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Mark Fleischmann

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 25, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $330

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dedicated surrounds for true 5.1-channel sound
Bluetooth connection to mobile sources
Effective DTS Volume mode
Minus
Less impressive performance with music

THE VERDICT
A surprisingly good-sounding, high-value choice for movie sound, though serious music lovers might need to look elsewhere

Home theater, as I’ve always defined it, is the union of big-screen TV and surround sound. At their best, they have the power to suspend disbelief and pull you into a cinematic narrative or musical experience. Sometimes soundbars make the cut, and sometimes they don’t. Any decent-sounding soundbar—whether it has 2.0, 2.1, or 5.1 channels—is likely to improve over the awful speakers built into most TVs. Making the evening news intelligible is no small contribution to household happiness. But few soundbars try to cross the barrier from convenience to full-bore 5.1-channel rapture. The Vizio S4251W-B4 is just such a product.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 21, 2013 0 comments

Nucleus Micro SE Speak
Performance
Build Quality
Value
TR-1D Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,614

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Highly compact steel sphere enclosures
Transparent sound quality
Big soundstage with no restrictive sweet spot
Minus
On-wall or near-wall placement well advised
Tricky subwoofer mating
Likes a lot of power

THE VERDICT
A sub/sat system whose great strengths are its midrange clarity, wide dispersion, and décor-friendly form factor.

The interaction between speaker manufacturers and the public they serve has changed markedly since the days when I was a longhaired college kid buying my first speakers. Back then, design ideas flowed in one direction, from the top down, from the drawing board to the sales floor—and if you bought a speaker, you nearly always bought a box speaker. Now speaker-design imperatives flow in both directions. With a greater variety of beckoning form factors, speaker buyers influence the design process simply by choosing the products that fit into our lives.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 15, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Supports lossless formats
Great-sounding headphone out
May be used as standalone DAC with a PC
Minus
Rudimentary touchscreen DAC use limited to 96-kHz or lesser files.

THE VERDICT
The AK100 successfully ventures beyond the iTunes universe to open a world of high-resolution portable playback.

Is Apple the biggest obstacle to progress in portable audio? The iPod has been around a full dozen years, and the iPhone for half that, yet even today the Apple ecosystem fails to support 24-bit audio file formats. All Apple-supported file formats—even the best of them, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV—are limited in iOS to 16 bits. That’s not high rez, that’s mid rez. Forget about playing your growing library of 24-bit FLACs. Leaving the Apple ecosystem can be painful because the company’s touchscreen and clickwheel devices are so ingratiating. But leave you must if you want better sound in your pocket, and the Astell & Kern AK100 may be on your list of destinations.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 08, 2013 7 comments

SS-NA5ES Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SA-NA9ES Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $19,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Scandinavian birch
enclosures
Triple tweeter array
Warm and fatigue-free
Minus
Not exactly cheap

THE VERDICT
A pricey speaker system that offers an edge to those who want the very best.

Sony has always had a sense of its own destiny that transcends any one of its multifaceted operations. To gamers, it is the guardian of the PlayStation franchise. Moviegoers know it as the owner of Sony Pictures, while music lovers know it as the home of Dylan, Springsteen, and Adele. Tech historians recall how Sony’s small transistor radios and Walkman cassette player, respectively from the 1950s and ’70s, paved the way for the iPod in the ’00s. Cutting-edge computer audiophiles are excited about the potential of Sony’s DSD file format to transform the nascent world of high-resolution music downloads.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 01, 2013 11 comments
A home theater system, as I never tire of saying, is the union of big-screen television and surround sound. Conceptually speaking, the big-TV part is not a heavy lift. But some people interested in getting into home theater may have trouble visualizing what a surround sound system might look like. And it's hard to blame them. Surround systems come in many configurations, each appealing to a different tribe of listeners. How can you, as an aspiring home theater buff, decide which surround tribe you belong to? Here are some common configurations matched to the listeners to whom they would appeal.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 04, 2013 2 comments
Bar, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin', say most audiophiles. But an increasing number of consumers begs to differ, and the audio industry caters to them with an increasing selection of soundbars. At the recent CEDIA Expo, nearly every manufacturer that makes audio-for-video products was showing a soundbar or three, and no doubt I'll be reviewing some of them over the next year. With such a proliferation of soundbars, some of them may actually be pretty good, within their inherent limits, and worth considering in a bedroom system or something other than a primary home theater system.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 02, 2013 3 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Nine amp channels
Audyssey MultEQ XT32
Excellent sound quality
Minus
No direct USB input for PC/Mac playback

THE VERDICT
Reference-worthy A/V receiver that offers great bang for the buck.

When I review speakers, I have dozens of major and minor brands to choose from. When I review audio/video receivers, the same names come up time and again. There just aren’t that many of them. You might think reviewing the same AVR brands repeatedly would leave me jaded. But it doesn’t. Every one of those heavy black boxes is a new quest. Every manufacturer has to prove itself all over again—and prove it to me, someone with a frame of reference that goes back decades. My method is pretty simple. I act as a surrogate for the consumer: I am you. I pull the product out of the box, lift it onto my rack, punch through the interface, turn it up loud, and consider both what I hear and how I feel about it.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 27, 2013 0 comments
Satellite/subwoofer sets and stand-mount speakers were conspicuous in their near-absence from this year's CEDIA but Monitor Audio showed three different (and differently shaped) sats. From left to right: The newest member of the family is Monitor's flagship sat, the Apex 10 ($1000/pair). Though the pic doesn't show it off well, the woofer has a dimpled surface that enables it to be both thin and strong, increasing clarity and reducing distortion. The MASS (Monitor Audio Satellite System), introduced at CES, is a 5.0-channel system selling for $699. Its fabric-wrapped polymer enclosure has a distinctive shape designed to inhibit bass-bloating standing waves. The Radius ($500/pair), an existing line, has been upgraded with a one-inch tweeter and four-inch woofer. Monitor's proprietary driver material is C-CAM, a ceramic-coated aluminum-magnesium blend. In all cases complementary centers and subs are available. Oh, and the speakers plug into their stands, with binding posts for cable at the bases of the stands.
Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 27, 2013 0 comments
If your 4K or 3D video needs to travel long distances, the Integra DTR-60.5 receiver has a big plus that's rare in receivers. A back-panel HTBaseT jack lets you use cheap Cat 5e or Cat6 ethernet cable to bridge distances up to 325 feet. And if you hate fumbling with wi-fi adapters, this receiver has it built in. Integra wants audiophiles who are investing in high-res downloads to know that it supports DSD, FLAC, WAV, and ALAC with no downconversion. Room correction is the highest-quality version of Audyssey, MultEQ XT32. The receiver also has both THX Select2 and ISF certification for high-quality audio and video. Rated power is 135 watts times two and presumably a lower number into multichannel loads. Price $2300, shipping now.
Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 27, 2013 0 comments
Yamaha's YSP-1400 BL soundbar ($450) has eight little drivers behind that metal grille. They are designed to attain 5.1-channel status by beaming sound all over the place and bouncing it off walls. Take a look at those fat cylindrical feet. Those are the subwoofer drivers. There's Bluetooth, of course, and control apps for iOS and Android. A second new Yamaha soundbar is the YAS-152BL ($350) which is said to produce virtual 7.1-channel surround and also has built-in subs, this time firing out of the bottom surface. This bar's apps can be used to fine-tune the sound in addition to the usual volume and other adjustments. Both products have Dolby Digital and DTS decoding and (no surprise at these price points) no HDMI or lossless surround decoding. Both shipping next month.

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