Last week's announcement of Apple's new iPod line was a historic one. It was the first time a rival maker of music players has made Steve Jobs sweat in public. It was no accident that Jobs introduced a second-generation iPod nano with a capacity of 8GB and a price of $249, essentially doubling the capacity of the old 4GB nano for the same price. SanDisk, number two in the music-player market, has been selling an 8GB, $249.99 nano-killer for months. The Sansa e280 is not nearly as thin as the nano, though it does have a color LCD that's a half-inch taller, and it sounds equally good. I'd love to tell you more, but the blog-review that was slated to appear in this space today has been spirited off to the print magazine where it will appear in the December issue. Say, big spender, isn't it about time for you to finally subscribe? Come on, it's $12.97 a year, just over a buck an issue. It won't kill you.
Polk Audio's acquisition by Directed Electronics is the latest in a series of shifts among the audio industry's rich assortment of stars. Directed—a power in mobile tech products, judging from its website—had already acquired Definitive Technology. In another noteworthy deal, Klipsch bought API, the Canadian giant whose brand names include Mirage, Energy, Athena, and Spherex. Klipsch is also the proud new owner of Jamo, the cool Danish brand. And all this comes on top of last year's sale of Boston Acoustics to D&M Holdings—a stable that already included Denon, Marantz, McIntosh, Snell, Escient, and RePlayTV—and NHT's move from the Rockford Corp. to the Vinci Group. Why are so many potent and prestigious brands changing hands? It feels as though some invisible hand were rearranging the constellations, and declining audio-component sales are the obvious suspect. But historically, major speaker brands (with the notable exception of Bose) have been sold and resold regularly, and all the brand names involved here are valuable ones that deserve fresh and vigorous marketing.
There's something unusual, novel, even peculiar about this compact system. But I'm not going to tell you what it is yet. Instead, I'll tell you what I think is most significant. The JVC EX-A10 takes me back in time, back to when I was a kid, before everything went digital. I used to carefully clean my records, put them on the turntable, flip sides every 20 minutes, and play music for hours upon hours. This JVC system has that old-time analog feel.
To say the Geneva Lab Model XL is merely the largest of the one-piece iPod-compatible speaker systems would be unjust. It is the wildest flight of fancy the iPod has inspired. Plugging your iPod into one is like boarding a 747—you get a distinct feeling that something more powerful than yourself is about to lift you into the air. I must note, however, that the XL looks, sounds, and smells better than any commercial aircraft I've been on.
The best thing I heard at the show was the JL Audio demo. Partnered gear included a SIMS2 projector, Screen Research screen, HALCRO Logic disc player, Dynamat acoustic treatment, and Tributaries cable plus JL's speakers, subs, and electronics. The demo had everything that matters including big bass, non-abrasive midrange, and wide dynamics. Subs are extremely adjustable, using either an automatic setup routine or manual controls.
These two Canadian speaker brands may now be under the Klipsch umbrella but they retain their distinctive identities and sounds. I was most impressed by Energy's in-walls including the RC-6W left/center/right speaker ($350), RC-8C surround ($325), and RC-8C sub ($600). They have the clarity that is Energy's signature at affordable prices. Pictured is the Mirage OMD-15 tower ($1250/each), a relatively more affordable member of the OmniSat series. It bounces tweeter output off a spoon-shaped object to achieve surround-like spaciousness even with just two channels, though it would also form a surround system with the matching center ($750) and satellite ($375/each).
Top-flight DVDO deinterlacing is the highlight of Arcam's DV139 DVD-Video/-Audio/SACD universal player. It acknowledges the latest fad in video specsmanship by upscaling images to 1080p though it is not a Blu-ray or HD DVD player. Still, given the fact that the first-gen Blu-ray and HD DVD players don't play SACD or DVD-Audio, the DV139 may deserve a place as the second (or first) of two players on your rack. (Feeling artsy, I forbade removal of the water bottle.)
You don't need a fancy docking station to link your iPod to a big system. A patch cable will do, the kind that has a stereo mini-plug at one and two RCA connectors at the other. But many of the cables sold for this purpose are of unreliable quality. Wireworld promises better performance with the iWorld, pictured. Also pictured is a green teabag because it's good for you.
Approximately 87 percent of all speaker models introduced at the show were from Paradigm. Bill VanderMarel shows off the new Signature line with beryllium tweeter. Even more significant, to me, is the fourth-gen revision of the Studio line--the second-gen Studio/20 happens to be my longtime reference speaker--with the aluminum tweeter upgraded to a better one and the polymer woofer giving way to satin-anodyzed aluminum. Highlight of the revised Monitor series is a new and larger version of Paradigm's classic budget bookshelf model, the Titan. Millenia is the new "lifestyle" line, and there are in-walls galore.
Snell's legendary designer Joe D'Appolito has taken the LCR 7 ($1000/each), favorably reviewed in our pages by Steve Guttenberg, and gotten two new models out of the same driver array, including a silk dome tweeter and two 5.25-inch treated-paper woofers. The ICS 1030 ($900/each) is an in-cabinet model while the AMC 6030 ($1250/each) is an in-ceiling model.