My Two Cents on News Around the AV World

It’s fall, and a young man’s fancy (and we hope a woman’s as well) turns to thoughts of evenings by a roaring fire listening to music or watching a movie or two on that new flat screen UHD TV (hopefully not mounted above said fireplace!). There have been so many interesting posts to the S&V website recently that I can’t resist the temptation to offer a few thoughts on some of them. Some commenters to these individual posts have beaten me to the punch, but I’ll press on.

Paradigm Concept – I’ll soon be finishing up a review of the Paradigm Prestige 95F loudspeaker for our sister publication Stereophile. No sneak peeks here, but it has certainly grabbed my attention.

So I was intrigued when I read about the prototype Paradigm Concept 4F. It will also be shown (as a static display only, according to current plans) at the upcoming CEDIA EXPO 2015 in Dallas on October 15-17. With four internally-powered woofers and a tech-heavy midrange and tweeter (the later with a beryllium dome instead of the aluminum dome in the Prestige line), it’s stuffed with cutting edge thinking.

Might this hint at a replacement for the current top-of-the-line Paradigm Signature series? Possibly, but if this model comes to market precisely as shown in the prototype, it’s likely to significantly exceed the $9,500/pair price of the current, top-of-the-line Signature S8. If it hints at a full range of Concept models, it’s likely that some or all of them will not have self-powered woofers but rely on the usual external amplification. That could significantly decrease their prices.

In any case we hope to learn more about Paradigm’s plans for this speaker as soon as possible, either as a stand-alone flagship or as a complete new series. But I hope we’re talking about a merely expensive speaker and/or a range of speakers, rather than “Oh my God!”

Next Digital Broadcast Standard – There are a lot of reasons to work toward a new standard, particularly with 4K Ultra HD and its expended resolution, color, and dynamic range. But while several parties are working on various aspects of such a standard, competing interests for the huge licensing fees that might result may very well slow down the process. Samsung and LG are working separately, and they aren’t exactly kissin’ cousins. Ditto, on the audio side, for Dolby and MPEG. We will have a standard eventually, but I’d be surprised to see it by 2017.

I hope that the compromises that will be required to settle on a single standard don’t turn broadcast Ultra HD into an empty shell no better than the high quality we have now with 1080p—and possibly worse. I’m particularly concerned about the work being done on the audio side, because “Bandwidth efficient” is clearly code wording for “heavily compressed.”

Sharp to Launch 8K – No surprise here. Japanese manufacturers have long jumped head first into the new and exciting, sometimes with success and at other times not so much. They often launch cutting edge products in Japan first to see if they’ll fly before going international with them. (It’s significant to note here, however, Sharp continues to make and market TVs in Japan. But in some overseas markets, including the U.S., Sharp TVs, going forward, will now be Chinese products whose only connection with Sharp Japan is licensing of the Sharp name. No more “Ohhh My’s” from Mr. Sulu.)

But why 8K now? We’ve barely entered the 4K era, and many aspects of that technology (wider color and higher dynamic range) and its delivery (downloads and UHD Blu-ray) have yet to be widely implemented. And the benefits of higher than even 1080p resolution have yet to be convincingly demonstrated in a home-sized Ultra HD set. The wider color and high dynamic range aspects of the UHD transition hold far greater promise, and we don’t need 8K to implement those.

Movies on Netflix – Watch them before they expire? The Blu-rays on my shelf won’t ever expire short of laser rot (a widely discussed “issue” in the LaserDisc era but raised not even a peep with DVDs and Blu-rays). I can watch my discs whenever I want, either from beginning to end or just favorite scenes. I often enjoy the latter with movies I’ve previously watched. It’s not unusual to find scenes, or even extended sequences, that are far more compelling and re-watchable than the films they’re trapped in.

The studios can control the Internet availability of their titles, but short of discontinuing a given Blu-ray title’s availability (which won’t affect buyers who already own it) they can’t reach onto my shelf and pluck it away. Downloading and streaming definitely have their place (I’ve used them myself for marginal material I don’t want to acquire, or material that’s never appeared on disc) but they’re ephemeral and can dropped whenever the provider feels it’s in their interest to do so.

Sony Hi-Res Audio for the Car Can’t wait to go tooling down the road listening to the subtleties of Hi-Res audio in an ambient noise environment of 75dB!

K.Reid's picture

I grow more and more concerned with the escalating price of speakers, but I am encouraged with companies like ELAC retaining Andrew Jones to design more budget friendly speakers that actually sound good. This brings me to Paradigm, a company that I have always thought of as one of the vanguard of "value proposition" in high end audio throughout their entire line up. If the new concept speaker, which does look intriguing (especially the bass configuration), marks a change in direction for the company towards the ultra high end with matching prices, then that would cause me to rethink my earlier statement. I liked that Paradigm brought a beryllium tweeter to the market at an affordable price point (again speaking from a high end audio perspective). Perhaps I am putting the cart before the horse, but if Paradigm in bringing a potential flagship line tries to price the speaker at exotic levels say $20K+ they may be doing themselves a disservice. At that point, the concept had better be truly spectacular and standard setting to compete with the likes of Raidho, Magico, Wilson, YG Acoustics, Focal Utopia, upcoming new B&W 800 Diamond, KEF Blade, MBL, Rockport Technologies, Vivid Audio and the other usual suspects we audiophiles tend to associate with the ultra high end. Let's be real for a moment, in certain circles, folks buy the name no matter how good or not-so-good a speaker sounds solely for bragging rights. Certain clientele that seek the ultra high end wouldn't even put YG and Paradigm in the same sentence. Some might say the above brands speak to pedigree, prestige and superior sonics but does the same hold true for the Paradigm brand who brought us the value-oriented speakers like Atom and the old Titan?

If Paradigm makes a shift upmarket, do I blame them if they have strong conviction that they can compete? No, They deserve to tap into that high profit potential and reap the rewards that segment can bring in, even though I think some of the ultra high end manufacturers have grossly overpriced their products. My hope is that Paradigm adheres to its long time value proposition and prices its soon-to-be new flagship line accordingly. Let's hope it sounds incredible and that beryllium tweeter does not speak above the rest of the drivers.

It would be interesting to hear what other readers think about the escalating speaker prices. Is the performance we are getting from flagship speakers today worth the $$,$$$ or $$$,$$$ prices?

prerich45's picture

There was a time when people bought on name alone. However when Sony re-entered the high end speaker market - they did so with a bang! A $20k speaker would be a bargain compared to the prices Raidho, Magico, Rockport, MBL, and YG! The $20k mark puts you in the likes of Legacy, B&W, Sony, Dali, lower end YG, and lower end Magico. Paradigm might give these brands a run for their money - so to speak. Paradigm tends to trickle down their technology - so if they have a new concept (pun intended) expect to see it in future, less expensive models as well. ;)

Rob Crenshaw's picture

I think speaker prices today are out of control, as are prices in most of the industry. As I thought years ago, with an aging demographic and a current generation of people no longer into hi-fi as a hobby, to maintain profits the prices would have to go up tremendously to the same aging customer, who by now has more disposable income. I thought that this would not last this long, but it has.

I have Dunlavy SC-IVAs, which are a superb time and phase coherent speaker with about 91dB efficiency, an easy load, and have razor sharp resolution and imaging. They cost me well under $10K 10 or so years ago, which was big money at the time, only speakers like the 20Ts and the big Wilsons were considerably more expensive, and arguably better. Now we have many many speakers that are $20K+, and from my perspective are not worth anything close to their prices. Case in point, YG. I couldn't believe the models I listened to were $50K. They were *absolutely nothing* in comparison to the Dunlavys, at 7x the cost. Obviously great sound can be accomplished for nowhere near the $50-100K pricing of current hi-end speakers, I suspect manufacturers just won't do it because there's not enough profit, the market is too small now so they cannot rely on economies of scale unless they are a big company like Pioneer with the Andrew Jones series.

I have no idea what I'd do if my speakers ever became non-functional. Replacement models with similar performance are now Mercedes S Class pricing when they could be Hyundai.

mround's picture

If you really like your old speakers, look for repair and upgrade places. For instance, old EPI and Genesis speakers can be rebuilt/upgraded with new drivers and crossovers (up to current component standards), that are specifically designed and built for those enclosures, for around $350 (for a pair). The result is a better-than-new speaker in the old (real wood) cabinet. If you really like your old speakers but the surrounds have died, those can be replaced. In my case, I figure that my fully-depreciated (bought in 1973) EPI 100s now have another 20 years in them, with all new drivers and crossover, and equivalent sound these days would be well over $1K each box.

K.Reid's picture

For the record, the lower end ranks of Raidho, Magico, YG and MBL do have models in the $20K+ range. The issue is that most seasoned audiophiles and certain wealthy individuals would not even consider Paradigm in this circle - whether the Concept sounds spectacular or not. Unfortunately, many still buy on the name alone. It may really hinge on where they price the speaker. I suspect if it is a stratospheric price like Tom Norton alluded to....say six figures or even $40-$50K, the company, I think, would have an uphill battle competing with a Wilson Alexia or YG Hailey let alone the Sonja 1.3 or Wilson XLF. I am not saying they can't compete with the appropriate product, it is whether they will get "takers" at such a price point weighed against the pedigree of the "ultra high end brands". An analogy might be Cadillac trying to get market share against BMW, Audi and matter how good the reviews, it is an up battle. People still buy the name.

prerich45's picture

I agree with you basically. Most of us follow what's called "group think". Get your name out there (branding), set a precedence - and most people will like it because of the name. My brother is a BMW man, tried and true, I have couple myself (older ones - ones a daily driver and the other is a project car). Recently my brother asked if he could drive one of my no-BMW's ....a Hyundai Genesis Sedan. I said sure why not, I didn't know I was in for the ride of my life!!!! When he was finished he said he liked it better than the 7 series (2005 models) BMW's as far as handling goes. The Genesis is truly a luxury car, but yes it has an upward climb - just like Paradigm would have....but someone has gotta break the paradigm...right? :)

P.S. I'm in love with the Genesis and the Equus as well (took one of those for a test drive too)! FYI....they are starting to get their share indeed ;)

keithv's picture

In the 'AV World' and even the real world it's not Fall at all, but coming into Summer for me.
Remember your audience is world-wide :)