Price: $2,200 At A Glance: 5.1-channel decoding in a single soundbar • Decoding for Dolby Digital and DTS, not lossless • Strong bass even when subwoofer output is not used
5.1 Channels in One
Why shouldn’t respectability and innovation be on speaking terms? In loudspeakers, that’s not as easy as it sounds. Much of the recent audio innovation in home theater has come in products that are designed to complement flat-panel TVs. These products are morphing before our eyes—into soundbars, on-walls, and ever-smaller satellites. They are also moving beyond the standard five-speakers-and-sub configuration in their deployment of surround’s 5.1-channel array. This makes for a striking contrast when you look at the high-end speakers that grace audiophile short lists. These include a staid group of medium-density fiber-board boxes whose fundamentals, in many cases, haven’t changed in decades. Traditional speakers can sound great, but that’s not often enough to make people buy them.
The B&K 30.2 digital brick amp comes in 30, 60, or 100 watts times two. You can fit three of 'em on a plate (bottom) or six on a larger plate (hanging, top). Controls are on the back, but if you prefer them on the front, you want the ST30.2. B&K also showed the AVR707 receiver, with 200 watts times seven, due in 2008; and the AV1230, which covers 16 zones with two-channel goodness.
The newer and smaller of Bang & Olufsen's two powered floorstanding speakers powers its woofer with 500 watts of Class D ICE power (the smart green kind) and saves sweeter-sounding Class AB for the midrange and tweeter. At $9900/pair, you might find it sinfully expensive, but when you see some of B&O's slick moves for integration with swiveling video displays and its brand-new multimedia interface, you just might change your mind.
The Zeppelin now has a little sister, the Mini Zeppelin, and it offers a new feature: PC streaming via USB. The iPod dock swivels so your touch or iPhone can be used vertically or horizontally. Unlike the original Zep, which could dominate a large room, the Mini Zep is designed for more intimate spaces. Price $399.
The B&W CM series falls between the higher-end 700 series and lower-end 600 series. New to the line are the floorstanding CM7 ($900/each) and stand-mount CM1 ($450/each). They'll be available in 30 days. Already out is the CMC center ($600). Inside the wood-veneer enclosure is B&W's famous tube-loaded tweeter, which gives the much higher-priced Nautilus line its extraordinarily clean and revealing high frequency extension.
B&W has extended its CM Series with the floorstanding CM9 ($1500/each), floorstanding CM7 ($1000/each), and CM5 monitor ($750/each), so may I change the subject now? I somehow became fascinated with the chunky CT7.3LCRS (pictured, $1500/each) and its smaller siblings, the CT7.4LCRS ($1000/each) and CT7.5LCRS ($600/each). The big one has two eight-inch fiber woofers, a six-inch Kevlar midrange, and a one-inch soft dome tweeter. These three speakers can muster up to 94, 93, and 92 decibels respectively and are designed for use with front-projection systems or maybe (yuck) cabinetry. The new CMs are coming in November and the CT7s have been shipping for the past couple of months.
B&W's MM1 multimedia speakers are two-way babies with three-inch woofer and one-inch tweeter, 18 watts, and the company's DSP, which is said to eliminate the need for a sub. Look for them in February, price n/a.
The B&W DM303 speaker system proves that bookshelf speakers are far from obsolete.
Badly named and generally underrated, bookshelf loudspeakers are possibly the most misunderstood of all speakers. First of all, they don't sound their best when placed on shelves; stands are usually recommended. Second, even though they haven't got the bottom-octave authority of powered towers, their smaller enclosures cause fewer acoustic problems, making them a perfect vehicle for vocals and the midrange frequencies in which most music resides. They lend themselves to wall-mounting almost as well as the smallest satellites, with the added benefit of genuine midbass response. The best bookshelf models—B&W's DM302, JBL's N24, NHT's SuperOne, Paradigm's Titan, KEF's Coda 7, Polk's RT-105, and PSB's Alpha Mini—deliver versatile stereo and surround sound for music or movies at an affordable price. So, it's good news that B&W has a new—um—bookshelf offering, the DM303.
We hope Bowers & Wilkins will forgive us for using the once ubiquitous acronym B&W – we are old fashioned that way. Any changes in the company's world-beating 800 line, lately known as the Diamond Series, qualifies as major news. The original 13 models have been reduced to 7 ranging in price from $2500 to $24,000. Lineup is what you see here plus two centers not pictured. New stuff includes new crossovers, magnets, gloss black finish, and every model has the cool Diamond tweeter.