I remember CESs of long agothat's about five to ten years, an eternity in CES time when all of the literature handed out was in print form. Now it's typically on a flash drive, a disc (and even they are getting thinner on the ground—particularly the tiny ones that can't be used on Mac computers) or a simple card with directions to a news-release website. But not always; there's still a pile of paper to deal with, like the 6-inch stack I brought home with me. Luckily I drive to the show.
One of the realities of blogging at CES is that we here at Home Theater cover the video news first, which means that most of the video-related entries end up at the bottom of the blog pile, with the later, heavily audio-related entries at the top. That's why the blogs here are front-loaded with audio. Much of the serious high-end audio is at the Venetian Hotel, well removed from the of the circus atmosphere at the Las Vegas Convention Center where just about everything else, including the video, resides.
You may see a lot of audio entries below and wonder why? Well, for my part, I can't escape my roots of a dozen years or more writing the Stereophile. But more importantly for our present purposes, speakers are speakers, and I spent most of my time at the Venetian scoping them out. While many speakers that you'll see here will be inappropriate for home theater, largely because their manufacturers don't see fit to make matching center channel speakers for them, the technology involved is still fascinating. To me, anyway.
One of the best parts of CES is the intellectually stimulating entertainment you’ll find at the various booths. Instead of the traditional scantily clad young women with heels so high they can barely walk, this booth chose to use a slightly different type of bird to draw attention.
Sometimes you wonder how some companies get involved in seemingly unrelated product categories. Amidst more traditional iPod/iPhone/iPad add-ons, accessory manufacturer Griffin was showing off a pair of IR-controlled helicopters that you pilot using your iOS touchscreen device. The $49.95 current model (HELO TC) will be joined soon by a $59.95 version (HELO TC Assault) that was shooting small plastic “missiles” at unsuspecting CES booth gawkers. Although a little tricky to fly at first, the helicopters were a lot of fun to fly using the included iOS app. Movement is controlled either with a virtual joystick or by tilting the iOS device. When asked how Griffin got involved selling remote-controlled helicopters, I was told the “unofficial” story: the staff all like flying them at the office.
Once a bustling center of earth-changing activity, the CES2012 Press Room at the Las Vegas Convention Center looked dull and dismal (well, more so than it did earlier during CES) fifteen minutes before closing time on Friday. Gone is the jovial camaraderie, the fighting for seats, the wrestling matches for the last (free) press lunch, and the incessant questioning. (It’s usually one of two: “Are there any lunches left?” or “What’s the login and password for the Press Room WiFi?”) I was one of the last few stragglers to inhabit the large conference room that’s housed the CES press for as long as I can remember - which, considering the state of my mind at the end of CES, is not too long - Friday, showing just how dedicated I am (and what a loser I am, too). The most important journalist question I asked during the CES grind? “Where are the f’ing free cookies and brownies that they used to give us?”
(On a brighter note, that’s the Griffin HELO TC iOS-device-controlled helicopter I convinced the Griffin booth guy to allow me to leave with.)
In case you thought 3D was dying out, LG’s booth was proof that 3D is alive and well, and expanding. As you walked into the LG booth, you were urged to grab passive 3D glasses.
Once in the booth almost every TV was set to show 3D content. Most visitors of the booth who donned the new stylish LG glasses were treated to butterflies floating in mid-air, baseballs soaring toward home plate and other fantastic 3D images.
LG showed also showed off their 3D mobile phones that come equipped with 3D cameras to shoot photos and videos that can be transferred for viewing on LG’s 3D TVs.
Las Vegas was built, in large part, on the acquiring and spending of golden nuggets. Today, of course, golden nuggets (in the form of dollar bills) are handed over to the casinos in enormous quantities. There was a huge golden nugget, however, to be found in the GoldenEar suite at the Venetian - and this one didn’t get put on the closest gaming table. Sandy Gross and team have put together an absolutely unbelievable LCR soundbar that’s so flipping good, it was THE most exciting audio product I heard the entire Show. Somehow this amazing 49-inch wide soundbar sounded as if it were more like 15 feet wide; and combined with two of GoldenEar’s ForceField 3 subwoofers ($499/each), the $999 SuperCinema 3D Array was easily one of the best sounding soundbars I’ve ever heard in just about any price range, especially when it came to reproducing two-channel music - a task most soundbars fail abysmally at. Thankfully, in this case, what happens in Vegas isn’t staying in Vegas - and we’ll be getting one of the first samples for review in the next few months. Stay tuned...
Some audiophiles cherish tubes, and even modestly powered tube amplifiers. From Napa Acoustics (which appears to hail from China, not a valley in California) comes the 40 watts per channel MM4 hybrid integrated amp (tube input stage, solid state output stage), at the amazingly low price (for those who know how much these things can cost) of $699. A larger, 35wpc all tube MT34 will set you back $1199.
PSB is one high-end manufacturer that hasn't forgotten the rest of us. The new Imagine T2 isn't cheap at $3500/pair, but offers a lot of…um… imaginative engineering borrowed from the company's higher-end Synchrony line. It's also is capable of amazingly good sound, if a brief audition was any indication. A matching center is likely later, but the T2 itself is available now.
Vinyl is big lately in high-end audio so I had to include at least one turntable or risk appearing hopelessly out of date. It's the Merrill-Williams Audio table that worked so well in the Wharfedale system above. If $7200 sounds steep, you don't get out much; you can spend a lot more for a turntable. And oh, by the way, that price does not include either the Dynavector tonearm ($5000) or the Ortofon Anna cartridge that was used with it here ($8500). That's right, the cartridge costs more than the turntableand more than a good high end surround preamp processor (I had to throw that in!). But if you want to get into vinyl and this is your first exposure to its potential prices, you can do so for a lot less than this.
Wharfedale demoed the top model in its new Jade series, the floor-standing Jade 7. Using vinyl as a source, it sounded most impressive, which was good because a complete surround package built around the Jade 7s is on hand at Home Theater for a future review.
Shown here is the current top-of-the-range Revel F308 floorstander ($4500/pair). A bigger, somewhat higher-priced model that's otherwise similar but has three 8-inch woofers rather than the F308's two) is expected in the fall. All of the Performa models use similar aluminum-coned woofers and identical, aluminum dome, waveguide-loaded tweeters. While the listening environment in the Revel rooms was not ideal, brief auditions of both the largest bookshelf and the F308 sounded very promising.
One manufacturer of pricey speakers (but not nearly as pricey as Magico) that does make center channels is Revel. The model shown here is the news Performa C208 $1700). The entire Revel Performa line has been revised (for mid-2012 delivery), with two floorstanders, two bookshelf models, two centers, a surround, and a subwoofer.
Welcome to the wonderful world of high-end audio. After two eventful days scoping out the latest in video at the Las Vegas Convention Center venue I retired to the relatively relaxing confines of the Venetian Hotel, where I could listen to some tunes played back on deliciously succulent 2-channel gear. Yes, mainly 2-channel. There were a few interesting surround setups, such as in the Atlantic Technology booth where they were showing off the new H-PAS bookshelf speaker, and even a few rare full home theater setups, such as in the Wolf Cinema room. But the Venetian was mostly a 2-channel world.
But an interesting one. I wanted to scope out loudspeakers in particular, some of which have also been covered here by Home Theater's audio tech editor, Mark Fleischmann, and others. But what follows here is what caught my eye…er, my ears.
In the photo above is the new Magico Q7, the largest offering from that loudspeaker specialist. Each speaker is 750 lbs, 60-inches high, and 32-inches deep. A pair of them will set you back $165,000. That’s three zeros, and is not a typo. But they sounded astonishing, as well they should. Don't look for a review of five of them in Home Theater any time soon. In fact, Magico, like many high-end speaker makers, does not offer a center channel speaker.