Home Entertainment 2003 Hi-Fi and Home Theater Event
Thursday Live From San Francisco
By Ian White
Italian loudspeaker manufacturer Sonus
Faber demonstrated its Cremona line-up on Thursday in San
Francisco, including the brand new Cremona Auditor monitor ($3,595 pair,
$650 for the matching stands), Cremona Center channel speaker ($3,995, $450
for the stand), and the absolutely stunning Cremona floor-stander ($7,495
pair). Sonus Faber’s Classic line continues to be the most attractive
and alluring collection of speakers available on these shores. I find it
exasperating that other companies within the industry are so incapable of
producing products with the same level of finish quality and visual appeal.
Well, perhaps not everyone is lacking in imagination...
Cain and Cain is a brand relatively new to most audiophiles, but the Walla
Walla, Washington-based loudspeaker manufacturer came to San Francisco armed
to the teeth with its stunning Studio Ben ES double-horns ($12,500 pair).
The Studio Ben ES were driven by the brand new Art Audio PX-25 monoblocks
($10,500 pair). The monoblocks produce 17 watts of robust single-ended
amplification and I have yet to hear anything in San Francisco so far that can
touch those 17 watts. The synergy between the two products is really
something to behold. Terry Cain and Joe Fratus used the rather
impressive Teres turntable and Art Audio Vinyl Reference phono
preamplifier to prove just have far multi-channel audio has to go before it
bests the state-of-the-art in two-channel reproduction. The Teres
turntable in particular deserves a serious listen from anyone looking for a
“reference” level turntable.
Another loudspeaker manufacturer who came to San Francisco with something
different was Israeli manufacturer, Morel. Morel is well known to audiophiles as a
manufacturer of OEM drivers and tweeters, but its speaker line has never
really received a lot of attention in North America. The rather unique
Octave Octwin 5.2 loudspeakers were extremely impressive driven by
amplification from Electrocompaniet, and we are pleased to have a pair scheduled
for review. Enjoy the Music.com™ has been invited to conduct a factory tour of Morel in
Israel and we hope to have this exclusive look at Morel online prior to CEDIA.
Naim Audio brought a rather large cross-section of equipment to San Francisco this
year and we managed to sneak a peek at some of its latest offerings. The
brand new CDS3 reference CD player sounded extremely impressive, albeit
somewhat laid back for a Naim digital source. While Naim doesn’t
necessarily agree with out assessment that its most recent offerings are
almost “tube-like” in comparison to its older gear, there is no question
to our ears that some of the edge on top has been smoothed out and that there
is a greater degree of warmth across the board. Another significant
change for Naim, is its movement into the world of surround sound. The
release of the AV2 surround processor ($4,300), a three-channel power
amplifier, and two center channel speakers clearly indicates that the stalwart
British champion of two-channel understands the changes in the marketplace.
While still unconfirmed, we were told by reliable sources that Naim will be
introducing two DVD players later this year, along with a subwoofer.
Naim has also expanded its range of pre-amplifiers, by introducing the NAC 252
and NAC 202 pre-amplifiers. Both products require the use of one of
Naim’s external power supplies such as the revised Hi-Cap, and we had the
opportunity to listen to both. The NAC 202, combined with either the new
NAP 200 or NAP 250 power amplifiers sounded most confident.
Meadowlark Audio’s brand new Blue Heron II loudspeakers ($12,00) were
somewhat dry and sterile fresh out of the box (the show pair had approximately
20 hours of break-in) driven by the Rogue
Audio Zeus amplifier ($5,995.00), but we intend to return
throughout the show to listen to what we believe are a rather exceptional pair
of speakers, still in desperate need of some Rush, and AC/DC. Local
dealer, the Audible Arts also brought along the new Stealth phono preamplifier
from Rogue Audio, the 99 Magnum preamplifier ($2,395) and the Avid
Gershman Acoustics brought
two speaker models to San Francisco, including the revised version of its GAP
828 ($13,000), and its highly regarded Avantgarde ($4,500). The GAP 828
incorporates a number of changes to the cabinet itself including a brand new
port and some changes to the crossover.
While Enjoy the Music.com™ primarily focuses on audio, it would be
impossible not to comment on a number of video products that really had us
salivating on Thursday. Sony
deserves top marks for its latest collection of digital displays, but
specifically its Wega XBR plasma sets. The 50” and 61” plasma
displays were not only extremely impressive with HD material, but incredibly
beautiful pieces of industrial art. The “floating” look that Sony
has created differentiates its products from anything else in the market and
may prove to be a deciding factor for the company trying to dominate home
As impressive as the Sony products were, my vote goes to Sim2
Seleco for its Grand Cinema RTX DLP monitor. Not only is the
RTX, the sexiest piece of gear that I have seen in many years, but the picture
quality of this set is phenomenal. While the first generation of DLP
sets left a lot to be desired with their poor reproduction of black, an
abundance of annoying motion artifacts, and rather suspect reliability, Sim2
Seleco has introduced a extremely clever product with a level of picture
quality that I think puts even the very best plasma sets to shame, not to
mention other DLP sets. Sim2 Seleco offers both 45” and 55” versions
of the RTX ($10,500 and $13,500). As good as the picture quality is,
what sold us on the RTX was the external DigiOptical Image Processor (included
in the price) which connects to the set via a supplied fiber optic cable.
While the rest of the industry fights over HDCP and a seemingly endless list
of ridiculous connection options, Sim2 has decided to make your life easier by
offering an external processor which accepts composite, S-VHS, RGB via DB 15,
RGBH/V, RS232, and DVI. Toss in DCDi from Faroudja, software
upgradeability through the Internet, and 3 fiber optic links, and you have an
almost perfect set-up.
to see Ian's Friday coverage.