Every year in the first week in January, almost 100,000 consumer electronics industry mavens gather to display and view what products loom on the horizon, near and far. This year definitely had the most innovative and exciting products ever. This is mostly the result of the vast proliferation of digital technology. It is also due to the fact that right now, because of the strong economy, people not only want the best but they also can afford it. And with price being less of an object, manufacturers-especially higher-end ones-are delivering products that audio enthusiasts are lusting over.
Infinity Prelude MTS Home Theater Speaker System
One of the most impressive speaker systems at the show this year was the Prelude MTS system by Infinity. A division of Harman International, Infinity is one of the most respected brand names in the industry, due in part to its vast presence in factory-installed car stereo systems, as well as its flagship $50,000 IRS speaker system. The IRS system-considered by audiophiles to be perhaps the best speaker system in existence-is no longer being manufactured. Instead, their new top-of-the-line system is dubbed the Prelude, and even though it is substantial in cost, it comes in at much less than the IRS system.
The system is based on detachable powered tower loudspeakers: the tower sections can be removed from the subwoofer bases and mounted on a wall or on their own sleek stands. Additional tower sections are used for the rear surround sound speakers. The center speaker is matched perfectly with the towers, employing the same driver technology. The MTS subwoofers each feature a built-in 850-watt power amplifier, and 12-inch woofer.
Instead of being made of wood, the tower and center channel speakers are made from anodized brushed aluminum cabinets. These cabinets are substantial: they are heavy to the touch, yet are also made from a material that prevents sound coloration and distortion. The subwoofers are a sort of very cool aluminum/wood hybrid look, and come in a choice of veneers: natural maple, cherry and onyx-stained anigre.
There are two major bits of technology that go into the Prelude MTS speakers. The first is dubbed the Room Adaptive Bass Optimization System or R.A.B.O.S. Developed by venerable speaker engineer Floyd Toole, this system is built upon the theory that the behavior of a room’s reflective acoustics is different for high frequencies than it is for low ones. R.A.B.O.S. consists of a single, adjustable parametric filter built into the subwoofer electronics that addresses acoustical problems inherent in the low frequencies (up to 100Hz). When setting up the speakers initially, the user can adjust this subwoofer using the supplied tools and SPL meter to optimize the sound for the individual listening room.
The other noteworthy technology employed in the Prelude MTS system, is the Ceramic Metal Matrix Diaphragms (C.M.M.D.) used in the drivers. Also developed by Toole, this proprietary driver material offers superior stiffness and damping, eliminating the coloration and distortion typically found in other driver materials.
The Prelude MTS speaker system is sold a la carte, making it easy for the user to design their own system. The subwoofers cost around $2,400 each, the towers are $1,600 each and the center channel is $1,000. Therefore, a complete surround sound speaker system with front and rear towers, a pair of front subs and a center channel would come in around $12,000.
The Yamaha RX-V1 Digital Home Theater Receiver
Yamaha-the free world leader in the surround sound receiver category-claims that this flagship surround sound receiver is bigger and better than the rest. While the latter term is subjective, this component is certainly gargantuan, weighing a whopping 62 lbs.!
Not only is its girth admirable, but this receiver is made up of the newest generation of technology and features. The digital circuitry is among the most advanced yet, and its eight-channel power amplifier delivers the mother-load. The Digital Soundfield Processors feature 44-bit LSI architecture delivering enhanced performance it terms of accuracy and realism. And the digital output circuit boasts a pair of Burr-Brown 96kHz/24-bit digital-to-analog converters for all 10 channels (including two subwoofer outputs). This DAC system delivers superior separation and richer musical delineation.
The RX-V1 employs both Dolby Digital (Matrix 6.1 and ES), as well as DTS surround sound, and enhances both using Yamaha’s proprietary Cinema DSP technology. There are 30 separate surround sound programs used for both music and movies. You can make your TV room sound like a 70mm theater. There are alsojazz club programs (among other music categories)-Village Gate, Village Vanguard and Bottom Line-that overlay the acoustics of those clubs onto any studio-recorded CD.
New from Yamaha are Silent Cinema, a program that lets you enjoy three-dimensional surround through a standard set of headphones, and Virtual Cinema DSP, a program that approximates surround sound without using rear speakers.
The RX-V1 features a pair of front effects channels for additional ambient sounds. Its main core amplifier delivers 100 watts per channel into six discrete channels-including a rear center channel offered by the new Dolby Digital 6.1 systems. With more inputs and outputs than any reasonable videophile could possibly use, the RX-V1 sells for around $3,200.
B&K Multi-Zone Receivers
Brand new from higher-end electronics manufacturer B&K are two ingenious components that allow for music throughout the home. Whole-house music systems have been around for years, but none as simple and practical as these receivers.
Both receivers in the line feature built-in pre-amplifiers, power amplifiers, and AM/FM tuners. They are each capable of powering speakers in different rooms and playing different sources simultaneously: you can listen to a CD in one room and the radio in another using the same receiver.
The two models are the Z310 three-zone receiver and the Z610 six-zone receiver. Each model allows the input selection (including changing the radio station), and the output volume to be controlled via an infrared connection. You can use any infrared transmitter system (such as the Niles IR Pad) installed in each room to connect back to the receiver. And with a pair of in-wall speakers and a flush-mounted IR pad, the music can be seen and not heard. The Z310 and Z610 also employ RS232 ports, and have a connection (but no internal set up) for the new IEEE-1394 Firewire system when it is applicable for audio components. Each receiver delivers 100 watts per channel; they cost around $2,000 and $3,000, respectively.
Niles IntelliControl Home Theater Automation System
Miami-based Niles Corporation is the de facto leader in whole-house music systems. Their newest offering, the IntelliControl system, is one of the simplest, yet most effective system controllers I’ve seen. There are two parts to the system: a master key tabletop remote control, and a main system unit-the brains of the system, hidden out of sight.
The IntelliControl system will operate every component’s infrared control through an IR interface. With one remote control, you can control your TV, VCR, DVD, surround sound and stereo system-even if the components are hidden in a cabinet. The simple 43-key tabletop controller accommodates 250 commands and can be programmable to trigger a macro sequence containing up to 26 steps. This means that by pushing the DVD button, the system will automatically turn on the TV, change the video input, turn on the surround sound system and change that input, power on the DVD player and hit play! And since the master remote uses RF, instead of IR, you don’t have to point it in any particular direction-and it will work from up to 100 feet away.
The IntelliControl system is not meant to be installed by the customer: it is suggested that you use a home electronics installation professional to hook it up and program it for you. Depending upon the complexity of your system, the total cost of the equipment and the installation (excluding home theater components) should run about $1,200 – $2,000.
The JVC TH-A10 Futuristic Home Theater System
This is one of the coolest-looking complete surround systems at the show. And at its price, it is also one of the greatest values. Because its main system is so small, and the speaker so sleek, it could be used either as your main surround sound/home theater system, or as a bedroom system. The TH-A10 also contains a built-in DVD/CD player so it is essentially an all-in-one solution-just add a TV set!
Aluminum is definitely one of the sub-themes of the 2000 C.E.S. and the TH-A10 has more of it than perhaps any other system. The main unit features a brushed aluminum chassis and a chrome front panel. The speaker cabinets are also made from solid ingots of aluminum for better sound as well as a very cool look.
Hook up is quite simple due to its single-wire connection from the main unit to the subwoofer, and color-coded wire connectors from the subwoofer to the five satellite surround sound speakers. The subwoofer contains the actual amplifier, allowing the control unit to maintain its diminutive stature. And the main unit features analog inputs for an outboard VCR and/or cassette deck. The system also emits an on-screen display so you can adjust all of the sound qualities on screen. And at less than $1,700, the JVC TH-A10 system may be one of the best values around.
The Nakamichi SoundSpace 21 Complete Home Theater System
If you like sleek systems, and have a bit more money to spend, Nakamichi offers a no-holds-barred complete system that looks as good as it sounds. Nakamichi-the long-time Japanese leader in home audio components-has reinvented themselves as the new leader in complete music and surround sound systems. The SoundSpace 21-their flagship system-contains nothing that resembles a standard “black box” audio component. Instead, each part of the system is tall and slender, and (of course) metallic! The main unit control center is tall and floor-standing, and enclosed in elegant rosewood panels. It contains Nakamichi’s patented five-disc MusicBank DVD/CD changer, as well as touch panel. The MusicBank system is much sexier than traditional five-disc carousel-type changers in that it accepts discs one-by-one into the internal storage mechanism for quick and easy playback. The control panel also has an AM/FM tuner, and delivers three multi-zone modes so people in three other rooms can listen to music from different sources.
The five-channel speaker system is unlike any other in that the front and rear-channel speakers are suspended in a freestanding rosewood and chrome-clad tower enclosure. The motorized mechanism raises and lowers the speakers inside this enclosure via remote control. This allows the user to optimize the sound for a sitting or a standing position. The SoundSpace 21 system also comes complete with a center channel speaker and a dual, active subwoofer system, and delivers both Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound. There are two remote controls: one is a full-function tabletop remote with large backlit LCD panel for easy operation in low light. The other is a small egg-shaped remote the fits easily into your hand and controls all essential operations.
The Nakamichi SoundSpace 21 system is for the true home décor and surround sound enthusiast and will command a price of around $9,000.
California Audio Labs CL 2500 Series Home Theater Components
If you’re a real audio equipment enthusiast, and want a system that sounds exceptional and takes full advantage of the latest digital technology, the new components from California Audio Labs are a worthwhile consideration. This system is not cheap, but it is well thought-out in terms of upgradability. And even though it is dangerous to claim that any system is future-proof, the CL 2500 system may be the last system you’ll have to buy for decades.
Like all high-end systems, the CL 2500 system is component-based, so there is a separate black box for each function. The front end of the system consists of a CL 2500 SSP digital controller and the CL 2500 VSW video switch. The SSP 2500 has as much processing power as a computer due to its internal Motorola ColdFire 32-bit RISC processor. And all software configurations can be updated via an RS232 port using a PC to communicate with the component’s flash memory. New software can be furnished on disc or downloaded from the CAL Website via the Internet. The SSP controller will also communicate with all of the other CAL components via RS232 interfaces, and the VSW video switch will deliver a multitude of audio and video signals throughout the home.
The CAL CL 2500 MCA multi-channel power amplifier has five independent channels capable of delivering 500 watts each. It delivers such an awesome output by utilizing a revolutionary zero voltage transition digital switching power supply. This technique makes it possible to reduce the size of the power transformer and amount of required filter capacitance, increasing the power supply efficiency and reducing the input power requirements.
This system works perfectly with a CAL HDCD player or DVD player, as well as any other high-quality audio or video component. The CL 2500 system-priced at around $15,000-is worth every penny.