Red! Red! Red! Apple no longer sees the world in black & white. Aside from the newly reddened click wheel, the new iPod U2 Special Edition is business as usual. It is based on the 30GB iPod, fifth generation, and is the first iPod not to be offered in white. Clearly U2 will remain part of the iPod marketing program for some time to come and Bono can feed even more starving millions. Battery life is still 14 hours and the price is $329. In other news, 73 percent of college students surveyed by research firm Student Monitor said the iPod is "in," up from 59 percent last year, and surpassing beer at a mere 71 percent. Yes, the iPod is more popular than beer. Meanwhile, Apple has not only countersued Creative Labs but filed a second countersuit for good measure. Both companies allege patent infringements. And three more nations have taken up the aborted French proposal to make iTunes downloads interoperable with non-Apple devices: Norway, Sweden, and via the British Phonographic Institute, the United Kingdom. Apple is also feeling the heat from an anti-DRM group, Defective by Design.
The Home Entertainment Show—affectionately known among old-timers as the Stereophile Show—blossomed near LAX last week from June 1-4. This was the first year at a new location, the Sheraton Gateway. Far from the madding crowds of CES and CEDIA, HES does a great job of bringing manufacturers together with dealers, press, and public in a friendly context. That includes live music, reminding everyone present why we got into this business in the first place. The show has been extensively covered by our sister publications Ultimate AV and of course Stereophile. Their reporting skills and, in particular, their monopod-steadied photo prowess shame me. But then, I see this show differently than they do, with an eye for monitor-sized speakers that can be multiplied by five in a surround system, and a more jocular view of the show's historic two-channel orientation and some of the oddities that entails. Following are a few impressions. I'll post the least awful of these pictures to the Gallery plus a few extras.
The show was full of fridge-sized speakers but none of them sounded as good as the Totem Acoustics Dreamcatcher ($450/pair), driven by much pricier Plinius electronics. This was the most immediately appealing, and possibly the most accurate, sound at the show. It was utterly free of the grotesque coloration that marred dozens of larger speakers on display elsewhere. This picture looks good because I did not take it.
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.
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).