Another day, another 743 booths to visit... The problem with huge shows like this is that it's tough to spend any quality time with a nice system, or a friendly exhibitor without feeling like you're going to miss something. President Bush has got it wrong wanting to ban human cloning. I think it's the only way I'd be able to actually cover the whole show. But somehow I don't think the world is ready to have 5 Chris Boylans running around... so I put on my Nikes and "Just Did It..."
CD Cleaning Anyone?
Ahhh... Remember the good
old days when you could drop a few hundred bucks on a high-end Nitty Gritty
record cleaner so you could get the grit out of those used LP treasures you
bought or clean up the vinyl that got inadvertently soaked in YooHoo by your
little brother? Well reminisce no longer. Now you can buy yourself
a high end CD/SACD/DVD/DVD-A cleaner and keep those silver platters clean,
polished and scratch free.
Azuradisc CD and DVD scratch removal machines can
repair scratches in as little as 20 to 40 seconds.
Azuradisc disc scratch removal machines start at $699 for the one pictured above, which removes light to medium scratches in 20 to 40 seconds. They even offer a fully automatic model that takes 50 discs at a time, runs them through the complete buff and polish cycle and gently deposits them back onto a spindle when finished. Every DVD rental shop on the planet should have one of these. More info at www.azuradisc.com or e-mail email@example.com.
And on into Home Theater Land...
The lower level of the South hall was packed with mid to high-end audio and home theater vendors like Denon, Marantz, Faroudja and more, plus some names I hadn't seen before.
Denon was showing off their upcoming DVD-2900
multi-format DVD/CD/SACD/DVD-Audio player (list price $999) as well as
their new AVR-2803 home theater receiver. Both will be available
in early Spring. The AVR-2803 promises DTS, Dolby Digital and Dolby
ProLogic II decoding, full 7.1 channel support at 80 watts per channel
plus high bandwidth component video switching - all for only $799 list.
But more intersting to me
was Denon's new AVR-3803 which for a list of $1299 upgrades the power to
110 WPC, includes DTS 24/96 decoding and does video signal conversion so
that your component, composite and S-video sources can all be converted to
a single output format. No longer must you hook up multiple cables
from your A/V receiver to your monitor and figure which source to select
on your TV for the various gear. Now you can plug component, composite
and s-video sources into the receiver, and send all of these sources out
through the output format of your choice. Pretty neat.
The ever-friendly, ever-helpful
Matt Good from Denon's corporate training group was running the 9.1 Channel
High End Home Theater Demo. This demo featured their DVD-9000 multi-disc
player connected (digitally, no less) to their flagship AVR-5803 receiver,
M&K speakers, Faroudja video processing and a Crystal View CRT projector.
First up was a stereo SACD cut featuring Rebecca Pidgeon. It really drew me in, very involving with excellent soundstage depth. Proving once again, that two channels, recorded and played back properly, sounds damn good! Matt then put on a couple of movie clips, which also sounded fine (and looked gorgeous through the Faroudja/Crystal View combo). Then he finished up with Yes Roundabout in 9.1 (!!??) - from the Fragile DVD-Audio. This recording was very transparent and... well... all-encompassing (it should be with 9.1 channels) but it actually was not quite as involving as the two channel Rebecca Pidgeon track. Overall, the system looked and sounded great.
And now a flashback to the golden age of analog...
Marantz showed off some new plasma TVs,
a DVHS High Definition VCR, and many new audio products, but what caught
everyone's attention was their display of retro gear - classic Marantz components
from the 60s and 70s.
Marantz' Project T1 is not "classic gear" - it only looks that way.
It's actually a state of the art tube amp, currently available only in Japan.
I want one!
The MV8300 DVHS recorder records HDTV signals via its iLink/firewire connector
External set-top box required for recording. Available in Spring 2003 for $1599 list.
Universal Electronics Inc. best known for
their "OneForAll" brand of universal remote controls, was showing off their
Kameleon remote $59.99 - sold under the One For All and RadioShack brand
names. It uses technology they call "digital ink" that only illuminates
the keys that are used for a specific component.
Quick Sidebar - Things that go BOOM in the night...
OK, I'm not going to pretend
this is high-end audio or video, but the testosterone was flowing freely
in the car audio display room. Not only were there some killer cars
on display, but there was also live poster signing by some of the most popular
models in car audio advertising. Apparently sex sells...
Here's a small sample:
Back in the North Hall, Meridian
had on display their new "affordable" digital amplified stereo speakers.
Affordable for Meridian that is. They were showing their DSP7000
($27,500/pr.), similar in
many ways to the DSP8000 system which has been quite popular with the ladies,
um, I mean the reviewers. They also showed their model 800 Series 3
DVD player ($17,000 to $20,000 depending on configuration) which includes
support for the DVI interface as well as HDMI and several other acronyms.
But what intrigued me even
more in the Edifier room was their Eniac powered multi-media speakers.
Sounds pretty mundane, eh? Just another pair of powered speakers?
Not so! Because these babies are powered by tubes! At
only $299 each, I don't know how they do it. The sound of these little
guys was very warm and inviting, much better than they had a right to at
this price. I may try to get a pair in for a complete review.
While we're on the topic of
computers and multi-media products, I should mention that many exhibitors
were touting the convergence of computers and home audio and video. I still
have trouble believing that my laptop will ever be an integrated part of
my home theater, but hey, who knows? Exhibitors like Marantz and
Yamaha were just two of the big names
displaying "entertainment servers" that were basically stripped down computers
with huge hard-drives for serving up MP3 files to your standard audio rig.
Yeah, whatever... when they can get the quality of the served "entertainment"
up to real DVD, SACD or DVD-Audio levels, and when I can download any song
I want on demand in high quality format, then I'll get excited.
But the convergence that actually
does float my boat is the convergence of computers and musical instruments.
Why pay a lot for an electronic keyboard instrument, when your computer
is perfectly capable of generating the sounds, and even recording and playing
back musical pieces already? In fact, the only thing limiting your computer
right now from being an actual, functioning musical instrument is the user
interface - the computer keyboard itself.
Creative (formerly Creative
Sound Labs) had a huge exhibit showing THX-approved multi-media speakers,
sound cards, and more. But the coolest "peripheral" they had on display
was their Prodikeys
keyboard. Prodikeys is a keyboard in both senses of the word - a
full computer keyboard on top and a 37-key touch-sensitive piano-style
For $99 you get the keyboard
and the sequencing/voicing software as well as instructional software
so you can make yourself sound like Chopin, or maybe Rick Wakeman, as your
tastes dictate. Creative put on a hell of a demo and really got the crowd
pumped. Of course, the guy doing the demo was more than passingly familiar
with playing the keyboard, but a few dozen people left that demo with their
own Prodikeys and were off in hopes of becoming the next American Idol keyboard-style...
If keyboards aren't where
you get your kicks, how about drums? Sure you can buy a really incredible-sounding
electronic drum set from Roland for around $4000. Or, you could buy
BAFO's "Soul Drum" for $349. Will
you get the same thing? Of course not (the Rolands really rock!)
but with the Soul Drum, you'll get a nifty little transportable electronic
drum set that plugs into your computer via the ubiquitous USB port.
BAFO's Soul Drum comes with
5 drum pads, a stand, control unit, one pedal (for bass drum and/or hi-hat),
a pair of drum sticks and the software to make it all work. There
are 10 different drum set sounds to choose from, and there's even instructional
software built in so you can get off and running with no previous training.
Is it the best electronic drum set I've ever played? No - the
pedal was a little sluggish and the software crashed once while I was watching,
but for $349 it was a hell of a lot of fun, and the instructional value
of it may make it a worthwhile investment for a beginner.