By Chris Martens and Arnie Williams
JBL: JBL announced its new LS-series family of loudspeakers, the flagship models of which are the new LS80 floorstanders ($3998/pair). The speakers feature dual 8-inch â€œPolyPlasâ€ mid-bass drivers, a 2-inch pure titanium JBL 176ND compression driver loaded into a Bi-Radial horn, and a JBL 015M Â¾-inch ring-radiator tweeter loaded into an EOS (Elliptical Oblate Spheroid) waveguide whose dispersion characteristics are said to match those of the 176ND driver/Bi-Radial horn assembly at the critically important crossover point between the drivers. All in all, the LS models represent an attempt to present some of the same technologies used in the firmâ€™s costly but spectacular-sounding Project Everest loudspeakers, but at a far more accessible price point.
Another fascinating CEDIA offering from JBL was the firmâ€™s new WEM-1 Wireless Expansion Moduleâ€”essentially a compact, easy-to-use, do-it-yourself, 2.4GHz, 50-watt/channel wireless amplifier system. A transmitter module connects to your AVR or other source components, while a wireless receiver/amp module drives your speakers. The tiny WEM-1 modules are very compactâ€”about 1 1/8-inch high x about 6-inches deep.
JL AUDIO: Yet another impressive debut offering was JL Audioâ€™s long-awaited, near-full range, DSP-controlled, self-powered Primacy X3 speaker. The Primacy X3 is a three-way, four-driver â€œsatelliteâ€ speaker featuring a 500-watt amp dedicated to its dual 6.5-inch woofers, a 300-watt amp to drive its 3-inch dome midrange driver, and a 200-watt amp that powers its 1.5-inch dome tweeter. The speaker uses two isolated power supplies: one for the woofer amp, and the other for the tweeter/midrange amps. The DSP-controlled crossovers feature ultra-steep 96dB/octave slopes. Low frequency cutoff for the Primacy X3 is about 50Hz, below which point bass duties can be transferred to any of JL Audioâ€™s powered subwoofers. This speaker bears watching. Based on a brief listening session, my impression was that the system would make a phenomenal monitoring tool, in that it is neutrally voiced, exceptionally revealing of transient and textural details, offers prodigious bass when used with JL subs (no surprise there), and isâ€”as near as a quick demo could revealâ€”more or less dynamically fearless. Want to listen to huge, bombastic soundstracks? No problem. Want to check out itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy, micro-details and/or micro-dynamics in audiophile recordings? Also no problem. The Primacy X3s will sell for $10K/each, amps included.
JL Audio demonstrated the Primace X3s in conjunction with its new Fathon IWS (in-wall subwoofer), which fits within a 2x4-inch stud wall space. Two variants of the ISW system are offeredâ€”the IWS System One ($4500), which features a single woofer module and a 1000-watt amplifier, and the IWS System Two ($7500), which features two woofer modules and a 2000-watt amplifier. Although the IWS system is neither the largest nor the most powerful subwoofer JL Audio makes, it just might be the best sounding owing to the fact that the IWS amplifier system incorporates the most sophisticated automated room/woofer EQ system the JL has yet developed. Unlike most in-wall subs, the IWS is configured so that virtually all of its weight (and vibration) are loaded directly onto the wallâ€™s floorplateâ€”not into the wall studs themselves.
KEF: Though not a new product for CEDIA, KEFâ€™s flagship Muon loudspeakers were filling CEDIA booth visitors with shock and aweâ€”partly because the polished, solid-aluminum enclosures of the giant floorstanding speakers were stunningly beautiful and partly because the speakers just plain sounded great. But back in the realm of products that fit the budgets of normal mortals, KEF showed an entirely revamped line of iQ-series speakers, which incorporate tweeters featuring a so-called â€œtangerineâ€ waveguide and which have been revised for higher sensitivity, more robust dynamics, and better extension at both the treble and bass ends of the audio spectrum. The top iQ model is the iQ90 floorstander, priced at $1500/pair. Also shown by KEF were the new value-priced C-series speakers, said to make the firmâ€™s traditionally warm, natural sound available at an unprecedented low price. For example, the top C-series model is the C7 floorstander, priced a modest $800/pair.
KEVRO INTERNATIONAL/MONITOR AUDIO: Not much new in the way of Monitor Audio, with the exception of a new center channel speaker from the Platinum range, the PLC350 at $3800 and a new sub, the PLW15 at $4800.
Theyâ€™ll be replacing the Radius range with Radius HD speakers. Among the first â€œreplacementâ€ speakers in this line will be the R90 HD, which I think will go for about $480 and a new sub, the R370 HD.
KEVRO INTERNATIONAL/TANGENT: Bob Spaner, VP of Marketing and Sales at Kevro, wants to introduce customers to a new product line from Tangent, a Danish company that Kevro is now distributing. Spaner was especially excited about the Tangent Quattro, an Internet/FM radio that sells for $399. It works through a portal that allows users to build listening lists from international stations by artist, genre, decade, and a number of other sorting schemes. Also users can send in recommended stations for the portal to add, and they get added and then made available to all owners of the radio.
Off-site at T.H.E. Show, MAGNEPAN demoed a full-on surround system featuring full-range Magneplanar floorstanders as L/R mains, Magnepanâ€™s wall-mount, motorized, swing-out, dual-panel center-channel speaker, two more wall-mount swing-out panels as surround speakers, with support from a pair of Magnepanâ€™s cool new supplementary planar magnetic woofer modules (which look a lot like end tables). Magnepan spokesman Wendell Diller stressed that the end-table/planar woofers are not intended as â€œsub-â€œ woofers (they only go down to about 60Hz), but rather are meant to help flesh out the bottom end of the swing-out/wall-mount panelsâ€”something they do very nicely. The entire system was powered by Audio Research components and sounded downright enchanting (easily one of the more compelling Magnepan show demos weâ€™ve heard in many years).
MARANTZ: Marantz announced three new AVRs: the SR6003 ($1200), SR5003 ($750), and SR4003 ($550). The top two models feature the Audyssey MultEQ room/speaker EQ system, decoder support for the latest Dolby and DTS codecs, HBR (high bit rate) decoding, plus the ability to decode LPCM 7.1 bitstreams via coaxial digital inputs. The smaller SR4003 model features Marantzâ€™s own MRAC room/speaker EQ system.
Marantz debuted its previously announced, THX Ultra2-certified, Audyssey-equipped AV8003 network A/V pre-amp ($2600) and MM8003 8x140-watt power amp ($2400)â€”a full-featured pair that allows customers to enjoy the benefits of separate components for less than the price of many flagship AVRs. The AV8003 incorporates Anchor Bay video processing technology and can stream either audio or video material directly from the Internet.
Also announced at CEDIA was Marantzâ€™s BD7003 Blu-ray player ($799)â€”a profile 1.1 player with Deep Color and Bonus View support, 1080p upscaling for DVDs, and bitstream output support for the latest Dolby and DTS codecs.
Finally, Marantz unveiled an impressively deep array of stereo-only components including four new integrated amplifiers, two new SACD players, one CD player, and one stereo receiver. The integrated amps include two reference modelsâ€”the PM-11S2 ($4500) and PM-15S1GL ($2000), and two value-priced modelsâ€”the PM8003 ($1000) and the PM5003 ($450). The SACD players included a new reference modelâ€”the SA-15S2 ($2000), and a value-oriented modelâ€”the SA8003 ($1000). The CD player and stereo receiver are, respectively, the CD5003 ($350) and the SR4023 ($500).
MARK LEVINSON: Mark Levinsonâ€™s three new product announcements for CEDIA were the NÂº502 Media Console ($35k), the NÂº532 Dual Mono Amplifier ($20k), and the NÂº53 Reference Monaural Amplifier ($25k).
The NÂº502 replaces the NÂº40 Media Console and is Levinsonâ€™s new A/V flagship. Within the console, Levinson says, analog and digital signal paths are completely isolated, with the chassis providing two internally separated, shielded chambersâ€”one for analog and the other for digital circuits. Further, the NÂº502 incorporates an elaborate 18-layer video circuit board in which great care has been taken to ensure the lowest possible noise levels. The NÂº502 offers extensive video scaling options via dual onboard Gennum processors and can support both main and secondary zonesâ€”each with its own separate HDMI signal path.
The NÂº532 is a 400-watt/channel powerhouse featuring Levinsonâ€™s first fully differential power amp design. The ampâ€™s physical layout features three â€œpiersâ€â€”a central pier for the power supply flanked by two outboard piers, one for each channelâ€™s audio circuitry. This configuration allows very short signal paths and makes for an exceptional degree of channel-to-channel isolation.
The NÂº53 monoblock is Levinsonâ€™s first-ever switching amplifier and one that offers a new twist on class D (switching amplifier) design. Specifically, the NÂº53 features distinctive four-quadrant, IPT (interleaved power technology) circuit topology with switching speeds of 2MHz (faster than any other class D audio amplifier we know of). The NÂº53 deliver 500 watts at 8 Ohms.
Also at T.H.E. Show, MartinLogan was demonstrating a stereo pair of its new full-range CLX electrostats, played sans subwoofers and driven by Ayre source components and electronics. Fans of electron-scanning-microscope-grade definition and detail will love these things, though my sense was that the speaker needs to be matched very carefully with associated components, cables, and room acoustic treatments in order to sound its best. The system shown at T.H.E. Show tended to err in the direction of an overly bright/analytical sound, though the roomâ€™s relatively hard, reflective surfaces probably did not play to the strengths of the CLX speakers or the Ayre electronics.
McINTOSH: New products from McIntosh included the firmâ€™s first-ever power conditioner, the MPC 1500 ($4500), the new MC303 three-channel power amplifier that should be perfect for L/C/R and other applications (price TBD), and the spectacular new MCD 500 SACD player ($6500). Also catching a lot of attention on the McIntosh stand was a design study of a very compact and very beautiful 60th anniversary system; if it actually comes to market, the system will likely be one of the most expensive and (we suspect) best performing â€œdesktopâ€ or â€œexecutiveâ€ systems ever offered.
The MCD 500 SACD player bears special mention, since it is a product that has McIntosh insiders salivating in a big wayâ€”and for good reason. The MCD 500 SACD player features both fixed- and variable-level balanced outputs and uses â€œfour 24-bit/192kHz PCM/DSD digital to analog converters per channel arranged in a differential balanced configuration.â€ Significantly, the MCD 500 is one of the first commercial products to incorporate the new ESS Sabre Reference DACs (the ES9008)â€”a component that had many knowledgeable audiophiles at CEDIA buzzing (see this link: http://www.esstech.com.tw/IR/Pr_2008/McIntosh%20PR%20ESS%20Release%208.2...). The ESS DACs are said to offer very high resolution and an extraordinary signal/noise ratio (~140dB), meaning that they can reproduce very low-level details that would get lost below the noise floor of most other DACs. The MCD 500 has two spare digital inputs so that, apart from playing discs, it can serve as the DAC-of-choice for use with your other digital components.
MERIDIAN: Meridian highlighted its new state-of-the-art 802.2 Signature Reference CD player, which improves upon the critically acclaimed 802 Signature Reference in several key areas. First, the 802.2 features improved clocking and buffering systems that, says Meridian, reduce jitter to â€œvery nearly immeasurable levels.â€ Next, the player incorporates improved analog sections fed by an over-built power supply. But perhaps most importantly the player incorporates new minimum phase, zero-ripple, â€œapodizingâ€ digital filtersâ€”filters of a type first described in a 2004 AES (Audio Engineering Society) paper authored by Meridian co-founder Bob Stuart. In theory, the filters are said to be able to correct errors in the digital recording and mastering process itself, though they require tons of DSP powerâ€”power provided, in the 802.2, by an onboard 150 MIPs DSP engine. Two versions of the 802.2 are offered. The standard 802.2 ($15,995) provides special digital outputs (geared toward driving Meridianâ€™s various DSP-controlled, self-powered loudspeakers, plus fixed and variable analog outputsâ€”meaning the 802.2 can directly drive a power amplifiers. The 802.2i ($16,995) adds both analog and digital inputs, so that it can function both as a disc player and as a minimalistâ€”but very high-performanceâ€”preamplifier.
In a somewhat less costly, but equally serious vein, Meridian also showed the latest in its series of ultra high-performance table radio/disc playersâ€”the Meridian/Alfred Dunhill AD88 Entertainment System (~$4000). Following in the footsteps of last yearâ€™s popular Meridian/Ferrari F80 table radio/disc player, the AD 88, which shares technology with the F80, has a much different â€œpersona,â€ thanks in part to its more traditional, quasi rectangular shape and jaw-dropping, dark-stained, nine-layer Finnish birch cabinet (which is finished in piano lacquer polished to Dunhillâ€™s exacting standards). A quintessentially British product? Absolutely. In fact, if you distilled the essence of the interior of a Bentley Continental GT into a table radio/disc player, youâ€™d pretty much have the AD 88â€¦
MORDAUNT-SHORT: Mordaunt-Short highlighted two of its many loudspeaker families at CEDIA: the affordable Avant 900i series models and somewhat more upscale yet still reasonably priced Mezzo-series models.
Avant 900i speakers feature rigidly braced cabinets (which look more expensive than they actually are) housing CPC (continuous profile cone) aluminum mid-bass drivers and aluminum tweeters. The flagship of the line is the Avant 908i floorstander ($1395/pair).
Stepping up in the range, the Mezzo series speakers feature M-Sâ€™s radical ATT (aspirated tweeter technology) high-frequency drivers whose elaborate venting system enable tweeters to â€œbreatheâ€ while still producing highly detailed highs. The Mezzos also use M-Sâ€™s signature CPC aluminum mid-bass drivers suspended in sound deadened driver baskets, with all drivers mounted in rigid, curve wall cabinets said to minimize â€œunwanted internal reflections.â€ The flagship of the ranges is the Mezzo 8 floorstander ($3190/pair).
MUSICAL FIDELITY: The British firm Musical Fidelity is probably best known for its high-end stereo components, but at CEDIA the firm debuted a new range of V-series audio products so affordably packaged that theyâ€™re solid in clear plastic blister packs (yes, really). Each V-series model aims to address a particular audio need and to provide extraordinary performance/dollar. In order to meet this goal, though, the V-models house exceptional circuits in what are, by design, very modest-looking chassis. As a company spokesman put it, â€œthis is a product where 90 percent of what you pay for is on the insideâ€”not on the outside.â€
V-series products will start appearing in September, with new models appearing each month until the entire family is released. Eventually, offerings will include the V-CAN headphone amplifier ($249), the V-DAC high performance DAC ($379), the V-LPS phono stage ($199), the V-10D class A solid-state analog buffer (price TBD), the V-S2B single-ended-to-balanced signal transconverter (price TBD), and the V-PSU power supply unit (price TBD).