While not quite as jammed packed or exciting as previous years, CEDIA 2009 still proved to be the place to be for new product launches, as understated as those launches may have been. Before I get into what excited me about CEDIA please allow me to get something off my chest; move CEDIA back to a location people actually like going to. I have nothing against Atlanta as a city, however compared to the facilities we’ve enjoyed in Denver the past few years the convention might as well have been held at a Chucky Cheese. On top of a down economy, I’m certain a number of manufacturers and dealers stayed away from this year’s CEDIA because of its move to the less than stellar accommodations of the Atlanta Convention Center.
But I digress.
On a whole there wasn’t the usual hoopla of announcements, however there were a number of notable products quietly making their debuts at the show, if you knew where to look. So here we go, in no particular order.
MartinLogan is always a fun booth to visit, however in the past their booth has largely consisted of static displays of customized one-offs of their Summit loudspeakers and maybe an LCD TV with a pair of wall mounted Fresco i’s. Not this year. This year MartinLogan was displaying on the parameter of the show floor with a specially constructed sound room where they were demoing their wonderful sounding, yet ugly as sin, CLX’s mated to a bevy of McIntosh gear. While that would normally be enough for me to rave about, the CLX’s were totally overshadowed by a small 7.1 speaker system that MartinLogan has yet to name or explain.
The diminutive MartinLogans were roughly the size of my hand and were finished in flat black with no discernable markings or style cues that would let you know they were, in fact, MartinLogans. While they may have been clouded in secrecy, it was no secret they sounded good. Okay, damn good, far better than a. they should have and b. I’ve ever heard from a satellite/subwoofer system.
Toshiba’s booth was among the largest of the show yet it was all rather understated and frankly a bit underwhelming. The faux walls were lined with just about every display in their arsenal and they all looked great and represented Toshiba’s commitment to quality but there didn’t seem to be anything that got the heart rate up. Until I went behind the curtain into a small dark room where they were showing their latest LED TV.
I’m not a huge fan of LED at the moment, not because I think it’s bad or going to fail, but because I don’t like how it’s being marketed to the general public as an LED TV. They’re not, they’re LCD TV’s back lit by an LED light source, which in every case but Toshiba emanates from the sides of the screen creating light uniformity issues as well as a host of other image/light anomalies. However, Toshiba’s new LED TV is a bit different; while still an LCD TV at heart, its backlighting comes via a complete mesh of LED lights that span the entire width and height of the display. Unlike every other LED TV out there the Toshiba LED display has no light uniformity issues resulting in deeper, truer blacks and more brilliant yet accurate highlights, not to mention the color gradations and grey scale tracking are damn near spot on.
B&W was showing off their wonderful CT line of speakers this year with a few new additions, mainly a new, smaller subwoofer as well as a smaller, entry-level monitor speaker. For those of you not familiar with the CT line of products from B&W they’re aimed at the custom install market and designed to be integrated into custom cabinetry or behind a perforated screen or fabric wall. While not the prettiest speakers out there (they look as if they’ve stepped straight out of a control studio) they pack quite a punch and are one of the more affordable and best sounding home theater speaker systems out there today.
Classé was showing off their newest line of amplifiers and processors, the CT Series. Based off of their existing amplifiers and the wonderful SSP-800 audio video processor, the CT line does away with Classé’s trademark rounded white façade in exchange for a more traditional, yet still very sexy, black and grey motif. However, unlike other Classé amplifiers and processors the CT Series of products are designed to be rack mounted and fit into enclosed spaces where they still sound great while running cool to the touch as well as being far more manageable.
Paradigm was showcasing, albeit a static display, their newest SE speaker line, which will fall between their Monitor and Reference line of products. The fit and finish were spectacular and because they’re from Paradigm they’re bound to sound great. Elsewhere in the Paradigm booth they were showcasing their updated Signature line of speakers as well as three new subwoofers, two of which look like they could shake a house off its foundation if played to loudly.
JBL will always have a special place in my heart so it’s no surprise I was taken back by their new Performance LS Series Loudspeakers. Consisting of two floor standing speakers, a bookshelf, center channel and sub the lineup takes a style cue or two from JBL’s awesome K2 speakers whilst remaining way more affordable. I didn’t get a chance to hear the LS Series speakers at the show, but if they sound as good as they look (which I’m sure they do) JBL has a hit on their hands.
The big news out of Mark Levinson this year was the introduction of their new N° 500H line of amplifiers. Featuring all new industrial design and, I’m told, quite a few internal tweaks as well the N° 500H’s are sure to continue the brand’s already stellar reputation for sonic awesomness. The N° 500H series includes mono, stereo and multi-channel amps including, for the first time, a five-channel amp. Those of you with Proceed Amp 5’s still in your rack may finally have a reason to upgrade.
Focal was showing off just about everything at the CEDIA show including their massive Grande Utopia EM loudspeakers at $180,000 a pair. As cool as the Grande Utopia EM’s were I was more taken back by their stylish and affordable Dôme speakers. Taking a cue out of the Orb Audio playbook yet a bit more substantial in build, the Dôme speakers are encased in a solid aluminum chassis and are finished in a wide variety of colors, which also includes the grills so you can create a two tone color scheme if you wish. Adding to the value of these great looking speakers is the fact that all the necessary mounting hardware and brackets come standard because they’re built in. Tabletop or on-wall the Dôme speaker comes ready to rock and roll. The matching Dôme subwoofer is quite a looker too, if not a bit R2-D2 in shape.
When it comes to CEDIA there’s no overlooking Sony, yet unlike previous years there wasn’t a whole lot that got me uber excited. They had a few new projectors but they have a few new projectors every year. They had new Blu-ray players, the big news being Blu-ray players with network and online capabilities, but I’m getting bored with Blu-ray players, even the massive 400-disc Blu-ray changer didn’t quite do it for me. Receivers, yeah, they had those too.
That’s when I saw it, Sony’s XBR 10 and its wireless streaming box. That’s right, no physical inputs on the display itself. Just hang it on your wall and power it up. All of your source components get connected to a unassuming receiver box, think DVR, that sends the image to the XBR 10 wirelessly. Very cool stuff…so long as it works. The promise is there as is the technology, so here’s hoping. If the XBR 10 is everything it appears to be we’re looking at a potential game changer.
CINEPRO makes my list, not because I found their demo or display to be revolutionary, no, but because I found it to be horrid. Unlike the Wisdom Audio booth or MartinLogan sound room, CINEPRO thinks movie soundtracks should stir your bowels and not your soul. They packed a 10-12 foot anamorphic screen complete with a 7.2 surround sound speaker package and a re-badged BARCO projector in a room, excuse me, booth, that couldn’t have been larger than eight by 12. You know how you can tell your room is too small? When the two, 18 or so inch, forward firing subwoofers are almost close enough to be used as foot stools and they’re right below the screen that’s about to blind you. The gentleman running the demo couldn’t even step aside enough to not cast a six-foot tall shadow of himself across at least a third of the screen.
Now, I’m all for loud demos and taking it to the max but within reason and considering the dozen or so of us in the booth were practically sitting in the woofers of the numerous speakers around the room, it probably isn’t a good idea to take it to 11 there chief. But 11 they did and dear God.
Let’s just say, Advil should never be on your list of associated equipment. It took two days before my head stopped throbbing and I’m pretty sure I’m now sterile from the sheer force of the air being slammed into my crotch from the subwoofers positioned right in front of me.