Home Entertainment Expo 2005 Show Report
By Chris Boylan
ext stop on the never-ending home
entertainment joy ride was Kaleidescape
This media server company has gotten some press lately for the frivolous
(in my humble opinion) lawsuit aimed at them by the DVD Copy Control
Association (DVDCCA). Apparently the DVDCCA maintains that Kaleidescape's
media servers are making "illegal" copies of DVDs.
Kaleidescape maintains that, since they actually paid to license the CSS
Decryption technology from the DVDCCA, and since their customers are only
backing up their own DVDs onto the media server, their use falls under the
"Fair Use" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of
1998. I wish them luck, because their media server is
Kaleidescape rips all of the content of your entire DVD collection into
a massive expandable server, then links up to a database of artwork and
credits so you can browse your entire movie collection by cover art (on
your TV or projection screen), or search or sort movies by actor, by genre
and/or by director or studio. You can instantly watch just the movie
(without all those annoying semi-mandatory trailers) or skip straight to
favorite scenes or extras - it's your choice. And in a very nice
interactive touch, if you highlight a particular DVD on the menu, then
after a few seconds Kaleidescape rearranges the other DVD covers on screen
to suggest other similarly themed DVDs that you also might be interested
in watching. Since the content is ripped digitally, with no
additional compression, the picture quality is identical to the original
DVD. The Kaleidescape system supports High Definition content and
playback - it even ships with some HD samples and the HD version of
"Video Essentials" (for system calibration) - but it does not
currently have a way of capturing HD content from any consumer HD source.
Kaleidescape enables you to interact with your movie
in ways previously not possible.
Kaleidescape systems are comprised of servers for media
storage, DVD readers for ripping your content, and players to playback the
titles, linked to each other via high bandwidth network connections.
The System K3000 ($22,500) comes with a K2500 server with four 400-GB
cartridges which will store at least 180 DVDs (expandable up to 12
cartridges or 660 movies), one DVD reader and one movie player. The
system also includes the necessary software to control the system and one
year access to the online database of movie artwork and credits (movie
"meta data"). It supports up to 5 independent playback
zones. The System K3500 ($30,000) supports up to 25 different
independent playback zones. "This comes in handy,"
explains Kaleidescape's Michael Malcolm, "for our customers with
really large... yachts." Yes that's right, the home is a nice
place to put a Kaleidescape but it makes so much more sense in a yacht...
a really big
Next up was the Joseph Audio
Labs room where Jeff Joseph was showing off his new Pearl Center
($11,000) loudspeaker mated with a stereo pair of Pearls. In
what I consider the "odd choice" department, Joseph decided to
show off these babies in a three channel system, featuring a handful of
three-channel classical SACDs recently released. And just when I
thought I was getting good at explaining to my two-channel buddies why
they need 5 channels (and vice versa) along comes three channel to mix
things up again.
Joseph Audio's new Pearl Center loudspeaker was
being driven to good effect by a Manley 250 Tube Amp.
And Manley was enabling the madness with their Ghidorah three
channel line stage controller ($3,000). Hey, you could use two for
ultra-pure 6 channel sound (but I don't think that was the point)!
OK, I officially give up. The three channels they did have sounded
excellent as usual, with a wide and deep cohesive soundstage and fine
Manley's Ghidorah line stage includes three count-em
THREE line inputs and outputs for a single source.
The name, of course, comes from the mythical three-head beastie.
And from the choirs of angels, and mythical beasts, I plunged into the
devilish squeaks and rumblings of what may have been the worst sound
at the show, courtesy of BodySound
The BodySound chair ($2375 to $2875, depending on options), was billed
as "the most Dramatic Experiential Development and Technological
Breakthrough for Your Home Entertainment System." In
reality though, the BodySound appeared to be a flimsily constructed
recliner with tinny-sounding built-in speakers and mechanical
transducers that converted movie soundtracks and music to distracting
vibrations and muffled unintelligible sounds. The bizarre part is that
the BodySound reps actually seemed to think that people liked what
they heard. Fellow audio geek Len Schneider put it succinctly
when he said "that may be the first time in my life that female
vocals have vibrated my backside." Well, Len, despite the
fact that you need to get out more, your comment was right-on.
If a chair is going to rumble, then let it rumble with just the lowest
frequency sounds -- like Monster Cable's "Action Couch" or
recliners that have built in "butt-kicker" transducers.
If you're going to build in speakers for audio listening, then put
them just near the ears, not near the butt cheeks. I'm afraid this was
one of those ideas that looked really good on paper but just didn't
quite cut it in reality.
The BodySound chair was certainly one of the more
"unusual" exhibits at the show.
In a more traditional showing, April
Music highlighted their new multi-channel preamp/processor,
the Stello SP200 ($3,995, June 2005) which was making some
wonderful sounds with April Music CD transport and amplification,
and NHT speakers all around. The preamp/processor includes
no video switching so it can maintain higher purity of the audio
signal path and processing. For video duties, you'd need to
use the inputs built into your display device or add on a fine
scaler/switcher form a company like DVDO or similar. The
SP200 features Dolby PLII (but not PLIIx), Dolby Digital EX, DTS
ES, DTS NEO 6, and MPEG2 (D.A. and AAC) audio processing. It
features an eight-channel analog-only bypass mode for DVD-A and
SACD, as well as a 24-it/192kHz upsampling DAC for pristine
reproduction of two channel digital sources. Like any good
preamplifier should, it did not get in the way of the music,
presenting excellent spatiality and a balanced tonal blend.
April Music's multi-channel preamp/processor
and CD player.
April Music's Stello MP200 features digital,
analog, and balanced analog inputs
as well as balanced and unbalanced analog outputs, but no
video inputs or switching.
Roy Hall's Music Hall
room always provides a safe haven from the din and mayhem of the show. A
carefully matched set of components (most, if not all Scottish), making some
lovely music accompanied by a fine Scotch Whiskey - what more is there to life
Music Hall MMF-9 turntable.
This year, Roy had fun putting together what some would call a
hopelessly mismatched system: $14,000 worth of electronics and source
components driving $1350 worth of loudspeakers. But it actually sounded quite
good. It was comprised of a Shanling T-300 tube CD player ($6,995),
Creek 5350 SE Mk.2 integrated amp ($1,995), Music Hall MMF-9 turntable and
Maestro cartridge ($750), Whest Audio PS.20 phono stage ($2595), Epos M5
bookshelf loudspeakers ($650/pair) with Epos ST35 stands ($200/pair) and an
Epos ELS Subwoofer ($700).
The gorgeous Shanling tube CD player and Creek integrated
The system produced excellent dynamics and an almost tangible sense of space.
Proving once again, that "if it's not Scottish, it's crap!"
Now can I have that scotch you promised, Roy? Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh.
The excellent Epos M5 loudspeaker and ELS
subwoofer were anything but out of their league.
After chilling in the Music Hall room for a while, I bumped into headphone
guru and old CompuServe CE Forum buddy, Tyll Herstens from Headroom,
purveyors of portable pleasures. I'm not sure if Tyll was too cheap or
just too cool to have his own static display (maybe both), but I believe Tyll
had the only fully mobile "booth" at the show. He was sneaking
up on unsuspecting press folks and immersing us in unexpected aural delights
(that's "aural" not "oral") with a set of Sennheiser cans
hooked up to his new "Microstack" ($600). Headroom's
Microstack is a portable system comprised of a stackable mini DAC and
headphone amp strapped to an HP iRiver MP3 player (sold separately, iPods also
invited). This is the first in a new line for Headroom with built in DACs that
accept input from either Toslink or USB. When I asked if there was a Bose
headphone option, he had some choice words for me that cannot be repeated in
polite company (I believe they were
"Fuck off!" but I'm sure he meant it in the nicest possible way).
The Headroom micro-stack.
What makes the Micro Stack cool (other than its excellent sound quality and
portability) is that it's equally at home with PCs, laptops and Macs as it is
with portable audio and video players. Wire it up to your laptop via USB
for high quality playback of music files on your computer, then when you need
to go on the road, just unplug the USB cable, plug in the TOSlink digital or
analog audio output of your portable player and keep right on listening to
tunes on your iPod, XM2Go - any portable device you like.
Tyll Herstens from Headroom
shows off his little stack to Enjoy The
Music.com™'s own Steve Rochlin.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Headroom's digital portable
gadgetry was an equally impressive display of non-portable analog
technology -- the ELP laser turntable.
A laser device that's analog, you say? You're darn tootin! The
ELP turntable ($14,999 to $18,999 depending on options) uses no less than
5 low-powered (and completely non-destructive) lasers to analyze the
groove of a standard black vinyl record (33, 45 or 78 RPM), adjust the
height of the disc on the platter and then read in the recorded
information from the groove. It converts the oscillated laser light,
reflecting off the groove directly into varied voltage which is then
converted directly into good old-fashioned analog audio, with no
digitization or sampling to mess up the audio chain.
The big advantages of a laser turntable over the traditional diamond-in-groove
arrangement is that with a laser, there is no additional wear on the album,
and the laser reads the musical information from a part of the groove that is
generally untouched by traditional styli, so it's less likely to be damaged.
The unit can be purchased with a built-in RIAA phono preamp/EQ or without one
so you can use your existing phono preamp. Sound quality was quite good,
even on albums that looked pretty beat up and scratched. The eerie thing is
the near complete absence of surface noise. Oh you do hear the
occasional tick or pop when it encounters a crack or defect in the groove, but
nothing like what you hear when a diamond is dragged over vinyl. The ELP
turntable also identifies number of tracks and track length (by scanning the
complete record side in high speed when you first insert the platter).
So vinyl lovers can now enjoy the convenience of the digital age with remote
control access to specific tracks. For record lovers who are tired of
the constant tweaking of a traditional LP front end, for libraries and for
collectors who want to make the most of potentially compromised records, the
ELP laser turntable may be just what the Record Doctor ordered.
The industrial design of
the ELP turntable stresses function over form.
Continue to Part III, including High Water Sound's
tweak-fest, Mark Levinson's Burwen Bobcat, Odyssey's Art series of
loudspeakers, Naim, Butler Audio, Von Schweikert, Innersound and Boylan's Best