Welcome to the wonderful world of high-end audio. After two eventful days scoping out the latest in video at the Las Vegas Convention Center venue I retired to the relatively relaxing confines of the Venetian Hotel, where I could listen to some tunes played back on deliciously succulent 2-channel gear. Yes, mainly 2-channel. There were a few interesting surround setups, such as in the Atlantic Technology booth where they were showing off the new H-PAS bookshelf speaker, and even a few rare full home theater setups, such as in the Wolf Cinema room. But the Venetian was mostly a 2-channel world.
But an interesting one. I wanted to scope out loudspeakers in particular, some of which have also been covered here by Home Theater's audio tech editor, Mark Fleischmann, and others. But what follows here is what caught my eye…er, my ears.
In the photo above is the new Magico Q7, the largest offering from that loudspeaker specialist. Each speaker is 750 lbs, 60-inches high, and 32-inches deep. A pair of them will set you back $165,000. That’s three zeros, and is not a typo. But they sounded astonishing, as well they should. Don't look for a review of five of them in Home Theater any time soon. In fact, Magico, like many high-end speaker makers, does not offer a center channel speaker.
Griffin’s new smartphone universal remote control uses Bluetooth to send commands to an IR emitter that sits near your home theater system. As a result, the $69.99 Beacon doesn’t require the user to attach any dongles or special transmitters to the phone (something that makes other smartphone remotes a pain in the butt). The IR emitter is battery powered, so it can be placed wherever is most convenient without the need for running a power cable to it. Models are available for both iOS and Android smartphones.
The folks at Etymotic Research were showing off the company’s ETY-Plugs, “the world’s highest fidelity non-custom earplugs.” Instead of just muffling the sound, the ETY-Plugs are actually able to reduce sound approximately 20 dB in all frequencies. That means music and speech sound natural and totally intelligible, just at a much-reduced volume. Since it’s only the overall volume level that’s affected and not the natural frequency response, Etymotic says they are perfect for both musicians and audience members who want to hear what is being played but at a lower volume level. The ETY-Plugs come in two sizes. Both sell for $12.95/pair.
PSB is one high-end manufacturer that hasn't forgotten the rest of us. The new Imagine T2 isn't cheap at $3500/pair, but offers a lot of…um… imaginative engineering borrowed from the company's higher-end Synchrony line. It's also is capable of amazingly good sound, if a brief audition was any indication. A matching center is likely later, but the T2 itself is available now.
Got modest plans for a modest home theater using modest-sized speakers but want a THX-Certified experience? At CES, THX announced the company’s latest certification program, the THX Compact Speaker System Certification. The new specifications are designed for systems used in rooms up to 1,000 cubic feet and cover two-channel (2.1 - two speakers and one subwoofer - is the minimum requirement) all the way to full-blown 7.1-channel systems.
In the company’s suite, the THX people showed off a sample of a new MK sub/sat 2.1 system based on the MK M7. The speaker hasn’t finished the certification process yet, but THX expects that MK will be the first company to begin selling THX Compact Speaker System Certified speakers. The matching subwoofer was not on display. Expected pricing was not available.
In collaboration with Mark Levinson (the man, not the company), chip maker Intersil and its subsidiary D2Audio are developing a suite audio-enhancement algorithms called Mighty Cat. The idea is to use mastering tools to optimize the performance of audio hardware, such as soundbars, computer speakers, and TVs; manufacturers would "tune" the algorithms specifically for each individual product and then embed the code in the firmware of that product.
The demo I heard was played on a pair of inexpensive Logitech computer speakers. The ultimate goal is to make the Logitech speaker sound like the $25,000/pair Daniel Hertz M7 on which it is sitting in this photoan impossible dream, to be sure, but the processing did improve the Logitech's sound dramatically, making it much richer and fuller. Intersil is in negotiations with various manufacturers to incorporate this technology into their products.