Dave's Website - Music Show 2005

2005 Home Entertainment Show, April 28 - May 1, 2005


Diary:

Friday was the first day of the Show, but I had to work, so I took a long lunch "hour" and went to the Hilton. I picked up my badge for the Show, browsed the main exhibit floor, took in a couple of the demos, and figured out the general layout (navigation across floors in the Hilton is tricky).

Saturday Ben joined me, and we went through the two main floors of the Show, as well as a few of the smaller rooms upstairs. Ben bought some CDs from the Chesky Records booth.

Saturday evening for dinner Ben and I were joined by Boris and Margarita. We went to a good Italian place near the Hilton and had an excellent dinner with excellent conversation.

Saturday night Ben called in most of his family and their friends and relatives, and a whole bunch of us (I lost count of how many) went to a digital showing of "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", for which Show attendees were able to get free tickets. Samsung and Texas Instruments (the companies who make the technology behind digital projection) bought out the entire 7:30 show at the Ziegfield movie theater across the street from the Hilton! We got unlimited free popcorn and soda for the show. It is a big theater, in good condition, and it was just about full. Ben and I sat in the 2nd row, so we had a great view of the big (40 foot wide?) screen. Digital projection technology is rapidly improving. Two years ago when we saw "Star Wars - Clones" I felt the picture was a bit soft. But this year the picture was sharp. It was the best big-screen digital movie picture I've seen. Even at our close distance to the screen I did not see any pixels, although Ben said there were some scenes where he could see them. The movie was fun, too, with some hilarious scenes. I really liked the clinically depressed robot (He did everything he was asked, but complained about it, and he asked the characters at one point if they could tell that he was just a prototype!).

Sunday morning I visited the few remaining rooms I had not yet seen, and then went back and enjoyed listening in the rooms that I had particularly liked. At lunch time Paul showed up, so we went out to lunch together, where I filled him on what was most worthwhile seeing. He spent the afternoon at the Show, and it being a nice day I took advantage of the sunshine and went walking up 5th Avenue along Central Park.

Highlights:

There was a tremendous home theater demonstration by CinePro (video) and MiCon Audio. The video was driven by a new Silicon Optix chip that basically is a complete $60,000 Teranex professional scalar box on a chip, which upconverts all signals to 1920x1080p (full HDTV). It was a beautiful picture, using a projector but I don't know which one. The audio was a 7.2 system (7 channels, 2 sub woofers), driven by amplifiers capable of supplying 5000 watts! The speakers weren't all that big, but they were being driven hard and really did their jobs. The demo material was two really noisy clips, one of "Kill Bill" and one of "Master and Commander". The dialog levels were perfect in each one, but when the sound effects kicked in the effect was simply amazing. It was much better than a commercial movie theater. The two companies sell their products to other companies, and to regular customers as part of custom packages, so pricing isn't clear. In my opinion this was Best of Show in home theater.

Von Schweikert Audio deserves the credit for putting the biggest speakers in the smallest room. They were running large speakers (4 feet high, 1 foot wide, 3-4 feet deep, and they must have weighed 200 pounds apiece) in a regular hotel room. It sounded very nice, although they couldn't really crank it up in such a small room. There were a lot of acoustic panels leaning against the walls, which no doubt helped. I don't know what they cost, but I'd guess $30000/pair.

Isomike was playing special acoustic recordings they had made with very special microphone setups and procedures. They were playing them back through four big TAD speakers, and the effect was eerily real.

JMLab speakers were well represented in a variety of rooms, showing all but their biggest speakers. As last year, this is a wonderful sounding line of speakers.

Bösendorfer had two grand pianos in their room. They were playing a lot of piano music on their speakers. One of the pianos was extremely large and ornate, and is supposed to be worth $500,000! The pianos were not for sale.

Samsung had a room full of displays of all sizes and types. It was good for comparing the various types (DLP, Plasma, and LCD), and seeing how broad their line was. There weren't showing their current biggest LCD, but they were showing two new slighter smaller ones, although I couldn't get prices.

Piega, AIX Records, InnerSound, Meridian, Dolby, etc. joined forces in a big room to demo a set of 5 big Piega speakers playing audiophile recordings from AIX. There was $250,000 of equipment in this audio-only playback system! It sounded pretty good, but not stunning, although they were playing mostly laid-back acoustic stuff.

Yamaha was showing my next set of electronics! They have their new universal player ready, which will ship in the next couple of months, as well as various models of their receiver/amplifiers, two of which have iLink connections to allow single-cable connections to the disk players. Most of the equipment was just on display and not hooked up, so I couldn't listen.

mbl was playing a variety of their smaller speakers in a regular hotel room. They are the weirdest serious speakers I've ever seen (small spherical towers that radiate in all directions) but they play VERY loud and very clean, although they don't do pinpoint imaging.

Other unusual speakers were a small pair of horns coupled with small standard drivers, a full-range ribbon panel, and electrostatic panels with a loaded dynamic woofer by InnerSound. All sounded very nice. There are lots of ways to reproduce music!

There were several rooms dedicated to what I consider smaller consumer items, including headphones, notebook computers and printers (Hewlett Packard), wireless music systems, XM radio, and popcorn machines for home theaters.

There was a good-sized section of music sellers. Most of the high end audiophile labels were there, some giving decent show discounts.

Throughout the weekend there was a big room set aside for a variety of live music performances, although none of them caught my interest enough to get me to take time away from the exhibits.

Summary:

This year's Show was a little smaller than those in the past. There were only two floors instead of three floors of big exhibit rooms. There still were two floors of regular hotel rooms converted into small showrooms though. Attendance seemed a little lighter also, as it was easier to navigate between the rooms, and to get into the rooms I wanted to see.

Disappointingly, the really big speakers weren't at the Show: Dynaudio, the big mbls, Martin Logan, NOLA, Wilson, and the Esoteric towers I liked last year. Most companies where showing their new stuff rather than their big stuff.

Big flat screens have really come of age. They were everywhere and they all looked good. The issues now are size (60 inches is getting more common), resolution (number of pixels), price, and projectors versus standalone televisions.

The focus of high end audio has shifted, from weird engineering designs to "luxury lifestyle" designs. The state of the art (knowledge, materials, and computer modeling) is getting good enough that many companies can now build speakers and playback electronics that are good, so that isn't the challenge as much as it used to be. There still are companies that are building enormous and unique systems, but they are very much engineering exercises, aimed at the very small number of people who can afford them ($100,000+ for a pair of speakers, etc.). There are a large number of speakers, amplifiers, pre-amps, and turntables in the $20,000 to $40,000 range, aimed at the luxury market, and they are designed to look good as well as sound good. The good news is that the trickle-down effect, integrated circuits, and the advantages of volume manufacturing are allowing Yamaha, Denon, Marantz, Pioneer, Panasonic, and a variety of other companies to sell good equipment at real-world prices for those of us who are not rich.