIC. The company also plans on marketing a 15" OLED display.
Dolby Home Theater v4 is, as the name suggests, the fourth-gen implementation of sound enhancement for PCs from Dolby Labs. It incorporates trickle-down technology from Dolby Volume (best known for its use in surround receivers) including volume leveling, dynamic enhancer, and spatial virtualizer. First of two demos at the Central Hall sanctum involved a laptop with and without DHTv4. It was a huge difference: muffled sound versus rather bright sound. In the second demo, another laptop bitstreamed into an Onkyo receiver with Focal sat/sub speakers. This time the benefits were more subtle, though still discernible: a larger soundstage and more solid imaging. The technology will be shipped with laptops including Acer, Lenovo ThinkPads, and more to be announced. In another corner of the Dolby booth a Nokia N8 smartphone with built-in Dolby Digital Plus (a high-quality lossy surround codec) mustered pretty good surround via Harman Kardon receiver and Focal floorstanding speakers.
DTS-HD Master Audio is nothing new, of course, but the 7.1 demo sounded superb using standard home-theater gear, including a Sony PS3, Onkyo TX-HR3007 AVR, Definitive Technology Mythos 1 speakers, and Earthquake subwoofer. I learned a bit about the upcoming next-gen Neo, which will upmix to 11.1 channels to add height and width speakers to an existing surround system, much like Dolby Pro Logic IIz and Audyssey DSX.
One of the few loudspeaker-related audio demos on the floor at South Hall was the DTS demo of 11.1 surround with extra channels for height and width enhancement. It actually started with a mere 7.1 movie demo and worked its way up to footage of two savvy musician slash sound designers using a combination of acoustic instruments and electronic processing to create a height- and width-enhanced soundscape. The instruments included one that combined the functions of bass violin, cello, viola, and fiddle. A tree was also used as a musical instrument. It was noteworthy that the demo relied on 11.1 more for aesthetic effect (hmmm, that sounds nice) than for realism -- that is, an evocation of something that happens in the real world and is reproduced convincingly. From our seat in the back and off center, the effect was pleasing but not something we'd cite as grounds for adding numerous speakers to a basic 5.1 surround system. However, our colleague Josh Zyber saw another DTS 11.1 demo at Nobu two nights prior and said it was very impressive, with strong imaging in places you wouldn't expect. The pic, incidentally, is what folks saw while waiting in line for the 11.1 demo: other showgoers in raptures over DTS headphone technology.
IDT isn't the only company working on cleaning up low-quality Internet video—Anchor Bay demonstrated its solution to this problem in a Hilton suite. Looking at 480i from DVD, 720p from Apple TV, and video from an iPhone, the new DVDO chipset did a great job at smoothing out jaggies as shown in the split-screen photo above (processed image on the left), but not so well at reducing noise. The new chipset is less expensive than the company's PReP (Progressive Reprocessing) technology and is intended for products such as iPod docks and the like.
I was excited to visit Electrocompaniet and see its new Maestro, an all-singing, all-dancing source component with Blu-ray player, FM tuner, Internet radio, iPod dock, and media streaming with three channels of 120W, all for $8000. You can also get a wireless 2-channel amp for the rear speakers for an extra $2000. Unfortunately, it was experiencing some technical difficulties, so there was nothing to see or hear, but I was told that the Norwegian engineers are working around the clock to update the software before the end of the show.
Begun as a collaboration of several companies, the Nordic Tone ended up as Electrocompaniet's first high-end speaker when the others dropped out for one reason or another. First shown at the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival in November, the Nordic Tone's infinite-baffle (i.e., sealed) enclosure is sand-cast aluminum consisting of five sections glued together with vibration-damping adhesive. Its 3-way design achieves a frequency response from 28Hz to 35kHz, and it sounded great, with tight bass, uncluttered mids, and crisp highs, but what else should you expect for $29,000/pair?
Custom install-exclusive Emotiva Pro recently acquired Sherbourn, the high-end manufacturer of amps and preamps. The new Sherbourn preamps will include Control4 HC-200B controllers that will allow for home theater and whole-home automation. Look for the first products to be available sometime around April.
The EPIC2 and two other models are the first Epos speakers to use soft dome tweeters along with, in this case, a seven-inch polypropylene woofer. For a front treatment, choose a screwless baffle plate, or a grille. The dealer can switch between them by sticking a metal rod into the back of the speaker and pushing off whichever one you don't want. Price is $799/pair for the EPIC2, $599/pair for the slightly smaller EPIC1, and $1399/pair for the EPIC5 tower.
Focal showed off a new multimedia speaker system called the XS Book. The system consists of a powered speaker (2 x 20 watts) that takes an analog audio output from your computer. A speaker cable is then run from the amp in the first speaker to the companion speaker. Even though the system doesn’t include a subwoofer, Focal claims a frequency response of 50 Hz to 22 kHz, which is very believable based on what I heard during a demo at Focal’s suite in the Mirage. In fact, these speakers are good enough to be used as main bookshelf audio or TV speakers in a small room. They’re compatible with Omnimount brackets for on-wall mounting. Pricing is expected to be $399.