HE2005 Day 3
Saturday is always the most crowded day of the show, and the ninth and tenth floors, with their narrow corridors, are the most jammed of all. There aren't a lot of home theater exhibits there, but it wasn't exclusively a 2-channel oasis. Yamaha was projecting a terrific picture from its new DPX-1200 DLP projector. The sound came from the company's new Digital Sound Projector, the YSP-1, which simulates a full surround sound field from a single box the size of a large center channel speaker. The program material they chose, from The Incredibles, didn't lend itself to making judgments about audiophile concerns like coloration and smooth frequency response, but more than once I found myself looking to the sides and back of the room for non-existent surround speakers.
Yamaha also launched several new receivers. At the low end are 3 models topping out with the RX-V757 ($599). The unique feature on all of these receivers is that they're XM (satellite) radio-ready. The more upscale RX-V4600 (due in June, at $1799) does not have XM, but does have HD Radio, along with Dual iLink ports for direct digital connection of compatible DVD players for high resolution audio playback. It also includes 2-in, 1-out HDMI video switching.
A new multichannel preamp/processor from an unlikely source—April Music—was making sweet sounds driving five NHT Evolution M6 speakers (combined with their matching Evolution subwoofers at the left and right front). The amplifiers were also from April Music. The Stello SP200 pre-pro, at $4000, will ship in June. It offers a full complement of surround modes and the requisite set of direct analog inputs for multichannel audio, The SP200 omits video switching, but offers a composite OSD (on screen display) for system setup and control. It also features a 2-channel upsampling converter supporting user-selectable sampling rates up to 24-bit/192kHz. Both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced outputs are included.
Who had the best home theater setups at the show? That's not hard. I have to give Outlaw Audio the gold trophy here—and (disclaimer) it had nothing to do with the fact that they took the UAV writers out to dinner on Friday night! They had a large, lively room, but rather than sounding excessively reverberant, it produced a big, authoritative sound. The main channels were handled by Atlantic Technology's flagship 8200 speakers. The bass, courtesy of two of Outlaw's big LFM-1 subwoofers and the plane crash scene from the recent remake of The Flight of the Phoenix, was deep and threatening. The opening music from Signs sounded dynamic and alive.
A strong honorable mention goes to Paradigm. Only a little too much prominence at the very top end kept them from mounting a fierce challenge. Nevertheless, it was a superb-sounding system.
But neither Outlaw (with its Dwin DLP projector) nor Paradigm (with its Sharp DLP) garnered best picture honors. That honor belongs unequivocally to Silicon Optix. Yes, we did have dinner with them too! But ask almost anyone who visited their room and you'll get the same story. Their HQV processing, driving a JVC HD2K projector, was more than a little overwhelming, even for jaundiced writers who think they've seen it all.
I also wandered the exhibit floors in search of 2-channel systems whose speakers just might have great home theater potential. I've mentioned the Von Schweikert VR-4Jr before ($4000/pair), and it's certainly a candidate, despite the lack of a center channel speaker that's designed from the ground up to match it. A review of these is planned, probably with three of the VR-4Jrs across the front, the center one behind an acoustically transparent screen.
Another promising candidate is the Totem Mani-2 Signature, a stand-mounted design that's a further refinement of the long-lived Totem Mani-2. Although the $4600 per pair price is a little expensive, the Mani-2 Signature has a robust, dynamic sound with powerful bass and a sweet, smooth top end — qualities that are indispensable in a state-of-the-art home theater system. But I'd still pair them with a good subwoofer for the low frequency power handling you need with movie soundtracks.
It's been a great show, with good crowds and lots of enthusiasm. The two seminars I participated in, one an "Ask the Editor's" format on home theater in general, the other a similar format dedicated specifically to big screen video displays, were well attended (allowing for the early hour of the first) and generated a lot of interesting questions. There's a real need for good information out there, and to the extent that Home Entertainment 2005 helped fill this need, it was a rousing success!—Thomas J. Norton