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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2014 11 comments
The AV receiver is such a feature-rich beast that it's hard to believe designers would ever dispense with a single feature. As the category has grown, features have just piled up, and generally manufacturers prefer adding them to subtracting them. But slowly, stealthily, a few features are vanishing from the spec sheet and the back panel. It had to happen eventually. Every feature costs money for parts or licensing. Either prices have to go up, sound quality has to suffer, or some old features must go gentle into that good night. That last alternative seems like the least of all possible evils.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 29, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
AirPlay and Bluetooth
Excellent build quality and sound
Carrying handle
Minus
None!

THE VERDICT
The Minx Air 200 is a well built and great sounding compact system that supports wireless streaming from many mobile devices.

So long, Apple 30-pin docking connector. You were a prodigiously creative little jack while you lasted. You gave birth to whole new categories of iPod/iPhone accessory docks and docking systems. You even muscled your way into A/V receivers, initially with add-on docks, then with iOS-capable USB jacks, your Apple-ness embedded into the receiver’s silicon brain. But now you’re on the run. Apple’s skinny Lightning connector has made you instantly obsolete, and you’ll linger only as long as the legacy devices you serve. In fact, even Lightning, your designated successor, is practically DOA thanks to another transformative change.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 20, 2014 0 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $650

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Modest but clean power
Slim form factor
Apple AirPlay
Minus
Not for demanding speakers
Bluetooth costs extra

THE VERDICT
This sensible little AVR has enough good-sounding power to run an efficient set of speakers or passive soundbar.

When is less more? Is there ever a time when you’d rather have less power? Let me rephrase that: Is there ever a time when you’d like to have less power running smaller and/or more efficient speakers? The answer in this instance may be yes.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 02, 2014 0 comments
Bis is a Swedish music label with a large catalogue of Super Audio CDs. Among them are two releases that have become my go-to choices for major works in the orchestral repertory: Beethoven's nine symphonies and Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos. Both are DSD recordings, less than a decade old, with surround and stereo soundtracks. They'll cost you more than most CD box sets of the same works. But the chance to hear these vibrant performances in high-res DSD via SACD is well worth the price. Think of surround as icing on the cake.
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 25, 2014 2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
500-GB hard drive
DSD capable
Serious fun to use
Minus
No live streaming from network devices
Lightweight amp

THE VERDICT
This handsome DSD-capable audio player with built-in storage takes the pesky computer out of computer audio—and it’s way more fun to use.

Sony made waves when they announced their intention to market three high-resolution audio (HRA) products built around the company’s DSD file format. True, there was a nascent HRA movement before Sony made the move, with loads of network audio players and USB DACs flooding the market. But somehow the Sony announcement provided the extra momentum that finally made HRA seem not just promising but inevitable. That the Consumer Electronics Association has also launched an HRA initiative is icing on the cake.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 18, 2014 0 comments

Aero 2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Aero 9 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,446

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Flat BMR in lieu of tweeter
Clear sonic window into the midrange
Unusual dual-mono/bipole surrounds
Affordable price
Minus
Boxy vinyl-wrap enclosures

THE VERDICT
Cambridge Audio’s Aero reinvents the two-way loudspeaker in midrange-friendly fashion with excellent performance and value.

What if you needed two throats to speak? Sounds a bit cumbersome, right? But that’s how a two-way loudspeaker usually treats the human voice. Its drivers divide the midrange frequencies where the voice resides into two parts, sending higher frequencies to the tweeter and lower frequencies to the woofer. While the crossover varies from speaker to speaker, the frequencies that handle the voice usually get split right in the region where human ears are most sensitive to vocal timbre.

Of course, good speaker designers routinely surmount this obstacle to natural vocal sound, either by carefully tweaking their two-way designs or by going to three-way designs that dedicate a separate driver to midrange reproduction. But the three-way approach adds two more crossover sections, potentially leading to other troubled areas of reproduction.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 18, 2014 0 comments
Rail passengers in Los Angeles’ Union Station got a taste of what was billed as “the world’s first large-scale opera for wireless headphones.” Invisible Cities was based on Italo Calvino’s spellbinding novel in which Marco Polo describes fantasy cities to Kublai Khan. The production used Sennheiser’s wireless headphone and microphone technology to allow listeners wearing RS 120 cans to roam around the large public space “onstage” and commune with the performers.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 11, 2014 11 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Top-drawer room correction
Strong dynamics
Bounteous custom features
Minus
Bluetooth requires accessory

THE VERDICT
The Denon AVR-4520CI and Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction combine to produce a close to perfect-sounding receiver.

Denon and its sister brand Marantz are among the most popular A/V receiver makers. The AVR-4520CI is Denon’s top-of-the-line model, the brand’s best shot at building every feature worth having into a nine-channel powerhouse. It does not attempt to be all things to all people (Bluetooth users, for instance). But it does offer a feature set that is strong in custom integrator features; hence the CI designation in the model number. And, as I discovered in this review—you won’t mind if I give away the ending, will you?—it also offers the best implementation of Audyssey room correction I’ve ever heard. Room correction has always seemed like a great idea, but the results have been hit or miss. Here it consistently produced great sound.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 10, 2014 1 comments
414blackout.promo250.jpgWhen cable operators and networks can’t agree on retransmission fees, cable viewers may suddenly see blackouts of broadcast and other channels. Such blackouts set a record in 2013, according to the American Television Alliance. Now legislation has been introduced in Congress that would prevent viewers from missing their favorite shows.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 04, 2014 4 comments
The Universal Music Group is taking a new kind of plunge into the Blu-ray disc format. Already the videophile's go-to format for movies and concert videos, Blu-ray now bids to conquer audiophiles. At least, that's the plan. Whether it goes anywhere is a different question.

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