It was the first major Hi-Fi
show in New York City post-9/11, and in the throes of a less than rosy
economy, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect at this year's Home Entertainment
Expo. Endless questions ran through my mind... Would the exhibitors come? Would the public show up?
Would anyone care? And while
we’re at it, who – exactly – cleans up after a Seeing Eye dog?
While this last mystery still perplexes me, I’m happy to say that that
the exhibitors came, the people watched and listened, and it was good.
As with last year, I went "under-cover"
with a regular old show attendee badge -- no press pass -- to see if I
would get a vastly different experience of the show (from comparing notes
with fellow writers, I didn't seem to miss much). Unlike some of
the audio purists here at Enjoy the Music.com™ (and I mean that in the nicest possible way),
I actually really enjoy multi-channel sound and even *gasp* love to watch
movies on my home theater system! So I'll be including some of my
impressions on the video, multi-channel and home theater set-ups that had
some impact on me -- good or bad.
With the challenging conditions
of a show (poor acoustics, short demo sessions with mostly unfamiliar material,
and perpetual sonic bleed from other rooms), you should not take
these impressions as the final word on any of the equipment referenced
- they're just completely subjective biased opinions and snap judgments of an audiofool like you... who happens to write for an online publication
with a circulation in the tens of thousands.
As was the case last year, high-end
multi-channel formats dominated the largest displays, but there were some
surprisingly good sounding stereo rigs as well. In fact, my own choice
for 'best-in-show' featured source material that was purely standard resolution
stereo (plain ole vanilla CDs), but the system was anything but 2 channel...
But I'm getting ahead of myself - my favorites shall be revealed in good
The Krell/Faroudja Monster
Once again this year, many manufacturers
made a statement by assembling cost-no-object reference audio and home
theater systems. As in 2001, Krell
teamed up to put together a killer multi-hundred kilobucks A/V rig complete
with 425 pound subwoofers (Krell Master Reference), gleaming aluminum towers
(Krell LAT-1), and an impressive array of black and steel componentry.
Krell's DVD Standard and 7.1
A/V Preamp processor - Got
Faroudja's Video Processor -
It has DCDi
processing, and it's Evian-cooled!
This year, Faroudja chose to
highlight their new projector - a super-tweaked lightweight beauty based
on a JVC pro-line D-ILA (Direct-drive
Image Light Amplification) model. To grossly oversimplify things,
you can think of a D-ILA chip as a 3D LCD panel on steroids. The
benefits of D-ILA over CRT projection are simpler set-up, lighter weight,
and higher brightness. The Faroudja FDP-DILA1 projector includes
custom video processing and a custom lens assembly. Faroudja also
featured their Digital Cinema Source Native Rate series Digital Video Processor
with their patented DCDi (Directional Correlational Deinterlacing) processing.
Faroudja's FDP-DILA1- a souped-up
of JVC's Professional Line D-ILA projector.
Demo material featured standard
resolution DVDs, including a fun, colorful and motion-intensive clip from Harry
Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, as well as high action clips from
and Chicken Run. There were few if any artifacts to be seen,
with smooth motion, excellent color and detail and great contrast. But I seem to recall that last year's demo system (with the Sony G90 3X9"
CRT projector) had a more film-like quality. The source might have
had something to do with it. Last year's source was line-doubled
1080i High Def (!). But even still, this year's set-up was right
up there among the best video at the show and it did a great job with the
material that people actually own today - DVDs.
As for the sound of the Krell
system, the imaging and spatial cues were rock solid, the bass was deep
and extended and the overall dynamics were phenomenal. But at times
the dialog was a bit lost in the mix and hard to make out (particularly
in the clip from Driven). This may have been the source, or
it may have been the calibration of the system or even the acoustics of
the room. Overall I'd give the sound of this year's Krell/Faroudja
system the edge, but the picture was more enjoyable to me in last year's
OK, Maybe Plasma and DLP Don't
Every year, certain technologies
begin to emerge as contenders in the high end home theater market. This year, I saw some really nice looking pictures from DLP projectors
and some perfectly acceptable plasma displays. On the Plasma-side
Plasmasync 61MP1 ($27,995) with a Faroudja-enhanced DVD source looked quite
good even in a bright hallway, and Sharp's
PZ-43HV2U ($10,995) was quite enjoyable to look at. I'm sure it had
nothing to do with the source material.
Sharp's HDTV-ready 43" Plasma
can make even a Victoria's Secret
model look good.
strike that... reverse it.
Of course, the Sharp unit uses
a proprietary digital connector (no iLink or DVI here) and it requires
the optional set-top box (pictured) in order to support HDTV signals, but
hey, whaddya want for *only* 11 Grand?
Even better-looking in the Sharp
room was their flagship DLP offering, the XV-Z9000U front projector. Projecting onto a Stewart Filmscreen
Firehawk 110" screen, in a dimly lit room, the Sharp projector displayed
beautiful images from an HDTV source. The XV-Z9000U ($10,995) features
a Native 720P High Definition Panel (1280X720 pixels) with built-in scaling
for 1080i and other HD and standard def sources. Contrast was excellent
(specs say it's 1100:1) and the blacks were deeper than I'm used to seeing
on DLP. It also included a nice jack pack with two component/RGB
inputs (5 RCA jacks each), 1 composite (RCA) and 1 s-video, plus a D-sub
15 pin computer input. For video, I'm a tube (CRT) bigot, but I'd
be happy living with this particular DLP projector in my living room.
SharpVision XV-Z9000U DLP projector
On the audio front, Sharp was
displaying their Home Theater in a Box system, the sd-at100 ($1799.95),
which actually sounded great, considering the price. It includes
a built-in DVD player and receiver (only 25 Watts per channel, alas not
going to shake any foundations), but it features DTS, Dolby Digital and
Dolby Pro-Logic II. If you need a home theater in a small room, and your
significant other is screaming for something small and sleek, then check
this puppy out.
Sleek and Sexy - the Sharp
SD-AT100 Home Theater in a Box
And on to the sounds...
year's show, I gave best-stereo-sound-in-show nod to Innovative
Audio's excellent display of the Wilson
Audio Watt/Puppy 6 system, powered by Spectral
amplification. In a cramped little hotel room, they managed to produce
a deep, wide, natural sound. This year, in the large Gibson Suite,
Wilson was back with their newly upgraded Watt/Puppy 7 ($22,400 per pair
in standard finish) with plenty of breathing room. To help fill the
larger space, the Watt/Puppy 7 was supplemented on the low end by the WATCH
Dog powered subwoofer ($9950), and driven by VTL
tube amplification. The sound? Again, excellent soundstage
depth and musicality and wonderful dynamics. Horns had the attack
of live music. There was a slight hint of strain during some of the
more demanding material. But again, this is a trade show so who knows
what was the cause of that? The room may have been a little large
for that particular speaker/amp combination.
Wilson Audio's Watts/Puppies
were barking up a storm at HE 2002.
Speaking of big dogs, the Wilson
Audio WATCH dog
weighs in at 283 pounds and
packs a serious WOOF!
Down the hall some more excellent sounds were coming
out of the Clinton Conference Room, where high end speaker manufacturer
Acoustics teamed up with Tenor
and some Canadian dude named André Thériault. I'm not sure if Monsieur Theriault himself was there, but his turntable
was (the Phono #4), and it was a thing of beauty.
Andre Theriault's Phono #4
Monsieur Fremer was there (that is, Michael Fremer,
of Stereophile Magazine), who sat down next to me and whipped out some
vinyl. Mike and I shared the sweet spot -- does this mean we're going
steady? The hosts gladly indulged Michael's music selection (go figure)
which was a very lush-sounding Alison Krouse tune. As they are known
to do, the Nearfield Acoustics Pipe Dreams threw a huge and wide soudstage
and produced a wonderfully smooth and musical presentation.
Nearfield Acoustics' Pipe Dreams
Reference 18 sports 72 tweeters, 36 midrange drivers,
and two 18" subwoofers in a two-tower,
two-cylinder configuration. The towers are 7 feet tall. BIG!
The room designers really did a nice job matching
equipment and taming the acoustics of the conference room. If this
system sounds this good in a hotel room, I can only imagine what it sounds
like in a home environment. Tenor Audio's OTL amps and Aesthetix pre-amplification seemed a very synergistic match for these speakers.
The Tenor Audio OTL amps and Aesthetix line
and phono stages looked almost
as good as they sounded at Home Entertainment 2002.
Well, that's not all she wrote,
but that's all I'm writing for now. Stop by soon for the next segment,
in which I'll describe a battle to the death between SACD and DVD-Audio. Which format comes up standing?
Tune in soon and find out. Also, coming soon are details on some killer audio and home theater systems
from TacT, MBL, Martin Logan, Eggleston Works, Wilson Benesch and much