Sorry that I didn't get out the rest of my show report for February, but things have been very hectic at my normal job since my return from Las Vegas, including the delivery of my first set of triplets. Happily, it has given me time to cull out those findings, which at first appeared Earth-shattering. Its amazing how, when one first leaves the show, one thinks that many things seen are tremendous innovations, but on second thought are just reruns or
So what was really new and important at the show: not much I'm afraid to say, especially in high-end audio. There wasn't one new horn speaker design, just some
reworkings, and only five of them.
The best sounding of the horn designs available now was from Classic Audio
Reproductions (of Brighton, Mi), www.classicaudiorepro.com, which showed their reworked T-3 horn, with 15" Alnico woofer and TAD 2001 or 4001 midrange driver. It sounded much better than previous incarnations I had heard at various shows, possibly because they have added a TAD ET-703 horn tweeter which certainly has extended and sweetened the high end, and had reworked their crossover.
Another horn that was significantly improved was from Ron Wellborn's Moondog Audio. Called the Maya, it is a round horn with about a three-foot mouth using an AER MK II driver. I would love to compare it to my Edgar Round horns using the TAD 4002 driver, but I think the price was over $15,000, so out of my range for affordable horns. The Edgar's, when I bought them, cost $600 each and the TAD driver about $1200, so far more reasonable.
The best sounding, as mentioned previously, was a 6x10' baffled pair of Siemen's Theater Horns which were being used to demonstrate a new turntable, the name of which I've since forgotten. Driven by Lamm SET $29,000 amps, they sounded superb, giving the most lifelike reproduction of an orchestra that I've heard at a show. Unhappily they haven't been built since the 60's, so are obviously unavailable unless someone is tearing down an old theater in your area. This is not so far fetched as you might think. There are many recently closed old theaters in small towns, run out of business by the Megaplexes that may be happy to sell you for a pittance their old horn speakers and tube electronics. Look around and let me know.
Two individuals who I have known for years, Poh Ser Hsu from Hsu Labs, and Brian Cheney, of VMPS Audio both did great demo's with their respective new subwoofers and full range speakers. Both these guys always do an excellent job of demo'ing good and reasonably priced equipment, both of which can be ordered directly from the factory.
I only saw one new type of audio technology that gripped my fancy. For those interested in surround sound but don't have the space for 6 or 7 speakers and subwoofer, Pioneer showed a single center speaker made of about
forty 2" drivers in a 2' x 3' cabinet which uses digital signal processing to obtain the equivalent of a three front and two side speaker imaging. The effect was very good from the sweet spot in the room and acceptable even in the back, with the effect sounding like there were
two side speakers about even with the individual. Only the rear imaging was absent and this could be added with a rear speaker. Price - $40,000 for the single speaker and processor, and that didn't include the amplifiers. So, unhappily too expensive for a second or bedroom system, but not quite up to the $40,000 level in sound for the main listening room, unless you're really cramped for space, or the WAF is more important.
Later that afternoon, I was waltzing through a room at the Alexis, and just as I was leaving, a smiling Japanese gentleman tapped me on the shoulder, asked me if I'd like to see something new, grabbed my arm and led me into a darkened back room where a second Japanese gentleman led me to a single straight backed chair, while the first closed the door. Some anxiety began to overcome me, although I'd never heard of a terrorist plot at a CES before.
They turned on a 27" TV in front of me and began playing the attack scene from Pearl Harbor with only a single audio channel. The hairs began standing up on my neck. Was this some kind of sick payback for WW II, subjecting a high ender to a low def audio and video show of our most ignominious day? Would I get out of there with my senses intact? I heard some snickering from behind me. Uh oh, I thought! What sort of information were they trying to torture out of me with this low fi demonstration?
Then, the room disappeared, the sound stage opened up and I was surrounded by a very good 5.1 sound field with shells and bullets whizzing from all different directions except from dead center in the back, and explosions that were pretty good, but not quite up to the best subwoofer standards. Just as I was going to comment on the hole in the back, the rear field and bass suddenly opened up and I was completely surrounded by excellent 6.1 surround. Suddenly, the lights came up, the soundstage disappeared, and I found myself sitting in a smallish hotel room with the 27" television, what appeared to be a DVD player, one small loudspeaker sitting on top of the television, a second in the back of the room on a stand, and a small subwoofer. That was it. Nothing else.
The company? Binaura Audio Research Corp, of Santa Clara, Ca.,
www.binaura.com. The system is called The Venue, The owner and demonstrator was Jim
Uyeda, Jr., President and CEO. What they have done is develop a very price competitive (read cheap) digital signal processing system that did as much if not more than the above-mentioned Pioneer. The source unit consists of a
3" x 17" x 14" cabinet and remote with built in DVD player and FM-AM tuner, and digital decoding electronics. Through digital algorithms and signal processing, it decodes Dolby Pro logic, AC-3, and DTS to 5.1, and stereo to surround, will play DVD, CD, VCD, CD-R, CD-RW, and MP-3 discs and then outputs eight signals to what they call a Front and Rear Satellite Array and subwoofer. Progressive scan video is output as a component signal, and interlaced video through standard composite or S-video.
The front array consists of a cabinet 5" x 14" x 7" containing three 3" speakers and 75 watts of amplifier, and the rear
7" x 10" x 5" rear array has two 3" speakers and amplifiers and an 18" stand, and the subwoofer has a 6" driver, 75 watt amplifier and is 13x6x15". The rear speaker can be fitted with a 2.4 GHz Wireless link with auto startup and shutdown for those who don't want to run wires.
So how does it work? I sort of understand the science behind it, which is similar to what Pioneer has done with their $40,000 unit. But the implementation is much simpler, and at least during the demonstration in a small room with one listener in the sweet spot… verses a large room with 20 people and the effect was more convincing. The unit also has a headphone output that is supposed to give a similar effect through regular headphones.
While the speakers are not up to high-end standards, the imaging is so good, that I would definitely be satisfied using it as a second setup in the bedroom or study, or if it could be modified it would make a superb car system. Maybe, if they upgraded the speakers and amplifiers, wire, etc., it could supplant all but the best high end surround home theater systems, as the sound field was extremely coherent with no feeling as to where the two speakers are located, a feat tough to copy in a five or six speaker system.
Now the kicker... What do you think is the cost? Well it's certainly not $40,000, and not even
$4,000, but closer to $500 for everything. That's right, DVD player, FM-AM tuner, amplifiers, and speakers for a 5.1 like system. My Scotch blood began to boil when I heard the price. Anyway, one hopefully will be on the way for complete review, so stand by.
The only electronics that were really new were several Preamp-processors from
EAD, Fosgate, Outlaw Audio, Cary, and Smart Devices, several of which looked like copies of each other's units that will hopefully end up here for review in the coming months. All seemed to have some advantages, but all only had 1 set of 5.1 pass through inputs for SACD and DVD-A. So obviously all of the companies think we'll all either go with one or the other high end audio system or use some lower quality combo player. Only Meridian had a unit that would do high end external decoding of DVD-A but only from their transport and no SACD. There were rumors of a Meitner SACD transport - processor for$8000 that supposedly sounds superb, but I couldn't find it. Oh well, maybe I can talk Ed Meitner into a unit for review. Finally Tact Audio demonstrated a five-channel version of their speaker and room correction digital preamplifier. Unhappily they were demonstrating with only the front two channels, but I can imagine what could happen to our surround systems if all of the speakers and their room anomalies could be corrected in the digital domain. No more lumpy bass and midrange. Hopefully I'll be able to get one of these for review in the near future.
A Visit With Jack!
A week after the show, while attending a medical conference in Las Vegas, I was privileged to meet with an old telephone friend, Jack Eliano of Electraprint Audio, to whom I have given my Best Product
of the Year award for the past two years. Jack's an affable fellow who's done so many different things in his life that I have yet to get a full list. He even was one of those artists that you see in museums who are allowed to copy their paintings, several of
which are on display in his house.
His manufacturing facilities are in his garage, just like how the big computer manufacturers got started, but his designs and equipment are certainly not at a garage tinkerer level. Except for a multi-year old rinky-dink Hewlett Packard computer, his test equipment is of the best quality. Plus, he has just about every type of wire that can be used for transformers and inductors including some 50-gauge copper (finer than human hair) and 6 nines silver wire and foil.
His playback system consists of Edgar Horns driven by his amplifiers and preamps, and even using a low end CD player, the sound was very good for an engineer. While he believes in the importance of measurements, his final arbiter of the quality of equipment is its sound, so while he has the mind of a scientist, he has the soul of a high ender.
How he got into high end audio, and especially working with 70 year old technology is a story for another article, but he had become first an expert in transformer and inductor design and production, his Electraprint units being used in many of the high end tube amplifiers. He has come up with several novel circuits that are distinct improvements over the best previous designs, as outlined in my previous articles. His Ultrapath design circuit is the cleanest and simplest of the tube amplification circuit which he has designed for both pre and power amplification, and his Direct Reactance Drive uses the Ultrapath circuit to produce an amplification circuit with no resistors or capacitors in series with the audio wave, with only inductors in parallel.
Then he used his knowledge of circuitry and transformers and inductors to design and build the amplifiers I am so enamored with, starting with push-pull, and then graduating to SRPP SET circuits. Then he designed the first new SET circuit in 60 years, the above-mentioned
His latest project is his Jupiter Beeswax Capacitors. Yes, you read that right, beeswax!!
Jack became frustrated with the sound of high end caps, which, whether Teflon, polyethylene or polypropylene dielectric and silver or copper foils or aluminum coatings, etc., all have a fault of tizziness in the upper ranges. Jack found that when high frequency information is fed through them, they actually vibrate and sing with the signal. His demo for me consisted of running a high frequency signal through one of the poly caps highly rated in high-end circles. Well guess what, I could hear the cap vibrating with the signal, as the foil between the Teflon dielectric buzzed along.
On the other hand, paper in oil caps, which some people love in SET amps, while not amenable to vibration, do darken the highs, probably due to its less than perfect dielectric constant.
So Jack went back to the old texts to find if there was some other dielectric other than a plastic that had the low dielectric constant of Teflon, but wouldn't allow the buzzing. Well guess what. Way back when the early experimenters were building the original caps, there was a material which had almost perfect electrical properties, and could keep the foils from buzzing, bees wax. Not only did it have close to the perfect dielectric constant, but had the added advantage of binding the metal foil signal carrier firmly, thus not allowing the vibration of the plastics, and the dulling of the paper in oils.
Drawback and the reason bees wax disappeared: With heat the wax melts, and the capacitance can change and the foils can short out. Jack feels he has overcome this problem as long as the caps aren't used in an oven.
He's also designed them with the inductance of the leads perfectly balancing out the series resonance of the capacitance giving near perfect impedance vs. frequency curve out to the megahertz range. Also, the capacitance is stable to well beyond 200kHz, thus no signal variance over the audio range. When hooked up to the same test machine as the previous cap, there was dead silence, thus no buzzing from the beeswax caps. Jack offered me some for testing, but his Ultrapath circuit in my amps doesn't have any place to put them. Maybe one of my fellow writers for this rag will be willing to test them.
Jack has also come up with a new amplifier circuit he is testing now. He has sworn me to secrecy, but I can say that it will be simplicity itself with one stage of amplification, and able to use much simpler transformers than present tube amplifiers. Jack has promised his first completed units to me for testing, so stay tuned.
On a sadder note, I have to report a problem with my Pioneer 47-A DVD-A SACD player, which I rated very highly in
Chapter 35. Since getting back from CES, when playing SACD's there is a hiss from all channels that almost sounds like pre-Dolby tape hiss and at about the same level. Interestingly, the unit is dead silent playing DVD-A and DVD-V discs, so it is a problem with only SACD. While I did enjoy the feel that I was listening to 1957 master tapes, the effect is certainly not appropriate. If anybody else out there is having a similar problem, please let me know.
Next month I'll be reviewing a new electronic crossover from Marchand Audio. Until then, tweak away.