Morning arrives way too soon after the late night Carlos Santana Concert. But I wake up with a smile on my face and joy in my heart…what a great concert!
After a great breakfast at the Hard Rock Café with the Enjoy the Music.com™ crew, I take a shuttle bus back to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Lots more equipment to see and hear.
Saturday, November 9, 2003
The frenzy of people and equipment is almost blinding but out of the blur of equipment and people, a pair of loudspeakers emerges.
My feet take over and I find myself planted in front of a sculpture, an object d'art, a masterpiece. Is it a Michelangelo, a Leonardo DeVinci or a Raphael? Guess again. It's the brand new, gorgeous Stradivari speakers from Sonus Faber ($39,995). Built in Italy, these speakers are so beautiful they almost don't need to play music. Bill Pugh of Sumiko Music (the importers of these speakers) explains. The Stardivari are the third generation in the Homage speaker series. In 1993 Sonus Faber created the Guerneri Homage speaker in 1998 they released the Amati Homage and now in 2004 we have the Stradivari. Pugh tells me that the dynamic drivers and string grill contribute to the sonically open sound quality. The Stradivari speakers have a different baffle shape with easier placement and control for a more linear sound. The Sonus Faber literature tells us that the silk ring radiator eliminates unwanted reflections and colorations in the tweeters. A 6-inch midrange transducer was designed to have high levels of dynamic linearity with low levels of coloration. Dual 10.25-inch drivers comprise the low frequency system with cones made from an exotic aluminum/magnesium alloy for superior stiffness to weight ratio. The crossover employs a multi-slope circuit topology for control of amplitude and phase. The transition frequencies are at 300Hz and 4,000 Hz (the human voice spectrum). The connection terminal is made from an alloy of silver and palladium. The lacquer finish of these speakers is magnificent. Much care was taken to respect the character of the wood and create a lacquer process that would support the acoustic beauty of the speakers. It took one year for Franco (the designer) to develop the multi-layer veneer finish.
During my discussions with Pugh, we were joined by the charming editor of The Absolute Sound and author of the third edition of
The Guide to Hi-End Audio, Robert Harley. Together we looked at the new CD/CD-R/CD-RW/CD-ROM/SACD/DVD-Video/DVD-Audio/DVD-R/DVD-RW and MP3 player from Primare and the Primare SP31 Multi-Channel Surround Processor. Designed by Michael Bladelius (formerly of Threshold and Forte). The DVD-30 has a Burr Brown DAC and specially designed bass management that pushes the envelope of multi-channel. Bill noted that in hi-end audio much care is given to setting up the room and system. He said we need to take more care in setting up our surround sound systems. Robert added that in film the focus is not on the quality of sound but on the emotion that the sound emits. He said that Mark Berger (sound designer for Saul Zantz-film producer who owns the rights to Lord of the Rings) uses sound to enhance the emotion of a scene. So, the goal of hi-end audio is to reproduce the live experience while the goal of a movie's sound track is to accentuate the feelings of the viewer. Pugh and Harley think that the goals of hi-end audio and movie sound tracks are different. But I believe that these goals are similar because a truly hi-end sound system also invokes in the listener the feelings of the music.
My next stop is the EAD-Enlightened Audio Designs booth. This equipment has excellent true to the source sound but is a little difficult to set up. On display is the EAD Power Master 2-8 channel amplifier, the Theatre Master Studio Pro 880 Processor and the DVD 800 Pro DVD & DVD Audio player. Other formats are not yet available. I'm told that the video switching incorporates new technologies which are still in the design phase. Unfortunately there is no one from EAD available to talk with me.
The people at JM Labs have an entire array of new speakers on display. The Chorus Line bookshelf speakers incorporate a new magnesium aluminum alloy tweeter ($1,295); the Cobalt Series ($1,095 to $2,695) have titanium tweeters. The Electra Series ($1,995 to $8,000) have time aligned baffles and special cabinets and the Utopia are a brand new series ($6,000 to $8,500) with solid Beryllium diaphragm drivers.
My next appointment is with Bill Blagdan of D2 Audio Corp. These people design digital amplifier modules with a proprietary chip that they sell to manufacturers. Their first customer was Harmon Karmon and their DPR 2005 Home Theater Amplifier. The goal of D2 Audio Corp is higher performance and improved fidelity levels in digital amplification… the next generation of home receivers. Skip Taylor, the founder and technical officer of D2Audio explained that the proprietary chip has DSP correction. The high performance digital signal processor senses the output load of the speakers and corrects the amplifier and speaker deficiencies. The low distortion meets THX requirements and improves the quality of hi-powered amplifiers by correcting the digital switching signal.
The D2Audio XR125 is designed for manufacturers of home theater components. It has tone control, volume control and 5-band parametric EQ for audio processing flexibility and simplicity. It produces a
high quality sound from a digital amplifier and the digital audio inputs eliminate the need for any digital to analog conversion.
For a demo of the XR 125 module, I listen to the Eric Clapton, Live on Tour 2001 DVD on a Toshiba SD4900 DVD with Rotel Preamp Processor RSP1066 and Infinity
loudspeakers. I am not impressed by the sound of this system. However, the keyboard player is using a
DPM-CA keyboard. Skip tells me that he designed this keyboard for David Sanchez (keyboard player for Sting). Now that is impressive. Skip Taylor walks me over to the Phase-Tech booth for a higher end demo of the D2 Audio technology.
This demo consists of Phase Tech prototype speakers with built in digital amplifiers and a 10-inch woofer with adjustable crossover and 300 watt amplifier
($8,000 to $10,000). The speakers are equalized at + or- 1/4dB for room correction. The DVD player is the MacIntosh MVP851 and MacIntosh MX134 Preamp/processor. We are listening to a DVD-Audio of Gordon Goodwin's
Big Phat Band. The sound is detailed and airy, clean and effortless. But the instruments are not focused; the bass guitar and bass drum are difficult to differentiate. Sonically the clarinet is accurate but the sound wonders around the soundstage like a bird flying through the trees. Next we listen to Diana Krall's
Love Scenes. The voice is natural, the bass is tight and the instruments are defined. A woman listener also commented that the sound is crisp and detailed. I'm not surprised by the detail and definition as these are general characteristics of digital amplification. Unfortunately the lack of focus and soundstage problems is also characteristic of this technology. In the beginning the CD technology had many difficulties. Over time technical advancements overcame many of the problems and the CD technology is now greatly improved and new technologies such as SACD and DVD-Audio have emerged. I am confident that digital amplification will follow a similar path to improved technology that results in better quality sound. For now I believe they are on the right path to success.
As I was departing the convention center an interesting pair of loudspeakers caught my eye, The Mobius ($5,000 for 2 front, 1 center, 2 rear and 1 sub) 360 degree speakers from Artistic Audio, Inc. The design incorporates twin 8-inch dome-shaped, midbass drivers mounted back-to-back and an 8-inch subwoofer housed within a triangular enclosure with a side-firing woofer to minimize the signature footprint. The twin tuning ports direct air compliance and unwanted acoustical energy to a sub-chamber located in the subwoofer enclosure. Winner of the Innovations Honors Award these omni-directional speakers do not have a sweet spot. The music sounds the same everywhere you sit. The sound is clean and lush but once again the soundstage and imaging is lacking. Not surprising. How can you have imaging and soundstage accuracy with an omni-directional
loudspeaker? It is difficult to listen as there is outside noise and problems with room acoustics. This is an interesting
loudspeaker for home theater and surround sound applications.
I finally make it out the door of the convention center and join a crowd of people waiting for the shuttle back to the Alexis Park Hotel. The Final Destination -- My room at the San Remo Hotel for a nap and change of clothes. I look forward to a nice Italian dinner and a special treat
-- an evening with the Blue Man Group. Dinner was delicious and relaxing. The Blue Man Group is an interesting entertainment phenomenon. A percussion ensemble with rock band back up, they combine pantomime with audience participation and special effects. Oh and did I mention that the faces of all the performers are covered in bright blue make-up? The entire experience was like an LSD flashback without the brain-cell killing side effects of Timothy Leary's magic potion.
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