by John Sciacca
CES is definitely about time management; there is more than you could see in a month, let alone four days. With that in mind, I decided to spend my first official CES 2012 show day at the Venetian, which houses many – if not all – of the audio exhibitors as the show.
I kicked off my morning with a press breakfast at McIntosh’s suite in the Venetian Towers. McIntosh was showing a new “home theater stack” at a much lower price point, almost 50 percent of previous priced systems. In the line was a new 7 x 200-watt amplifier for $6,000 that features more home theater-friendly LED lighting for the classic Mc VU meters. Also in the line is a new Blu-ray Disc player featuring HDMI 1.4, as well as a new HDMI 1.4-capable AV processor. McIntosh will be launching a cable line-up later this year to answer customers’ questions of, “What cables should we use with our Mc gear?” There will be no HDMI cabling – avoiding any price/performance controversies – but will include balanced, digital, RCA unbalanced, speaker and control cables. The new XR50 bookshelf at $4,000/pair features a new design and is a true 3-way with bass extending to 45 Hz and a super tweeter extending to 40k Hz.
Top: McIntosh was showing a new “home theater stack” at a much lower price point; Bottom: McIntosh will be launching a cable line-up later this year.
Harman’s Mark Levinson, Lexicon, and Revel Brands
My next start was into the Harman Luxury Audio Group suite, which held the prestigious Mark Levinson, Lexicon, and Revel brands. I was impressed with Revel’s totally new Performa 3 line-up, which features “all-new” parts according to the Harman rep taking me around. This means new drivers, new cabinets, new crossovers, new finishes, new everything. The line-up starts at $1,000/each for the C205 center channel, to $1,200/pair for the M105 bookshelves, and goes up to the $4,500/pair F208 towers. The performance – and fit and finish of the aesthetic – certainly belie the price points. Also, on hand were mock-ups of the components celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Levinson. Amongst the components was a dual-mono pre-amp and 500-watt mono amp selling for a cool $25,000…each.
Top: On hand in the Harman Luxury Audio Group suite were mock-ups of the components celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Mark Levinson as well as Revel's new Performa 3 speakers (bottom photo).
The Venetian gives you an opportunity to listen to some of the highest end high-end hi-fi on the planet. Within a few feet of each other are multiple near-million dollar set-ups, totally tweaked to perfection and ripe for audiophile enjoyment. I took the opportunity strolling down the hallways to dare-to-dream and play “What if…” I stopped in and heard YG Acoustics, maker of what have been called some of the best speakers in the world, Dan D’Agostino’s new amplifiers that were driving a pair of Wilson speakers, and TAD, Andrew Jones’ brain-child and a speaker that I find myself returning to enjoy year after year. Shockingly, I noticed that almost every demo was being conducted by a music played from a Mac and many presenters were using iPads; clear indication that the iPad has taken over all levels of this industry.
YG Acoustics manufactures what have been called some of the best speakers in the world.
An Unforgettable Home Theater Experience
My next stop was the “Unforgettable Home Theater Experience” being presented jointly by Digital Projection, Kaleidescape, CinemaTech, Stewart Filmscreen, Totem Acoustics, ADA, and D-Box Seating. This combined for one of the most impressive Star Wars viewing experiences I have ever had. (Topped only by actually seeing The Phantom Menace at The Stag Theater at Lucas Ranch.) Watching the Hoth battle on Blu-ray on a 14-foot wide screen, with killer audio and D-Box motion seating, you truly felt like you were part of the action, and they succeeded in showing people how to give an amazing – and unforgettable – demo of high-end gear.
Bang & Olufsen
I then headed up to the Bang & Olufsen suite. They started by announcing that 2011 was a year where the company returned to profitability and when they launched the BeoSound 8, the best-selling audio system in the company’s history. Not only was B&O launching new products, but also an entirely new brand here at CES. The new brand, B&O Play, is meant to have a “playful, outgoing, vigorous” spirit while still embodying all of the classic B&O style, performance, and design tenets. The first product in the Play line is the BeoLit 12, a portable speaker with AirPlay for quality audio on the go. The speaker lasts up to eight hours, can charge your USB device, and has a mini-jack input for non-iOS use. The speaker sounded quite good, with full rich bass, and had definite B&O classic design elements. B&O also unveiled its new BeoVision 12, a 65-inch ultra-slim Plasma 3D panel that features an integrated center channel with Sine wave design, five drivers, and ICE power. Also cool is that the set auto-calibrates itself every 100 hours to insure that viewers get a continued perfect picture over the life of the panel.
The first product in Bang & Olufsen's new Play line is the BeoLit 12, a portable speaker with AirPlay for quality audio on the go.
After B&O I headed over to the Paradigm booth where the company displayed a new BD1 Bluetooth dongle-accessory for its Shift speakers. By plugging this in, users can easily transmit high-quality audio from their mobile device directly to the self-powered speakers. Paradigm also displayed the new Shift Soundbar and wireless subwoofer that will be available soon for $799. We also had an opportunity to listen to two of the new M1 mono-block digital amps driving Paradigms Signature S8 towers to super-loud, and yet distortion-free sound levels.
Paradigm displayed the new Shift Soundbar and wireless subwoofer that will be available soon for $799.
I have long been a fan of the wonderful smooth, airy, and detailed sounds of Martin Logan’s electrostats, and since they were right next door, it was a convenient excuse to pop in. They are working on a Martin Logan spin on the soundbar, which will be part of the Motion Series and will include three folded motion tweeters for full, detailed sound. The fully powered speaker will also be compatible with any of the company’s wireless subwoofers, will decode DTS and Dolby Digital, and will offer some processing for pseudo-surround from the single bar. Also, the blue light on the front will be defeatable.
Martin Logan is putting its own spin on the soundbar, which will be part of the Motion Series and will include three folded motion tweeters for full, detailed sound.
My final stop of the day was at the GoldenEar Technology booth. Sandy Gross never disappoints with his high-value/high-performance designs, and he continued the trend of introducing exciting new product by launching both an in-ceiling model and high-performance soundbar. The Invisa HTR-7000 combines the same 7-inch driver used in the acclaimed Aon 3 bookshelf with a High Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter. They were demonstrating the SuperCinema 3D Array, a brand-new sound bar that features six 4.5-inch mid/bass drivers and three HVFR tweeters. The speaker is passive, but utilizes a new 3D Array technology to “effectively cancel out crosstalk distortion between the left and right channel.” The result is a speaker that plays really loud and that provides a surprisingly wide soundstage that extends well beyond the width of the actual bar. Paired with a subwoofer – or two as was the case in the demo – the audio will satisfy nearly any flat panel lover.