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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 28, 2015 3 comments
The average cable subscriber is staggering under constant rate hikes. But don’t expect any help from the Federal Communications Commission. It has just issued a ruling saying cable operators are presumed to face “effective competition.” That will make it harder for local governments to petition for regulation of skyrocketing cable rates.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 27, 2015 2 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos
Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth
HDR support
Minus
No Ultra HD scaling

THE VERDICT
The Onkyo TX-NR545 is a wireless-triple-threat receiver with an intrinsically good-sounding amp.

Most A/V receivers have seven audio channels for reasons that date back to 1999 and are all but forgotten. The original rationale for adding two channels to surround sound’s basic 5.1 footprint was to accommodate back-surround speakers for THX Surround EX (later renamed Dolby Digital EX) and DTS-ES. While I mean no disrespect to the many readers who enjoy the back surrounds in their 7.1 systems, I’ve been against back surrounds from the beginning. My argument in one sentence is: Three channels in front, four in back—what’s wrong with this picture? I’ve always considered 5.1 the bedrock standard of surround sound, and I still do, even today.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 25, 2015 0 comments

Mini A Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Model A Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $4,785

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Coordinated on- and off-axis response
Custom drivers
Strong dual-10-inch sub
Minus
Center not fully timbre-matched
Not much to look at
Sub crossover limited to two settings

THE VERDICT
The Bryston Mini A offers refined performance and—though it’s not obvious to the naked eye—serious build quality at a moderate price.

So many audio products start as marketing necessities. But how many start as personal quests? When Bryston’s James Tanner wanted to design a one-off “ultimate loudspeaker” for his own reference system, the resulting Mini T floorstanding tower impressed his colleagues so much that it squirreled its way into the upper-echelon marketing channels usually reserved for Bryston’s formidable preamps and amps (which, incidentally, include surround-friendly three-, five-, and eight-channel models).

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 20, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,300

AT A GLANCE
Plus
HDMI, lossless surround decoding
UHD-capable video passthrough
Minus
High-end pricing
No HDCP 2.2 DRM for UHD

THE VERDICT
If you close your eyes, the Arcam Solo Bar and Solo Sub sound more like a decent component system than a soundbar.

Soundbars take three forms. The main distinction among them is what serves as the heart of your system. With a passive soundbar, the A/V receiver—with all its features, joys, and woes—is the clearinghouse, and all signal sources go through it. With a less expensive active soundbar, the TV often replaces the receiver, and all signals go through the TV into the bar. But the Arcam Solo Bar is the type of active soundbar that replaces both the receiver and the TV as the heart of your system.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 13, 2015 0 comments
If you thought President Francis Underwood was scary in Netflix 4K streaming, you may be perturbed to learn that the third season of House of Cards was actually shot in 6K. When Kevin Spacey directed his laser-like gaze at the camera to address the audience, he was burning a hole in a 6K lens. Even the visual effects—often executed in 2K even for 4K productions—were pure 6K, which has nine times the resolution of standard HD. That doesn’t mean you’ll be seeing the show in 6K anytime soon, with TVs and program pipelines still grappling with the 4K transition. But the 6K House of Cards lurks in an archive, waiting to unnerve future generations.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 13, 2015 1 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos 5.2.2
Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth on board
HDCP 2.2 rights management
Minus
Tight, crowded remote control

THE VERDICT
With Atmos added and both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth newly baked in, this receiver is a better value than its immediate $600 predecessor.

Less than a year has passed since I called the Pioneer VSX-1124 both “a top-performing receiver at a competitive price point” and, just in case that seemed too dispassionate, “a miracle.” So much has happened since then. For starters, Dolby Atmos happened, adding object-oriented surround with dedicated height channels to the basic surround footprint. Yet it’s almost a shock to see Atmos in a $600 receiver, the new VSX-1130. If you’re still on the fence about Atmos, Pioneer hasn’t stopped there. Bluetooth, formerly a $99 accessory, is now baked in.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 07, 2015 0 comments
Ultra HD content on a thumb drive? Sure, why not? Mance Media is the first company to sell it—and that makes it the first to sell UHD in a hard-copy format. The Website lists more than a dozen movies priced at $24.99 as well as TV shows. For details, visit buy4kuhd.com. UHD will also be available on forthcoming variations of Blu-ray and is already available via streaming and satellite.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 07, 2015 24 comments
Most receivers have seven amp channels. I've just reviewed several of them in a row: the Onkyo TX-NR545, Pioneer VSX-1130, and Sony STR-DN1060. Our October issue will collect them in a roundup, with a review of the Denon AVR-X1200W following in November. All list for $600 and include Dolby Atmos height-enriched surround in a 5.1.2-channel configuration. That is a couple of height channels short of the 5.1.4 configuration Dolby Labs recommends for Atmos in the home. And that in turn prompts an uncomfortable question: Is the seven-channel receiver obsolete?

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 29, 2015 3 comments

B652-AIR Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SUB-1000 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $299 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Super affordable
Pleated-diaphragm tweeter
Cinema-friendly voicing
Excellent finish quality
Minus
Lively cabinets
Wire-clip speaker terminals

THE VERDICT
If you want a home theater system and you want it now, these speakers will suit a draconian budget. Let a thousand starter systems bloom.

Late last year, a Florida man walked into Starbucks and ordered a Grande Latte with 99 extra shots of espresso and 17 pumps of vanilla syrup, mocha, and matcha powder. His tab was $83.75—more than a pair of Dayton Audio B652-AIR speakers. He was a big spender, of course, but if you ordered, say, a White Chocolate Mocha every day for two weeks at $4.65 per cup, you’d still spend more than the price per pair of these speakers.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 17, 2015 1 comments
It is remarkable that people who pay attention to what they feed themselves—fussing about calories, cholesterol, and gluten—can be so cavalier about what they feed their headphones.

True, you can get used to anything, including the flea-sized amplifier in your smartphone and the messy output of your computer’s soundcard. But for those who are willing to step up to a new normal, products that combine a USB digital-to-analog converter with a headphone amp can make good headphones sound better—and allow better headphones to fulfill their destiny, which is to bring listeners to a higher plane of audio existence.

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