If you’re used to plugging your unencrypted basic-cable feed directly into your TV’s QAM tuner, you might want to sit down. We’ve got some bad news: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has caved in to decades of cable-industry lobbying and will now allow cable operators to encrypt basic-cable service—the bottom tier consisting mostly of broadcast channels—in digital cable systems. In-the-clear cable service, mandated 20 years ago by an act of Congress, is all but dead.
Amazon has added Compact Discs to an existing trade-in program that already embraces Blu-ray, DVD, games, books, and electronics. There are two categories: Like New, for unscratched discs with original packaging and artwork in mint condition; and Good, for playable discs with light scratches and other disc or packaging blemishes. Send your stuff to Amazon, with free shipping, and a virtual gift card will be credited to your account. Trade-in lucre might be anything from $1.40 for Adele’s 21 to $5.30 for the Special Edition of Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick 2 to $35 for the 13-disc Rolling Stones box set. Of course, some people like having physical media in their libraries, and others may want to keep their audio-codec options open for future reconversions. But if you really hate all that plastic—so much that you want it gone now—here’s your chance to get rid of it and get paid. Amazon will gladly let you consume the credit as new downloads. Search eligible items on amazon.com.
DTS offered one of the show's more interesting audio demos with DTS Headphone:X. The audience were given Sennheiser headphones selling for roughly $100. With headphones off, we heard an 11.1 channel check with front, front height, center, side surround, back surround, and back surround height channels (not including sub). Then the channel check was repeated with headphones on. It sounded precisely the same and the sound still seemed to be coming with the speakers. Finally we were invited to hear the channel check while removing and replacing the headphones. At this point it became clear that the sound was coming only from the headphones. The steering was impressive, with the side, back, and height channels occupying their places in the soundfield with the same confidence as the front channels. DTS also did an A/B demo of the Vizio VHT215 2.1-channel soundbar with various technologies acquired along with SRS Labs. Even amid the noise of the show floor, it was clear that what is now called DTS TruSurround (formerly SRS TruSurround) was lifting the soundstage clear of the bar's physical limits. Just a little, but enough to be noticeable.
THX had a lot to talk about. Tascam is a new brand among THX-certified receivers with the PA-R200, shipping in January for $1299. It is THX Select2 certified. The German manufacturer Teufell has earned THX Multimedia certification for the G850 satellite/subwoofer set, including a dual six-inch sub said to reach down to 35Hz. It ships in February or March at a price to be determined. The first THX-certified (for video) 4K display is the Sharp LC60HQ10, a Japan-only model. Finally, a pair of A/B demos showed the fruit of THX's collaboration with Sontia on a means of correcting acoustic defects in loudspeakers, as opposed to room correction or other forms of DSP magic. With satellite speakers the SPT Optimized version had noticeably greater bass extension. With monitors, there was better focused soundstaging and more detail, though also more brightness, that last part not necessarily an improvement. Initial applications would include soundbars and other products where speakers are matched with amps.
There weren't many surround receivers on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center, but Sherwood was a hardy exception, showing a half-dozen new ones shipping between April and May. The top-line model is the R-977 with a rated 145 watts times seven into six ohms. It features Anchor Bay video processing, internet radio with vTuner, DLNA, direct USB connection of iOS devices, and a phono input. Perhaps more interesting is what's missing: Sherwood is no longer the lone receiver brand supporting innovative Trinnov room correction, a prominent feature of the old (and more costly) R-972. Instead it is relying on the proprietary SNAP room correction that it has also used previously. Price is $1000. At the opposite end of the line is the 5.1-channel RD-5405, selling for a mere $170.
MK celebrates its 40th anniversary with three new THX-certified subs, all with dual drivers in a push-pull configuration that has the front-firing driver operating in phase and the bottom driver operating out of phase, as shown in the brochure we photographed on our hotel room bed. Each driver is in a separate chamber with electronics in a third one. Driver sizes are reflected in the models numbers: X12 ($3200), X10 ($2600), and X8 ($1900). Rated power is 400 watts RMS and 700 watts peak for the X12, 350-650 for the X10, and 300-600 for the X8. Shipping between February and April depending on model. Fans of the venerable MK 150 might want to given a listen to its new tweeter.
"Blue" and "Air" has become our notebook slang for products including both Bluetooth and AirPlay wireless capability. There are quite a few of them at this CES. HRT, a new company, features them in the Stage speakers, with analog amplification, preamp, and USB DAC built into a separate module. One-inch tweeters are treated fabric, 3.5-inch woofers are aluminum, and the system sounded fabulous with CD-resolution files of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (and we think it could have sounded even better with a 24-bit file). The price is $999 with Blue and Air or a hundred bucks less without—but why would you do that? Shipping in June.
Every CES is loaded with exhibits from hopefuls looking to make their mark. Many of these tales of aspiration and struggle are never told. Let us say up front that Taiwan-based oBravo does not yet sell its products in the United States. However, its AI-25P powered sat/sub set got our attention with its folded ribbon tweeter, which produced remarkable detail with violin, acoustic guitar, and other stringed instruments. The 2.1-channel system including speakers, sub, compact amp, and dock would sell for $2500. Note that the dock has the 30-pin Apple connector but a snap-in module adapts it to the new Lighting connector.
If you want your floorstanding speakers to have Bluetooth, the Crystal Matrix Tower does it with a small module that plugs into the back and a separate transmitter with 30-pin, USB, and mini jacks. Also interesting is the way the half-dozen tweeters are divided into two groups of three, each group aimed outward at a slightly different angle, to ensure wide dispersion. Pricing is $3000/pair.
Sonus Faber seems incapable of producing a speaker that sounds anything less than fabulous and the new Venere line is no exception. The line includes the 2.0 monitor (shown, $1700/pair), the 1.5 monitor ($1200/pair), 3.0 tower ($3500/pair), the 2.5 tower ($2500/pair), an on-wall model called The Wall, ($700/each), and a center called The Center ($800). Features include a new silk dome tweeter, combination polypropylene and fiberglass woofers, an enclosure that mimics the shape of $120,000 Aida floorstander, and a new Italian walnut finish in addition to gloss white and black. Add a sub from REL, another Fine Sounds brand, and you're good to go.