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March 2003
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
CES Show Coverage – 2003
What The Other Guys Didn't Tell You...
Part II

Report By Chris Boylan

 

  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 DVD cleaners/scratch removers
Azuradisc CD and DVD scratch removal machines can
repair scratches in as little as 20 to 40 seconds.

     
Azuradisc makes a variety of professional disc cleaners that do more than just clean - in fact, they repair light, medium and even deep scratches in CDs, DVDs, Playstation and XBox video games.  I have had to grudgingly throw out more than one CD due to excessive scratches and I can't tell you how many times I have been trying to enjoy a rented DVD movie from Blockbuster only to have the disc freeze up at some critical point in the action.  Has that ever happened to you?  If it has, then print out this article, and bring it to your local Blockbuster and demand that they buy one of these puppies!  It's good for us, and it's good for Blockbuster because they'll have happier customers and fewer refunds for damaged rentals and used DVD sales.

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 info@azuradisc.com.

 

And on into Home Theater Land...

 


LVCC's South Hall was home to a few hundred audio and
home theater exhibitors.

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.  

Denon AVR-2803 - available in March for $799
Denon's AVR-2803 will be available in March '03 for $799 list.

Denon DVD-2900 universal player - available in March for $999
Denon's DVD-2900 will be available in March '03 for $999 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.

 Denon gear in the demo room
Denon, Faroudja and M&K gear in the Denon demo room.

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' display of classic tube and solid state gear warmed the hearts of audiophiles
Marantz' display of classic tube and solid state gear warmed
the hearts of reminiscent audiophiles at CES.

The SLT-12U turntable from 1968
Remember The SLT 12U turntable from 1968?  Me neither.
Apparently it was one of the first examples of a linear tracking tonearm.

Marantz Project T1
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!

MarantzMV8300
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.

Kameleon remote
Cool remote, but at 6 feet long, how do I fit it on my coffee table?

 

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:

Honda S2000 Barbie Edition
Souped Up, Barbie-Mobile?  This Honda S2000 will be featured
in the upcoming movie "The Fast and the Furious II"
360 HP. 0-60 in 5.1 seconds. Audio by Lightning Audio

Raquel - Visonik
Visonik's poster child Raquel indulges her fans

 

Gary Biggs BADITUDE Buick
Gary Biggs' "Baditude" Buick - 600+ watts of KICKER power

Gary Biggs BADITUDE Buick
amps and skull optional

Monster Cable's Lamborghini
Apparently Monster Cable's Ferrari, Lamborghini (pictured) and
Porsche Twin Turbo are all Head Monster Noel Lee's "company cars"
- now that's my kind of tax deduction!

Nicole MA Audio
MA Audio's Nicole shows off her components.

blaupunkt's 1965 VW microbus
I drove a VW microbus in college but it wasn't equipped like this one...

blaupunkt's 1965 VW microbus
Chock full o' video screens, subwoofers and component speakers,
if the van is a'rockin, bring some popcorn!

Mirage OmniSat - groovy, baby!
High-end audio vendors weren't immune to resorting to sex appeal to sell their wares.  
Mirage showed off their ultra small and sexy OmniSat satellite speakers
with the help of their shagadelic spokesmodel... groooovy, baby!


And now back to our regularly scheduled show report

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.  

Kameleon remote
Meridian DSP7000 digital powered speaker system.
Plug in a 2-channel digital source and you're done.


Klipsch had a nice sounding little home theater system on display.  The demo material was the DVD of "Star Wars Episode II - Attack of the Clones."  This may be the perfect demo material - good visuals and excellent sound effects, lots of action, with none of that distracting plot and acting stuff.

Klipsch Reference Series
Klipsch's RF-25 system ($1779) includes the RF-25 fronts,
RC-25 center and RS-25 surrounds, plus the RW-10 powered subwoofer.
Expected availability - April 2003. 


Klipsch also introduced the latest version of their multi-media 5.1 channel system at CES ($299, available in February '03). They're designed to be used for gaming, computer use or even a low-budget home theater.  They certainly look cool enough but alas, I didn't get a chance to check out their sound.

Klipsch Multimedia speakers
Klipsch's GMXD-5.1 multimedia speakers.


And speaking of multimedia speakers, Edifier had some very unorthodox entries into the multi-media speaker category.  Their S5.1 multi-media system is a fairly traditional 5.1 channel 20 WPC powered system (actually 6.1 channels of power, but only 5 speakers plus sub are provided). It does not include a decoder so you'll need a DVD player or computer with built-in multi-channel decoding in order to use it.  I settled in to listen to a favorite DTS CD of mine - "The Eagles - Hell Freezes Over" and was impressed by the quality of sound from such a low-priced combo.  But even more impressive was the high quality fit and finish - real wood veneers make these a set of speakers that you won't have to hide.

Edifier S5.1 Desktop Theatre System
Edifier S5.1 Desktop Theatre System.

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.    

Eniac tube-powered multi-media speakers
Edifier's Eniac speakers - like their computer namesake - are powered by tubes

 

Convergence, Shmonvergence...

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 keyboard below.

Creative's Prodikeys was a big hit at the show
Creative's "Prodikeys" was a big hit at the show.

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.  

Your intrepid reviewer gives the BAFO Soul Drum a Whirl
Your intrepid reviewer gives the BAFO Soul Drum a Whirl.

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.  

 

Click here to continue to Part III of this report, featuring more high end audio and video exhibits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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