I've always had a thing for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's recordings. Their long standing relationship with Telarc is probably why. I've had a long standing relationship with Telarc too. Well before I was a reviewer, I was just a rabid stereophile (the avocation, not the magazine) and I read every issue of Stereophile (the magazine, not the avocation), cover to cover. Telarc and Delos recordings were always spinning on their reviewers' CD players. I bought a few, like <a href= "http://www.amazon.com/Respighi-Pines-Rome-Birds-Fountains/dp/B000003CT0/... target="new">Respighi's Pines of Rome </a>, Louis Lane conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and <a href=" http://www.amazon.com/Copland-Appalachian-Spring-Fanfare-Common/dp/B0000... target="new">Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, Rodeo and Fanfare for the Common Man</a>, with Lane at the helm of the ASO once again. The recordings were excellent, No excellent is too tame a word. They were – they still are – exquisite. Expansive as the universe, as civilized as infinity, and punctuated with their trademark Tympani kicks that separated the boys from the men when it came to seeing whose audiophile tweaked system was better than whose.
The real prize in my two-channel system, at least the prize du jour, is the resurrection of the Stax SRX headphones and SRD-7 headphone amplifier. Well, it’s not really an amplifier, just a transformer. You wire it to the output of your real amplifier with these pretty cheesy (at least by audiophile standards) wires that are hard-soldered inside the unit. Then you screw down your beefier audiophile speaker cable (or in my case, the equally cheesy Radio Shack 16 gauge) to the terminals provided on the back of the SRD-7 and use a switch on the front panel to choose between headphones or speakers.
KEF has a solution for people who don't want a lot of speakers in their room, their new FiveTwo Series. The two models in the series, the floor standing model 11 and stand mounted model 7, split the center channel signal between a driver in each of the speakers (that 3rd one from the top in the picture.) The sides of both models feature flat side mounted driver arrays that shoot the sound out to the sides and, presumably, around the room enough to fill in for what isn't in the back. A special connector is provided with the appropriate leads for your receiver or amp so a consumer doesn't have to worry about dragging three speaker cables to each speaker to make this all work.
I've been reviewing speakers for a long time. I'm not saying my ears are any better than yours, but they're trained. Give me that much credit. I can wax rhapsodic paragraphs ad nauseam on why the latest multi-thousand dollar speaker can bring you closer to your music and movies. If you can afford them, great! But if you can't, it's not the end of the line. A more than decent system can be built around five mid-priced speakers, like the Polk LSi-9 ($500/ea), plus a good sub. But <i>really</i> inexpensive speakers? Well, that's always been a big challenge – until now that is.
Onkyo's HT-S990THX is a whole Home Theater in a Box. Actually, it's a Home Theater in a Really Big Box. For $1,099 you get a 7.1 110 watt per channel receiver, three LCR two-way speakers (with two woofers and a single tweeter) for the front channel, and four smaller two-way speakers for the surrounds and a 10" powered sub as well. There's no HDMI inputs, but there <i>is</i> a THX logo on the front panel that speaks volumes about the quality you should expect. Absolutely amazing at this price. I heard a rumor that Home Theater magazine has one in for review (hint: check your newsstands or better yet, subscribe!)
The good news is, owners of the Theta Casablanca can finally get HDMI switching capability (4-in / 1-out). The price? $4,000 <i>provided</i> you're at Casablanca 3 level. To get there from my original Casablanca would add between $3K-$4k to that price. How bad do you want it?
I was actually sad, sad for a consumer electronic company, when I saw what I saw over at the convention center late Saturday afternoon. Toshiba has always been an outstanding company, from the days of making some of the better rear projection (CRT) TVs, to their headlong dive into HD DVD, a format that offered a lot, most importantly, the potential for a single SKU with their Combo format.