Two makers of one-box solutions for virtual surround sound were at the show. ZVOX was covered earlier in our show report (below). Soundmatters is the other. The Soundmatters SLIMstage40 Surround Console ($899, available in July), available in either silver or black (the silver version is shown in the photo, just under the flat panel set) uses four seven active drivers and eight internal amplifiers (170W total) to simulate a full surround sound experience. At 3.4" deep, it's designed to fit under a wall-mounted, flat panel television.
Rives Audio is repeating a demonstration that was a hit at last year's show in Los Angeles. Two rooms are set up with near identical systems. One room is completely untreated, the other uses a variety of acoustical treatment devices plus electronic equalization of the bass (using two Rives Sub-PARCs and extra amps to support the equalizers). The speakers in both rooms are Talon Thunderhawks ($25,000/pair), the amplifier the VAC Alpha Integrated ($10,000, an all-tube design with 100Wpc), and the CD player the Wadia 580i ($9450).
Back on the limited home theater front, Meridian/Faroudja had a small room with both audio and video, the latter a modest flat panel display. The heart of the audio system was the new Meridian G95 ($8495), a complete processor/amp/DVD player all in one case; in other words, it's a high-end DVD AV receiver, offering five channels of 100Wpc amplification. But it does have limitations, which are rather surprising for such an expensive device. There is no DVD-Audio playback (Meridian has long been a champion of that format), and no way to get an external multichannel source into the receiver (there is no multichannel analog input and no HDMI switching to provide multichannel audio on HDMI). The only HDMI connection is the HDMI output for the internal DVD player.
CinePro showed its new Mighty Powershelf two-way speaker ($3300/pair), together with the Mighty Center Channel ($2700), two jumbo 12" Dual isobaric subwoofers ($5000), and a rack full of CinePro electronics. The projector was from SIM2. The sound was punchy and dynamic, even though I did request a slightly lower playback level than those that CinePro usually favors.
Also sharing the room with CinePro was VidaBox, a media center designed as a full-function server capable of storing music, television programming, and movies on its hard drive. It is also said to be capable of both Blu-ray and HD DVD playback. Shane Buetter has more to say about the VidaBox in an earlier blog entry (below)
Joseph also demonstrated its RM7xl speaker ($2299-$2499/pair, depending on finish), but in a very unusual way. The source was a laptop computer feeding uncompressed files into a new Bel Canto integrated amp via a <I>USB</I> connection.
There isn't a lot of budget gear at HE2007, but then the show has always trumpeted itself as a high-end show. New York dealer Sound by Singer had five rooms filled with increasingly expensive gear, but the first room was at least relatively real world, with a price of approximately $6000. The speakers were the JM Focal Chorus 836V floorstanders at $3000/pair. The electronics were from Cambridge Audio (the 840A integrated amp and 840C CD player, at $1500 each). The sound was very clean and well balanced. My only reservation: from a front row, center seat the imaging was a little bloated. But it was a fine-sounding system, and the step up to the next system in Sound by Singer's progressively more expensive chain of rooms was over $30,000. But that system was anchored by the JM Focal Electra 1037Be ($10,995/pair), one of the best sounding speakers I've heard at the show.
There was a definite shortage of home theater exhibits at this year's home entertainment show. But no shortage of interesting products. When faced with limited home theater presence, I go to plan B: look for loudspeakers. Speakers do of course, handle two types of program material in most homes: music and films. If they sound good on music that's more than half the battle. And if they don't, even Angelina Jolie can't help them.
Lipinski Sound had an audio/video system consisting of five of its L-707 monitor speakers ($2495 each), five L-301 Lipinski amplifiers ($2995 each, set up in 2-channel, 300Wpc mode for bi-amping each L-707 speaker, but also bridgeable), and four L-240 Powered Stands ($595 each), each of them (apart from the center) designed to house one of the L-301 amps. This placed the amplification just a little over a foot from its associated speaker. The total cost of the power amp/speaker combination: $35,035. Building the amps into the speaker stands is a great idea that more manufacturers might want to consider.
One of the interesting new features of this year's show is a variety of workshops, many of them to be presented more than once throughout the show. There are workshops on amplifier measurements, amplifier listening, speaker auditioning, speaker measurements, the peak power demands of music, and active loudspeakers. The Stereophile Analog Clinic also continues, as in past shows.