EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 07, 2006 2 comments
The Home Entertainment Show—affectionately known among old-timers as the Stereophile Show—blossomed near LAX last week from June 1-4. This was the first year at a new location, the Sheraton Gateway. Far from the madding crowds of CES and CEDIA, HES does a great job of bringing manufacturers together with dealers, press, and public in a friendly context. That includes live music, reminding everyone present why we got into this business in the first place. The show has been extensively covered by our sister publications Ultimate AV and of course Stereophile. Their reporting skills and, in particular, their monopod-steadied photo prowess shame me. But then, I see this show differently than they do, with an eye for monitor-sized speakers that can be multiplied by five in a surround system, and a more jocular view of the show's historic two-channel orientation and some of the oddities that entails. Following are a few impressions. I'll post the least awful of these pictures to the Gallery plus a few extras.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2006 3 comments
The show was full of fridge-sized speakers but none of them sounded as good as the Totem Acoustics Dreamcatcher ($450/pair), driven by much pricier Plinius electronics. This was the most immediately appealing, and possibly the most accurate, sound at the show. It was utterly free of the grotesque coloration that marred dozens of larger speakers on display elsewhere. This picture looks good because I did not take it.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2006 2 comments
HSU Research is best known for its affordable high-performance subwoofers, but Dr. Poh Ser Hsu is also a dab hand at speaker design, as generously illustrated by the HB-1 "bookshelf" (to sensible people, that means stand-mounted) speakers. They had all the efficiency of horns with, to my ears, none of the beamy feeling that affects other horn designs. The sound remained consistent as I moved up and down and around the room. At only $125 each, this speaker may become the underground bestseller of 2006.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2006 2 comments
Onkyo, a speaker company? Don't laugh. These two monitors were among the best things I heard at the show. The neat cube-shaped monitor at the left, the D-312E, threw out a highly natural and realistic soundstage with orchestral music. Unfortunately it's available only in Japan. The D-TK10, at right, is slightly smaller, curvier, and features a cabinet made by guitar maker Takamine. It will be available for maybe $1600/pair though the price was not finalized at presstime.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2006 2 comments
Lukas Lipinski poses with the L-707 ($4950/pair). Even in a room full of people this chunky stand-mount speaker had something that made a voice in my head say "let me review it pleeeease." Maybe it was the amps built into the 3601 stand ($2595/each) that did it. The company has its roots in pro audio but now sells bleeding-edge gear to the high-end market.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2006 0 comments
Dave Wilson's venerable Watt Puppy is now available in baby blue for $27,900. Having heard it with a recording of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I think I may have to spend more time in Utah. Even in an acoustically imperfect room, the massed vocals were so beautiful, they tax my powers of description. You just had to be there. This is why events like the HES are so precious—and why high-end dealers with good demo rooms deserve the big bucks.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2006 1 comments
If there is a god, and he has a drawer full of headphones, this is what it would look like if the contents of that drawer were strewn along a very long table. I got in some face time with the new Grado Reference 1000 ($995) and it was like wearing a concert hall on my skull.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2006 1 comments
This could be one of those large jars of formaldehyde in a mortician's lab, or a really cool fish bowl, but in fact is the first liquid-cooled power amplifier: the Von Gaylord Uni Signature. Mustering 200 watts per channel, each mono-block comes with a separate boxy power supply. The four pieces retail for $59,000 (goldfish not included).
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2006 1 comments
The largest meter at the show belonged without question to the McIntosh MC2KW power amp. It costs $30,000 but think of the money you'll save on lighting.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2006 3 comments
Here is Barb Gonzalez, author of The Home Electronics Survival Guide Volume 1—I like the Volume 1 part!—flanked by two chimps. Ken Kessler, left, author of Quad: The Closest Approach, drew the most traffic with his world-class charisma (sorry about the flash). At right is the unedited original of my blog pic, with lovely pink and blue background, shot at the Paradox Coffeeshop in Amsterdam, a moment of bliss captured for posterity. Have you heard about my annually updated home theater guide? Just checking.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2006 3 comments
At this moment in the Anthony Wilson Nonet's performance, the guitarist and bandleader had just triggered a guitar sample, over which he then soloed. It was eerie and moving and that's why I've chosen this ludicrously out-of-focus picture—because it was the greatest moment of HES 2006. If you want to share moments like this, you'll just have to come to HES 2007.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 02, 2006 1 comments
You have that look on your face. It's the look that I see only when you're about to hatch some kind of stink-bomb. Come on, out with it.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 31, 2006 Published: Jun 01, 2006 3 comments
Under a court settlement, Sony BMG has agreed to compensate consumers for exposing their computers to CD-borne security hazards. If you bought a title with the now infamous XCP rootkit, you get a replacement disc, $7.50 in cash, and a free download (or no cash and three downloads). Not too shabby! Wish I'd bought a few myself. Purchasers of titles contaminated with Suncomm MediaMax get only the downloads. You've got to hand it to Sony BMG. The label has done an awful lot to atone for its error. Details here.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 31, 2006 1 comments
Cablevision's digital video recorder has the movie studios and television networks up in arms. ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Disney, Paramount, and Universal have sued over the nDVR, or network DVR, claiming copyright infringement. The nDVR stores up to 80 hours of programming on a remote server. Program it to record your favorite stuff in perpetuity and you have, in effect, a limited version of video on demand. Since the disc drive is not in your rack, you can operate it just using an dDVR-enabled cable box. Cablevision says the suit is "without merit." Analysts say the suit was expected, and if Cablevision prevails, cable ops will be able to deploy the dDVR on a larger scale and save big bucks in the process, both for consumers and themselves.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 30, 2006 0 comments
Hitachi bills four new 42-inch plasma models as 1080-line-capable. The following information is for numbers-obsessed videoholics only: The relevant model numbers are 42HDF39 ($2299), 42HDS69 ($2499), 42HDT79 ($2999), and 42HDX99 ($5299). Nominally these are 1080i, as opposed to 1080p, displays though at 42 inches that distinction is negligible. However, it's the vertical resolution that's 1080 lines. Horizontal resolution is actually 1024 lines, as opposed to 1920 in the 1080i ATSC broadcast standard (1920 by 1080). So three of these models are 1024 by 1080, and the lowest-priced is actually 1024 by 1024. Got all that? The difference probably stems from the inherent limitations of Hitachi's highly rated plasma manufacturing technique, which involves vertical channels of pixels crisscrossed by horizontal lines of electrodes. I got a preview at last week's press event in New York though production models will not arrive till later in the year. Up close and personal, the prototype looked pretty spiffy. I could see the dots only from two or three feet. Beyond that the picture looked seamless. The bottom line is that these 42-inch plasmas can show 1080 lines in a test pattern. Try that with a crayon and a piece of paper. Bet you can't do it.

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