The annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was held in early October in the Marriott Hotel at the Denver Tech Center. For at least the past 10 years this has been the biggest of the many audio shows now jostling for position around the U.S. Depending on who you ask, the Newport Beach (CA) show, held in June, is nipping at its heels but isn’t quite there yet.
Manufacturers (not to mention the press) must be tearing what’s left of their hair out trying to support all these shows, which now include RMAF, Newport, (northern) California, Chicago, New York City, Washington D.C., and Toronto. Let me know if I’ve missed one! And this doesn’t even include the trade-only CES (and, for some, CEDIA EXPO). For small manufacturers this is a major expense, and many of them only attend one or two. If they support two, it’s most likely they’ll include RMAF and CES).
Unlike many present-day audiophiles I keep one foot in the audio/video world of home theater and surround sound and the other in the 2-channel world of high-end audio. I regret that multichannel, even for music alone, remains anathema to many audio fans. As for film sound, for many that’s clearly the spawn of the devil...
2D Performance 3D Performance Features Ergonomics Value
AT A GLANCE Plus
Exceptional blacks and shadow detail
Excellent color and
Impressive sound with optional subwoofer
Small screen for 4K
Short of sitting very close, you’ll need a screen bigger than 55 inches to see the full benefits of 4K resolution. But the XBR-55X900B is, nevertheless, a champion in all respects, including one we didn’t anticipate: state-of-the-art edge-lit local dimming.
The XBR-55X900B is the smallest set in Sony’s X900B series, which also includes the 65-inch XBR-65X900B ($5,000) and the 79-inch XBR-79X900B ($9,000). Fifty-five inches is a relatively small size for achieving the maximum benefits of 4K resolution. But it’s also perhaps today’s most popular size for the principal home HDTV, so there’s no denying its market importance for Ultra HD as well.
In the first 15 minutes of Pompeii, I wondered if it was heading toward a mashup of Gladiator and The Horse Whisperer. But the horsey part turned out to be just a minor plot (such as it is) driver. The lead character had been a slave since childhood, begins as a star sword-to-hand fighter in a backwater Britannia arena, has a seething grudge against the Romans for killing his family, soon becomes a gladiator in Pompeii, pals up with another gladiator (a big African, natch), and together they score a major victory in the arena against a faux Roman army in front of a vile, powerful Roman senator. Sound familiar?
The cartoon above is only one of many from cartoonist Charles Rodrigues (1926-2004), who contributed to this magazine in the 1970s and 1980s (the mag was then known as Stereo Review). A favorite audiophile parody of an equipment report from Stereo Review’s iconic reviewer Julian Hirsch states, “Of all the amplifiers I have reviewed, this was definitely one of them.” Nevertheless, we all enjoyed Rodrigues’ take on our then, as now, crazy business.
But the cartoon here also heralded a problem that has fallen on the high-end audio industry, a problem also shared, though to a lesser degree, by the home theater business: eye-watering prices.
AT A GLANCE Plus
Superb color and contrast with room lights out
Lights-on viewing can be more satisfying than with
a conventional screen
Don’t expect miracles: Lights-out viewing still offers a superior picture
No screen can provide a projector’s best performance in normal room lighting, but the Screen Innovations Slate takes aim at this goal and, though not scoring a bull’s-eye, comes closer than most.
The surest route to realizing a knockout, big-picture home theater is to install a separate projector and screen. Once you’ve experienced it, you’ll wonder how you were ever satisfied with a “tiny” flat-screen HDTV.
Up until a few years ago, the biggest obstacle to realizing that ideal was the price of a good projector. Today, however, you can buy an excellent projector for under $3,000, and although that’s not chicken feed, it’s within the reach of many serious home theater enthusiasts. But what was once a secondary stumbling block is now front and center: the need for a fully darkened room to wring the best performance out of that projector. With most projection screens, there’s little choice, and this has kept home projection a niche market.
SIM2 Multimedia celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. In its demo, the small, LED-lit Nero 2 projector ($14,000) was putting out more than enough light on a huge, nearly 12-foot wide screen. The picture was gorgeous, if just slightly soft, likely due to to the very large screen. The projector's light output is rated at 1400 lumens, which is generous for an LED projector.
Classe introduced its new Sigma line at the show, consisting of the Sigma SSP surround sound preamp processor and two amps, the 5-channel Amp5 and the 2-channel Amp2. The latter are both compact class D designs offering 200W per channel into 8 ohms and 400W per channel into 4 ohms.
The Sigma SSP, shown in the photo (though it looks far, um, classier in real life than my middling photography might indicate. It is loaded with features, including SPDIF and 24-bit asynchronous USB digital inputs, DSP-produced parametric EQ and tone control on all channels, and all of the other modes and features of any competent pre-pro. But it has only one HDMI output, is only HDMI 1.4, and is not yet Dolby Atmos-ready. But it's modular design should make future Hardware updates possible. The Sigma SSP and Amp5 are $5000 each, and the Amp 2 is $3500. All three should be available by the end of the year.
On Friday afternoon a CEDIA panel was convened to discus the subject of immersive audio. And we all thought that immersive sound meant 5.1- or 7.1-multichannel! But with Dolby Atmos there's a new kid in town. And Dolby Atmos isn't alone.
The panel was moderated by industry tech guru Michael Heiss, and consisted of Brett Crockett of Dolby, Andrew Jones of Pioneer and TAD, Dr. Floyd Toole, a consultant with Harman Kardon, and Wilfred Van Baelen, the founder of Auro...
Sony's booth at CEDIA EXPO never approaches its presence at CES, but inside the pillars surrounding its exhibit and announcing its presence it demonstrated a stacked pair of its VPL-VW1100ES 4K projectors using material stored on its media server. I didn't think these projectors were performing at their best (and having reviewed both the VPL-VW1000 (the predecessor to the VPL-VW1100ES and essentially identical in performance if not in features) and the VPL-VW600ES I can vouch that they are competitive with the best home theater projectors you can buy). But on music a Sony ES audio system did extremely well, even if the room was far from optimum for sound.
One piece missing, however, was the new VPL-VW300ES projector Sony introduced recently at IFA (IFA is the European CES--more or less). The VPL-VW300ES is a stripped down and less expensive VPL-VW600ES, eliminating such features as the dynamic iris and lens memory. My Sony contact indicated that the company does not intend to market this projector here.