Audio Lives!

Audio gear - designed for high-fidelity reproduction of recorded music - once ruled the Consumer Electronics Show, but now audio is for the most part only a handmaiden to video. However, for those who place sound first, some impressive components begged a hearing.

Denon's THX Ultra2-certified AVR-4806 receiver incorporates the new MultiEQ-XT technology from Audyssey Laboratories, which is said to automatically calibrate home theater speaker systems for the best possible sound at several listening positions, not just in the "sweet spot" directly in line with the TV screen (and the center speaker) as in previous automated setup programs. The system balances playback levels for all channels, sets the correct time delays to compensate for varying speaker distances, sets crossovers and levels for the optimal blend between the satellites (main channels) and the subwoofer, and even equalizes the sound to compensate for room effects. The AVR-4806 provides decoding and amplification for 5.1- and 6.1-channel Dolby Digital or DTS sound using THX Surround EX processing with distinct Cinema and Music modes. Input video signals are automatically converted up or down as needed to match all sources to your TV's native resolution. This receiver debuts in April for $3,500.

The matching new Denon DVD-5910 features a video rather than audio breakthrough: it's the first DVD player to use the new Realta/HQV chip from Silicon Optix, which performs over 1 trillion operations per second to process the video for the best picture on any kind of display. Denon contends that this kind of performance was previously possible only with a $60,000 scaler. The DVD-5910 will be priced at only $3,500 when it becomes available in February.

Harman Kardon, JBL, and Infinity all displayed numerous audio and A/V products at CES that they first introduced at the custom installers' Expo last September. However, JBL also showed its new flagship K2 S9800 speaker for the first time. Used by DTS to demonstrate its sound technology at CES, the K2 incorporates too many high-tech innovations and materials to list here. Finished in a dark red mahogany or an unusual black pinstripe using contrasting grains, it's available now for $30,000.

Sequestered in the Renaissance Hotel next door to the Convention Center, Harman divisions Revel and Lexicon revealed some really new products. Revel established its reputation with speaker systems at five-digit prices, so it was a bit surprising that it went the opposite direction from JBL with the superb-sounding but relatively affordable new Concerta home theater system. It consists of the F12 towers ($1,200 a pair), the C12 center speaker ($500), and the M12 surrounds ($600 a pair). All use an organic-ceramic composite for the speaker diaphragms and come finished in cherry, maple, or black ash.

In the same room Lexicon demonstrated a new circuit for its audio processors that will become available in the spring as a plug-in module (price to be determined). Called LIVE, for Lexicon Intelligent Variable Environment, it augments live rather than recorded sound by subtly enhancing ambience and reverberation. Lexicon has installed similar megabuck systems in major concert halls, and this scaled-down version now sweetens smaller home environments. The company's representatives suggested that musicians could use it while practicing and for home concerts. LIVE requires two microphones, but most Lexicon owners already have these because they're included in the configuration package. < < Back to the International CES 2005 index