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Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 19, 2006  |  3 comments
Do you want your home fed with the highest bandwidth for HDTV, Internet service, and telephone? Then you want this. It's an optical network terminal, it goes with Verizon's fiber-optic FiOS service, and the company has begun installing them in 14 states (seven with video delivery service) as part of a nationwide rollout that will take many years. Not that I'm their publicist or anything—as a matter of fact, I'm a former Verizon customer—but no other company has set itself such an ambitious task. AT&T is Verizon's leading competitor, but that system is a hybrid of copper and fiber, while Verizon brings fiber right up to the wall of your house. Of all the digital pipes that might feed your home, a pure fiber-optic system is the most capacious. This particular wall belongs to a demo house at Verizon's R&D and network facility in Waltham Massachusetts. For more details and plenty of pictures see the Gallery.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 16, 2006  |  0 comments
Oh so carefully selected reporters swarmed the Samsung Experience store at New York's Time Warner Center to get a first hands-on experience with the BD-P100. The player took one minute to warm up by my pocket watch (vs. a reported three for Toshiba's HD DVD player). Picture quality on a Samsung 61-inch DLP projector was stunning, showing every hair and pore on Guy Pearce's stubbly face in Memento, and maintaining that degree of detail when accompanied by moderate subject or camera motion. Resolution softened when I turned off the projector's DNIe video processing though rapid motion also became smoother. On the whole I found it jolly convincing. Once you've seen 1080p at a high data rate, you'll never want to go back, at least on those releases that are true 1080p (as opposed to line-doubled fakes). Incidentally, there is no truth to the widely blogged (though not here!) rumor that the Samsung player will be delayed to late summer in the U.S.—the delay will be in the U.K. Delays have been confirmed for Sony and Pioneer players but Samsung expects to hit the scheduled June 25 release date.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 15, 2006  |  2 comments
Bose product demos always come with a dash of entertainment. At last week's New York press demo for the QuietComfort 3 headphones, hapless reporters entered the room to find a mannequin wearing a pair of large Bose headphones, only to see the earpieces whipped off to reveal the newer, smaller model. The QuietComfort 3 is the third generation of Bose noise-canceling headphones. They cover the ear without enclosing it. They're the first noise-canceling headphones to use a rechargable battery, a 20-hour lithium ion type, and the charger is a cute earcup-shaped object with flip-down prongs that plug into the wall without a cable. A $39 accessory cable allows users to switch between cell phone and music. Check bose.com to see if your phone is compatible. The demo in New York actually used a Nokia cell phone with MP3 files at 192kbps. The headphones were accurate enough to reveal smeary compression artifacts—no surprise to me, since I already use the original QuietComfort 1, as well as the non-NC TriPort, and thought highly enough of the former to have the earpads renovated when they wore out. If you want full-sized cans, the QuietComfort 2 remains in the line for $299, but the new QuietComfort 3 sells for $349 and is available from the Bose site as of today.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 14, 2006  |  2 comments
Today MusicGremlin started selling the first player to download without a PC and The Wall Street Journal has got hold of it. (We all can't be Walter Mossberg and Katherine Boehret.) The Gremlin downloads via wi-fi for 99 cents per song. You can also use a PC but it must be a Windows PC. For music sharing, it can even beam music from player to player, as long as both parties subscribe to MusicGremlin Direct for $14.99/month. The WSJ does describe a few DRM limitations: "you can't share certain kinds of songs, including legally obtained MP3 files that you transfer to the Gremlin from your computer." Also, while the player downloads from T-Mobile hotpots, it can't do some forms of PC-enabled wi-fi-ing. The player has a two-inch LCD, 8GB capacity, and sells for $299 from musicgremlin.com.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 13, 2006  |  1 comments
The Pioneer Blu-ray player won't be arriving in June after all. In fact, it won't be out till autumn, according to a vague report in Reuters. Blu-ray's official software launch had already been delayed from May 23 to June 20 to coordinate with a delay in the launch of Samsung's player. If Samsung comes up with the goods on time, that probably won't change again. Pioneer's Blu-ray internal hard drive made its debut more or less on time last month, so presumably the player hitch is software—DRM?—as opposed to hardware related.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 12, 2006  |  2 comments
Red! Red! Red! Apple no longer sees the world in black & white. Aside from the newly reddened click wheel, the new iPod U2 Special Edition is business as usual. It is based on the 30GB iPod, fifth generation, and is the first iPod not to be offered in white. Clearly U2 will remain part of the iPod marketing program for some time to come and Bono can feed even more starving millions. Battery life is still 14 hours and the price is $329. In other news, 73 percent of college students surveyed by research firm Student Monitor said the iPod is "in," up from 59 percent last year, and surpassing beer at a mere 71 percent. Yes, the iPod is more popular than beer. Meanwhile, Apple has not only countersued Creative Labs but filed a second countersuit for good measure. Both companies allege patent infringements. And three more nations have taken up the aborted French proposal to make iTunes downloads interoperable with non-Apple devices: Norway, Sweden, and via the British Phonographic Institute, the United Kingdom. Apple is also feeling the heat from an anti-DRM group, Defective by Design.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 07, 2006  |  2 comments
The Home Entertainment Show—affectionately known among old-timers as the Stereophile Show—blossomed near LAX last week from June 1-4. This was the first year at a new location, the Sheraton Gateway. Far from the madding crowds of CES and CEDIA, HES does a great job of bringing manufacturers together with dealers, press, and public in a friendly context. That includes live music, reminding everyone present why we got into this business in the first place. The show has been extensively covered by our sister publications Ultimate AV and of course Stereophile. Their reporting skills and, in particular, their monopod-steadied photo prowess shame me. But then, I see this show differently than they do, with an eye for monitor-sized speakers that can be multiplied by five in a surround system, and a more jocular view of the show's historic two-channel orientation and some of the oddities that entails. Following are a few impressions. I'll post the least awful of these pictures to the Gallery plus a few extras.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 06, 2006  |  3 comments
The show was full of fridge-sized speakers but none of them sounded as good as the Totem Acoustics Dreamcatcher ($450/pair), driven by much pricier Plinius electronics. This was the most immediately appealing, and possibly the most accurate, sound at the show. It was utterly free of the grotesque coloration that marred dozens of larger speakers on display elsewhere. This picture looks good because I did not take it.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 06, 2006  |  2 comments
HSU Research is best known for its affordable high-performance subwoofers, but Dr. Poh Ser Hsu is also a dab hand at speaker design, as generously illustrated by the HB-1 "bookshelf" (to sensible people, that means stand-mounted) speakers. They had all the efficiency of horns with, to my ears, none of the beamy feeling that affects other horn designs. The sound remained consistent as I moved up and down and around the room. At only $125 each, this speaker may become the underground bestseller of 2006.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 06, 2006  |  2 comments
Onkyo, a speaker company? Don't laugh. These two monitors were among the best things I heard at the show. The neat cube-shaped monitor at the left, the D-312E, threw out a highly natural and realistic soundstage with orchestral music. Unfortunately it's available only in Japan. The D-TK10, at right, is slightly smaller, curvier, and features a cabinet made by guitar maker Takamine. It will be available for maybe $1600/pair though the price was not finalized at presstime.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 06, 2006  |  2 comments
Lukas Lipinski poses with the L-707 ($4950/pair). Even in a room full of people this chunky stand-mount speaker had something that made a voice in my head say "let me review it pleeeease." Maybe it was the amps built into the 3601 stand ($2595/each) that did it. The company has its roots in pro audio but now sells bleeding-edge gear to the high-end market.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 06, 2006  |  0 comments
Dave Wilson's venerable Watt Puppy is now available in baby blue for $27,900. Having heard it with a recording of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I think I may have to spend more time in Utah. Even in an acoustically imperfect room, the massed vocals were so beautiful, they tax my powers of description. You just had to be there. This is why events like the HES are so precious—and why high-end dealers with good demo rooms deserve the big bucks.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 06, 2006  |  1 comments
If there is a god, and he has a drawer full of headphones, this is what it would look like if the contents of that drawer were strewn along a very long table. I got in some face time with the new Grado Reference 1000 ($995) and it was like wearing a concert hall on my skull.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 06, 2006  |  1 comments
This could be one of those large jars of formaldehyde in a mortician's lab, or a really cool fish bowl, but in fact is the first liquid-cooled power amplifier: the Von Gaylord Uni Signature. Mustering 200 watts per channel, each mono-block comes with a separate boxy power supply. The four pieces retail for $59,000 (goldfish not included).
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 06, 2006  |  1 comments
The largest meter at the show belonged without question to the McIntosh MC2KW power amp. It costs $30,000 but think of the money you'll save on lighting.