As I wandered around the floor at the recent CEDIA Expo in Indianapolis, a theme emerged. By some remarkable coincidence, three different loudspeaker manufacturers were showing special models to celebrate multiple-decade anniversaries. The brands—Paradigm, KEF, and Wharfedale—continue to be formidable ones. They have been making some of the world's best speakers for a long time, and these anniversary products are worth celebrating. They all include monitors, which are right up my alley: My reference system is based on monitors. Unfortunately, most of these models (except KEF) will be made only in limited quantities. Moreover, they are sold only per pair, so if you want to use them in a 5.1 or other odd-numbered surround configuration, an extra speaker is going to languish in a closet. Therefore I won't be able to get them in for review. However, I'd like to celebrate them here and note their passage through the history of audio.
MilleniaOne Speakers Performance Build Quality Value MilleniaSub subwoofer Performance Features Build Quality Value
Price: $2,648 At A Glance: Die-cast aluminum satellites • Flat-form-factor subwoofer • Remarkable transparency
Not often do I begin a review with an apology to readers. But I owe you one.
It’s taken me an unconscionably long time to get around to reviewing the Paradigm MilleniaOne satellite speaker system and MilleniaSub. The products made their retail debuts in November 2010. Since then they’ve languished on my to-do list despite the fact that Paradigm is one of my favorite speaker manufacturers. In fact, I never fail to cite my reference speakers, the Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4, in every A/V receiver review. Now that I’ve gotten an earful of the MilleniaOne and MilleniaSub, I’m kicking myself. I should have recommended these stellar satellites and innovative subwoofer to you a whole lot sooner, whether you’re in the market for a sat/sub set or not. This is the kind of high-performance sat/sub set that might make believers out of people who weren’t even interested in the product category to begin with.
Extruded aluminum enclosures and Imagine Series lineage are only part of what make the Imagine W1 and W3 on-wall speakers special. In addition to being voiced like the great-sounding Imagine Mini, they're also coordinated the way designer Paul Barton says surround speaker systems should be: with the center having twice the output of the left and right combined. So the W3 center ($1200/each) has a sensitivity rating of 89dB, versus the 86dB of the W1 ($600/each), and the 3dB difference enables the center to play twice as loud with the same power. Of course, in practice, you'll level them to have the same output, but your amp will have more headroom for the center at dynamically challenging moments. Elsewhere in the Imagine line, the Imagine Mini Center ($700/each) is now available to match the Imagine Mini satellite. All of the above are shipping October. PSB also announced CustomSound in-wall and in-ceiling speakers of which the most interesting is the C-SUR, whose angled baffle contains enough drivers to run both side- and back-surround channels. Shipping end of December. Also shown was the second-gen VISO 1 AP compact audio system, which eliminates the original VISO 1's dock in favor of AirPlay for $600. It ships first quarter of 2013. The original VISO 1 remains available.
One-upping Paradigm's 30th anniversary models and KEF's 50th anniversary models, Wharfedale celebrates its 80th anniversary with the Denton monitor. Audio history buffs will recognize the model name which goes back decades and decades. If that mahogany finish looks good to you (and it looked great to us) act fast because only 2000 pairs will be made. The one-inch soft dome tweeter and six-inch Kevlar woofer were made especially for this model in IAG's Shenzhen factory, which is capable of making every part, however tiny, that goes into its products. Also shown were two UPC subs including a dual 10-inch powered by 500 watts and a dual 8-inch powered by 350 watts. They come with remote control for volume, crossover, and phase and you can turn off the front panel display if it annoys you. We wish all subs were so eager to please. And we wish all speakers were so drop-dead gorgeous.
What is it that the Canton Digital Movie soundbar has that no others do? To find out you will have to look closely at the back panel (not pictured, ha). It has a phono input. You read that right, a phono input. That's a set of values we applaud. It also has two optical, two coaxial, and two analog inputs (including phono) as well as two analog outs. On the front are two coaxial tweeter/mid-woofer arrays flanking four more mid-woofers, all aluminum. Look for it in mid-November for $1500.
The Bowers & Wilkins CI800 Series replaces the Signature in-walls with pricing at $5000-8000/pair. These speakers feature parts from B&W's high-end 800 Series including Rohacell woofers, new Kevlar midranges, carbon-reinforced metal tweeters, and premium capacitors among other things. Three models include two in-walls and one in-ceiling speaker. The larger of the in-walls is the CWM8.3 with dual eight-inch woofers, a five-inch midrange, and one-inch tweeter.
Krell is getting back into the sub-$10K price point with the Foundation pre-pro. At $6000, it offers fully balanced output stages, as you can see from all those XLR outs. Ever conscious that the surround audiophile may also be a stereo audiophile, it supplements its eight HDMI ins and two outs with a stereo preamp mode that keeps the signal entirely in the analog domain. Add some combination of Krell's five-, three-, or two-channel power amps and you've got a compelling system.
Audio Performance Video Performance Features Ergonomics Value
Price: $1,800 At A Glance: Proprietary HDAM topology • 4K video processing • Audyssey, the works
Marantz has come a long way since Saul Marantz started building audio products in his Kew Gardens, New York, basement. The latest twist in the story is the reinvention of D&M Holdings—that’s D for Denon and M for Marantz—into D+M Group. In addition to trading its ampersand for a plus sign, the company has radically expanded its product lines to include more new products and even new product categories. While Denon has gotten a lot of attention for the latter, including four jam-packed headphone lines, Marantz is also experimenting with new kinds of fun. Its first self-contained iDevice docking system is the Consolette, with a retractable dock, AirPlay, DLNA, Internet radio, two-way internal speakers, and cosmetic echoes of the Saul Marantz–designed preamp that got the party started. But Marantz has not neglected its longtime status as a maker of great home theater products. An overhaul of its audio/video receiver line’s upper end has brought three new models. The top model soon found its way into the guest-receiver berth on my rack.
Of the four soundbars in Polk Audio's line, two are new, and one is quite remarkable. We're talking about the SurroundBar 9000 IHT ($799). This 5.1-channel bar has three tweeters for the front channels and dedicated woofers for each of the five channels, with each driver powered by 45 watts, plus external eight-inch sub. What fascinates us is that bass frequencies from 80-200Hz are routed to all woofers in the bar. In other words, if there's significant bass content in any one of the five channels, it's routed to the other channels as well. This allows better bass handling than you'd expect in a bar. It also allows a lower crossover to the sub, an audiophile-approved 80Hz, which keeps voices from booming out of the sub. Connectivity is optical and analog, both times two, with Dolby Digital and DTS decoding. Guess what? The 9000 worked wonders with a James Taylor concert track, with realistic acoustic guitar harmonics and a vocal presentation that was crisp but not fatiguing. The other new guy is SurroundBar 5000 IHT ($399), a 2.1-channel Bluetooth bar with a pair of full-range drivers backed up by a 6.5-inch sub. Both shipping this month.
The wiggling-needle volume meters that are synonymous with McIntosh are now equally pleasing-to-look-at LEDs. The MC8207 seven-channel amp ($6000) on which they blink boasts 200 watts per channel into both eight and four ohms. McIntosh also showed two pre-pros, one of which was making its debut at CEDIA. That was the MX121 and it brings AirPlay and music streaming from Pandora and the like. Price is $6500. Both shipping now.