Finding Value in the Venetian

1/14/2013 3:38:00 PM

I save the Venetian Tower suites for my last day of CES because it’s just too overwhelming otherwise. Practically every suite is filled with some form of audiophile one-upsmanship that after a while just becomes mind numbing. When you hear about $50,000 mono-block amplifiers and $25,000 audio cables and $150,000/pair loudspeakers and precision milled and billeted construction room-after-room, hour-after-hour—with each playing hand selected music to showcase the very best their systems have to offer—you quickly begin to lose touch with reality.
I spent a good bit listening to many systems that doubtless cost way more than my home. For instance, the YG Acoustics and D’Agostino demo sounded absolutely incredible. In fact, I tweeted, “If you look up ‘detail’ and ‘insane imagine’ in the audiophile dictionary you may find these.”
I spent the day listening to Krell, Wilson, TAD, CAT, Pass Labs, Burmedster, Adam Audio, dCS and multiple others. But, let’s be honest; it’s pretty easy to be frickin’ impressive at a quarter-million dollar audio system. You’ve got money-no-object designs to solve any myriad of audio issues. Sure, there are differences in micro-dynamics, and depth and imaging, and personal preference comes in to play, but you're unlikely to experience a system at that price point that isn’t stunning in some way.
However, in that rarefied environment, it’s far tougher to stand out and be really impressive. And even more so when you are doing it for under $700! And that’s what probably impressed me most about GoldenEar Technologies new Triton 7 loudspeaker.

After hearing millions of dollars’ worth of audio demonstrations, the Tritons delivered engaging, detailed and dynamic audio with surprisingly deep bass from the two 5-¼ bass/mids and two 8-inch planar sub-bass radiators. GoldenEar’s founder, Sandy Gross, has always had a knack for delivering terrific value for the money, and each successive offering from his new company seems to continue honing in on the center of the bullseye, and the Triton 7’s at $699/each are the best audio value I heard at the show. Sandy “suggests” that the speakers sound terrific when paired with another audiophile value proposition, the Peachtree Audio integrated amp.
Another audiophile “value” was found in the form of the Woodbourne in Polk Audio’s booth.
The Woodbourne is a styling sub $600 executive desktop speaker featuring a real-wood finish that looks as good as it sounds. This speaker has AirPlay and Bluetooth capabilities for easily streaming music from a portable devices. It also features a rear port analog, optical and USB connections to service any listening needs. The speaker offers serious room filling bass, with deep rich, detailed audio from the 5 ¼-inch drivers and two 1-inch silk dome tweeters. Part of the rich sound is due to the 180-watt RMS amplification, with all drivers individually powered (70 to each of the 5-1/4s and 20 to the tweeters). Whether it’s the kitchen, bedroom or office, the Woodbourne will provide sound that should satisfy any audio aficionado.
There’s just something about a color video touchscreen on a pre-amp processor that gets me all warm and fuzzy all over. In that regard, ADA’s Cinema Reference Mach IV delivered the goods.
But more than just a pretty face, this uber high-end processor features 16-channel TEQ Trinnov processing to perform incredibly detailed and sophisticated room correction and audio adjusting. ADA’s Richard Stoerger demonstrated some of the many—and I mean many—potential adjustments available to ADA installers that allow the unit to make any seat in the theater the “money seat.” He demonstrated how it was able to turn the boomy, bloated Venetian space into a tight, well-tuned audio listening room and how easily the Trinnov processing could raise dialog to float right in the center of the screen. I’ll give the ADA system the ultimate compliment and say that it was able to transform the Yanni demo material they were using into an enjoyable experience. If that isn’t the highest praise ever, I don’t know what is.
It certainly wouldn’t be high-end audio at CES without stumbling across some random speaker designs, so I thought I’d share a few that caught my eye. 
I’m pretty sure that the giant, blue-headed alien diva chick from The Fifth Element was the inspiration for this speaker design.
This next speaker from Angel Sound rivals any giant yellow banana for sound quality. 
These speakers actually sounded pretty amazing. When asked what I thought they cost, I meekly said, “Umm, fifty thousand…?” Sorry. Try one-fifty. But for that money you can get them in any color you’d like. Nice to know, right?
My last stop of CES was actually to listen to these speakers from Swedish company Perfect8 Technologies:
These speakers are made of high-end glass and not only look very modern and cool, they also sounded amazing with deep, deep depth and soundstage. They were also incredibly quick and dynamic and a down-right bargain at only $115,000!
And this turntable I stumbled across clearly goes to 11…
Another stunning performer I discovered at CES was Wolf Cinema’s latest projector, the SDC-8.
They were showing Speed Racer on a 12-foot wide Screen Innovations Black Diamond cinewide screen and the image looked stunning. Incredibly detailed image, with bright colors and deep blacks. When asked what it cost, someone on the room suggested “One hundred thou…?” I knew that was a bit off, but I wasn’t prepared for the actual answer…sub $8000! I couldn’t believe how great the image looked on the fairly large screen, with subtle detail such as the discreet purple pinstriping in one of the characters suits. The SDC-8 uses three-chip D-ILA and handles 3D and includes Wolf’s onboard VariScope lens memory for three custom aspect ratios.
I took a trip through the Eureka Park section which housed some cutting edge and emerging technologies, and I discovered some really cool products, some of which custom integrators will likely be working with in the near term.
Sonte is developing a window film that can be cut and applied to windows. When voltage is applied, the film can go from clear to opaque, perfect for privacy in rooms like bathrooms or offices. The system is controlled by WiFi and the cost—expected to be around $150 for a square meter—is certainly going to be appealing for many homeowner’s. Here’s a video of the system in action:
Digital signage has been a huge grown opportunity for many installers and Sun Innovations demonstrated the very cool TransPlay “animated laser display.” This is a fully-transparent display on glass that is used in conjunction with the company’s laser projector to float graphics and messages in mid-air like a full motion neon sign. The effect is definitely eye-catching and will probably be a hit with retailers. Here’s a video of the system:
Sun Innovations also showed a very cool heads-up display system for use in automobiles. Using a palm-sized laser projector, an image is beamed onto a car’s windshield, offering full visibility of the road along with the ability to have easy visual access to various bits of data.
I’m not loving the name, but the tech that Sookbox unveiled is definitely cool and promising for integrators described as giving “a cross-platform universal solution that goes beyond putting a smart app on a smart TV.”
The Sookbox (technically a Sook-cube) is a fresh look on media and cloud streaming, allowing users to create a single, aggregated collection of their own movie, TV, music and photo content that is stored locally on then accessed from anywhere. They displayed streaming video across three displays, and an incredibly cool on-screen cursor-via-iPad control that makes it easy to control the system. From my conversations with the Sookbox developers on site, it sounds like they have produced 50 of the devices so far and have many of the systems already installed – and working – in actual residences. I suggested that the cube form factor might be a little easier to integrate in a more traditional 2U rack-mount design…
Lastly, the company Displair demonstrated a very minority report looking tech. Whether a language barrier or intense anti-social behavior, I couldn’t engage the guy enough to get him to adequately explain what the system was. He kept wanting to take my phone and video me using the system while I asked him questions about it. We tried that for a bit and when he refused to actually answer my questions, I finally just walked away and then came back and filmed him playing with it. So, whatever the Displair thing is supposed to be, it’s pretty cool to look at. Here’s a vid:
And just as I discovered the kid-friendly Etymotic headphones yesterday, I found another product that will be of real interest to parents. The Evado Filip is described as “the world’s smallest all-in-one location & communication device.” Essentially it is a watch-like device with a full two-way cell phone built into it with parental limited functions. The watch can only call—or receive calls/texts—from the five people authorized by parents. Parents can check in on the child’s location via the Web or an app, and also set location boundaries. For instance, you could set a “bubble” around your location of 50-feet or around your home, and if the child wanders outside of that area, you are alerted by a message. The child can also press a “panic” button that immediately notifies all five of the contacts and starts recording audio and GPS location data and transmitting it. As a parent, this is pretty amazing technology to make sure a little one is safe and I wish Evado Filip—and others like them—a ton of success.
Well, that’s it for CES 2013! Thanks for following along on my journey and I hope it was the next best thing to actually being here.

John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.


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