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Positive Feedback ISSUE 31
may/june 2007


Home Entertainment 2007
by Patrick Conroy


Sigh! It's too nice out to be stuck inside all day.

That's what I thought as I left my house on Saturday morning, but I boarded the train anyway. It's been some years since the Home Entertainment, a.k.a. Stereophile, show was in New York. I had been anxiously anticipating this day for weeks.

It was a lovely New York morning, and I enjoyed a brisk walk from Penn Station to the Grand Hyatt. Arriving at the check-in area for the show I noticed one thing. It's crowded here! Check-in lines were long, elevators packed. I braced myself and headed upstairs.

I spent the whole day at the show, only taking a break for lunch. It was surprisingly difficult to find a place to eat. After walking several blocks I spied a green awning, Connolly's Pub & Restaurant. They had 10 oz. burgers and Irish cream ale on tap. What more could a lad named Patrick Conroy ask for?

At the show iPods were big. So was digital processing and computers as a music source. This was primarily a two channel audio show. Home theater setups were few and far between. There weren't as many big screens with boomy subs as I remember seeing and hearing at the last NY show. There were, however, many boomy sounding music systems. Many had what I'll call "detached bass." The mids and highs were coherent and well integrated, but then there's a hole in the upper or mid bass and boom at the bottom. I attribute most of this to poor setup and room integration. As many before me have observed, a hotel room isn't the most ideal listening space.

Music selection was, for the most part, tediously similar. There was lots of vocal music—female vocals. If it wasn't jazz vocals it was small jazz bands and small ensemble world music. Few dared to play big music. I tarried a bit longer in those rooms that did. Is that orchestral music I hear emanating from that room? I'm there!

I didn't bring my own music because I know that whatever I may have offered to the unsuspecting vendors would play back in correct polarity on only half of the systems. I experienced this first hand. Four of eight audience members' offerings played back incorrectly—exactly half. The vendors' own selections were quite better in this regard. I expect this because a vendor is likely to bring his best sounding recordings. One's best sound is necessarily achieved with those recordings that play back in correct polarity on one's system.

The vendor in one room took a CD from an audience member. After the requested track started playing I heard it. Muffled sound. Flat bass. Lack of snap. The man with the remote repeatedly stood up, looking toward the system with a concerned expression. He knew something was wrong. Sitting next to him I offered, "Does this CD player or preamp have a polarity switch?" Clumsily he inspected the remote then responded with a shrug, "I don't know. I'm the cable guy."

In hindsight I believe that I should have brought the Frank Zappa CD Sleep Dirt along. The three tracks featuring female vocalist Thana Harris and Zappa's eclectic rhythms are the perfect antidote for a Nora Jones overdose.

Digital Processing

Digital processing was everywhere. Several speaker designs shown utilize digital processors for crossover filtering. Behold-USA demonstrated digital room correction using the Behold APU768 Audio Processing Unit. Frequency response was clearly flatter after correction was applied.

One of the Dare to Compare rooms achieved similar by more conventional means. Two rooms featured similar Wadia/VAC/XLO/Talon audio systems sitting on Silent Running Audio racks and stands. One was untreated. The other added RPG room treatments and a pair of Rives Audio Sub-PARC crossover/parametric equalizers. The sound was somewhat dull sounding with a slight boom in the bass in the untreated room. Sound was smoother and better articulated in the treated.

Cabasse showed their La Sphere loudspeakers, monstrous spheres with 22" honeycomb dome woofers and three-way co-axial mid/tweeter units. The digital crossover filters also provide time alignment. They were quad-amped with 2.6 kilowatts of amplification each. They could get down. They could easily reproduce huge dynamic swings. They portrayed scale. They cost $150K. But the sound had a "honky" quality to it that I just couldn't get past.

Kubotek's Haniwa horn speakers from Japan also used a digital processor for crossover filtering and time alignment. I lingered awhile in this room because it sounded so good. These were powered by what appeared to be vintage Marantz tube amps while cool jazz LPs provided the tunes.

Salagar Sonics showed their prototype S210 self-powered loudspeakers. Crossover filtering is achieved using a digital processor. Each speaker is bi-amped with internal class D amplifiers. I thought these attractive speakers had a sweet, coherent sound.



Red Wine Audio demonstrated their iMod modifications for the iPod. Amongst other changes, the modification replaces the headphone output of an iPod with a high quality line out. This does lessen the iPod's usefulness as a portable device, but they achieved very good sound using their modded unit to play lossless digital files. The rest of the system consisted of Red Wine's battery powered amps and [below] Omega Speaker Systems single driver, hemp cone loudspeakers.

Importer Bluebird Music had the Fatman iTube on static display in the KEF/Chord/Van den Hul/Bluebird room. Krell had an iPod rig, shown in Marshall Nack's show report elsewhere on Positive Feedback.

Audio Space played an iPod through their small USB DAC/tube integrated amp rig. Did I mention that iPods were big? Welcome to the future.

Noteworthy Rooms

I hear rock. Gov't Mule, Thorazine Shuffle. Damn these little Dynaudio monitors can rock! A bit forward sounding for my tastes, but the Confidence C-1 monitors driven by Simaudio MOON Evolution electronics filled the room with good, clean sound. I understand why Dynaudio speakers are so well liked. There were actually 2 systems in this room, a "low-end" Simaudio/Dynaudio/Cardas system and this one. The little system was clearly overdriven and sounded strained. The big rig rocked. Kudos to Dynaudio for bringing speakers appropriately sized for the room.

MBL's signature big sound was apparent in their room on the hotel's conference level. The volume should have been lower though. Writing this reminds me of a poster that one college roommate had. It pictured the old Maxell ad of a guy sitting in an easy chair getting blasted by a large stereo system. The caption read, "If it's too loud you're too old." What does that say about me now?

The Scaena line array system driven by the Behold amplifier produced very good sound. Source was a Nova Physics Memory Player. The line arrays themselves sounded excellent, with a very natural "there" sound. The subs weren't well integrated with the room or the rest of the system in my opinion though.

Another very good sounding setup was the Usher Audio Dancer Be-718 monitors with Oracle electronics and JPS Labs cables. The sound was dynamic, clean and coherent. The Usher monitors produced quite acceptable bass—better than might be expected for a speaker of this size.

Omaha Audio showed their line of very reasonably priced components. On hand were several integrated tube amps, a tubed CD player and an attractive pair of mini-monitors. They employed the $1400 10-wpc OD-300B SET integrated amp while I was in the room. The system sounded way better than its price would suggest.

I've never been disappointed by a system with Joseph Audio speakers. Esoteric Audio DV-50 into the Moscode 402P hybrid integrated amplifier, available this Fall, driving Joseph Audio RM25XL speakers had a very clean and dynamic sound.

One of the last rooms I visited that day also had some of the best sound. Proclaim Audioworks was one of the few vendors who dared to play full scale orchestral music. Their DMT-100 speaker system handled it with aplomb. The 3-way DMT-100 consists of three separate spherical enclosures. The mid and tweeter units are attached to mechanical arms. Driver positions can be adjusted to suit the listening position. The crossover is external and utilizes high quality parts. The speakers were driven by a stack of GamuT electronics.

This looked to be a very successful show overall, at least on the day I went. Traffic through the rooms was heavy. Seats were difficult to get, ofttimes it was standing room only. The vendors were surely pleased, as I was to have had an audio show close to home once again.