Home Entertainment 2002
Hi-Fi and Home Theater Event
Report By Matt Tulini
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For the second year in a row, we find the Home Entertainment Show taking place in midtown Manhattan at the Hilton on west
54th street. I'm not certain this hotel is the best place for an equipment show; many manufacturers were placed in small rooms on the
4th, 6th, and 7th floors, with cramped hallways not meant to accommodate the thousands of visitors coming to look at the gear. At least this year they kept the show to the lower floors, and the floors were closer together. Security was also more relaxed; they didn't scan your badge whenever you moved two feet.
In spite of such improvements, this year's show didn't offer up a hell of a lot of new or innovative products. Still, there were a few things to be excited about. I was definitely impressed with a few of the HDTV demos. On the audio end, being the analog junkie that I am, I was also impressed by the sizable turntable contingent at the show.
The most impressive demonstration of HDTV I witnessed at the show took place in the Paradigm/Anthem room. A Sharpvision XV-Z9000U ($9,998) projected onto a Da-Lite 133" Fast Fold Screen ($974) some of the tastiest HD images I've seen to date. Playback was provided via a JVC HM-DH3000U HDTV Recorder ($1,999), which is essentially a digital VCR. Most of the DLP systems at the show used DVD as a source. DVD can look pretty good, but it is nothing compared to HDTV. According to Dr. Joseph Flaherty, keynote speaker at the press luncheon and father of HDTV, we haven't even begun to realize HDTV's potential because technology has not yet advanced to the point where affordable electronics can display faithful images.
The Paradigm home theater setup also utilized a pair of Studio/100's (left and right, $2,400), a pair of Studio/40's (center, $1,200), two pairs of Studio/ADP rears ($900/pr), and a pair of Servo-15 subs ($1,750 ea.). The speakers were driven by an Anthem MCA-50 five-channel amp ($1,999) and an MCA 20 two-channel amp ($999). Connected to those were Anthem's AVM 20 Preamp/surround processor/tuner ($3,199). Also included as source components were a Sony DVPS9000ES DVD player ($1,199) and a Sony SCDC555ES SACD player ($800). All of this was wired by Monster Cable (approx. $5,800 worth of cable), bringing the grand total for such a system to the stratospheric price of $37,000! It may sound pretty steep, but if you're willing to spend that kind of money on a home theater setup you're either filthy rich or you never want to have to leave the house again. Or both.
It should be noted that the HDTV display on the above system was fantastic, but the DVD playback lacked the clarity, transparency, color fidelity and separation of what you'd expect from the crème de la crème of the DLP systems at the show. That honor went to the Faroujda Digital Projection Package, which included the NRS Digital Cinema Source (includes a DVD transport), FDP-DILA1 high resolution projector with FDP-P75MDILA custom mounted anamorphic lens, and FDP-HUSH1 "hush box" (encloses, stabilizes, and provides cooling for the projector). You get all this for the bargain price of $41,000. Faroujda would not quote us individual prices for each of the components; they are only sold as a package.
For those of us who do not have forty kilobucks to spend on a home theater system, NAD, PSB, and InFocus teamed up to provide cost-conscious videophiles with a sub-$10,000 solution to their HDTV needs. The system included the InFocus ScreenPlay 110 projector ($4,999), NAD T 531 DVD player ($500), NAD T 752 surround receiver ($899), Daylight screen ($800), PSB Command Performance surround speaker setup ($2,500), and$200 worth of generic cabling. This looks to be a pretty damn good deal. The HDTV looked excellent, not as good as the Paradigm/Sharp setup, but close enough, and at about one-fourth the price! The weak link was indeed the DVD player. A $500 NAD DVD player just doesn't cut it for this system. However, I'm sure you can spend a little more money for a better DVD player, some improved cabling, and end up with one hell of a system!
I witnessed one other home theater demo worth mentioning, which consisted of Martin Logan electrostatics powered by the latest McIntosh tube amplifiers and DVD player, being projected through a Sharpvision projector. The video looked nice, but I was much more interested in the audio segment of this demo. The salesman began the demo by playing a jazz piece, which sounded really excellent through the Martin Logans. About one minute into the demo he switched it to Dolby Pro-Logic surround. I don't know if he expected us to be impressed, but he said something like: "Some of you may notice a different perspective when it's being played in surround." If by different perspective he meant total loss of the sense of space, non-existent imaging, poor fidelity, and muddiness, then yes I did notice. If this demo was not enough to convince people that stereo still rules, nothing will ever work.
Only three electronics manufacturers really caught my eye at the show: DCS, Musical Fidelity, and Musical Hall. I was extremely impressed with DCS's Elgar DAC at last year's show, and since then they have expanded their product line to include CD transports and up-samplers. On display was the Verdi SACD transport, which retails for $8,995. The setup at the show was connected to a Purcell up-sampler ($6,995) and Delius DAC ($8.995). Ok, and these were their low-end units. I wish I'd been able to do a side-by-side comparison of a regular CD played through this system with and without the Purcell. The sales rep explained that the purpose of the Purcell was to convert a run-of-the-mill compact disc to direct-stream digital, making it sound "nearly identical" to an SACD. His words, not mine. I found this a bit difficult to swallow. After all, you can up-sample data all you want, if the data isn't there it isn't there. I'm sure it sounds better, but probably does not sound like an SACD.
Musical Fidelity's new products were also very impressive. Their limited edition Nu-Vista series has pretty much sold out, and because of their popularity they have been designing their newer products to resemble - and in some cases surpass - the quality of the Nu-Vistas. Take for example the new 308 integrated amp (due in July, lists for $2,695). Rated at over 150 wpc, the circuitry comes from the Nu-Vista M3 and includes an additional power supply for the final output stage "that further refines the sound quality." Musical Fidelity is also coming out with 308 preamps, power amps, and a 308 CD player based on a solid-state version of the Nu-Vista CD player. The above three products should be available this fall.
Music Hall's most interesting contribution to the show was their imported Shanling CDT-100 Tube CD player. Imported from China, this player retails for $1,999 and features stunning aesthetics, a top-loading mechanism, HDCD processor, four Burr-Brown PCM 1704 D/A chips, and two highly visible pairs of 6N3 tubes. Also featured in the Music Hall suite was their new flagship turntable, the MMF-7. Retailing for only $999, you get their latest belt-driven turntable and Project 9 arm, complete with Goldring Eroica high-output moving coil cartridge! The MMF-7 features an external motor, split plinth separated by four Sorbothane hemispheres (meant to decouple and stabilize the turntable from the motor and other vibrations), acrylic platter, record clamp and felt mat.
Wilson-Benesch's Circle turntable has always been at the top of my list as one of the most visually impressive turntables on the market. It's been in production for approximately five years, according to the sales rep, and a complete setup retails for about $3,000 (including table, arm, and mc cartridge). The 'table features a carbon-fiber tonearm, acrylic platter, phosphor-bronze bearing (which the rep explained to me is manufactured to extremely high tolerances), and a motor located on the bottom base (decoupled from the upper base) to reduce vibrations. Manufactured in Sheffield, England, this turntable looks like it belongs in the Museum of Modern Art.
For those audiophiles seeking an extreme, cost-no-object solution for flawless analog playback, you might want to consider the Walker Audio Proscenium Gold Reference Analog Playback System. This behemoth features three major air-supported components: an air bearing platter, suspension, and linear-tracking tonearm. With a sticker price of just over $24,000 and a shipping weight of 400 lbs (Lloyd Walker explained this to me, snickering with pride), this table actually requires two rooms for setup: one for the 'table itself and another for the air supply (which was hidden in the suite's bathroom at the show). Before you buy it make sure your wife doesn't mind you running air hoses through the house. I should note that this price does not include the cartridge (Walker was using a $4,650 "Magic Diamond") or the phono amp ($10,000 for his Ultra Reference
I'll close my show report with a sneak preview of the newest VPI creation: the TNT HR-X. This is the newest incarnation of the TNT Hotrod, set to ship on September 15. Harry Weisfield added a second motor and flywheel to the Hotrod, and cut a space in the base of the 'table to house the motor assembly "in order to save real estate." The motor assembly remains decoupled from the base. The two motors are half the power of the Hotrod's motor, and the flywheel is meant to stabilize speed and vibration. These modifications should provide even more precise speed control and further dampen unwanted vibrations and resonance. The 'table includes a power supply and the JMW 12.5 tonearm. MSRP is $10,000.