Morris Kessler knows his way around an amplifier. His name may be a little less well known to audiophiles than Dan D'Agostino, Nelson Pass, and John Curl, but he has been quietly designing great amplifiers for many companies at least as long as any of them--and longer than some. His current company is ATI, well known for producing solid-performing, high-value audiophile amps. This is his signature design, the first to feature his name on the front panel. Available from 2-channels at $4000 and $8000 for 7 channels, it sports 400 W continuous into 8 ohms and, in 7-channel form, weighs in at 143 lbs! It should be available in January.
Price: $2,500 At A Glance: Deep, powerful bass • Sweet, extended treble and uncolored midrange • Can be unforgiving at high levels
H-PAS the Bass
For the past two years, Atlantic Technology has been working on a new speaker designed around what the company claims is a revolutionary bass-loading technique. Invented by Philip Clements of Solus/Clements Loudspeakers, H-PAS (for Hybrid Pressure Acceleration System) has intrigued trade-show goers since Atlantic started sneak-peeking it in late 2009. The speaker, the Atlantic Technology AT-1, is now in full production.
For a company known for its dedication to producing outstanding home theater speaker systems (its 8200e system won a 2008 Home Theater Award), launching what is, at present, essentially a standalone two-channel model might seem a bit odd. But Atlantic is so pumped about the potential of this design approach that the effort to get the AT-1 to market has been highly focused.
By now you've likely heard of Dolby Atmos-Enabled speakers, which include an additional driver or drivers firing out of the top at an angle to bounce Atmos' height information off your ceiling if installation of ceiling speakers is impractical--as it will be for most of us. In addition to dedicated Atmos-Enabled speakers, several add-on modules were seen at CEDIA, which are designed to sit on top of your main left and right front speakers and surrounds if you want to add Atmos but don't want to replace your entire speaker system.
The 44-DA from Atlantic technology is designed for this purpose. At $500/pair, it employs a concentric driver (a coaxial woofer-tweeter). While designed to be a perfect fit atop the company's THX-4400 L/R speakers, it can be used on any speaker with a flat top surface large enough to accommodate its approximately 8.4-inch width and 9.5-inch depth.
Most high-end speaker companies arrived late to the home-theater party. Dedicated to 2-channel music playback, they eventually split into three groups. One group would banish you to the Mines of Moria if you even uttered the words "home theater" in their presence. Another recognized the bottom-line impact of multichannel and reluctantly designed a few home theater pieces—perhaps a simple center and a subwoofer—for their dealers to sell along with their 2-channel models. A third developed a little more enthusiasm for home theater and built serious centers, subs, and surrounds to match the sophistication of their traditional designs.
A bit of an eclectic mix this time around with two topics, the first somewhat controversial, the second a useful (I hope) tip.
Elsewhere on this site, and in our June Q&A column, we recommended using the same amplifier power for the front, surround and height speakers in an Atmos setup. I don’t entirely agree, though my personal experience with Atmos is limited so far to trade demos and theatrical presentations. Most Atmos-ready AVRs will, of course, have matched powerthat’s just the nature of the beasts. But if you have a pre-pro and, say, 200Wpc amps driving the front speakers, do you really need 200Wpc on the other six (for 5.1.4 Atmos) “full range” surround and height channels?
One consideration here is the sensitivity of the surround and height speakers...
When I saw these pendant speakers from TruAudio (just to the left of center in the photo, in black and white), the first thing I thought of was the midrange enclosure in B&W's 800 and 802 Diamond loudspeakers.
But the second thing I though of was using them as discrete overhead speakers for Dolby Atmos. I have no idea how they sound, nor do I believe that this is their designed purpose, but they are not only more attractive than the usual in-ceiling speakers, but could suspended at almost any length from a high ceiling at a more appropriate height for the Atmos format than an in-ceiling speaker might provide.
While the JBL Atmos demo remains the champ at the show (at least through the first two days) for shear impact, undistorted output level (in a good way), and immersion from 39 speakers, it's not likely to find its way into too many homes. The Atmos demo from GoldenEar, however, was a more conventional 5.4.4 setup with five conventional channels, 4 true ceiling speakers (no reflective Atmos here), and four subs. It was both impactful and at the same time subtle in a way that will please many audiophiles with at least some interest in home theater. Not that a lot of audiophiles wouldn't covet the JBL (I'll take the JBL for my big room when I win the lottery, and something like the GoldenEar for the smaller!), but the GoldenEar is more practical.
The GoldenEar system used an Oppo Blu-ray player, an Integra Atmos-ready pre-pro, three Pass Labs monoblock amps for the front channels, six other amp channels for the two surrounds and two ceiling speakers (I didn't catch the make for the latter, but it was far more modest and less pricey than the Pass amps). The speakers were the GoldenEar Ones left and right, a SuperCenter XL, GoldenEar Twos for the surrounds, and four Invisa HTR 7000s for the ceiling channels. The four subs were the powered subs built into the GoldenEar Ones and Twos. The levels chosen were loud enough, but sensible, and the experienced convinced me, at least in these fledgling days of Atmos (I remain open minded on this), that true ceiling speakers just might produce the best Atmos results.
Audiophiles fondly remember the company Audio Alchemy, which produced a number of well-received, sensibly-priced D/A converters back in the 1990s. They may have been before their time. Today, such separate converters are all over the place, but now include USB connections for the increasingly popular digital downloads, particularly of the high resolution audio variety.
Peter Madnick, who currently heads up design for the extremely pricey electronics from Constellation, has re-acquired the rights to the Audio Alchemy name. While not being shown at a booth (at least not one I've yet seen) I ran into Peter as he was prowling the show floor with a sample of his first new Audio Alchemy product, the DDP-1. It's a D/A converter with optical, coaxial, USB (asynchronous), and analog inputs. With its volume control, it can also function as a 2-channel preamp and a headphone amplifier. While its $1895 ticket is a bit pricier than the Audio Alchemy products of the past, it should be highly competitive in today's D/A market when it ships in December.
If your audio memory extends back far enough you’ll recall Audio Alchemy. That company marketed an extensive line of inexpensive DACs long before streaming and downloading digital music was possible and D/A converters were the hot ticket...
It may surprise you to learn that Technicolor is now a French-owned company, with its main offices outside of Paris. It may also be new to you that, to a significant degree, the company is now involved in audio post-production work, rather than the film processes for which it is best known.