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Hitting the Bar

On the surface, choosing a speaker should be easy–the loudest one wins–right?

Surround-bar, On-Wall Speakers Slim Down, But Deliver Big on Sound

On the surface, choosing a speaker should be easy – the loudest one wins – right? But as an electronic systems contractor, you know what should be a simple thought process is easily clouded by aesthetic considerations and audiophile technicalities. The latest trends in soundbars and on-wall speakers are both simpler and less with more, delivering that big, hi-fi sound your customers are always looking to improve on. Residential Systems talked to a sampling of the top manufacturers to find out what’s what in this vital speaker niche.

Boston Acoustics’ TVee Model 30

Boston Acoustics’ TVee Model 30 soundbar and wireless subwoofer system brings power, quality, and dynamic audio to home entertainment systems in a simple, intuitive, and flexible design. The TVee Model 30 features one-wire analog or optical digital hookup to simplify setup. The soundbar learns users’ existing remotes, so there’s no need for an extra one. The system’s digital input features Dolby Digital decoding for surround sound and a dedicated center channel provides clear dialogue. Bluetooth capability allows users to stream music wirelessly from their media players, computer, or other Bluetooth-enabled device. Three 3.5-inch fiber ceramic copolymer material (FCCM) midbass drivers and three 0.75-inch dome tweeters are responsible for the TVee Model 30’s audio performance, along with a seven-inch FCCM subwoofer in a tuned bandpass enclosure.

Boston Acoustic’s Digitally Optimized Virtual Surround (DOVS) is a new proprietary technology launched in the TVee Model 30 and Model 25. “DOVS brings a new level of clarity–not only in the tone and quality of each sound, but in the placement of sounds around the room, matching the effect of a premium cinema,” Stephen Shenefield, Boston Acoustics director of program management, said. “And DOVS provides optimized movie and music modes to suit the owner’s preferences.”

DOVS was developed to place sound appropriately in front and around listeners. “This is quite different from our competitors’ ‘big wide sound,’ a blurry effect indiscriminately applied to all the channels,” Shenefield said.

Polk Audio’s CHT500

At CES, Polk Audio introduced the CHT500, a seven-channel, single-speaker, two-piece surround system made up of three 0.75-inch ring radiator tweeters with nine mid-woofers. The CHT500 distributes power by an external SDA (stereo dimensional array) control module, which includes the system’s crossover components and surround technologies that blend digital signal processing and acoustical geometry.

“With the CHT500, we are taking a major leap forward in terms of both industrial design and multichannel performance from a single speaker system,” Al Baron, Polk Audio line manager, said. “The drive units in the CHT500 are not only the best ever developed by Polk Audio, but they are among the finest incorporated in any speaker, regardless of price.”

Designed to complement flat-panel TVs, KEF’s T Series flat-panel speaker line combines an ultralow profile bass and midrange driver with a large, fully vented new tweeter. A Selecta-mount system automatically adjusts the crossover depending on how the loudspeaker is mounted. The T Series range includes three system components: small satellite, large satellite, and subwoofer. The lowprofile woofer features a flat, but rigid, diaphragm; it performs like a 75 mm-deep, four-inch driver, but in 27 mm.

“The most monumental technology used in our T Series on-wall speakers is undeniably the ultraslim bass driver, only 1.2 inches thick, allowing us to create a super slim on-wall speaker at only 1.4 inches thick,” said Stephanie Scola, marketing manager for KEF America.

The T Series technology originally came from a high-end research project called Concept Blade. “From that project, we were able to trickle technologies learned down to our home theater line of products for a more affordable price, but with equally impressive performance,” Scola said.

Left: Totem Acoustic’s Tribe V speakers; Right: Artison’s LCR DualMono

Totem Acoustic’s Tribe V speaker is a slim, compact on-wall and full-range speaker. The Tribe V allows no phase cancellation between intermixed vertical or horizontal placements. No crossover in the woofer section enables intermeshing with other Totem models, as well as unfettered energy and in-phase sound flow from the amplifier. A half-inch thick aluminum faceplate and finned aluminum body provides high dynamics, cooling capabilities, and stable, high decibel characteristics, the company says. A variable density lock mitered cabinet lets energy dissipate quickly, without residual after tones and vibration.

Another CES product debut was the MK Sound MP7 on-wall monitor, which is a shallower version of its popular M7 loudspeaker. By reducing the depth of the M7 and adjusting the other dimensions, so there’s no internal volume loss, the result is an on-wall speaker that maintains the audio quality of a full-size, compact loudspeaker. The MP7 features pressed metal mesh grilles with protected edges and indentations for the small magnetic grips.

Phase Technology’s SPF-15

Phase Technology’s SPF-15 surface-mount speaker includes a three-inch polypropylene full range driver with butyl rubber surround. The mounting system rotates to 90 degrees and connects to a wall plate that swivels 173 degrees in both directions. All wires connect at the speaker’s wall plate back box, so they’re hidden. The components are weatherized for indoor or outdoor use. A 70- volt transformer option is an optional feature.

Wisdom Audio’s LS4v

Wisdom Audio’s new modular line-source loudspeaker systems, the LS4 and LS3, are reference-level products intended to feature extremely high efficiency and dynamic range. Ashcraft Design of Los Angeles performed the architectural industrial design to suit the speakers for today’s high-performance music rooms, upscale home theaters, and professional postproduction screening rooms. Featuring Wisdom’s proprietary wideband planar magnetic line source technologies, the LS4 and LS3 are comprised of newly designed individual modules, 20 inches in height, each incorporating two planar magnetic midrange drivers flanking a planar magnetic high-frequency driver in a vertical line-source configuration.

“The Wisdom Series LS4 and LS3 are the highest performance speakers available today specifically designed for room boundary installations (on a wall) or placed behind a cloth wall (both are about 12 inches deep),” said Mark Glazier, president of Wisdom Audio.

The LS4 combination features four modules, with a total vertical line source height of 80 inches, ideal for placement on either side of a deluxe home theater’s large front-projection screen, or as the left and right channels in a stereo configuration. The LS4 and LS3 began shipping in March for $40,000 and $30,000, respectively.

Definitive Technology’s Mythos XTR speakers

The thin-wall speaker trend moved full speed ahead with Definitive Technology’s Mythos XTR on-wall speakers, which were introduced at CEDIA EXPO 2010. The XTR comes in three sizes for pairing with 55- to 60-inch flat-screen displays and higher, 40- to 42-inch displays, and a model released in Spring 2010 is sized for 46- to 55-inch screens. They all measure 1.5 inches deep, but according to the company, still provide the high-definition detail, bass, and range performance of full-sized speakers. The third new addition to the XTR family is the XTR-20BP, which features bipolar sound radiation for surround channel use and measures an inch deeper than the others in the speaker range. The XTR line is powered by the XTDD technology driver, which Definitive’s engineers designed to eliminate wasted space, improve every part, and maximize the moving surface area for compact hi-fi. The drivers are pressure-coupled to aluminum dome low-bass radiators in the XTR-60, 40, and 50. The XTR- 20BP is a sealed system.

Artison also introduced a thin on-wall speaker pair at CEDIA, called the LCR DualMono. Its drivers feature inverted magnet woofers for stronger audio, and the Masterpiece model features curved line arrays that use eight 25-millimeter full range drivers. Combined with the inverted magnet structure, the line arrays provide low crossover frequency from the woofer to the midrange of 800 Hz, reducing distortion. The line array also controls the vertical dispersion pattern of the speaker and offers a wide horizontal pattern, according to the company.

Each LCR-DM system contains three frontchannel speakers in two enclosures that use Artison’s DualMono Center Channel technology, which projects dialog in the center of the screen instead of above or below it. Side-firing stage tweeters widen the soundstage. The Center Channel technology accounts for the biggest technology difference in Artison’s on-wall speaker line, according to president and CEO Cary Christie. “The Center Channel is located in the upper half of the left and right speaker. This creates a home theater experience closer to what the director intended, with dialog appearing to be projected from the center of the screen, where the actors’ voices are coming from, creating a total involvement experience.”

Leon Speakers’ Horizon UT-X-A

Leon Speakers’ Horizon UT-X-A also complements slim LCD and LED TVs for the low-profile speaker market. The less than twoinch deep, 4.5-inch tall on-wall offering combines left, center, and right channels in one cabinet and features three-inch glass fiber cone woofers. With a range of 90 Hz to 22 kHz, the Horizon UT-X-A is custom built in three to five business days.

“Ultra-thin displays will continue to dominate the industry with their appeal to both designers and end users alike,” said Noah Kaplan, president of Leon Speakers. “As an audio solutions company specifically geared toward the flat panel revolution, it is our goal to design and manufacture the highest quality speakers that complement slim displays and appeal to the CEDIA channel… we are pleased to offer this new generation of re-mastered ultra-thins, each featuring enhanced performance and greater dynamic range.”

Lindsey Snyder ([email protected]) is assistant editor for Residential Systems and Systems Contractor News.