This is Part 1 of a two-part blog. Click here for Part 2.
What’s a headphone company doing in a report on home theater audio? Read on to find out. One of the coolest products I saw at CES was the Headzone 5.1-channel processor/headphone amplifier ($1595) from the German firm Beyerdynamic (which would, left to its own devices, prefer that we not capitalize its name). True, $1595 is a lot of money (more than many people would choose to spend on an A/V receiver), but what you need to understand is that the Headzone, when coupled with a pair of high-quality/high-end headphones, is able to create a truly believable surround-sound experience that in all seriousness rivals results you might achieve with conventional surround systems priced in the high four-figure on up to the mid-five-figure price range. The “special sauce,” here, is that Beyerdynamic has very carefully research HRTF (head related transfer function) characteristics as experienced by listeners in surround-sound environments, and then programmed them into the Headzone. What’s more, the Headzone allows the listener to control certain aspects of the apparent listening environment (for example, the apparent size and resonant or "ambience" characteristics of the listening) room via front panel control knobs. Whether you choose a Headzone for the sheer sound quality it affords (assuming you use it with appropriately high-performance headphones), or you choose it as a means of enjoying action movies late at night—and without irritating loved ones or neighbors, it’s a very clever product that has potential to change our home theater listening habits.
For CES, the venerable New England-based speaker maker Boston Acoustics harked back to its roots* to introduce an all-new A-series family of speakers, whose elements can be combined to create fine surround systems.
* Back in the day, some of Boston’s earliest and best-loved speakers were also A-series models, so the “A” moniker has special connotations for the firm and its employees.
A-series models include the flagship A360 three-way, four-driver floorstander (dual 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers, $800/pair); the A250 two-way, three-driver floorstander (dual 5.25-inch mid-bass drivers, $600/pair); a pair of two-way bookshelf monitors called the A26 (6.5-inch mid-bass drivers, $400/pair) and A25 (5.25-inch mid-bass drivers, $300/pair); and the tiny A23 bookshelf/surround speaker (3.5-inch mid-bass driver). Boston also intends to offer a 5.1-channel surround-sound bundle, called the A2310 HTS, which provide five A23’s plus a small sub with a 6.5” woofer, priced at just $900.
Also from Boston come two very simple and inexpensive soundbar systems called, respectively, the TVee 25 ($350) and the TVee 30 ($600). The TVee 25 is essentially a 2.1-channel system whose main mission is to outperform the (typically not very good) speakers included in your flat-panel TV. Thus, the main soundbar features a pair of 1-inch x 6-inch main drivers, while the system also provides a small, simple-to-use wireless sub. With flexibility and user friendliness in mind, the TV25 provides 1-wire hookup features, is able to “learn” your TV’s remote controls, offers separate EQ settings to support wall or tabletop placement, provides both Music and Movie modes, includes optical digital audio inputs with built-in Dolby Digital decoding, and even incorporates an auxiliary analog audio input.
The more ambitious TVee30 is a 3.1-channel system whose soundbar features triple 3.5-inch mid-bass drivers and triple .5-inch tweeter. The system also incorporates a larger and more powerful sub (with a 7-inch woofer) than the one used in the TVee25 system, with a slim enclosure that gives flexible placement options (for example, the sub could fit under a couch). The TVee30 also ads a Bluetooth A2DP feature.