Audio Performance Video Performance Features Ergonomics Value
Price: $1,799 At A Glance: Strong texture, imaging, dynamics • Dolby Volume for low-volume listening • Relatively affordable price • Subpar video processing
The Good Ship Arcam steers a different course than most manufacturers of audio/video receivers. That means the prospective buyer has to read spec sheets in a different way. At 75 watts per channel, this $1,799 receiver shares a power spec with much, much cheaper competitors. But that doesn’t mean it performs the same. For one thing, Arcam specifies power output with five channels driven (1 kilohertz )—a hurdle most manufacturers don’t even try to clear. The figure rises to 80 watts (20 hertz-20 kHz) or 90 watts (1 kHz) with two channels driven. This leads to what might be called the Arcam Paradox: If you’re willing to step down in the specified number of watts per channel, you can optimize a product, especially its power supply, so that it will drive five reasonably efficient speakers to high levels without hardening the top end or collapsing the soundfield.
Price: $1,706 At A Glance: Listening fatigue immunity • Extremely solid build • Factory-direct value
SVS Sound designs its products from the bottom up. The company got its start as a subwoofer manufacturer, fascinating point-one-obsessed audiophiles with unusual (and potent) cylinder-shaped models. Check out the company’s Website at svsound.com under products and you’ll find the subwoofer category listed above speakers and systems. If you want to add an SVS sub to an existing system, the Website’s Merlin engine lets you key in the make and model of your non-SVS speakers to obtain recommendations on compatible SVS subs. Merlin will even offer suggestions for subwoofer crossovers in both surround and stereo systems.
PSB's Imagine T2 tower can be mentioned in the same breath as the brand's world-beating Synchrony line. The titanium tweeter and polypropylene midrange are backed up with three polypropylene woofers crossed over at 500Hz, 250Hz, and 80Hz, making this a five-way speaker. All drivers live in separate chambers to prevent them from interfering with one another. The result of all that scrupulous construction and ingenuity is a genuinely fantastic sounding speaker with powerful bass, a musically adept midrange, and just the right amount of top end. The number of audio demos at the show that came close can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Price is $3500/pair in veneer or $3850/pair in gloss white or black.
Monitor Audio's Shadow on-walls come in four sizes, all with four-inch flat mid-woofers and the famous C-CAM tweeter used in company's other speakers, built into tough extruded aluminum enclosures. Prices range from $849 to $1649 per pair. They sounded mellower than is typical for Monitor and were home theater worthily dynamic.
Cardas is best known for bleeding-edge cables but is moving into earbuds with the EM 5813 Ear Speakers. Their heavy and lustrous metal casings are brass in the $425 model and steel in the $325 model. Despite their weight, they fit well and don't fall out easily if you pick the right cushion size (took me a couple of tries). Cardas went to a lot of trouble to make the tube mimic the shape of the cochlea, in proportions that adhere to the Golden Ratio, a longtime Cardas design obsession. (It seems to have resulted in a long string of great-sounding products.) The diaphragm is about the size of the eardrum.
Cambridge Audio has always made fine-sounding a/v receivers but in past years the British brand has had trouble keeping up with the latest features, as often happens with smaller manufacturers competing in the feature-frenetic a/v receiver space. But Cambridge is catching up with 3D and other must-haves with three new models. The Azur 751R has 200 watts times seven, Anchor Bay video processing, an extra sub-out for zone two, and Audyssey 2EQ auto setup and room correction (note that it does not equalize the sub channel). The Azur 651R is similarly equipped with 175 watts times seven ($2200). The Azur 551R ($1200) has 110 watts times seven, Faroudja video processing, and proprietary CAMCAS auto setup but no room correction. Note that these power ratings are into six ohms, so the more customary eight-ohm ratings would be a bit lower (for instance, 120 times seven in the top model). Still, the six-ohm ratings suggest how the receivers will perform with slightly more demanding speakers. And these receivers are far from underbuilt. All have heavy damped metal chassis with large toroidal power transformers and an X-tract heat control system involving a large central heat sink and cooling fans, allowing high performance in a not-too-tall form factor.
The Paradigm people unveiled their new Paradigm SHIFT brand at CES 2011. At CES 2012 they showed the Paradigm SHIFT soundbar—not the company's first, but the first under the new moniker. It includes a wireless sub and will sell for $799 starting this summer. Paradigm also showed new in-ceiling speakers with magnetic grilles and noted that the magnets are embedded in the speaker, not merely glued on. That's the kind of thing you can do when you control your manufacturing. Also shown was a $59 Bluetooth dongle to go with active speakers. Having trouble routing your earbud cables? Paradigm is introducing a $12 ear hook to take care of that problem. On the Anthem side, the M1 mono-block amp ($3499) was being demoed to good effect and the brand's two pre-pros, AVM 50v and D2v, are being updated for 3D.
NAD is now shipping three receivers introduced at CEDIA 2011. They include the T 787 ($4000), T 777 ($3000), T 757 ($1600), and T 748 ($900). All but the bottom model have modular construction to allow a variety of updates in the top two models and video updates in the third. The top model has dual transformers which should do a lot to juice dynamics. This receiver would beat up your receiver and take its lunch money if it didn't have such a dreamy, poetic hi-fi personality.
GoldenEar Technology continues to produce thoughtful, independent-minded, and well-engineered new products. Pride of place in the company's exhibit went to the Triton Three powered tower, whose 800-watt DSP-enhanced digital amp drives a 5- by 9-inch sub driver, further reinforced by two 6.75- by 8-inch passive radiators. With the top end handled by GoldenEar's signature folded ribbon tweeter and Audio Research electronics, the speaker left the room awash in delicious sound. Another notable debut was the SuperCinema 3D Array soundbar. This LCR bar includes, in triplicate, the folded ribbon and a 4.5-inch woofer. Cancellation of inter-aural crosstalk gives it the ability to sound anywhere from slightly to considerably (almost unnervingly) bigger than the width of the bar itself. Since it's an LCR, factor in the cost of surrounds and sub. Pricing for either one: $999/each. Also shown was the Invisa HTR 7000 in-ceiling speaker, the first product in that genre to include the folded ribbon ($499).
The gorgeous green Focal Diablo Utopia was fed in style by the Devialet D-Premier, winner of a CES 2012 Innovations award. The D-Premier combines the functions of streamer, DAC, preamp, and hybrid amp in a svelte flat form factor. At $16,000 it doesn't come cheap.