The Big Story: 3D HDTV
The biggest trend was once again in the video world. Every major manufacturer showed 3D HDTV's. Last year at CES, there was only a small spattering of 3D material and displays. This year, over half of most manufacturers' booths were devoted to 3D. Many of the demo'ed displays could create 3D out of standard video feeds, while also displaying native 3D material. Only one maker, I can't recall which, was showing a 3D stereoscopic display; by that I mean one that did not require polarizing glasses to be worn to see the effect. While this is the coolest way to do 3D, it is problematic as it severely restricts off-angle viewing. Stepping just a few degrees off dead on, the image distorted horribly.
The 3D effect was good to very good on many sets, but no matter how good the image, I just can't see everyone wearing gray glasses to watch TV. Remember that everyone who is going to see your TV properly has to wear these special glasses, as without them the image is totally unwatchable. While the technology seems to have significant problems in its implementation I suspect we will be seeing these sets out sooner rather than later. The upside to this new technology is that current TV's took a drop in price since the show began and will likely drop more before the new crop of 3D TV's are released to the public.
Wisdom Audio was showing their in-wall mounting system for concrete walls. The design was super sleek and effective, allowing the look to work on even highly uneven wall surfaces while affording one of the most rigid cabinets available. This might be more applicable to the European market, but living in Florida where concrete block is the norm I can see plenty of application to this system. These guys really have it down, solid sounding speakers and design and install options that would make any interior decorator do back flips by disappearing into the walls.
Tubes were seemingly everywhere, and at all sizes and price points. PrimaLuna was showing some great sounding gear for entry level prices with complete systems available including a wickedly cool looking CD player, preamps, amps and even an integrated amplifier, all with prominently displayed tubes.
Audio Research (ARC)
ARC was showing their line with several recently added products, including their Ref 5 preamplifier. This was likely the most common piece of gear at the show. The new Ref 5 preamp was seen in so many rooms I lost count and for good reason: it sounded great in every room it was in. Look for a full feature review of this piece to be published on HomeTheaterReview.com this spring.
Krell came on full force with a significant improvement to the already exceptional Evo amps and a new, badass Blu-ray player. Anyone in the crowd could easily hear the difference between the new Evo 402e and the original Evo 402, surprising given how good the original Evo amps are. For those with the current models, don't fret; an upgrade is planned, but it will require your amps to go back to the factory to be done. This is a major rebuild of the entire output section and is no in-home swap out. The new amps also are likely the first things Krell has ever made that would be considered eco-friendly. The new amps have power supplies that go into a green mode dropping power consumption to 2 Watts in standby as opposed to the normal (for the Evo 402) of 370 Watts. The downside is the amps will take longer to reach normal operating temperatures but the cost savings on your power bill will likely outweigh the warm up time. The new amps come in at just slightly more than the current models and will ship in March.
Transparent Audio was showing new Reference MM2 power products and power cords. This is a company that truly gets it. They are all die hard fanatics - and I mean this in the best possible way - to this hobby, and they tirelessly work to continue to push the envelope further. The new power products are redesigned to further enhance the sonics of every system and come in a wide range of price points to meet a variety of system needs.
Atlantic was showing in one of the larger rooms downstairs at the Venetian with Parasound, and was demoing their new floor standing speakers that use a proprietary H-PAS technology to enhance bass performance from smaller drivers. The new model had two drivers about five inches in diameter and a tweeter and produced bass that was powerful and deep. These should be shipping before too long and are expected to come in at $2,000 per pair, making them one of the cheapest full range floor standers I can think of. While they didn't have the nth degree of refinement, my brief demo showed me they were serious performers and something to watch out for in the future.
Anthem/Paradigm were not showing anything new but just announced the actual release of their new Blu-ray player and their ultra cool new subwoofers, the Sub 1 and Sub 2. The Sub 2 runs six ten inch long throw drivers and has an internal amplifier that can peak at over 9,000 Watts. Yep, you read that right; in order to get the most performance out of this subwoofer you will need to have a 220 Volt line run to it. I can only imagine how well it does when powered by 220 as the demo they showed with the new Signature S8's and ADP surrounds and two of the Sub 2's showed more bass than a room could ever need. Reportedly during some of the demos, light bulbs had unscrewed and crashed to the floor and the guys had to routinely re-tighten the bulbs to prevent it from happening again during the show. Now that's bass.
B&W showed of a small but gorgeous booth in the south hall featuring the new Jaguar XJ with a full B&W system installed. This was a static display but if it sounds half as good as it looks it will be worth whatever it costs! New models of the 800/802/803 were also shown with redesigned head units. The company also showed their first headphones that had a sleek look, great sound and were super comfortable to wear.
Resolution Audio was showing a new player/music server/streaming system that had some of the coolest aesthetics I saw at the show. The textured tops to the new line were gorgeous, and the display was integrated into the front, allowing large clearly readable messages to be displayed in a dot matrix-like way. The units are ready for setting up music in a single room from a disc only, or to an entire home from a server, wired or wireless.
Well known as one of the best manufacturers of digital audio, Meridian had a host of newly revamped gear to show including the long awaited 861v6 AV preamp (they skipped the v5.) The new unit, and all of their speakers now come in any of 256 different colors to match your décor. New models of the 808 CD player and G series were also shown. The sound in their room was the best I have ever heard from them at a show, and thankfully owners of older 861's will still be able to upgrade to the newest model.
Vizio was showing off more new technology in their off site room in the Wynn, featuring a native 2.35:1 58 inch TV that is web enabled, and a native 4K display as well as a massive 70 plus inch LCD. Mobile TV's were a new item, in a range of easily handled sizes as well as Vizio's entry into the headphone market. This is the fastest growing company in our field and from the looks of their displays; they have no plans for slowing down.
The Receiver Market
Once again new receivers were everywhere, with Dolby PL IIz seeming to be the big new feature. I don't know how many people will ever use the front height channels. New receivers and AV preamps from the likes of Onkyo and Arcam seemed sweet and offered dual simultaneous HDMI outputs, another trend I am glad to see emerge for those with dual display systems, while Sherwood offered integrated internet connectivity, and Bluetooth, as well as some ultra inexpensive 5.1 receivers retailing below $150.
The receiver market is the toughest area of our field to keep up with as new features show up in receivers several times a year and new models are created to incorporate them. I would like to see separates keep up, or preferably the receiver market slow down. It just doesn't seem right that a receiver bought only months ago should be discontinued for the addition of another, minor feature. I think the consumer needs to really decide just how many of these 'latest and greatest' features they will actually use and buy just what they need.
Music Hall Audio - the quote of the show
A stop in on Music Hall Audio showed Roy Hall in great spirits. He was showing his usual enthusiasm and his entirely redesigned turntable line, including the first ever showing of the MMF 9.2. The new MMF 9.2 has dual motors, a flywheel that will utilize a magnetic bearing to totally isolate it from the motors, and a new suspension system. It looks to be a future giant killer in the analog world. Roy had the best line of the show, when describing why he does what he does, he said "The better the HiFi, the better the erection, the better the fuck!" I don't think I could sum it up any better!