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JUNE 2018 Volume 83 No. 5

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28 62

34
Smart
Speakers
Your
Essential
Guide

COLUMNS FEATURES
Rob Sabin Track One: What’s in a Wire? Speaker Cables Can You Hear the
Plus, our new family across the pond. 10 Difference? 28
Ken C. Pohlmann Signals: I Live My Life a
Quarter Mile at a Time 19 Smart Speakers Your Essential Guide
34
Al Griffin Ask S&V:
Light Bright 20 74
Michael Antonoff Apptitude:
Bingeing on Free 21
John Sciacca The Connected Life:
Fundamentals Never Change 22
DEMAND MORE
DEMAND SERIES™
LEARN MORE AT DEFINITIVETECHNOLOGY.COM

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58 54 18

REPORTS
FEATURE REVIEWS P40-44
Apple HomePod Wireless Smart
DEPARTMENTS Speaker Pod power.
by Rob Sabin 40
Letters An abundance of Star Trek, and
System Building 101. 14 TEST REPORTS P46-64
Perfect Focus
New gear, top news, how to, and more. 16 JVC DLA-X590R D-ILA Projector
Eye opener.
46
by Thomas J. Norton
New Gear A look at the hottest new A/V
gear and gadgets. 24
KEF Q Series Q350 Speaker System
Entertainment Blade Runner 2049, It,
Geostorm, and more on Ultra HD Blu-ray. 66
Coincident Atmos.
by Mark Fleischmann 50
Cambridge Audio CXUHD Ultra HD
All Aboard James Loudspeaker
Steampunk Speaker 74 Blu-ray Player
Digital director.
by Al Griffin
54
46 Monoprice Monolith 12” and 15” THX
Ultra Subwoofers
Exploring new depths.
by David Vaughn
58
Naim Uniti Atom Wireless Music
Player
A Naim you’ll remember.
by Daniel Kumin
62
66
40

soundandvision.com ON THE
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Visit The “How We Test” link on our Website for a
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TrackOne
June 2018

WHAT ’S IN A WIRE?
Plus, our new family across the pond.
Our so-called “lashback” feature any other major component: You’d lip the system back
this issue, ofered as part of the on and excitedly take your seat to see what the heck you
ongoing celebration of our 60th were going to get. But are you going to hear anything
year, is a juicy tidbit from 1983 that dramatic with a $600 AVR and a $1,000 5.1-channel
that proved one of the most speaker kit when you swap in $100 worth of cables
controversial articles in our for 16- or 14-gauge zip cord? Not likely. Bottom line:
predecessor Stereo Review’s his- Unless you’re dealing with really premium equipment,
BY ROB SABIN, tory. he subject? Premium speaker particularly speakers, just buying decent copper cables of
EDITOR
cables. More to the point, whether heavy enough gauge will probably be enough.
they really make a diference or are just a waste of money. he reason we don’t test cables is because I’ve never
I won’t be a spoiler here (see page 28), but the piece been convinced that the same cables can be counted
embraced with full gusto what was then just a smoldering on to sound the same in two diferent systems, even
debate and rocketed it into a bona ide ireight—with the high-end systems. My experience was that their efect
“subjective” high-end audio community on one side and on the sonics could be less desirable, more desirable,
the mainstream objectivists and measurement freaks, or just diferent depending on what components they
represented by SR, on the other. were connected to. So having one of our reviewers
here’s a great back-story behind the story, which discussing the potentially very subtle diferences he
you’ll read about. But what struck me as I stumbled heard on his own system never struck me as having value
on the article in our archive was how this debate still to a wide audience.
remains at the forefront today. here are many more Bottom line: I wouldn’t dismiss outright that fancy
companies selling premium speaker cables and inter- speaker cables and interconnects can be worthwhile.
connects today than in the early 1980s, and at least two But I’d look seriously at the gear you own or what you’re
of them—Monster, the de facto inventor of the cate- buying before plunking down a big investment. he
gory in 1979, and perhaps Audioquest—have enjoyed reality is that, if you’ve got the kind of components that
widespread acceptance by big-box retailers and a more can readily reveal cable diferences, your high-end audio
mainstream audience. his, no doubt, thanks to every- salon has probably already sold them to you without
day shoppers who have taken at face value the recom- much struggle.
mendations of well-spifed loor personnel looking to
attach these notoriously high-proit add-ons to the sale On a separate note, Sound & Vision is proud, as of
of a receiver, speaker system, or TV. this issue, to be a member of the AVTech Media family
I’ve sometimes been asked by readers (and have of publications. Based in the U.K., our new parent is the
occasionally written about) whether I think expensive publisher of three superb British magazines that some
wires make a diference, and why we don’t test prem- of our old-timers might be familiar with. he lagship
ium audio cables. To respond to the irst question is none other than HiFi News & Record Review, which
emphatically: Deinitely, maybe. I’m not being coy. I holds the title of the oldest remaining audio equipment
believe—indeed, I know from experience—that both magazine on the planet. Its two siblings include Hi-Fi
interconnects and speaker cables can make readily Choice and Home Cinema Choice. AVTech Media also
audible diferences, sometimes really big ones, in the runs a successful consumer audio show called he Hi-
sound of an audio system. Where I question their value is Fi Show Live. As part of this shit in ownership, we’ll be
when they are connected to very average gear that lacks moving to a regular bimonthly publication schedule, with
the resolution to expose these diferences. I’ve mentioned our usual July/August issue to be followed thereater by
in these pages how, when I started my career at a high- similar double-month issues. (Don’t worry—all existing
end audio magazine in the early 1980s, the ever-evolving subscriptions will be extended to relect the change.) We’re
reference system was so revealing that you could easily happy to be part of a company with such a rich history in
hear the efect of big changes in humidity on phono A/V publishing and broad international reach, and look
cartridge damping. Changing out cables in that system, forward to working with our new colleagues.
either interconnects or speaker cables, was like replacing

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June 2018 Volume 83/Number 5

Editor-in-Chief: Rob Sabin

Executive Editor: Claire Crowley

Senior Editor, Technical Editor, Video: Thomas J. Norton

INTEGRATE Audio Editor: Mark Fleischmann

Technical Editor, Audio: Mark J. Peterson


AND CONQUER Editors-at-Large: Bob Ankosko, Darryl Wilkinson

Contributing Technical Editors: Kris Deering, Barb Gonzalez,


Achieve separates-quality
stereo reproduction with Al Griffin, Steve Guenberg, Michael P. Hamilton, Daniel Kumin, Fred Manteghian,

a single component. Geoffrey Morrison, John Sciacca, Michael Trei, David Vaughn

Contributors: Michael Antonoff, Anthony Chiarella,

Brandon A. DuHamel, Avi Greengart, Corey Gunnestad,

Fred Kaplan, Josef Krebs, Ken C. Pohlmann, Leslie Shapiro

Music Editor: Mike Meler

Movies Editor: Chris Chiarella

Logistics Manager: John Higgins

Technical Consultant: Joel Silver, Imaging Science Foundation

Art Director: Heather Dickson


This thin column represents
Copy Editor: Ken Richardson
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Web Monkey: Jon Iverson
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Letters We welcome
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E-mail them to letters@soundandvision.com. Please note: Questions about the features and
comments

functions of a particular product are best directed to the manufacturer. Questions about what product you should
buy are best directed to a dealer who knows all the details of your system, your preferences, and your personal
embedded part of our culture. Ater
the original Star Trek television series
went of the air in 1969, new ilms
and new television series have kept
the franchise alive for over 50 years.
But there has always been some-
thing missing. To ill that gap, 11 new
habits. All submissions are considered the exclusive property of Sound & Vision magazine and AVTech Media
fan-produced episodes under the
Americas Inc. We reserve the right to edit letters for brevity. Due to the volume of mail that we receive, we regret banner Star Trek Continues (STC)
that we cannot respond to every letter. successfully provide closure to the
original Star Trek series, which was
prematurely cancelled.
I. Lirpa mentioned in the April 1972 issue he love that is poured into
I have been following the exploits of of Audio magazine and appeared the work by these fans (who are
Lirpa ever since I read what I believe yearly until the mid ’80s, when his otherwise all acting and ilm
was his irst-ever appearance, in presence in the declining magazine production professionals) is obvious.
Audio. As you can see, I’m a bit hazy became more sporadic. You can he authentic re-creation of the style
in regard to time and place, but I ind almost all of the appearances at and look is more than nostalgic, it’s a
remember clearly in regard to his american-radiohistory.com/Audio- museum-quality reproduction—but
name: It was I. Lirpa. I was not aware Magazine.htm. also alive. he artists who created STC
of any name change to Loof Lirpa or Sco Soloway have propelled the show a step further
Lirpa Loof. I am aware of his eldest Evanston, IL than the original 1960s Star Trek
son, Eno Lirpa, and a daughter, Lirpa series by severe attention to contin-
Lirpa (of whom you may not have For the record, my editorial in April uity and being true to the future
heard because I invented them both).  (Track One, “A History of Lirpa Labs”) history timeline. he self-referential
Could you please look into, and never claimed that 1980 was the irst back-story woven into new plots
straighten out, this matter—and reference to Lirpa in Audio, only the is incredible.
quickly. (I’m 92 years old and don’t earliest I had hands-on access to in Star Trek (the original television
have a lot of time to wait for answers.)  our archive. hat said, the point’s well series) was a space opera illed with
Paul Alter taken—if I’d perhaps read a bit more corny moments. STC has captured
Pisburgh, PA deeply into that review I might have those moments (I say this lovingly).
noticed that Professor Lirpa was indeed Star Trek oten used allegory to make
If I were in a generous spirit, I might I. Lirpa and not a Loof. Although, commentary on political and social
consider Rob Sabin’s “History of Lirpa Lirpa was known to be aloof, but not issues of its day. STC has taken the
Labs” to be a (not very good) April in that way. Scott’s excellent sleuthing- same path, updating to contempo-
Fools’ joke. I’m afraid, however, it out of that remarkable scanned Audio rary issues and magically connecting
is merely the result of him failing to library residing at the link provided did the episode plots to the concerns in
give the history of Professor Lirpa the ofer some additional insight here, so today’s headlines about racism, abuse,
respect it is due. we might give proper credit where it’s human trafficking, medical ethics,
First of all, there is no Loof Lirpa, due. hat 1972 Lirpa item, assuming and political divisiveness.
at least not in the audio industry and it is indeed the irst reference, was not STC two-part episodes 10 and 11
certainly not in Professor Lirpa’s a review but a technical notice about come full circle by brilliantly resolving
family. he founder, chief engineer, a new quadraphonic matrix speaker plot issues let unattended since the
publicist, janitor, and chief bottle that would somehow allow you to unprecedented second pilot episode
washer of Lirpa Labs is Professor skip all those extra ampliiers otherwise “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
I. Lirpa of Bucharest. In 1983 Len required for quad. It was not bylined, Of course, those story possibilities
Feldman claimed that the I stood for but the editor-in-chief at the time, let dangling for 50 years absolutely
Igor, but most historians believe that, and therefore the fellow who could required a return visit to wrap up
like Harry Truman’s middle initial, presumably take credit for introducing the series and set the stage for what
the I stands by itself and does not Lirpa to the world of hi-i, was George came next in the 1979 Star Trek: he
represent a name. W. Tillett. Gene Pitts, who I mentioned Motion Picture.
In any case, the professor had two as the longtime editor of Audio and Sound & Vision readers will no
children, Bif and Gladys, with no the person running it in 1980, was doubt be interested in the ine pro-
Loofs or Sloofs amongst the progeny. an assistant editor in 1972. So we duction values of STC. he sets,
No one has unearthed a reason for might rightly assume he carried on costumes, lighting, art direction,
his daughter’s uncharacteristically a tradition. I am deeply grateful to sound—all these are reproduced
normal name. I’m afraid Rob was you for setting us straight, Scott— as if the show was being ilmed in
misled by fake facts planted by the though I doubt as much as Mr. Alter, 1969. Even the camera lens and 1960s
Russians. If Loof Lirpa seems like a who is presumably running out of broadcast television 4:3 aspect ratio
mythical character it is because he is, time faster than I am.—RS are used.
in fact, nothing more than a myth. I am not in any way affiliated with
Sabin also shows he does not A Trek a Minute STC. I am only a fan (of the original
have a reporter’s nose for digging as Proof that dreams can come true: You Star Trek and STC). Warp speed.
he gave up his research ater ind- can’t go a day without a pop-culture Peace, live long and prosper!
inga 1980 article. Lirpa was irst reference to Star Trek. his televis- George J. Perkins
ion phenomenon has become an Madison, WI

14 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


I’m sure many of you will already be in the pages of Sound & Vision and its the D/A conversion at the front end can
familiar with what the team from Star predecessor Stereo Review from time to create really noticeable diferences on
Trek Continues has accomplished here, time in the past. One reason we don’t do decent speakers. It’s absolutely worth
but until receiving George’s letter, I was it more oten is that, although our team considering an outboard asynchronous
not. Lucky me, as I only recently fully could put together lists of what we think USB DAC or an amp with one built in
embraced Star Trek and its later spin-ofs makes for good, better, best systems if you really care about music. And
and am picking my way through them at various price points based on our you’ll hear diferences among high-
via streaming and late-night TV. (I’m experience with individual products, we end DACs, too, albeit more subtle than
inding myself partial to Voyager at the rarely have all the equipment on hand with speakers.
moment.) All 11 STC episodes, produced simultaneously to truly test how a full Tip #3: Get some decent power
between 2013 and fall 2017, are avail- system interacts. behind you. It’s not about playing loud,
able at YouTube, and ISO iles can be What I can ofer are some topline tips it’s the dynamic headroom that a great
downloaded to burn your own DVD and about what will most afect the sound ampliier delivers that can give a sys-
Blu-ray Discs (complete with box art) at of a system and where, therefore, to be tem authority and control over the
startrekcontinues.com. Episodes run careful with your money. Tip #1: It’s speaker drivers.
between 40 minutes and an hour each, all about your speakers. By far, these here’s more to this, of course. But by
and it’s all free. Just a quick look at the transducers that turn electricity into paying attention to these basics, you’re
STC preview trailer will convince you sound waves have the most sway on the bound to come away with an exhilarat-
how faithful these producers and actors character of your system, and although ing audio system you love.—RS
remained to the original characters and better speakers all approach neutrality
precepts, assisted by what George reports from a frequency measurement per-
as a generous policy during the shooting spective, the nature of driver selection CORRECTION:
period by CBS/Paramount about fan use and crossover and cabinet design play
of their intellectual property, one which a huge role in giving diferent speakers In a confused moment, we incorrectly referred
apparently ended abruptly when other their own personality. here are fewer to a key surround sound feature of the Denon
parties abused the privilege and forced places these days to audition speakers AVR-X3400H A/V receiver reviewed in the April
STC to abandon production two epi- in advance, but some careful reading of issue as “DTS:X Virtual”—an error that we, as
sodes short of their goal. What got done reviews that describe a speaker’s basic diligent editors, made sure we consistently
before the clock ran out is absolutely sonic nature and a money-back return carried throughout the review. Of course, the
great stuf.—RS policy from an online retailer (or two) correct nomenclature is “DTS Virtual:X.” We
can provide an alternative. apologize for the error and any confusion it
The Art of System Building Tip #2: If you’re listening to a lot of might have caused.
here’s no shortage of what to write digital content, and who isn’t these days,
about in your ever-changing industry;
however, there is something I have not
seen anywhere that I think could help a
lot of people: a how-to guide for select-
ing A/V equipment combinations.

Enter to WIN
When I built my dream theater, I
spent months reading equipment
reviews before I started shopping.
While this was helpful, what I was really
looking for was someone to tell me
how to put it all together. For example, I
went with a receiver, but should I have
CRUTCHFIELD’S GREAT GEAR GIVEAWAY
bought a pre/pro instead? Would an
external DAC be beneicial for music
listening? At what point should a power
conditioner be considered?
I realize this is probably the job of
a sales professional, but with so few
brick and mortar stores, it’s getting
harder and harder to ind that trusted
someone. What I think a lot of readers
could beneit from would be a few
budget examples, how you and your Sign up for your chance to win
team would spend it, and why. So if
you had $5,000 to spend and you D&UXWFKHOG*LIW&DUG
needed everything (TV, receiver,
speakers, wires, remote, accessories,
etc.), what would you get? What if it
was $2,000 or $10,000?
Enter now crutchfield.com/SVS
Michael Skrzat
Via e-mail

Mike, system-building exercises like the


one you describe have indeed appeared
Perfect focus
NEW GEAR, TOP NEWS, HOW TO, AND MORE...
Edited by Claire Crowley

Defining the Internet


of Things in which one can access a given
service. For example, it is now trivial
for your smart thermostat to con-
15 Minutes with Futurist Dave Evans nect to a weather service via an API
to determine how best to set itself.
Your smart irrigation system can
YOU CAN’T SEE S&V: Let’s break things now easily connect to that same
the Internet of Things, down a bit. What are service to determine whether or not
but trust me, it’s the key areas of IoT? to run the sprinklers that day.
there—and grow- DE: The key areas are The cloud helps to hide the
ing rapidly as every the things themselves, complexities of the infrastructure recognizes that children are also
imaginable kind of the embedded tech- behind these services, so developers watching TV and automatically avoids
“thing” becomes (or at nology and sensors can now focus on accessing services, inappropriate shows.
least tries to become) within these things, without worrying about the infrastruc- But it goes beyond smart tele-
net savvy. But what the internet, the APIs ture. visions. Information about the shows
exactly does IoT (application program- And, of course, all of this leads to you are watching could also be
mean? And if we ming interfaces), the new business models. As the world automatically fed to other nearby smart
move beyond the quaint Jetson- cloud, and new business models. becomes more open, more connected, devices. For example, getting statistics
esque vision of the future, what are What’s most interesting is that the and more aware thanks to billions of on your favorite sports team sent to
IoT’s real-world implications? To get types of things we can connect to the sensors, more companies can offer your iPad while you’re watching the
a handle on where our increasingly internet are no longer confined to com- access to these services, which cre- game or getting information on where
interconnected world is heading, we puters and other traditional devices. ates entirely new opportunities. This to buy a jacket or dress an actor or
tracked down Dave Evans, former They are everyday objects that expand also lowers the barriers to entry so actress is wearing.
chief futurist for Cisco and co-founder their capability and value because of anyone with a great idea can change
of the Silicon Valley IoT startup, their connections—not just to the the world with IoT. S&V: Voice control is all the rage today
Stringify.—Bob Ankosko internet but to other things as well, with Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant,
which means they can work as a S&V: Which of these areas are most and other virtual assistants vying to
S&V: Let’s start with the basics. system. Imagine if your smart home compelling right now? And how does dominate the space. Will voice control
We’ve been hearing a lot about could automatically turn off the lights, home entertainment fit in? be the dominant means of control for
IoT—the Internet of Things—over lock the front door, adjust the temp- DE: When we talk about the Internet of home entertainment and smart-home
the past couple of years. It’s so erature, and set the alarm system when Things, we often focus on the things applications in the near term and
all encompassing. How do you it’s time to go to bed. This is a much themselves. While the things are of longer term?
define it? better experience than going to each great value, one could argue that it’s DE: Ultimately this is all about tech-
DE: In the simplest sense, the thing individually and adjusting it. really the intelligence in the cloud that nology adapting to us. Since the
Internet of Things is about everyday The embedded technology and has the greater value. The software inception of technology, we have
objects connecting to the internet— sensors within these things refers to the world is opening up through extensive always had to adapt to it. But now,
things such as your coffee pot, your innate capabilities of the devices them- use of APIs. This essentially means something profound is happening:
lights, your car, wearable devices, selves. Thanks to Moore’s Law, tech- that a dumb thing can now become an Technology is adapting to us. A voice
on and on. Historically speaking, nology that was once impossible is now intelligent thing, simply by having a command, a gesture, an emotion, and
computers and networking devices commonplace and embedded in every- connection and tapping into the vast even a thought, in some cases.
were primarily connected to the day things. The tiny computer inside of knowledge that is in the cloud. Voice will be one of the domi-
internet, but today billions of other a smart thermostat has more comput- This has huge implications for home nant ways in which we interact with
types of things are getting con- ing power than the entire planet had a entertainment. Obviously, we have technology, but certainly not the only
nected. They connect because there few decades ago. Thanks to MEMS seen increased access to internet- one. There are times when voice
is some value in doing so. For technology (Micro-Electro-Mechanical based services such as Netflix, but this is simply not appropriate. In a noisy
example, your wearable might Systems), sensors have become smal- is very much the beginning. Televi- room, for example, a gesture might
connect to a service for uploading ler and cheaper. Sensors that track temp- sion—with your permission—will be a better solution for turning down
fitness stats so you can track your erature, humidity, vibration, accelera- watch you while you watch it and learn the lights.
progress or get feedback on how to tion, location, and more are now easy to what you like and what you dislike, per- Control of smart devices will be
improve your workouts. In a more place into everyday things, giving those haps by observing your facial expres- active and passive. An example of
technical sense, this is about devices things the ability to sense the world in sions. This information will be analyzed active control is when you walk up
(things) with embedded technology ways that were previously impossible. and fed through machine learning to a thermostat and adjust it manu-
and sensors connecting to the inter- More and more companies are algorithms to intelligently tailor content ally. An example of passive control
net and using standard protocols to exposing their services through open that is best suited for you. One could
exchange information. APIs, which provide standardized ways even imagine smart programming that Continued on page 19

16 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


This Just In...
By Mark Fleischmann

Sound United
Bought Classé,
Canadian maker of high-
end amps, from Bowers &
Wilkins. It adds another
dimension to the company’s
existing ownership of Denon the post-auction spectrum Kaleidescape be integrated into RTI
and Marantz, among other repack. It will remain a
pay-TV must-carry channel,
will use forensic water-
marking technology from
automation and control
systems...
brands... but many antenna viewers NexGuard in its Blu-ray-
may be unable to receive it quality movie player, YouTube Is Skewering
Ads on Alexa? remote. There’s no upfront due to the transmitter allowing protection of Ultra small content providers by
So far, the only ads on the cost, but the DVR fee is $10/ move... HD content with HDR. raising the threshold for
voice platform are those month... The company needs to payment to contributors with
incorporated into supported The Spectrum Repack demonstrate its anti-piracy 4,000-plus hours of watch
streaming services. But Cable Operators is running short of funds, seriousness to maintain time and 1,000-plus sub-
Amazon is talking to Proc- regulated by the FCC can according to Rep. Greg cordial relations with scribers in a 12-month
tor & Gamble and other also raise rates—by 2.09 Walden (R-OR)—no studios... period. “We’ve arrived at
companies about product percent, with the latest surprise, since Congress these new thresholds after
placement... inflation adjustment. This allocated only $1.75 billion “Power at a Distance” thorough analysis and
applies only in areas proven to a process estimated to wireless charging is now conversations with creators
Dish Added Google to have scanty competition... cost $3 billion. Low-power a thing, with the FCC’s like you,” says a Google
Assistant transmitters and translators approval of the WattUp Mid executive with an appar-
to all generations of its ESPN Is Coming are in danger of getting lost Field transmitter from the ently inexhaustible appetite
Hopper DVR and Wally to Samsung smart TVs along in the shuffle, reducing free startup Energous. It has for irony...
receiver. Use it to navigate with Freeform, another TV service to low-income greater range than existing
or search content... Disney-owned network. viewers and cord-cutters... wireless charging schemes, Time Spent With
They are initially on 2017 charges multiple devices, Friends
Pay-TV Rate Hikes models and various mobile Cord-Cutters Are and works with any brand has dropped 13 percent in
are rampant this year, with devices and eventually will Saving of device as long as it has 15 years as people have
Comcast, Cox, DirecTV, and make it to earlier smart TV $115/month by dumping the receiver... become more distracted
Dish Network continuing models... pay-TV for streaming. They by mobile devices, reports
to gouge consumers (and tell LendEdu that they spent Control4 Bought Ihiji Britain’s Office for National
Charter expected to follow) Streaming “Pain an average of $33.74/month and is combining their Statistics—especially those
at rates that usually far Points” on streaming before cutting BakPak and Invision remote under 25. “Easy internet
exceed inflation. Cox, where may hinder the growth of the cord and $35.33/month management technologies access enables people to
increases are from one to online video services, says afterward, saving $51.38/ into a single service plat- talk to friends via social
five bucks, attributes them to an IBM Cloud Video study. month via password form. That will enable the media apps, but they’re still
“the rising cost of program- Among consumer com- sharing... combined dealer base to doing so alone,” says the
ming content” and “new plaints are buffering, implement cloud-based study...
features and functions” such delayed starts, inadequate $20/month for monitoring and service
as voice remote and TV programming, crude Streaming for more than 2,000 third- NFL May Go Online
Everywhere... recommendation tools, and is what 42 percent of con- party products... for future seasons of Thurs-
(in some cases) ads... sumers are willing to spend, day Night Football, the
Dish’s Hopper Duo they tell Phenix. “Most RTI Added Yamaha league is warning TV
is a two-tuner HD DVR with Philadelphia Viewers platforms that provide ‘live MusicCast networks. If they don’t ante
a 500-GB hard drive, which have lost WYBE (channel streaming’ capabilities offer with a two-way driver that up, the program may to go
can store up to 125 hours of 35) due to the TV station’s either scale or speed, not supports the wireless a streaming service...
HD video, plus Bluetooth, spectrum-sharing arrange- both,” notes Phenix CEO multizone system. Now
Wi-Fi, VOD, PIP, and voice ment with other channels in Stefan Birrer... MusicCast products can

soundandvision.com 17
Hands
HiFiMan Sundara Headphones
HiFiMan Sundara Headphones
Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value

By Steve Guttenberg

Here Comes the Sun THE VERDICT


HiFiMan ups its game with
Sundara’s new headband design
that makes for a more comfort-
PRICE $499 Unlike electrostatic headphones AT A GLANCE
able fit and a new diaphragm that
that must be used with dedicated improves sound quality.
HIFIMAN ROCKED MY WORLD amplifiers, Sundara, like all other Plus
back in 2009 with its revelatory HE-5 planars, can be plugged into any amp Q Eighty percent thinner
headphones. These were the first with a standard headphone jack. diaphragm you start playing music, you can
planar magnetic headphones I’d HiFiMan didn’t invent planar Q New HiFiMan aesthetic feel somewhat cut off from the out-
ever heard, and the sound was so magnetic headphones. Yamaha, Q Improved comfort side world. That’s not the case with
clear and sweet, I’m pretty sure you’ll Fostex, and others were making Sundara: You hear it all. That’s good
feel the same way about HiFiMan’s planars in the mid 1970s, but that for sound quality and wide-open
latest planar, the Sundara. Minus imaging, but Sundara won’t hush
Before we go any further, you outside noise one tiny bit.
might be wondering how planar Q Can’t hush external noise With a recording with natural
magnetic designs work. They use imaging like Ry Cooder’s A Meeting
thin-film, flat diaphragms with by the River album, Sundara brought
a printed “voice coil” across generation of planars was nearly me into the session. I was with the
most of their surface area, with extinct by the 1990s. Thanks to band, more so than I heard from
magnets arrayed on the front HiFiMan, Audeze, MrSpeakers, HiFiMan’s HE-400i headphones.
and/or rear of the diaphragm. Oppo, and so many more, planars Sundara is a higher-resolution device,
That’s radically different than are now back in a big way and yet there’s no sense of exaggerated
standard dynamic head- dominate the high-end head- detail or presence. The HE-400i is
phones’ moving-coil drivers phone market—but HiFiMan took no slouch, but it sounds unfocused
that are energized only from the lead in ’09. and opaque after you get used to
the edge of the diaphragm. Sundara looks and feels like a Sundara’s sound.
When the signal’s cur- clean break from HiFiMan’s HE By chance, I’ve been listening to
rent passes through Series of headphones. First, the a lot of Elliot Smith’s music of late.
a planar headphone’s new aluminum and leather head- His voice touched me first, then his
flat conductors, it inter- band makes for a more comfort- jangly guitar, and lastly his words.
acts with the magnets, able fit; materials are upgraded for Listening at hushed, late-night
which makes the improved durability; and the new volume, Sundara pulled me deep into
diaphragm planar diaphragms, which are 80 Smith’s emotionally naked music.
move. percent thinner than the HE-400 To finish, I popped on the newly
Series’, promise improved sound revised Audeze LCD-2C planar
quality. The round earpads aren’t magnetic headphones ($799), and
as thick as some competing they had a sweeter balance with
headphones, but Sundara’s comfort electronica wizard Amon Tobin’s
over long listening sessions was complex music. Still, the massively
above par. The uncluttered deep bass coursing through his
lines give Sundara a more Bricolage album was better defined
contemporary look than the over Sundara, while the LCD-2C’s low
HE-400 and HE-500 end felt a tad sluggish, and some of
models. the electronic music’s texture was
The 3.5mm jacks on the forfeited over the LCD-2C compared
aluminum earcups allow with the Sundara.
for easy cable swapping The HiFiMan Sundara feels like a
or upgrading to higher-end recommitment to advancing the state
aftermarket cables, or of the art for $500 headphones. The
balanced cables. Sundara’s bar has been raised!
58-inch-long standard cable
is terminated with a 3.5mm plug,
and a 6.3mm adapter is included. SPECS
The Sundaras sounded fine with my Type: Open-back, over-the-ear •
iPhone 6S, and better of course at Driver: 93mm, planar magnetic •
home with an Audeze Deckard Impedance: 37 ohms • Sen-
headphone amp. sitivity: 94 dB/1mW • Weight
Not all open-back headphones (Ounces): 13.1
are equally open, so even before

18 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com HiFiMan • hifiman.com


PERFECT FOCUS

Signals Futurist
Dave Evans
Continued from page 16
 .  is when your thermostat
detects a change in wea-

I Live My Life happily buying physical music media for


100 years, and I don’t see why we should
ther and automatically
adjusts itself.

a Quarter Mile now hate physical media. Rather, I think,


the problem is short attention span. When
This will only become
more advanced over time. Today, we are very

at a Time you buy an album, you’re making a poten-


tial time commitment that fewer and
fewer of us are willing to make. Forty-ive
much in the active control phase of home
automation—meaning, most of the time, we
actively control our smart devices. We utter a
Who uttered that famous minutes of music? hat’s an impossibly voice command to control the lights, lock the
declaration? Was it: a) unreasonable demand for someone’s front door, or set the temperature. Over time,
Confucius, b) Friedrich undivided attention. Oh shoot—I have to smart homes will evolve into intelligent homes
Nietzsche, c) Vin Diesel, d) answer this e-mail. that learn our habits and make adjustments
Dominic Toretto? Of course, that is a trick Where was I? Well, when you buy an automatically. Much like how your e-mail sys-
question because both c) and d) are correct. album, you might have to sit down and tem over time learns the difference between
he movie was he Fast and the Furious, a listen to the whole thing. And to do that normal e-mail and junk e-mail, expect to see
cinematic masterpiece about street racing uninterrupted, without distraction, as a more and more learning abilities in the smart
and skid marks. continuous piece of entertainment, seems home as it evolves.
Which brings us to the bar graph. It unlikely. Sure, we used to sit down in a
shows total music album sales (physical chair precisely aligned between two speak- S&V: Companies such as Piccolo and Leap
and download) in the U.S. from 2000 to ers, preferably behind closed doors, and Motion are working on gesture control. What
2017. Album sales were once the revenue do just that. But doing that today is just— role do you think motion-based interfaces will
champion of the music business. Not any- whoa! Did you see that Tweet? play now and later on?
more. We bought 785 million albums in So, instead of committing to big chunks DE: I believe motion-based interfaces will play
2000 and a mere 169 million in 2017. If of music, we’re choosing to not commit at a part in the larger orchestration and control of
you’re in the business of selling albums, all. Instead of buying long-duration music, things. For example, when you use a modern
right about now you’re downsizing and we choose to nosh on streams. In 2012 computer today, you may actively switch
sending out your résumé. Oh, hang on, there were 90 billion song streams; in 2017 between using the keyboard, mouse, a touch-
someone just texted me. there were 618 billion. You see why all the screen, and even voice input. All these ways
people in album companies are sending to interact with technology work together.
their résumés to the streaming companies. One does not necessarily obsolete the other.
Instead of buying long- With song streams, each song only lasts a Motion-based interfaces will play a role where
duration music, we choose few minutes, the stream content is con- they complement other forms of control, or
to nosh on streams. stantly morphing, and it’s easy to tune in, when those other forms of control are simply
turn away, and tune back in. his is ideal not appropriate. I believe gesture-based
for a lifestyle that embraces multitasking, technology will play a significant role in two
Anyway, album sales are down. here are which is a polite way of describing not areas that are growing very quickly: augmented
lots of reasons. For starters, by their nature, really paying attention. reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
albums lend themselves to physical media, Sorry, I spaced out for a minute. Here’s
and sales of physical media aren’t great. LP something else to worry about. he one S&V: Where do you see video displays
sales in 2017 were 14 million, modestly up tiny bright spot in album sales, LP sales, is heading in the smart home? How soon before
from 2016. hat’s good. But CD sales were being propped up by what I’ll charitably large-scale projection and/or rollup “video
88 million and downloaded album sales call “legacy” albums—that is, reissues of old walls” become commonplace? Or do you see
were 66 million, both down bigly. Are albums from the olden days when people something different emerging?
album sales declining because we don’t like still bought lots of albums. For example, DE: We are only a few years away from rollup
albums or because we don’t like the physi- in 2017, the top-selling LP album was he displays, the thickness of wallpaper, being
cal media that holds them? I think—wait, I Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club very affordable. We are even seeing 3D print-
have to check my Facebook page. Band (72,000 copies), a recording that’s 50 ing of flexible video displays that can roll up.
So, anyway, I don’t think the real years old. And the second-best-selling LP However, augmented reality is catching up
problem is the physical media. We’ve been album in 2017? he Beatles’ Abbey Road quickly. Although augmented-reality and
(66,000 copies). At some point, virtual-reality headsets are quite bulky by
the reissue well will run dry— tomorrow’s standards, Moore’s Law once
ha! Look at that crazy skate- again dictates that they will rapidly become
board video! smaller, lighter, and cheaper. Within a decade,
So anyway, it takes about 10 it is reasonable to assume that we will have
seconds to race a fast quarter normal-looking glasses, capable of displaying
mile. It’s good that cars are just about any image, which begs the question:
getting faster because, frankly, If everyone can have a personal display in front
paying attention to anything of their eyes, wherever they are, will we need
for more than 10 seconds is large displays that are fixed to the wall?
getting harder and harder
to do. hat’s because—look! The full version of this interview appears on
A chicken! soundandvision.com.

soundandvision.com 19
PERFECT FOCUS
Play-Fi Goes
Q&A Whole-Home
he DTS Play-Fi ecosystem
now includes wholehouse loss-
  less streaming thanks to a free
sotware update. Speakers are
synced to one another, and if a
video source is used, they are
Light Bright lip-synced. Stream with your
personal library, internet radio
stations, or services such as
Why are different units of bright- Amazon Music, Deezer,
ness measurement used for iHeartRadio, Juke, KKBox,
different display technologies? For Napster, Pandora, Qobuz, QQ
example, I’ve seen lumens used for Music, SiriusXM, Spotify, and
home theater projectors, foot-lamberts for movie luminous intensity is weighted to account for Tidal. he update is available for
theaters, and nits for high dynamic range–capable the sensitivity of the human eye, but it difers in numerous Klipsch products: the
TVs. Wouldn’t it be less confusing for the aver- that the measurement is directional rather than hree and Capitol hree wireless/
age consumer to lump everything together as a omnidirectional. Why are nits used to quantify USB speakers, Gate wireless
single measurement? the light output of high dynamic range displays? A adapter, PowerGate amp, RSB-8
Nathan Robertson / via e-mail likely reason is that HDR speciications are based and RSB-14 soundbars, and
on the reference lat-panel display monitors that RW-1 speaker. Also compat-
It would be less confusing for average consumers are used to master content, as opposed to ible are the McIntosh MB50
if there were a single light measurement unit that projection systems that incorporate screens. streaming player, Onkyo G3
could be used to compare video displays. Unfor- smart speaker, Paradigm PW
tunately, light measurement is a complex topic, and I have searched extensively for an HDMI splitter Link preamp/player, Phorus PS10
one that can’t be lumped into a one-size-its-all that will let me connect a high dynamic range speaker, Pioneer Elite F3 smart
spec. Let’s break it down. source to both my new Dolby Vision–capable speaker, and Polk S6 speaker.
Brightness is a term that describes not light Vizio TV and my legacy Anthem receiver (for —MF
output, but the subjective impression of light. lossless audio).
And since that impression can be altered by many Oppo’s UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray player has
factors—ambient room light, for example—it can’t dual HDMI outputs and supports Dolby Vision.
be translated into a quantitative unit. It also has an HDMI input that would enable
Lumens, on the other hand, is the SI (Interna- passthrough of another HDR-capable source
tional System of Units, aka the metric system) like a Chromecast Ultra, Roku Ultra, Fire TV, or
unit of measure for luminous lux, or the per- Apple TV 4K. Here’s my question: Is there a less
ceived power of light. Lumens measurements are expensive option than the Oppo that would
weighted to account for the eye’s sensitivity to light, deliver the same result?
and they quantify the total power of light in all Andy Lutz / Houston, TX
directions. While projector manufacturers typically
cite lumens measurements for their products, a he HDfury Vertex ($349) is the only HDMI
TiVo Does
splitter I know of that claims to pass through Ultra Cable,
Why are different units of
HD and HDR formats (including Dolby Vision)
to a TV while simultaneously passing lossless audio
Streaming
brightness used for different to a receiver with HDMI 1.4 inputs (the HDMI TiVo has long chafed against its
display technologies? version your receiver presumably has). While I initial identity as a DVR plat-
haven’t personally tested one, a Sound & Vision form. Its Next-Gen Platform bids
reader recently reached out to report success using for attention from both cable
more common application of lumens ratings is for the Vertex in a similar coniguration to yours. operators and streaming services,
LED lamps and bulbs. Another option is LG’s UP-970, an Ultra HD combining linear programming,
Foot-lamberts is a measurement unit that, as Blu-ray player that costs less than $200 and is expec- video on demand, and DVR
you’ve noted, is used for movie theaters and quanti- ted to provide Dolby Vision support pending a long- into a user-friendly interface
ies luminance relected of of a projection screen. awaited irmware update. he UP-970 also provides with hyper-personalization,
Sound & Vision typically cites foot-lamberts dual HDMI outputs, which would let you make program recommendations,
measurements in our reviews of projectors and separate connections to both your TV and receiver. and voice control. It will run
lat-panel LCD and OLED displays. he SMPTE If you need to hook up an additional high on Amazon Fire, Android TV,
(Society of Motion Picture & Television Engi- dynamic range source to the player, Oppo’s and Apple TV platforms, smart-
neers) recommendation for movie theaters is UDP-203 ($549) and UDP-205 are the only Ultra phones, the web, and Linux-
16 t-L—and that’s with the projector measured HD Blu-ray players that feature an HDR-capable based sotware that can run in
open gate, with no ilm running to reduce the light HDMI input. (Another model, the Cambridge set-top boxes, smart TVs, and
output of the projector’s lamp. New laser-based Audio CXUHD, has an HDMI input, but that cable boxes. Whether cable ops
digital projection systems used in theaters are connection doesn’t support HDR. See our review and streamers will be interested
capable of greater light output than the SMPTE in this issue.) he HDMI input on both remains to be seen. Comcast,
recommended spec—up to 31 t-L for 2D sources Oppo players only supports passthrough for instance, has invested heavily
in the case of Dolby Cinema theaters. of HDR10-format signals and not in keeping its user
Finally, there’s nits, which is equivalent to cd/m², Dolby Vision, however, so you should interface up to date.
the SI unit of measure for luminous intensity (1 take that limitation into account And TiVo might
nit is equal to 1 cd/m²). Similar to luminous lux, before buying. need, say, Netlix
more than Netlix
needs TiVo.—MF
20 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com
PERFECT FOCUS

Apptitude LG Does 8K, Voice,


and More
LG is looking for ways to shine in the
 always-cutthroat TV market. he com-
pany has shown a prototype of what it
bills as the world’s irst 8K OLED set,
Bingeing on with resolution of 4320 x 7680 pixels,
beating its own 77-inch 4K OLED dis-
Free play, which sells for $10,000. LG’s 2018
TVs now embrace both the Amazon
Most streaming services Alexa and Google Assistant voice
ofer free trials to irst-time control platforms. LG is also building
subscribers, so it’s possible to Google Assistant into its hinQ speaker,
feast on a tower of see-food which supports high-resolution audio
without paying a dime. hese trials extend and features audio tweaking by high-end
from one week to 30 days, but the onus is
on the new subscriber to cancel just before
their credit card is charged.
Timing is everything when it comes to
wringing the most content out of any free
trial. Not all services roll out an entire
season at once. In the case of Star Trek:
Discovery, for instance, CBS All Access
adds episodes on a weekly basis. When
the season ends, you’re able to watch all
the archived shows. So, it would be wise
to let a new season’s episodes accumulate
until they’re all out. And if you want to audio’s own Meridian. he LG/Meridian
enjoy another original All Access series, partnership has produced the SK10Y
he Good Fight, you need to know that the 30-day trial around mid-June. hat’s soundbar, with Dolby Atmos height-
last of the 13 episodes in he Good Wife because the show’s sophomore season, enhanced surround, lossless audio, and
spinof ’s second season won’t be posted which wraps around a pregnant Ofred Chromecast. Looking further into the
until the last Sunday in May. Good things (Elisabeth Moss), was set to premiere in future, LG will participate in trials for
come to those who wait. late April and conclude this July. Hulu ATSC 3.0, the next-generation Ultra
With premium cable channels making is spacing out the 13 new episodes on a HD-capable broadcast television stan-
their content available to non-cable sub- weekly basis. So, starting your trial with dard. he FCC has already given the
scribers, the consumer is in a position to the last episode in sight should give you go-ahead for TV makers to build ATSC
ind a better deal. When my cable operator enough time to binge on both seasons and 3.0 tuners into sets. It’s voluntary, not a
started charging $15 a month for Starz also check how he Mindy Project turned requirement.—MF
ater the irst year of a two-year agreement out ater it moved from Fox to Hulu.
To put your mind at ease, I’ve read the
ine print on these streaming deals so you
It’s possible to feast on don’t have to (at your own peril). Hulu’s
streaming without paying.
legalese is typical for a service that takes HDR Grows and
your credit card information. You’re
required to provide a payment method Grows
to access a subscription, including a free here’s plenty of news about HDR, the
in which it had been included in a promo- trial. You won’t actually be charged until metadata-driven high dynamic range
tional package, I dropped it to keep my the trial period ends. If you do nothing, technology that makes Ultra HD and
monthly FiOS bill from rising above $200. a recurring payment will appear on your other video look a whole lot better.
But I was already hooked on Outlander. credit card statement. However, if you Technicolor’s Advanced HDR and
What to do? cancel before the trial ends, you’ll incur HDR10+ (the form championed by
As an Amazon Prime subscriber, I only periodic e-mails with discount ofers Samsung, Panasonic, and the Fox studio)
noticed I could add Starz for just $8.99 a to come back. So, it’s important to keep have been incorporated into the UHD
month. Even better, I could try out the track of when your free trial began and Blu-ray format. he HDR10+ people are
channel for a week. hough chomping the date your paid subscription will be also courting makers of UHDTVs other
at the bit to catch up on the fate of Claire applied to your credit card. If you miss than themselves as well as makers of BD
and Jamie, I chose to hold my horses. he the cutof, there are no partial monthly players and set-top boxes. On the sot-
day ater the Season hree inale aired on refunds. You’ll have access until the next ware side, Warner Bros. is joining co-
cable, I added the Amazon channel to my billing cycle. inventor Fox in the HDR10+ camp, and
smart TV, then binged on the series before One caveat is that these free trials are Amazon Prime Video has upgraded its
the week ran out. By cancelling in time, one-time ofers. Unless you’re attuned HDR library to the new format.—MF
I paid nothing. to deleting cookies, switching credit
I’m planning to take Hulu for a spin cards, and registering under an alias,
next. If you’re curious about why its origi- these streaming services won’t be so ame-
nal series, he Handmaiden’s Tale, keeps nable to giving you a second free ride.
winning awards, plan on starting your free

soundandvision.com 21
PERFECT FOCUS
Best Buy
The Connected Life Dumps CDs
he nation’s largest consumer
electronics chain has banged
  another nail into the Compact
Disc format’s coffin. Best Buy
will no longer sell CDs. Declin-

Fundamentals get a “designed


especially for
ing sales were blamed. Anony-
mous sources quoted by Bill-

Never Change you” system for


considerably less,
especially since
board say CD sales accounted
for only 0.1 percent of 2016
revenues. However, the chain
As I’ve mentioned in previous lat panel pricing will continue selling LPs in
columns, prior to becoming a has plummeted displays that also include turn-
custom installer I was a golf so drastically. tables. In related news, Target
professional at a club in California’s Wholehouse audio is also far more afordable with is changing terms for CD and
Bay Area. I bring this up because we recently started new wireless technologies like Sonos, PlayFi, Blue- DVD sales. Instead of pay-
receiving Golf magazine in the mail. (Bizarrely we’re sound, and HEOS. ing labels and distributors up
also suddenly getting he New Yorker and Money, front, it will pay for discs only
none of which we subscribed to.) As I lipped through 2. Come Prepared ater retail purchase. he big-
a recent issue of Golf, I was reminded of really how If you’re building or remodeling, get an installer gest CD retailers are Amazon,
little has changed in the golf world since I let. involved as early as possible, but deinitely before with 24 percent of the market,
Month ater month, nearly every issue features some the sheetrock is installed. When you meet with and Walmart, with 22 percent.
new club or ball that can add 5 or 10 yards to your drive, the installer, bring your blueprints, electrical plan, So while you might argue that
an iron, wedge, or putter to shave strokes of your round, and any relevant cabinetry schematics. Also have the CD format is failing, you
and any other number of tips guaranteed to improve a rough idea what you’d like the system might also argue that
your game and lower your score. If this were cumula- to be capable of as well as an overall Best Buy and Target
tively true, by now every golfer would be shooting project budget. have failed to market
negative scores and hitting the ball 500 yards or more. CDs efectively with
But the fact remains that even with all the modern 3. Know Your Limitations paltry, risk-averse
tech at their disposal, the majority of golfers still struggle Have a realistic expectation of the system selections that pale
to break 100. Especially when “playing it down” by the you can aford for your budget. You also need to factor compared to what’s available
rules. All of them. in additional costs like labor, cabling, mounts, and a online.—MF
Sure, there’s no question that technology has helped control system. By telling the installer your wants—
the average golfer to hit the ball farther, play better, audio in four rooms, robust Wi-Fi network, surround
and enjoy the game more. And no one would want to
abandon their modern jumbo-headed, composite driver
sound with a 55-inch TV, etc.—along with your bud-
get, they will be able to design the best-performing
Bose
and high-tech balls for a wooden-shated mashie niblick
and feathery of the Jones era. But to get truly good at
system to meet your goals. Augments
golf, the fundamentals haven’t changed. One must do 4. Be Open-Minded Aural
the same things today as one did a hundred years ago,
and that’s put in the work and practice.
he installer will likely ofer some ideas you hadn’t
considered. Partly because they’re aware of possi-
Reality
As I write this, tomorrow will be my 20-year anni- bilities you aren’t and also because they continually Bose is getting into augmented
versary working as a custom installer, and this is my interact with people both designing and living with reality—with a twist. his AR
15th year writing this column. technology. Take their input as more than just platform will specialize in
another sales pitch. delivering audio. “Rather than
superimposing visual objects
It struck me just how little has 5. Search Your Feelings on the real world,” the com-
changed in the industry. Choosing a custom installer is about building a pany says, “Bose AR adds an
relationship, oten a very long-term one. I have audible layer of information
many clients I’ve worked with for well over 10 years. and experiences,” using a
During that time, the technology has certainly So deinitely make sure you’re comfortable with “wafer-thin acoustics package
improved and become drastically more afordable. I the installer you select. hings like how long they’ve with jaw-dropping power and
recall the irst “lat” panel display I sold, a 42-inch Fujitsu been in business, references from past clients, and clarity.” Applications might
about 6 inches thick that rocked 480p resolution and how quickly they respond to phone calls or e-mails include travel guides associ-
70:1 contrast ratio and sold for just under $12,000. can be a harbinger of things to come. If you don’t ated with landmarks, transla-
Today, a set with those specs would be a giveaway when feel you trust them completely, maybe this installer tion of signs, and information
you opened a checking account! isn’t right for you. about things you see or places
In a reminiscent mood, I looked back at my very irst you visit. When playing music,
Sound & Vision column, “5.1 hings You Should Know .1 What the Custom Installer Offers You you can control playlists via
Before Going with a Custom Installer,” and it struck A custom installer can deliver a well-designed, voice or touch and navigate
me just how little has changed in this industry over the -installed, and -integrated system that’s among tracks with head-
years. Here’s a quick recap of those 5.1 things from my easy to use and enjoy. Gone are the pile nod gestures for yes, no, or
irst column, still as true today as they were then. of remote controls and the rat’s nest of next. here’s no word on
wiring, and you’ll never have to won- when Bose AR headsets
1. Custom Doesn’t Have to Mean Expensive der if your system is set up correctly will be available but the
While some people are installing fantastic entertain- and operating like it should. Further, company is investing $50
ment systems costing hundreds of thousands of should you run into any issues, you’ll million in startups develop-
dollars, the vast majority are not. hese days, you can have someone to reach out to for a quick ix. ing apps, services, or technolo-
gies for the platform.—MF
22 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com
PERFECT FOCUS
he Velvet Underground. When

Reference Tracks the audience comes in, I want to


be listening to “Let’s Dance”
[David Bowie’s big 1983 hit].
Sometimes, when Charlie and
mikemettler I are debating about something
on a song, I’ll go, “I know what
that’s gonna do coming out of
the PA! Never mind the speakers
Simple Minds Find the Right Sonic Mixture here in the studio—once that
track starts over the PA, we’re
That Enables Them to Walk Between Worlds already in overdrive before we’ve
even gotten to the verse.” I know
When the time how that irst 60 sec-
comes to record onds will be an event
new music, veteran for people.
bands oten run the
risk of being trapped trying to MM: You’re now look-
replicate their past successes to ing at celebrating 40
a sonic T by playing it safe and years of Simple Minds.
serving up a relatively pale Did you really think
companion to the recognizable you’d still be doing this
sound they’ve established over gig all this time later?
their careers. JK: Back when you’re
It’s something that was clearly only 18 or 19, you don’t
permeating the brainwaves of even know what next
Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr year’s gonna be. What I
and his songwriting foil, guitar- can tell you is the ambi-
ist/keyboardist Charlie Burchill, tion then is the same
as the pair began to construct the now—it’s exactly the
tracks that would comprise their same. We wanted to
new studio album, the aptly write songs, we wanted
Courtesy BMG

named Walk Between Worlds to record them, and we


(BMG). wanted to take them
“You want to keep the essence around the world—and
of the band and put the stuf standard edition, 11 on the think anyone has 12 great, qual- by doing so, we became a great
you’re known for up front, but deluxe version—by detly walk- ity songs to go with, so if you live band. And 40 years later,
at the same time, you only want ing the ine line between deliver- can make those 42 or 43 minutes we’re fortunate inasmuch that
it to be retro to a point,” admits ing upliting singalong anthems count, then I think you’re onto we’re still being allowed to get
Kerr (kneeling in photo). “You (the instantly seductive tone of something. And if you can give out there and rise to that chal-
want it to feel like it’s got a con- lead track “Magic”) and pushing the listeners a low—something lenge. People are coming to the
temporary heartbeat and it’s an the aural envelope (the synth- akin to what we used to think of show thinking, “Ahh, can they
extension of the story—but it’s and-guitar-meshed forward as Side 1 and Side 2—then that still cut it? Is it gonna be what it
not the same old story. Knowing thrust of “he Signal and the just seems to work. was?” And you just wanna be
that, you’re damned if you Noise”). I got on the line with better than they think you’re
change, and you’re damned if Kerr, 58, to discuss how he’s MM: Your voice is in fantastic gonna be.
you don’t. Change—but don’t developed his personal listening shape on this album. What’s the
change too much! Change, but skills and the secret to the band’s secret of keeping at the top of An extended version of the
only just enough.” longevity. With the sweet sound your vocal game? Mettler-Kerr Q&A, including
To that end, Simple Minds of Worlds, Simple Minds have JK: I’m one of these rare things— a discussion of why recording
show they’ve changed exactly succeeded in transporting the I’m a Scotsman who doesn’t a string section at Abbey Road
enough over the course of listener somewhere else, making drink! (both laugh) For years, I helped Kerr come full circle from
Worlds—eight tracks on the sure there’s not even the slim- didn’t go to soundchecks because when he “froze” in that storied
mest chance we’ll once I started a tour and had a studio in 1979, appears in the
ever forget about few dates under my belt, I want- S&V Interview blog on sound-
them. ed to save my voice. But I go to andvision.com.
soundchecks all the time now,
MM: Since the core mainly because I wanna listen CD
Worlds album has to the house PA. And if it sounds LABEL: BMG
eight songs, I have a amazing, I get them to play AUDIO FORMATS: 44.1-kHz/16-bit PCM Stereo
feeling you guys very records over them! (CD), 44.1-kHz/24-bit PCM Stereo (download)
NUMBER OF TRACKS: 11
much thought about LENGTH: 55:03
presenting it in vinyl MM: So you’ll play artists like PRODUCERS: Andy Wright, Gavin Goldberg,
terms. Genesis or T-Rex over the PA Simple Minds
JK: We certainly before a show, because you know ENGINEERS: Gavin Goldberg (mixing);
Lewis Chapman, Ronan Fay, Kevin Burleigh
came to that, yes. how they’re supposed to sound? (assistants)
In the recent era, JK: Yeah! It could be that, or even
albums just got too some vocal music from a Welsh PERFORMANCE
long. I don’t care choir. T-Rex is deinitely gonna
who you are—I don’t get played, as is Bryan Ferry, and SOUND

soundandvision.com 23
NewGear THIS MONTH’S HOT
STUFF...

A Focal 300 Series In-Wall/Ceiling


Speakers
Focal, known for its great-looking (and -sounding)
speakers, has expanded its mid-priced 300
Series of in-wall/ceiling speakers with three
models that feature the brand’s signature
flax cone woofers and inverted-dome
aluminum-magnesium tweeters. All
have a low-profile frame with a
magnetic grille and are designed
for quick installation (no tools
required) and high power
handling. Three’s Company:
The 300 IW6 ($499) is a two-way,
single-woofer design suitable for
music and home theater applications,
while the more elongated IWLCR6
(shown, $799) has two woofers flanking a
midrange/tweeter complement that can be
rotated 90 degrees, making it ideal for use as a left-, center-,
or right-channel speaker in a home theater. The ICLCR5 ($799) is also well
suited for home theater with a left/center/right channel selector and pivoting
midrange/tweeter module that lets you direct sound toward the listening area.
Focal USA • (800) 663-9352 • focal.com/us

G Integra DRX-7.1 A/V Receiver


Integra’s DRX-7.1 is aimed at “film and music lovers with big rooms and high expectations.” To help meet those expectations, the 9.2-channel
receiver is THX Select certified and rated to deliver 140 watts per channel (into 8 ohms) with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X processing for sur-
round layouts with up to 5.2.4 channels (or 7.2.4 if you connect its multichannel preouts to a stereo amp). It supports three high dynamic
range (HDR) formats—Dolby Vision, HDR 10, and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma)—wide color gamut, Rec. 2020 video passthrough, and
“virtually every high-resolution and lossless
audio format.” One-Cable Connectivity:
The DRX-7.1 is one of the first receivers
to support the HDBaseT standard,
which enables 4K/60p/4:4:4 video and
uncompressed audio to be transmitted
up to 328 feet over a Cat6 (or above)
Ethernet cable along with control sig-
nals and up to 100 watts of power.
Price: $2,400
Integra • (800) 225-1946 •
integrahometheater.com

24 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


G Peerless-AV HDS-WHDI100 PeerAir
Wireless HD System
Let’s say you bought a great little TV for your newly remodeled
kitchen so you can watch Netflix while you’re cooking dinner.
Problem is, you’re not about to carve up those pristine walls to
run an HDMI cable from your family room. With Peerless-AV’s
HDS-WHDI100 PeerAir system, you can skip the wires and
wirelessly stream an HD signal from a source component up to
100 feet away. No Static at All: The system, which comprises a
compact transmitter and receiver, creates its own (802.11n) Wi-Fi
network to avoid interfering with your existing Wi-Fi network.
The transmitter has two HDMI inputs and a passthrough port so
you can watch a movie on a local hardwired TV while wirelessly
streaming that same movie to a second TV, often eliminating the
need for an extra cable box. Price: $299
Peerless-AV • (800) 865-2112 • peerless-av.com

G McIntosh MCT500 SACD/CD Transport


Audiophiles with to-die-for disc collections will appreciate McIntosh’s latest audio marvel: a high-performance SACD/CD transport that
plays “all common disc types” as well as audio files stored on a disc or USB drive. Supported file formats include AAC, AIFF, ALAC, DSD (up to
DSD128), FLAC, MP3, WAV (up to 192 kHz/24 bit), and WMA. Of course, the MCT500 is a transport—not a player—so it must be connected to
a preamp, receiver, or integrated amplifier with digital inputs and a digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Silky Smooth: The transport reads audio
data at twice the normal rate to improve tracking and error correction, and disc handling is described as smooth and quiet, thanks to a
die-cast aluminum tray and advanced digital servo. Balanced, coaxial, and optical digital outputs are provided in addition to
McIntosh’s proprietary MCT connector, which is required for SACD playback. Price: $4,500
McIntosh • (607) 723-3512 • mcintoshlabs.com

26 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


J Monitor Audio Vecta V240 Corner Speaker
Versatility is a beautiful thing, and Monitor Audio’s Vecta V240 has it in spades. It looks great, has an
ingenious single-point-connection bracket that simplifies installation, and can be mounted vertically
or horizontally. But that’s not all: The speaker is weather resistant, so you can take it outside and
mount it under the eaves. Built to Last: The speaker’s ceramic-coated aluminum magnesium
(C-CAM) drivers—two 4-inch woofers and a 1-inch anodized gold dome tweeter—are mounted on a
curved baffle to “ensure a controlled soundfield” and encased in a high-density ABS enclosure with a
rust-proof grille. An IP-55 rating means the V240 is dust resistant and able to withstand a direct water spray. Price: $575 each
Monitor Audio (distributed by Kevro International) • (905) 428-2800 • monitoraudio.com

D SonarWorks True-Fi Headphone App


Ready to make your ordinary headphones extraordinary? With
its True-Fi headphone app, SonarWorks aims to deliver a sonic
experience that gets closer to the way artists intend their music to be
heard. The app effectively analyzes and EQs the frequency response
of 138 popular headphone models from 38 brands to create a flat,
“studio reference” response curve. Get Personal: Once the app
works its magic, you can personalize the sound to compensate for
age-related hearing loss and even tweak the bass since most of us
prefer a little boost
over completely
flat sound. Visit
sonarworks.com for
a list of headphones, an audio demo, and a free
trial. The app is available for Mac and PC, and
SonarWorks offers a 15-day money-back
guarantee. Price: $79
SonarWorks • sonarworks.com

J Elac Debut 2.0 Speaker System


Elac’s nine-model Debut 2.0 speaker series builds on the Andrew Jones–
designed Debut series introduced in 2015. The cabinets have been
redesigned with a front-mounted port for greater placement flexibility and
are made of thick MDF, internally braced to reduce cabinet vibrations and
unwanted colorations. A new silk-dome tweeter with a wide-dispersion
waveguide has also been added along with an aramid-fiber woofer that
was redesigned to improve stiffness and
damping. Something for Everyone:
The line comprises two two-way
bookshelf speakers ($250/pair
and $300/pair), a couple of
two-way center speakers ($200
and $280) designed to mini-
mize power requirements from
low-cost receivers, two three-way
towers ($600/pair and $800/
pair), an add-on Dolby Atmos
height module ($250/pair), two
wall-mountable speakers, and
an app-controlled 400-watt
subwoofer with a 10-inch driver
($450). All cabinets are finished
in black ash vinyl.
Elac • (714) 252-8843 •
elac.com

soundandvision.com 27
SPEAKER CABLES:
CAN YOU HEAR THE DIFFERENCE?
The results of blind listening tests with eleven audio experts.
by Laurence Greenhill
In the early 1980s, esoteric high-end audio as we know it Marching Society, a DIY hobbyist group out of the Detroit
today was just taking of as an alternative to the mass- area (of which former long-time Stereo Review contribu-
market equipment ofered in neighborhood TV/appli- tor Tom Nousaine was an active member).
ance stores. Fueled by an underground audio press that By chance, Greenhill lived a few miles away from
included magazines and newsletters such as Sound & Hirsch, and their casual acquaintance provided the entrée.
Vision sister publication Stereophile, he Absolute Sound, he SR editorial team worked up the test protocol with
International Audio Review, he Audio Critic, and others, a Greenhill and some Audiophile Society colleagues and March-
cottage industry emerged, one populated by small manufacturers of ing Society member/ABX officer David Clark. To keep things from
low-volume, high-priced exotica claiming greater faithfulness to getting unruly, they settled on testing three speaker cables at 30-foot
the music than the gear reviewed and advertised in the pages of lengths, including thin, 24-gauge of the type found at electronics
Stereo Review, High Fidelity, Audio, et al. Some of these claims were outlets; 16-gauge lamp cord bought at a hardware store; and 11.5-
founded—true advances were indeed being made by start-ups run gauge Monster Cable to represent the premium segment. As the
by technicians with irst-class bonaides and good ears. But the most visible and successful purveyor in the category, Monster was
High End also attracted its share of half-baked products and at least an obvious choice, though, as Greenhill told me recently for this
a few charlatans looking to cash in selling accessories that had little article, it’s noteworthy that Monster’s early speaker cable was essen-
higher performance than a dime-store engagement ring. tially also twisted-ilament copper like the other test subjects, with
In the midst of all this, the premium cable business emerged, nothing particularly advanced in the cable design compared with
driven in no small part by the success of the early Monster Cable later products that came from Monster and other manufacturers. An
products that followed the company’s founding by engineer/audio- 11-member listening panel was recruited largely among experienced
phile Noel Lee in 1979. he editors of our precursor Stereo Review high-end audiophiles from the Westchester Audiophile Society, with
were suspicious of the beneits of such speaker cables and intercon- Greenhill’s own young son and another high-schooler illing out the
nects, which were suddenly being profered by an ever-widening mix. he 50 hours of tests were conducted in Greenhill’s personal
mix of high-end specialists, oten at prices far higher than Mon- listening room with equipment borrowed from manufacturers.
ster’s. he highly objective measurement-based testing approach he resulting article created a irestorm. As you’ll read, the panel
employed by Julian Hirsch and his colleagues already ran counter identiied, to a statistically signiicant degree, the 24-gauge from the
to the high-end community’s subjective reviews, which focused other two contenders with pink noise as the source. More critically,
solely on claimed sonic diferences that SR’s instruments couldn’t they also identiied, again with statistical signiicance, the Monster
detect. It wasn’t long before Stereo Review began positioning itself Cable from the 16-gauge with pink noise. But the latter results
as the skeptical voice of reason in what its editors deemed an audio didn’t hold when choral music was used, and none of the Monster
industry gone mad. versus 16-gauge results passed the higher threshold of a 75 percent
It was no surprise, then, that in 1983, the magazine jumped at the or greater detection rate said to be psychoacoustically signiicant.
opportunity to conduct a double-blind listening test, which editor- Interestingly, it was not the results of the test (which were mixed,
in-chief Bill Livingston and his colleagues hoped would reveal, sci- ater all), but the article’s written conclusion that set of so much
entiically, that high-end cables were indeed a hoax and provided no heated discussion. As originally submitted, Greenhill’s balanced
higher performance than the everyday lamp cord in common use at conclusion acknowledged that the panel had indeed heard statisti-
the time. he pitch was made by accomplished cally valid diferences, at least with pink noise,
research psychiatrist Laurence Greenhill, an and that the test should be seen not as a blan-
active member of the Westchester (county) ket result for all audiophile cables, but simply
Audiophile Society based in the New York City as research on these three, largely similar test
suburbs, and a reviewer for the audio journal subjects that were distinguishable mostly by
High Performance Review. Greenhill’s science level changes easily associated with gauge.
background and personal interest in acoustic SR’s editors, however, rewrote the ending to
perception and subjective listening had led him create something akin to a blanket condem-
to write some articles on these subjects, and nation of the category and pressured Green-
eventually to fascination with a new audio hill to accept the changes, a decision he later
testing device called the ABX Double Blind regretted. “hey felt my conclusion didn’t
Comparator System. his box (as explained in grab the reader as it should, but that was my
Greenhill’s article) used logic circuitry to ran- point,” Greenhill recalled. “I wanted to con-
domly trigger relays that allowed listeners to clude that this test wasn’t a fair judge of all
compare two unknown sources instantaneous- cables, but revealed you could tell level difer-
ly while eliminating the need for (and there- ences based on the size of the cable. hey
fore, the bias of) a test administrator to select wanted it to be a condemnation of [high-
the sources; hence the term double-blind. he end] audiophiles.” (You can read Stereophile’s
system had been developed by members of the description of the controversy on stereophile.
Southeastern Michigan Woofer and Tweeter com; search for “he Horse’s Mouth.”)

28 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


Table I shows the results of the listening panel’s pre-test evalua- he lower half of the table indicates whether the diferences
tions of the three cables tested (let part) and their ratings of the in the ratings of the three cables are statistically signiicant. he
cables during the open listening tests (right part), together with a method of comparison used, the Student’s paired test, estimates
statistical analysis. he ratings in the upper half of the chart are the probability that an observed diference in preferences could
mean scores derived by averaging the questionnaire responses have occurred by chance. he number given for each compar-
of all the panelists; the numbers shown in parentheses below ison in each category or test represents the probability that the
them are their standard deviations—that is, the statistical spread diference did not occur by chance alone. Probabilities below
around each mean score. hus, the higher the standard devia- 95 percent are considered statistically insigniicant and are indi-
tion, the wider the range of scores. cated by “NS.”

he article as published was picked apart and attacked by the high- is a measure of thickness; the lower the number, the thicker the wire),
end press, and the Monster Cable company, not unreasonably, felt these purists install exotic, expensive, and physically imposing cables
unfairly maligned as expressed in a letter to the author from Noel instead. A 30-foot run of special audio cable may cost anywhere from
Lee. Greenhill, for a time, became a pariah in the high-end commu- $55 (for a pair of Monster Cables) to more than $300 (for Levinson
nity, though he continued reviewing and has for many years been a wire). Ater purchase, these thick and massive wires are terminated
regular contributor to Stereophile. He now lives in California and, at with special lugs or pressure-itting banana plugs ($25 per pair), coat-
76, is still a practicing hospital physician and a teacher at the Univer- ed with a contact cleaner (Cramolin), and installed with loving care.
sity of California, San Francisco. Today, 35 years later, the debate over Does it make any diference? Is all this trouble and expense neces-
audiophile cables remains as active as ever.—Rob Sabin sary to achieve the best possible sound? he editors of Stereo Review
have long maintained that for normal home cable runs (in the 20- to
Some audiophiles believe that the seemingly innocuous wires used 50-foot range) to 8-ohm speakers, 16-gauge zip cord provides opti-
to connect stereo ampliiers to loudspeakers actually have a consider- mal power transmission between a system’s ampliier and speakers.
able efect on a system’s overall sound quality. Unsatisied with the he “official” view has been that heavier and/or more expensive audio
performance of 16-gauge heavy-duty lamp cord or “zip” cord (“gauge” cables represent—for ordinary home installations—electronic overkill.

soundandvision.com 29
SPEAKER CABLES
Nevertheless, equipment-oriented audio hobbyists have continued to were made of the oscilloscope displays. here were no observable
tinker and experiment with their systems’ connections. Quick to respond diferences between any of the cables driving either speaker system.
to a felt need, audio manufacturers have illed the marketplace with a All the measurements were then set aside and not shared with the
variety of exotically named wires: Discwasher Smog-liters I, Audio- listening panel until ater the listening tests.
Source UHD, Live Wire 301X4, Mogami Neglex 2477, Oracle Leonische,
Fulton Golds, Monster Power Line, Big Red Live Wire, and so on. Is Open Listening
this just another case of the mystique and glamour of high-end audio In the initial open (non-blind) phase of the listening tests, the
inducing otherwise sensible music lovers to waste their money? Or is listeners individually evaluated the sound of seven diferent music
there some real sonic advantage to using audiophile speaker cables? selections played with each of the three diferent cables while know-
Our view is that if there are audible diferences among speaker ing which cable was in use at each moment. hey were asked to ill
cables, they probably derive from measurable diferences in their out an elaborate, eight-page questionnaire. In addition to ten ques-
respective electrical properties. Nelson Pass of hreshold Corp., for tions about the sound of the diferent cables, the form asked about
instance, claims that subtle sonic diferences can be correlated with the panelist’s age, occupation, degree and kind of involvement with
diferences in electrical resistance, capacitance, and inductance, which audio, and any prior attitudes toward the speciic cables being tested.
vary according to overall cable length. And these factors can result he procedure was designed to collect information on the panelists’
in measurable diferences in frequency response and signal level, various biases and to suggest how those biases might change in a
depending on the particular speakers and ampliiers the cables con- group-listening situation. For example, a listener’s preference might
nect. But the measurable diferences in electrical characteristics and be inluenced by knowledge of a friend’s preference or by the reputa-
performance between audiophile cables and cheaper, 16-gauge zip tion that a particular brand or type of cable has acquired through
cord seem too small to explain the apparently huge audible diferences reviews in the “underground” hi-i magazines.
that are sometimes reported.
Just how diferent in electrical characteristics do cables have to be Controlled Listening
before there are audible efects on frequency response and signal he heart of our whole project was the set of controlled listening tests.
level? In order to answer this question, among others, we embarked hese difered from the initial open tests in that the listening proce-
on a series of laboratory and listening tests. Because of logistical, dure was designed to maximize psychoacoustical fairness. hat is, in
time, and budget restrictions, only three cables were exhaustively order to keep the listeners’ biases about the weight, appearance, cost,
tested: (1) 16-gauge heavy-duty lamp cord, purchased from a subur- or brand of the cables from inluencing their sonic preferences, the
ban hardware store for 30 cents a foot; (2) 30-foot lengths of New tests in this part were double blind—neither the listeners nor the test
Monster Cable, costing $55 a pair; and (3) 24-gauge “loudspeaker administrator knew which cable was being listened to. Switching
cable,” available from many sources at about 3 cents a foot. between the diferent cables was practically instantaneous (less than
Although the high electrical resistance of 24-gauge wire makes it
inadvisable for runs of more than a few feet, its low price and small
diameter make it appealing to decorators, who use it unashamedly. Table II. he two charts on this page show the results of the controlled,
It seemed the ideal “worst case” cable—if any cable would sound double-blind listening comparisons of the three cables. At right are the
diferent, 24-gauge should be the one. he 16- and 24-gauge wires results for the panel as a whole, together with a statistical analysis of the
were cut to the same 30-foot lengths as the Monster Cable, and all comparisons. he scores for each member of the panel in each compari-
the cables were terminated with Monster’s X-Terminators for con- son are shown in a separate chart.
sistency in the connections. he ABX comparator system is statistically similar to flipping a coin
and predicting whether it will come up heads or tails. Each of the two
Lab, Tests results is equally probable, so random predictions are likely to be correct
For the irst part of our tests, Julian Hirsch measured the three select- 50 percent of the time. Since each of our comparisons comprised iteen
ed cables’ resistance and interconductor capacitance. he results are trials, a listener would have gotten a score of 1.5 if he could hear no dif-
easily summarized: in 30-foot lengths, the 16-gauge zip cord had a ferences between the cables and were just guessing. Any score much
resistance of 0.24 ohms, the Monster Cable 0.09 ohms, and the 24- above 1.5 is thus better than chance and might be signiicant.
gauge “loudspeaker cable” 1.8 ohms; their interconductor capaci-
tances were 420, 600, and 400 picofarads, respectively.
he cables were then connected between a high-quality power
ampliier (a Perreaux PMF 21508) and two pairs of high-quality
speakers (Spendor BC-1s and KEF 105.2s). A 1,000-Hz square wave
was fed to the speakers through the cables, and the cables’ efects on
the signal were monitored by subtracting the waveform at the speaker
terminals from the waveform at the ampliier output. Photographs

30 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


50 milliseconds) in order to make subtle sonic diferences as apparent switching systems will mask important sonic diferences. he whole
as possible (human beings have notoriously poor long-term memo- procedure and test setups are designed to increase listeners’ sensitiv-
ries for sounds). ity to small diferences and to bypass some of the limitations of the
To make possible such a double-blind, instantaneous-switching human hearing system so that the results will be applicable to all
test, we used a laboratory-grade audio comparator developed and listeners, not just those participating in the tests. Let’s review three of
sold by the ABX Company. It consists of control circuits and relays the main features of this phase of our tests: (1) he ability to switch
that can rapidly switch between diferent inputs. he listener com- almost instantaneously from one cable to another with a precision
pares sounds and decides whether a particular source, designated X, set of low-resistance relays makes perceived sonic diferences as
is sonically the same or diferent from each of two other sources, des- vivid as they can be given our limited sonic memories. (2) he dou-
ignated A or B (hence ABX). he trick is that source X is actually ble-blind listening setup relieves the tester and the listeners from
either A or B; each connection is made at random by the ABX com- having to compensate for preconceptions about the diferent cables.
parator and is not identiied for either the listener or the tester. he (3) he use of numerous listeners making a large number of com-
listener writes his response on a test form. Digital memory circuits parisons produces sufficient data for meaningful statistical analysis
store the sequence of connections for retrieval and analysis at the and generalization.
end of the test. he procedure for the controlled listening tests can be quickly
Level matching between cables to compensate for their difering summarized: six cable comparisons were carried out using the ABX
electrical-loss characteristics was not performed for every compari- comparator and either pink noise or a choral music selection. Mon-
son in this part. he basic premise of these tests was that measurable ster Cable was compared with 24-gauge wire, gain matched and
diferences among cables would become audible if they were large unmatched; next, Monster Cable was compared with 16-gauge zip
enough. Matching all measurable parameters—including signal cord; then the 16-gauge and 24-gauge cables were compared with
loss—would make the hypothesis untestable. For one comparison, each other. Each comparison consisted of a series of iteen tests; in
however, of Monster Cable with the 24-gauge speaker wire, we did each test, as explained previously, the listener was asked to identify
compensate for level diferences by switching in a precision attenua- which of two constant sources, A and B, was the same as the switched
tor between the preampliier and the power ampliier whenever the source X. he choice and order of cables being compared and pro-
lower-resistance Monster Cable was selected by the ABX system. gram sources being used were determined by a table of random num-
he purpose of this was to determine if there were any audible dif- bers, with switching randomly controlled by the ABX comparator.
ferences between the two cables other than those resulting from a Results were examined only ater each listener completed the series
volume-level change. of comparisons, and results were held conidential so that each panel
Some audiophiles refuse to accept the validity of this kind of con- member knew only his own score—ater all, the egos of these “golden
trolled listening test. hey argue that either the test procedure or the ears” were on the line. Moreover, in our account of the results we will

Using published tables of the binomial (“bell-curve”) statistical his is the basis for our deinition of a “hit” as at least twelve out of
distribution, we calculated the likelihood of correct scores in each iteen correct answers. Applied to the scores of the whole panel, this
comparison for the entire panel. We found that 91 or more correct meant that 124 answers out of 165 trials for each comparison had to
answers out of a total of 165 in each comparison gave a probability be correct before we concluded that the diferences between the
of 95 percent or more that the results were not due to chance. Results cables were indeed audible.
meeting this criterion are thus indicated as statistically signiicant. Results that meet the 75 percent rule are due to more vivid efects
We also used, however, a stronger criterion: psychoacoustical sig- than those producing a merely statistically signiicant result. An
niicance. In psychoacoustical testing, it is generally accepted that the additional clue to the magnitude of the diferences between the
threshold at which a phenomenon can be considered deinitely audi- cables tested is the number of listeners who scored a hit in each com-
ble is when listeners are aware of it at least 75 percent of the time. parison; the more hits, the more striking were the audible diferences.

soundandvision.com 31
SPEAKER CABLES
consider mainly the performance of the group as a whole; individual or 75 percent, which is an accepted threshold of signiicance in
panelists will be identiied by code letter—to protect the guilty! Fur- psychoacoustical testing. Even when the levels were matched
ther details of the test setup can be found in the box labeled “Test between 24-gauge wire and Monster Cable (Comparison No. 2),
Methods and Equipment.” four listeners still heard a diference. While one listener might have
he listeners were all males with an average age of about thirty- just been making lucky guesses, it is very unlikely that four out of
nine years (ranging from thirteen to sixty). Although two were high- eleven were doing so.
school students, most of the remaining nine were middle-aged pro- It is reasonable to assume that because Monster Cable is thicker
fessionals with a serious involvement with audio. Six panelists owned and has lower electrical resistance than 24-gauge wire, it is a more
expensive esoteric twin-lead speaker cables, two owned interwoven electrically “accurate” signal conductor. he audible diferences
audiophile cables, and one even used 14-gauge zip cord. Seven between them in our controlled listening tests strongly suggest, there-
thought that controlled, double-blind tests like those we used were fore, that 24-gauge is too thin for optimal audio performance—in
valid, but the others thought such tests missed the boat. 30-foot lengths, at least.
Half the panelists thought that sonic diferences between speaker When 16-gauge wire was pitted against Monster Cable using pink
cables could not be explained by measurable diferences in the cables’ noise as the program material (Comparison No. 3), three of the pan-
electrical characteristics. Before the listening tests even began, ten out elists correctly identiied it in twelve out of iteen tries. Again, it is
of the eleven listeners expected the “better” cables to show improved very unlikely that this could have occurred by chance (the odds are
bass, “punchiness,” and frequency response. less than 1 in 999). But when choral music was used instead of pink
he let-hand portion of Table I summarizes the pre-test attitudes noise (Comparison No. 5), none of the panelists correctly distin-
of the listeners. In terms of attitudes, Monster Cable scored sig- guished 16-gauge from Monster Cable to a psychoacoustically signii-
niicantly higher on appearance and reputation than either 16- or cant degree (75 percent of the time). his suggests that both 16-gauge
24-gauge cable. Although 16-gauge scored highest on frequency of and Monster Cable are ine conductors for music signals of typical
use and cost-efectiveness, the preference was not statistically signii- complexity, but a very sensitive listener under the best conditions
cant in these categories. Generally, the panel seemed to prefer Mon- might ind an audible diference—not necessarily a preference—
ster Cable from the start, suggesting that it would come out on top in between them on wide-band (pink-noise) test signals.
the non-blind open listening tests, which is just what happened. In sum, ive out of the six sets of controlled listening compari-
sons gave results that are statistically signiicant using the binomial
The Open Tests distribution (see caption for Table II). In only two sets of compari-
When the listeners knew which cable they were listening to, Monster sons, however—both testing 24-gauge wire against a heavier cable
Cable scored signiicantly higher, as the data in the right side of using pink noise—were the results above the stricter 75 percent
Table I show. It was preferred to 24-gauge in seven out of ten catego- threshold usually considered necessary to establish an audibly sig-
ries. Monster Cable also scored signiicantly higher than 16-gauge in niicant diference.
three categories. In the pink-noise portions of the test, 16-gauge
scored higher than 24-gauge. Comments
Subjective comments from the panelists were consistent with the While it may not be news that the thin 24-gauge speaker cable
numerical scoring. hey reported that Monster Cable conveyed deep- sounded diferent from the other cables tested, what does this result
er bass, more impact, more ambience, and a fuller, lusher sound with mean in terms of cable measurements and their audible efects? A
greater transparency and that the program could be played louder 1- to 2-dB decrease in sound level was measured for the 24-gauge
than with the other cables. In comparison, the sound with 16-gauge wire during the pink-noise listening tests, and a number of panel
was said to be “congealed and homogenized,” revealing less “space members reported a loss of treble and bass response with 24-gauge
and expanse” in the music. Listeners also noted that 24-gauge pro- during open listening. Was the wire also changing the perceived
duced a drop in level and rollofs in frequency response at both ends frequency balance?
of the audio spectrum. he “clipped and compressed” qualities of Julian Hirsch’s measurements of the 24-gauge wire showed it to be
24-gauge were even said to give it a “New England” sound! much higher in resistance than Monster Cable or 16-gauge wire. Its
It is important to emphasize again that these ratings and comments 1.8-ohm resistance resulted in a 1.76-dB insertion loss with an 8-ohm
came from listeners who knew which cables they were listening to. resistive load, which means that fully one-third of the ampliier’s out-
he panelists’ strong pre-test biases in favor of Monster Cable could put was being dissipated by the cable over the 30-foot runs we used.
have inluenced their reactions during the open listening tests no his accounts for the unanimously audible decrease in level. Frequen-
matter how conscientiously they tried to ignore them. Eliminating cy response was also afected because the 24-gauge cable’s relatively
the listeners’ awareness of which cable was being auditioned was, high series resistance interacted with the system impedance of the
therefore, a major consideration in our design of the controlled lis- KEF 105.2 speakers used in the tests to produce 1.25-dB frequency-
tening tests. response depressions at 100, 1,000, and 4,000 Hz. his perhaps
explains the subjective impression that with the 24-gauge wire the
The Controlled Tests sound was “duller.” Note that even in the double-blind, matched-level
he most striking result of the controlled listening tests (see Table test of 24-gauge vs. Monster Cable (Comparison No. 2), four panel
II) was the selecting out of the 24-gauge wire. All the comparisons members heard diferences. he level-matching procedure corrected
in which it was not matched in gain level with the other cables show only for an overall level mismatch, not for frequency-response chang-
a high degree of statistical signiicance. With pink noise, every panel- es caused by the 24-gauge wire.
ist was able to distinguish non-level-matched 24-gauge wire from he panelists’ initial preference for Monster Cable was only partly
either of the two heavier cables in at least twelve out of iteen tries, vindicated by their ability to distinguish it from 16-gauge cable in
the controlled pink-noise test (Comparison No. 3). What the panel-
ists noticed during this comparison was either the result of the
measured 0.16-dB insertion-loss diference between the two cables
or the corresponding 0.04-dB frequency-response variation when
they were connected to the KEF 105.2 speakers. he former is far
more likely.
It seems that tests with real music signals decrease the ability
of listeners to distinguish small sonic diferences between cables.
Although three panelists heard a diference between 16-gauge and
Let to right: pencils, Monster Cable, 16-gauge zip cord, 24-gauge Monster Cable with pink noise, the panel as a whole was unable
“speaker wire.” to hear any signiicant diference between them with choral music

32 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


(Comparison No. 5). Even when Monster Cable Conclusions
was compared with 24-gauge using choral music Our tests were certainly not exhaustive, since
(Comparison No. 6), only three panel members only three diferent cables were compared. Yet
had psychoacoustically signiicant scores (twelve the results demonstrate that while Monster Cable
out of iteen or better), though the group’s score and 16-gauge lamp cord are both audibly difer-
in this non-level-matched comparison did reach ent from and probably superior to 24-gauge wire,
the less strict level of “statistical signiicance.” It 16-gauge is good enough to be indistinguishable
seems likely that the diferences between 24-gauge from Monster Cable when playing music. An
and Monster Cable would be even harder to hear esoteric cable would have to be substantially bet-
(if audible at all) if the levels were matched and ter than Monster Cable in order to be demonstra-
typical music, not pink noise, were used. bly superior to 16-gauge wire. One of the listeners
Because of our short auditory memories, notic- on the panel ran a quick but controlled listening
ing very subtle sonic diferences requires a more test of Monster Cable against high-capacitance
or less constant signal as well as instantaneous Mogami Cable (with its “damper” removed) and
switching between the components being com- 8-gauge Levinson HF-lOC twin-lead, both prod-
pared. One must wonder how real are the vast ucts more costly than Monster Cable. He did no
sonic diferences reported in the underground better in distinguishing Monster Cable from the
audio press among such components as cables, other two than chance would allow.
preampliiers, and power ampliiers, since the So what do our ity hours of testing, scoring,
results derive from uncontrolled, non-level- comparing, and listening to speaker cables
matched listening tests using only wide-dynamic- amount to? Only that 16-gauge lamp cord and
range musical material. Monster Cable are indistinguishable from each
he inal signiicant conclusion one can draw other with music and seem to be superior to
from our data is that at least one genuine “golden ear” does exist. Lis- the 24-gauge wire commonly sold or given away as “speaker cable.”
tener J on our panel had 80 percent “hits” (psychoacoustically signii- Remember, however, that it was a measurable characteristic—higher
cant scores) with an average score of 12.7 (out of 15). Obviously, cer- resistance per foot—that made 24-gauge sound diferent from the
tain listeners—whether through talent, training, or experience—can other cables. If the cable runs were only 6 instead of 30 feet, the over-
hear small diferences between components. But the majority of the all cable resistances would have been lower and our tests would prob-
panelists, although by no means poor or unskilled listeners, heard ably have found no audible diferences between the three cables. his
only diferences resulting from the relatively large, easily measured project was unable to validate the sonic beneits claimed for exotic
variations in signal level and frequency response in the 24-gauge speaker cables over common 16-gauge zip cord. We can only con-
comparisons. Note, however, that J was the only panel member to clude, therefore, that there is little advantage besides pride of owner-
score a hit for both music and level-matched pink-noise comparisons ship in using these thick, expensive wires.
between Monster Cable and 24-gauge (Nos. 2 and 6). In these two
tests only a third of the listeners achieved psychoacoustically signii- Laurence Greenhill is a research psychiatrist who is currently study-
cant scores, showing that the audible diferences in these tests were ing the efects of drugs on perception. He has been an audio enthusiast
not very obvious despite the overall statistical signiicance of the since the late Sixties and has written a number of articles on perception,
group’s scores. audio, and subjective listening tests.

TEST METHODS AND EQUIPMENT potentiometer connected between the pre-


ampliier and power ampliier and an Ivie

B oth parts of the listening test, the open


and the controlled, were performed in
a sparsely furnished living room measur-
During the open listening sessions a
number of high-quality power ampliiers
were used, including an Electrocompaniet
IV-10 spectrum analyzer.
Program material for the open listening
tests included a wide range of sources and
ing 18 x 11 x 28 feet. he hardwood oak Ampliwire 1, a Mark Levinson ML-9, and musical styles. Among the recordings
loor is covered with a Persian area rug, a Perreaux PMF 2150B. Each of these used were the pink-noise band from
and sheet-rock walls and large glass win- high-power units had been tested previ- Telarc’s “Omnidisc” test album (Telarc
dows rise to a “semi-cathedral” ceiling. ously and found to be in perfect working DG-10073/74), Mozart arias from Philips
Acoustically the room is very live, with a order. For the controlled listening tests we 9500 098, percussion instruments from
reverberation time of about 1 second. chose the Perreaux unit (more than 200 Harry Patch’s Delusion of the Fury (Colum-
High-end equipment was used through- watts per channel). bia M2 30576), Karla Bonof ’s Restless
out the test setup. he system included an he speakers were installed 6 feet apart Nights (Columbia JC 35799), Berlioz’s Sym-
Accuphase AC-2 moving-coil cartridge along the room’s short wall and about phonie Fantastique (Reference Recording
(stylus wear approximately 75 hours), a 2 feet out from each side wall. Ininity R-11), and two selections from a Philips
Magnepan Unitrac 1 tone arm, and a Linn RS-3A, Spendor BC-I, and KEF 105.2 CD sampler disc (801 027 2), Elton John’s
Sondek LP-12 turntable (Valhalla modii- systems were all employed in the early rendition of “Blue Eyes” and “Once Upon a
cation, of course). Other signal sources trial sessions and during the open listen- Time in the West” by Dire Straits.
included a Tandberg TD-20A open-reel ing phase. Only the KEF’s were used dur- he program material for the controlled
tape deck (special equalization model) ing the controlled tests because of their tests was restricted to only two selections.
running at 15 inches per second and a built-in overdrive protection. Each listener he 3-minute pink-noise band from the
Magnavox FD 1000SL digital Compact was allowed to set the volume level to his “Omnidisc” was chosen by the panel as
Disc player. he Mark Levinson ML-7 taste at the beginning of his part of the most revealing of subtle sonic diferences.
stereo preampliier that served as the con- controlled listening test; the volume was Choral music sung by the 300-voice Jay
trol center was equipped with L-3 moving- then let at that level for the entire test ses- Welch Chorale (Varese Sarabande VSD
coil phono sections. Levinson silver inter- sion. For one of the Monster Cable/24- l000) was chosen because of the disc’s
connect cable ran from the ML-7 to the gauge comparisons the two cables were unusual degree of stereo separation and
power ampliier. matched in gain level within 1 dB using a the vocal resonances in the male chorus.

soundandvision.com 33
Essential Guide to
SMART The smart

SPEAKERS speaker is
about to
change the
way you live.
Are you ready?
by Michael Antonoff

I
t’s not every day that a new consumer had smart speakers. By the end of 2020, 75 is in fact attached to a global
electronics category comes along that percent are expected to have them, according well so broad and deep that
has an adoption rate projected to to Gartner and Edison Research. no physical library could
be faster than that of any other device, Electriied speakers, the type that put out hold all its knowledge.
including smartphones, computers, TVs, sound but didn’t listen to users’ marching Today’s voice recognition
and radios. orders, have been with us for a century. Maybe technology is impressive,
Some 56.3 million smart speakers are because they’ve been around so long and been though speech-to-text
projected to ship this year, nearly twice as relegated to second-class status behind big conversion used to get a bad
many as last year and 10 times the number screens and powered bling, there’s now a sense rap. In the 1990s, computer
shipped in 2016, according to Canalys. In of sweet revenge as a new kind of speaker— dictation programs had
the irst quarter of 2017, only 7 percent of but a speaker nonetheless—is suddenly the belle to be trained to “type” a
U.S. households of the ball. particular person’s speech to
What diferentiates a smart speaker from a the screen—and even then,
conventional one is the built-in array of the resulting typos hardly
microphones, typically about a half-dozen, made the efort seem
and far-ield voice-recognition technology worth it.
used for processing human queries and com- hat may be one rea-
mands from a variety of directions, all while son why the consumers
discarding ambient noise. he speaker is embracing smart speak-
connected through Wi-Fi to the internet and ers most quickly are
remote supercomputers steeped in artiicial millennials. Weaned on
intelligence that translate our utterances into
machine-understandable language. Although a
smartphones, they’re
at ease with dictating a
• Above left, the Amazon
Echo One; above, the more
• Amazon Echo Show smart speaker looks like a standalone device, it Facebook response, and slender Amazon Echo Plus.

34 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


• Polk Command Bar

• Sonos One oten licensing Alexa or Google Assistant (irst


released in 2016 as part of the Google Home
Yet people aren’t necessarily
buying a smart speaker
speaker), Amazon-branded Alexa products for its audio quality.
when they call an airline, they expect the auto- have continued to be the most popular. Accord- With speakers ranging
mated prompt to ask them “to say in a few ing to the Statista Global Consumer Survey, in price from as little
words what you’re calling about” rather than for which more than 10,000 internet users as $50 or less for an
a human to pick up. According to eMarketer, were contacted between November 2017 and Amazon Echo Dot
millennials are the most proliic digital-assistant January 2018 (before Apple’s HomePod came (the mini-me version
users, with 35.8 million of them in the U.S. this out), ownership of smart speakers in the U.S. of the $100 Amazon
year versus 16.7 million members of Genera- was led by Amazon Echo at 15.4 percent and Echo) to $349 for the
tion X and 9.9 million baby boomers. (Note Google Home (running Google Assistant) at Apple HomePod (see
to boomers: here will be 19.1 million of you 7.7 percent. hese were followed by the Lenovo our review in this
using a digital assistant in 2019 versus only Smart Assistant (Alexa), 2.5 percent; Panasonic issue), you can bet that
17.2 million Gen Xers, though both generations SC-GA10 (Google Assistant), 2.3%; Sony not all of them are
will pale by comparison to the 39.3 million LF-S50G (Google Assistant), 2%; Harman created equally, in the
millennials conversing with their assistants.) Kardon Invoke/Allure (Microsot’s Cortana/ traditional sense of
Much of the credit for the growth of smart Alexa), 1.9 percent; JBL Link series (Google being music output
speakers goes to Amazon, which, just in time Assistant), 1.4 percent; and Sonos One (Alexa), devices. And there are
for the 2014 holiday shopping season, unveiled 1.2 percent. Not mentioned in the survey are diferences among
the Echo speaker—home to Alexa, an intelli- the growing number of homes with newer the voice platforms,
gent personal assistant. While other companies Samsung TVs compliant with the company’s as well.
have since introduced speakers of their own, Bixby voice assistant for control of TV view- Smart speakers
ing and home automation. (Note: 79.5 per- are showing up in a
• Top: The speed of smart speaker cent of the respondents did not yet own a
smart speaker.)
variety of form factors
from soundbars to
• Panasonic SC-GA10
adoption is predicted to eclipse other tech.
Boom: Projected smart speaker shipments Where are those speakers going? In house- shower speakers. he
for 2018. holds with just one smart speaker, the majority Polk Command Bar with Alexa built in is a
(52 percent) of respondents said they 43-inch-wide soundbar with an outboard
put it in the living room, a family subwoofer that houses a 6.5-inch driver; it’s
room, or a den, according to the a combo that should appeal to anyone who
Smart Audio Report from NPR wants to upgrade the sound of their TV in a
and Edison Research. he next room tight on space. On the other hand, the
most popular locations were the point of the iLuv Aud Click Shower Speaker
kitchen (21 percent) and the master with Alexa embedded is less about music
bedroom (19 percent). It went on to idelity than showering you with answers even
say that the top reasons for owning while you’re in a soapy condition.
a smart speaker were to listen to Audiophiles may have a sense of déjà vu.
music and to ask questions without In the same way that the MP3 revolution
needing to type. once captured the hearts and minds of
Interestingly, the top three
activities indexed by certain parts
of the day (in order) were getting
traffic, weather, and news reports (5
to 9 a.m.) and inding restaurants/
businesses, requesting recipes/
cooking advice, and ordering food
(5 to 7 p.m.).
Nevertheless, playing music was
the most frequently speciied voice
command in almost every survey.
According to Adobe Analytics
(see page 37), 61 percent of their
respondents put playing music irst. • Google Home Max

soundandvision.com 35
ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO SMART SPEAKERS

consumers—who overwhelmingly chose


convenience over sound quality—those
room. Barring that, reliable
product reviews, like those
• Apple HomePod

shopping for a smart speaker today aren’t we run in Sound & Vision, can speaker mainly for voice input
necessarily beholden to how it sounds as much give you a good clue. and speech output, and you can
as to how smart it is at answering a query and hat said, it’s not always an tell it to send music to another
whether the particular streaming music service either/or choice when it comes home-networked speaker of
they subscribe to is supported. Still, a number to smartness versus sound whatever quality you aspire to.
of smart speaker manufacturers stress the super- quality, especially in homes he afordable hockey-puck-like
ior sound quality of their models, something having multiple speakers. With Amazon Echo Dot and Google
an online buyer can’t really verify without irst proper setup and a compatible Home Mini are ideal for this. Or
kicking the tires in person and hearing a sound system, you can use a if the smart speaker sports an
working demo, ideally in an isolated sound less musically inclined smart auxiliary output (as the Echo Dot

How to Educate Your Speaker


A
smart speaker is dumb until you is now thousands of options. To bridge the cords is less clutter. Once you’ve added a skill
connect it to your wireless network gap between your vocal cords and the smart or an action to your speaker, you’ll be able
and use a smartphone or tablet app lock on your front door, though, you’ll need to control a ceiling fan without its battery-
for setup. to set up what Alexa calls skills and Google powered remote or your smartphone run-
For example, the Alexa app is a com- Assistant calls actions. Skills and actions add ning a dedicated app. Similarly, you’ll ind
panion to your Amazon Echo, Tap, Echo more capabilities, such as ordering a yourself reaching for your TV remote a
Dot, and Echo Show (and other Alexa- pizza from Domino’s, requesting a lot less. Several of Logitech’s popular
enabled speakers) for setup, remote control, ride from Lyt, tracking your Harmony universal remotes are now
and enhanced features. With the Google condition with Fitbit, controlling controllable via Alexa, opening up
Home app, you can set up and control your your Dish or TiVo DVR, turning some degree of voice control of your
Google Assistant speakers. Depending on on a particular ceiling fan, or home theater system as well as home
whether you’re using an iOS or Android dimming the lights. automation. And A/V receiver
phone or tablet for setup, you download a When a device is already smart, manufacturers, including Yamaha
free app from the Apple App Store or Google meaning a Wi-Fi transceiver is and Denon, now ofer modest Alexa
Play Store. Setting up Apple’s HomePod built in, you won’t necessarily control with the addition of a smart
requires the Apple Home app, usually found need additional hardware. So, speaker on the shared network to
on iPhones by default. for example, ater stating your take in the voice commands.
From the app, you’ll be able to name the speaker’s wake word, you can Beyond a just adding a skill or
speaker and set defaults, such as your loca- simply say “TiVo skip” to leapfrog action is something that both Alexa
tion and music provider, as well as link a block of commercials without and Google Assistant call a routine.
compatible devices like smart lights and having to pick up the TiVo remote hink of it as a macro command
thermostats. (he HomePod not with- and then either press its Skip but- that strings together a series of
standing, which only works with Apple’s own ton or hold down its microphone orders you issue to achieve a larger
Apple Music service for voice control.) button while saying “Skip.” In the result, typically something you do
Beyond such simple commands as asking instance of a remote-controlled fan routinely. So, for example, you could
it to tell you the weather or tune into NPR, that wouldn’t know Wi-Fi from create a “movie night” macro that
a smart speaker can be deployed to control hi-i, however, you’d need to plug might involve turning on the Blu-
connected devices in your home from what in a Wi-Fi-compatible hub like the ray player or switching the TV to

• Samsung’s SmartThings Hub


Bond to send the appropriate RF or
IR signals to the device you plan to • Harmony
Elite Remote
Netlix, turning on the external
sound system, closing the motorized
operate. (See the “Apptitude” column curtains, launching the connected
in our May issue.) Some smart home devices cofee maker, putting the air conditioner into
might work on other industry wireless quiet mode, switching on the ceiling fan,
standards, such as Zigbee or Z-Wave; and turning down the overhead lights while
third-party hubs that can act as intermediary turning up night lights near the loor leading
between your Dot or Google Home Mini are to the kitchen and bathroom. Unless you had
available for these as well. he Alexa-friendly to get up of the couch to insert a disc, you’d
Samsung Smarthings Hub opens your be able to accomplish all these tasks with-
home to voice control of Smarthings- out budging. Just announce to your smart
connected devices. speaker that it’s movie night.
One of the beneits of controlling appli- By the way, you’re not alone as you teach
ances in the smart home using your vocal your speaker to be smarter. Manufacturer
and user forums that focus on the expanding
capabilities of voice assistants and the ease
(or lack thereof) of setup have sprung up all
over the internet. So, doing a little online
homework before trying to add a skill, an
action, or a routine can save you time and
frustration later on.—MA

36 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


Once you start
a relationship
• The Amazon Echo Dot and
Google Home Mini provide
now, at least through
Amazon’s own Echo series
with your smart affordable entry to voice control. speakers. (See the sidebars
speaker, you can “How to Educate Your
train it to work with Speaker” and “Accessorizing hat
a multitude of other Smart Speaker.”)
household gadgets From the perspective of home
and appliances that automation, smart speakers and
can be controlled their ability to inexpensively
wirelessly or leverage the Wi-Fi and
through a com- broadband connections
patible smart ubiquitous in today’s homes
does), you should be able to tether it to your speaker. he Alexa universe, have remade an industry once
A/V receiver and its set of speakers or directly for instance, purports to sup- relegated to the residences of
to another powered speaker. port more than 15,000 skills millionaires. While companies

Understanding the Spy Inside Your Speaker


llowing a smart speaker into your privacy and avoid misuse of your smart • Deactivate online purchasing in the

A house is an act of trust. Ater all, it’s


a listening device connected to the
outside world. Consumers wouldn’t know-
speakers:
• As previously mentioned, connect
only with secure Wi-Fi. hat means your
setup app if there’s danger of children or
mischief-makers ordering products or
services from your device. Echo speakers
ingly invite someone to bug their home, neighbors won’t get a free ride on your have online purchasing turned on by
so these new voice platforms need to internet service unless you give them your default, but you can use the app to turn it
respect your privacy and provide reason- password—you know, the one you should of or enable purchasing only by reciting
able security. As you consider taking a leap regularly change. And use a router that a four-digit PIN.
of faith by installing one or more smart allows you to set up a dedicated guest • Although automated door locks are
speakers, it helps to know about how these network for visiting friends and family frequently pitched as a feature of these
systems work and how to best protect so you can maintain the privacy of your platforms, think twice before connecting any
yourself from any mischief. primary network at all times. home security device for voice control, lest
First of, these speakers aren’t constantly • Consider smart speakers that allow you an intruder unlock your home, or deactivate
transmitting or recording your household’s to disable the microphones at will if you feel your security system or cameras, by shouting
audible activity. Although their microphones the need. he Alexa-driven Sonos One through the door.
are always listening, they remain deaf to your and the Echo speakers, for example, have a • Keep in mind that Alexa and Google
chatter until triggered by a wake word. For button on top to toggle the mics of until it’s Home speakers make recordings of all your
an Amazon Echo, that would be “Alexa,” pressed again. he Apple HomePod assistant voice requests to better learn your individual
though the Alexa app allows you to custom- can be disabled by saying “Hey Siri, stop voice signature and improve the perfor-
ize your wake word for Echo products. For listening” or by using the Apple Home app. mance of their voice recognition. hese are
Google Home, you’d say “OK, Google” or • Keep the account passwords for your visible as scrollable text in the respective app.
“Hey, Google” to activate the artiicial Alexa, Google Home, or Apple Home app You may from time to time want to delete
intelligence. Apple’s HomePod listens for (that is, your Apple ID) secure to ensure sensitive requests from the app or delete all
“Hey, Siri.” Only ater the system is awoken someone can’t access them to reconigure your recordings, though doing the latter
will it reach out to the company’s servers— your speaker or view your requests history may subtly afect performance. Erasing all
via an encrypted connection—to seek a from another device. recordings from an Alexa-enabled speaker
response to your query, or to place your • Be aware of the dangers of enabling requires logging onto your Amazon account
order through the internet for a dozen features like Amazon’s Drop In and Apple’s online and selecting the device from the
long-stemmed roses. Personal Requests. Drop In is an intercom “Your Content and Devices” link in the
Second, smart speakers aren’t really feature that allows other smart speakers in Account drop-down menu.
considered vulnerable to traditional hack your home that you’ve designated, or even It should be evident by these tips that it’s
attacks from the outside world because they speakers owned by one of your contacts not outside forces that present the
aren’t directly accessible by anyone beyond who has been granted permission, biggest danger to the security of
the servers at Amazon, Google, Apple, or to automatically connect with your smart speaker, but rather
Microsot (depending on the platform). and communicate with your their improper use and
Nonetheless, the security experts at Symantec smart speaker. It can be setup. By understanding
say that a smart speaker could conceivably be deactivated in the Alexa your speaker’s features
vulnerable to reconiguration by a compro- app if you have privacy and applying common
mised computer on the same network that concerns. Enabling sense, you can feel con-
does get hacked (although they have no Personal Requests with ident in enjoying the
record of this occurring to date). So, having the HomePod allows you beneits of smart speakers
your Wi-Fi network properly secured and to place phone calls from while minimizing any risk.
password-protected is as critical as always. the speaker, or for you—or For more tips, visit https://
Beyond this, avoiding trouble with your anyone who strolls up to it—to www.symantec.com/blogs/
smart speaker is largely a function of under- send a text or hear your recent threat-intelligence/security-
standing and making wise decisions in the
speaker’s setup and use. Here are some basic
texts recited out loud. his is
defeatable during setup or at • An aerial view of the
Amazon Echo Dot reveals the
voice-activated-smart-
speakers.—MA
steps, courtesy of Symantec, to protect your any time in the Home app. microphone cut-off switch.

soundandvision.com 37
ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO SMART SPEAKERS

As it becomes the
primary interface for • Klipsch Three Speaker
controlling the connected
devices in your home, the
smart speaker is disruptive
technology indeed. hink
of it as the new dynamic
duo, in which the voice-
to-microphone interface
replaces inger-on-screen.
Seen on a continuum, the
migration to voice control
comes a decade ater the mobile touchscreen tioning, unlock the door, ind a recipe, turn on
usurped the mouse-driven graphic user the faucet, order takeout, place or answer a
interface, which a decade before had displaced phone call, get the weather, or change the TV
• iLuv Aud Click Shower Speaker the keyboard and the C:\ prompt.
Location is everything, of course.
channel—all represent remarkable
advances in convenience. he new
like Crestron, Savant, Lutron, and Control4 It’s clear that neither computers interface is invisible, with neither a
pioneered the possible with automated control nor mobile devices are going away remote nor a smartphone
of lighting, HVAC, window shades, door locks, anytime soon. PCs continue to to reach for. It requires the least
security cameras, and multiroom audio, their dominate the workplace, phones amount of human energy ever
proprietary systems typically require specialists and tablets our in-transit and expended in our mastery of the
to perform custom installations and make public spaces. It’s obvious, digital world—that is, aside from
follow-up visits to add devices and capabilities. though, that instances of having to mouth such words as
Now, if you’re at all tech-savvy, you should be hands-free control within the “Alexa, tell me a joke.”
able to set up everything yourself using of-the- home—to play music, launch a
shelf products at a fraction of the cost and do
most of what you want to with your voice.
podcast, lower the volume, turn on
the lights, turn up the air condi- • HarmanKardon Allure Portable
Speaker

Accessorizing That Smart Speaker


W
hen a speaker was just a Once you’ve enabled the voice skill
speaker, we never saw lists on your Furbo account, you can start • Furbo Dog Cam
of the best albums that tossing treats to your dog by saying
worked with it. But now that speakers things like:
have become smart, we’re inundated
with all types of gadgets that work best “Alexa, ask Furbo to toss a treat every
with Alexa or one of her competitors. 30 seconds for ive minutes.”
It’s almost as if letting a smart speaker “Alexa, ask Furbo to toss a treat every
into the home serves as a Trojan horse 30 minutes between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.”
that usheres in a legion of other smart he rub is that the voice command
devices. to Alexa must be given or set up when
Who knew that the home-automation you’re still at home and within shouting
revolution would be commanded by your distance of your speaker. And it has
voice? to be the master’s voice giving the
For example, who let in the Furbo Dog command—at least for now.
Camera, the device with connected app here are now so many appliances
that lets you see, talk, and even toss treats to that can be voice activated. Ater a
your dog when you’re away? popcorn- and chips-fueled game night
with a few of your messiest friends, you
might want to utter these words: “Alexa, ask universal remotes from Logitech’s Harmony
• Nest Smart
Thermostat
Roomba to start cleaning.” It’s the least you
could do—though only ater you’ve opened
line. And so much more.
Where it all ends is anyone’s guess. At this
the Alexa app and searched for the iRobot year’s CES, Kohler introduced a collection of
Home skill in a one-time setup. voice-controlled bathroom products, includ-
he selection of smart devices that can be ing a mirror with personalized lighting and
voice controlled is mind-boggling. here are stereo speakers. And then there was the com-
door locks, cookers, electrical outlets, and pany’s new toilet, the Numi, with heated seat,
thermostats. TV sets from Sony, Hisense, LG, foot warmer, and hands-free control.
and Samsung (the latter through Samsung’s “Alexa, ask Kohler to flush the toilet.”
own Bixby platform). Light bulbs and ixtures As Stephen Colbert quipped, “he one
like the Philips Hue, soundbars and speak- thing my trips to the bathroom were mis-
ers like the Polk Command Bar and the sing was a cloud-connected computer
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A6, streaming recording the experience and uploading
devices like Google Chromecast, and my download.”—MA

38 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


TEST REPORT
Apple HomePod Wireless Smart Speaker

Pod Power
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value

By Rob Sabin

AT A GLANCE

Apple HomePod Wireless Plus


Smart Speaker The speaker product that
emerged from all of this is a stout little
cylinder standing 6.8 inches tall and
Q Superb sonics with
extraordinary bass
Q Great build quality
PRICE $349 5.6 inches wide, with rounded top Q AirPlay capable
tabletop speaker. The boombox- and bottom edges. It weighs a Q Easy setup
FROM CONCEPTION THROUGH sized and short-lived iPod HiFi, substantial 5.5 pounds and rests
launch, the Apple HomePod launched in 2006, was an extraordi- atop a round, silicone isolation foot
speaker was six years in develop- nary product for the time, costing the that made for a bit of bad press when
Minus
ment. That’s a long time to bring to same as the HomePod today ($349, it was quickly found to leave white Q Integrated music
fruition something as ubiquitous then an exorbitant price tag) and marks on some wood furniture streaming restricted to
and seemingly simplistic as a delivering critically acclaimed sound finishes, sometimes in as little as a Apple Music
wireless tabletop speaker. If we quality that lived up to its name. half hour. Apple acknowledged the Q No bluetooth
account for the many poor examples With HomePod, Apple again issue and said the marks fade over Q More limited smarts versus
of the breed, we can acknowledge sought to invent a remarkable time or can sometimes be removed competition
that a truly excellent wireless lifestyle speaker, this time in the more with furniture cleaner. (I had no Q No wired input for TV
speaker might require some extra compact size essential to our times, such issues resting HomePod on my viewing
time to create...but six years? The and in so doing largely reimagined dark-wood desk for lengthy periods,
HomePod was so long in coming what could be done with the tabletop but be forewarned. I’m sure match-
that the “smart speaker” with built- category. Inside Apple, HomePod ing HomePod doilies for those with colors: white, with a matching high-
in voice assistant that it eventually is considered so significant an fine furniture won’t be far off.) The gloss top panel, and the Space Gray
became hadn’t yet been invented achievement and the message of its acoustically transparent fabric mesh featured on my review sample, with a
(by rival Amazon) when the project sound quality so important that the grille around the speaker has a black gloss top.
was begun. Which, I’m certain, firm uncharacteristically invited press foam-like underlay, so the speaker With no hard-wired connections,
delayed it even further. to tour its previously shrouded audio offers a kind of squishy, tactile you get content into HomePod solely
This lengthy R&D, however, is lab before the launch—to communi- feedback when you grasp it that via your Wi-Fi network, from which it
why you’ll hear Apple promoting cate the resources and expertise almost makes it huggable. There are can play files from an iTunes music
the HomePod, first and foremost, as brought to bear on the project. These no connectors of any kind, just a library in Apple’s iCloud, an Apple TV
an extraordinary audio product— were indeed impressive, and I’ve supple, nicely braided non-remov- streamer on the same network, the
because that’s what it was conceived been to a few speaker labs in my able power cord. Overall build quality Apple Music streaming service—a
to be: a small wireless speaker like day. I stood wide-eyed in the largest and fit-and-finish are outstanding. $9.95/month add-on—or via AirPlay
none that had come before. And the anechoic chamber I’ve seen, as The speaker comes in two from your iPhone or other AirPlay-
bar was already high. Even six years well as a variety of other acoustic compliant source.
ago, Apple knew how to make an measurement spaces developed Let me
excellent, if more conventional, specifically for this project. emphasize a

• The nondescript and soly rounded


HomePod nonetheless speaks loudly with
its sound quality.

40 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


THE VERDICT SMART SPEAKER
Apple has created the best-sounding small speaker we’ve heard to date, APPLE HOMEPOD WIRELESS SMART SPEAKER
but its Apple-centricity and immaturity as a smart device may deter some PRICE: $349
buyers. Apple • (800) 692-7753 • apple.com

critical point: Beyond Apple Music, number of news services including


you cannot use Siri voice commands NPR, CNN, Fox, NBC, ESPN, and
to call up music or programming from some others. I was also able to call up
any of your other favorite music a live stream of WNYC, my local NPR
services on the HomePod—no station, but not of CNN (which TuneIn
Spotify, Tidal, Pandora, iHeart Radio, would support were it available here).
TuneIn, et al. You can still boot each This Apple-centric approach—
service’s app on your iPhone, iPad, without even a universal Bluetooth
or Mac and AirPlay them over to option and with the requirement of
the Apple Home app to set the
speaker up—isolates the HomePod

“ From con-
cept through
launch, the
market to iOS and Mac users. No
surprise there. But the lack of any
wired analog or optical input also
precludes the speaker’s use for
day-to-day television viewing, though
it is said you can (somewhat incon-
HomePod was veniently) port video sound from an
Apple TV to the HomePod. I didn’t sophisticated software, all intended
six years in the have an Apple TV around to try it and to squeeze the absolute biggest

making. check for lip-sync issues.


The top panel has integrated
sound possible from what is
admittedly a very small package.
touch controls with LED indicators Starting at the top is that touch-
HomePod, but aside from play, beneath it. When the speaker is idle, panel and the powerful Apple A8
pause, and volume there’s no Siri the panel is totally opaque. Activate processing chip used to power both
control, so you can’t use voice to Siri with the “Hey, Siri” wakeup call, the audio signal management and
request artists, songs, or playlists. and a smoky, bottle-cap-sized blob the speaker’s smart functions. This is
(However, you can ask Siri to tell of swirling rainbow colors appears in the same processor Apple uses in its
you what’s playing or about the the center and pulses to your voice iPhone 6 phones. Directly below this playing the speaker from any new
artist while listening to third- and to Siri’s response. While music is a 4-inch upfiring high-excursion location, the circumference micro-
party services.) or other programming is playing, “+” woofer designed just for the Home- phones have fed signals back to the
Given that the research says music and “–” icons appear, which can be Pod; the paper cone offers 22mm A8 chip so it can detect reflections
listening is the number-one thing tapped or held for manual control of (0.87 inches) of peak-to-peak and establish the distance to room
folks are doing with these smart volume. (You can also ask Siri to movement, extraordinary for such a boundaries. Based on this, the
speakers, that pretty much locks simply raise or lower the volume, or small driver. Its output is monitored speaker knows, for example, if
you into an additional $10/month to set the level to a number from 0 by a dedicated microphone; more there’s a wall behind it or a pair of
subscription with Apple Music if to 100, with or without the word on this shortly. walls in the guise of a corner, and
you’re not already using that service. “percent.”) A touch-and-hold any- Below the woofer, on a supporting how far away it is.
Outside of Apple Music, Siri does where on the panel brings up Siri to structure, is a band of six far-field It then uses the individually
support podcast bulletins from a await your command. You can tap microphones mounted in a full addressable tweeters to create three
once anywhere on the touchpanel 360-degree pattern around the directional “beams” of sound: one
to pause or play your selection, speaker. These mics are used for emanating out of what it has deemed
double-tap to skip ahead a track, or both Siri voice control and for room the front of the speaker and a pair
triple-tap to skip back. correction, about which I’ll also say fanning out toward the rear of the
Two key HomePod benefits have more in a moment. Below the mics, speaker. Although the HomePod
been promised for later this year via near the base of the unit, is a circle is a mono speaker, the processor
firmware updates. Multiroom audio, of seven 1-inch aluminum dome monitors both channels of the
including the ability to direct different tweeters, each driven by its own incoming stereo signal to determine
streams to different rooms, is awaiting dedicated Class D amplifier and what should be heard directly from
Apple’s delayed rollout of AirPlay 2. mounted to its own folded-horn the front and what constitutes
Likewise, the ability to do stereo waveguide to help control direction- ambient information that is best
pairing with two HomePods is also ality of the sound. The end result, bounced off the back walls to create
on the way. once processing is applied, is that the a more spacious and open sound.
speaker has something akin to an Move the speaker by even an inch,
Inside HomePod omnidirectional radiation pattern. and its built-in accelerometer will
Stacked up inside the HomePod’s The HomePod uses all this stuff to detect the motion and recalibrate.
cylindrical casing is a totem pole give itself what Apple calls “spatial Meanwhile, the woofer’s dedicated
of cutting-edge technology run by awareness.” Within a few seconds of microphone is correlating the cone’s

• Above, Apple’s audio lab includes a chamber for testing


speaker vibrations (top) and a large, long-wave anechoic
chamber that fully absorbs deep bass signals.

soundandvision.com 41
TEST REPORT

• An X-ray rendering shows key


components of the design.

nice convenience. to operate, but HomePod allows


However, as reported you to initiate device control or recall
elsewhere, the Home- stored scenes via Siri. Setting up
Pod does not recognize devices and automation is fairly
individual voices and straightforward. When you intro-
thus allows anyone near duce a new device to your network,
it to request a read of its packaging includes a printed
your recently received Home-Kit ID code that the Home app
messages, or to send recognizes and imports with your iOS
a text in your guise to device’s camera. It then automatically
anyone at all. All that’s adds it to the network. From there,
required is that you have you can name it, manually adjust it
your phone currently within the app, or use the app to
connected to the same set up scenes that automatically
Wi-Fi network. That may adjust one or more devices when
not be an issue if you live the scenes are activated by the app
alone, but if you’ve got or Siri. You can also set up “if-then”
kids or a visitor intent on automation sequences for your
mischief or worse while devices or scenes based on time
output with what’s coming back I knew it. First, you boot up the Apple you’re elsewhere in the house, it of day or activation by a networked
from the room mics and issuing Home app on your iPhone or iPad could spell trouble. If this is a concern, sensor you’ve added.
corrections to achieve maximum and power up the speaker by plug- you can either choose not to enable Apple sent along a Connect-
bass with minimum distortion. ging it into the nearest wall outlet. Personal Requests during setup or Sense dual smart outlet ($60) and
Compare the ease of this transpar- disable it at any time in the Home app. Lifx Mini smart bulb ($50) with the
ent process with the (albeit very Doing so will also prevent you from speaker for me to try out. This

“ Aer the
effective) Trueplay sequence used using the HomePod to set up worked out well—my home office
to room-correct a Sonos speaker, reminders on your phone. is lit by three individual lamps at the
which takes about three minutes and Sonos One, Once the HomePod is set up, you three points of my L-shaped desk.
requires you to walk around the room can use the Home app to tailor its Automating them required setting
with your phone while it listens to seing up use. For example, you can choose up two scenes, one called “Office
tones from the speaker. to deactivate the swirling Siri display On” to activate the lights and then
The A8 processor, as if it didn’t the HomePod mentioned earlier; deactivate the “Office Off” to extinguish them. From
already have enough to do, is also “touch and hold” function that brings that point on, each morning I just told
listening at all times for the “Hey, Siri” was a breath up Siri with a lingering finger on the the HomePod “Hey, Siri, office on” to
wakeup words and applying echo touchpanel or toggle on-off the light the place up and the counter-
cancellation and other sophisticated of fresh air. sound effect that accompanies her point to shut down when I left the
processing to allow you to be heard arrival; or change her accent or turn room. I also set up an automation
from extraordinary distances for a The app detects the signal via a her into a he by requesting a male sequence to turn the Lifx bulb to
product like this and over the sound dedicated nearfield setup-only assistant. Critically, you can also 50 percent brightness and change
of potentially loud music. I tested this Bluetooth connection, picks up toggle Siri on and off here for those its color to red at 1 p.m. each day
function with the speaker situated on the Wi-Fi network information from moments when you want assurance to remind me to get up and take
my desk in my basement office while the phone, then quickly steps you that the speaker won’t come alive some lunch.
playing hip-hop at 75 percent vol- through just four additional screens and start listening upon hearing its
ume. After stepping through an open to (1) select a room name; (2) enable wakeup call. You can also turn Siri Listening
doorway to the rear of my listening Personal Requests; (3) transfer over off temporarily just by saying “Hey, I first used the HomePod casually on
studio, 25 feet away, I barely had to your iTunes, iCloud Music Library, Siri, stop listening.” You reactivate my desk for a while, before moving
raise my voice to get Siri to respond and existing Apple Music settings voice control with the Home app it out into my studio for some formal
to the wakeup call. Anything closer from your phone; and (4) activate a or by manually tapping the center listening. It was auditioned from a
required nothing more than a normal free trial on Apple Music if you’re not of the display and saying, “Hey, Siri, distance of about 8 feet on a 36-
speaking voice to get her attention already subscribed. start listening.” inch-tall speaker stand that put it at
through the rap lyrics. And that’s it. You’re done and ready The Home app is also where you just about ear height. My studio is a
to ask Siri to fire up some tunes or can introduce HomeKit smarthome
Setup feed you the weather. Of particular accessories, which are now offered
After jumping through an almost note is that second setup screen to by about 40 manufacturers and
laughable number of screens and enable Personal Requests. Assuming include lighting and smart power
steps a while back to introduce an you’re the individual whose iPhone outlets, motorized shades,
Alexa-enabled Sonos One to my was used to set up the speaker, thermostats, locks, various
system (review at soundandvision. enabling Personal Requests lets you environmental sensors, and security
com), setting up the HomePod was a send texts via the HomePod or to and baby cameras (among others).
breath of fresh air. It was done before listen to Siri read your recent texts—a Till now, these required an iOS device

• Along with Space Gray, the HomePod


comes in an all-white version.

42 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


• Top: Apple’s Home app takes you through just four
simple setup screens. Bottom: The Apple Music app also
lets you see and control what’s playing on HomePod.

Critically, the low-frequency the perceived frequency balance


reproduction (perhaps aided by steady no matter the volume played. I
some modest upper bass con- measured a max cruising volume of
touring) seemed to affect the speaker about 70 to 75 dB on most streamed
well up into the midrange, where tracks with peaks hitting 85 dB, give
it gave extra body to instruments or take a few. That was still plenty
and vocals and added weight and loud coming from any small speaker,
warmth the others didn’t share. The and I rarely felt I wanted more. The
HomePod’s top end at first seemed other speakers clearly had more
a bit reticent against the other output capability, though.
speakers, but I was able to hear well “Moten Swing” is the opening
into the details of cymbal shimmer track on Count Basie & His Atomic
and brushed snare, and came to Band, Complete Live at the Crescendo
understand that I was hearing a 1958, and it starts out with applause
better blend of the full spectrum that and piano played at low volume over
allowed the high frequencies their the audience chatter and the dining
place without commanding undue room’s glass and flatware clinks. The
attention. The overall effect was an stand-up bass and tapped high-hat
incredibly smooth-sounding speaker join, then, at about a minute in, you
with an impactful and undistorted get a loud and unexpected horn
bottom end, silky mids, and finely blast that portends the rockin’
detailed highs. In short, audiophile jam that eventually builds as the
quality in any reasonable sense of woodwinds and more brass add
the word. to the mix. From the first moment, I
If I had any complaint at all, it was could tell the HomePod was special.
pretty wide-open finished base- And I must say, the HomePod that, at least in my room at that 8-foot Despite being a mono speaker, its
ment room (about 20 x 25 feet with showed them up pretty fiercely. It distance, the HomePod delivered beam-forming array nicely threw the
short 6’3” ceilings; it’s an old house). proved to have its own distinct voicing less overall maximum volume than ambient crowd noise out the rear to
The only real boundary near the against the other three, all of which I’d the other speakers, something likely create a backdrop from which the
speaker was my acoustically describe as having relatively neutral music emerged. The string bass line
reflective plasma TV screen posi- balance down to where their woofers was beautifully textured, and there
tioned about a foot rearward. For
test material, I streamed CD-quality
tracks from Tidal using an AirPlay
wireless link originated by my Mac
laptop or my iPhone 6S. The same
titles played from Apple Music
start to roll off. They sound more
similar than different from a fre-
quency balance perspective. But the
HomePod is another animal entirely.
If the HomePod has a dominant
distinguishing characteristic, it is
“ The
HomePod’s
bass made the
was a nice metallic rattle coming off
the high-hat and discernible decay
from tapped cymbal. Best of all were
the reproduction of the horns and
woodwinds, which were delivered
with tremendous dynamic impact
straight into the HomePod sounded unquestionably its bass, which is competition and well-defined leading edges
fine, but noticeably inferior to my nothing short of remarkable for such on the notes. Critically, the Home-
audiophile ear. a small speaker: notably articulate, sound embar- Pod gave the brass a liquidity and
I also did direct A/B compari- controlled, and almost shockingly warmth—there’s that word again—
sons with some of the better desktop deep in a way that I’ve just not heard rassingly lean. that made them more dimensional
speakers of similar size, including the from anything near its size. I ran and deliciously palatable to the ear.
Sonos One ($199), the Bluesound some bass test tones, and in my related to a combination of engi- The Sonos One on this track
Pulse Flex ($299), and the Riva Arena space the SPL meter indicated neering decisions. First, the sounded very good and also quite
($249). The Riva is AirPlay compliant, surprisingly consistent output from HomePod’s limiting circuitry as natural down to its low-end limit,
but for the first two I tapped into 80 hertz right down to 50 Hz; from engineered by Apple is designed to even throwing a bit of spread on the
Tidal to play the same music via there, it dropped off quickly and was ensure that the speaker never, ever
those speakers’ native apps. Only down 10 decibels by 40 Hz. Apple distorts; keeping that deeper bass
the Sonos One is a smart speaker rates the speaker to 40 Hz (though reproduction under control likely
(Alexa), but the Pulse Flex features with no ± decibels spec provided), means scaling back overall out-
Alexa control via another Alexa- and I presume closer boundaries and put after a point. And despite the
compatible smart speaker on the more room gain would have filled in a number of tweeters utilized, multiple
network; ditto for the Chromecast- bit more bottom. But the utter lack of high-frequency drivers ganged like
friendly Arena but with Google boom or distortion and the profound this in a steerable array are known
Assistant. I was less concerned with detail in the bass notes really made to contribute little more than a sin-
testing the HomePod against other me sit up and notice. gle tweeter’s effective maximum
smart speakers than seeing how it What was there, depth-wise, was output. The HomePod is also said to
fared sonically against my preferred more than enough to make the other employ Fletcher-Munson loudness
desktop references. speakers sound embarrassingly lean. compensation, which aims to keep

• Colored LEDs behind a plastic lens make


for a smokey, swirling rendering of Siri.
TEST REPORT

SPECS 4 in paper cone woofer (1), 1 in aluminun dome tweeter with folded horn (7) • Inputs: Apple
Music service, iCloud Music Library, AirPlay • Compatible Files: HE-AAC (V1), AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), protected
AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Apple Lossless, AIFF, WAV, FLAC • Dimensions
(WxHxD, Inches): 5.6 x 6.8 x 5.6 • Weight (Pounds): 5.5

crowd noise, but it was easy to other small speakers in the mix and with their service (which Amazon,
hear how the bass line was less with a huskier and more natural by the way, does not require with
discernible and pronounced, and voice. The difference between the Alexa-enabled speakers). Apple
in direct comparison with the HomePod and the others was even music has no free service tier,
HomePod, I came to hear both the more noticeable on the title track thereby forcing buyers to be local restaurants, sports scores,
initial horn blast and all that followed of Livingston Taylor’s 1973 album, tethered to a $10/month sub- podcasts, stock quotes, and general
grow a bit threadbare and edgy. The Somewhere Over the Rainbow. scription to simply enable a smart questions about whatever. In other
Bluesound Flex, though usually James’s less famous brother had an speaker’s most-used feature. words, the same stuff you can do with
outstanding on most music, was equally mellifluous tenor in his youth, And although Apple Music is a Siri on your phone.
overwhelmed dynamically by the good-sounding service, based As for automation, HomeKit is a


uncompressed horn blast near the on my experience AirPlaying Tidal more limited platform than Alexa but
top of the track and offered less The tracks to the speaker (admittedly still offers enough add-on devices
dimensionality generally on piano from an even more expensive and sophistication to do what most
notes and the brass and woodwinds. HomePod subscription), I can say that Apple people want. And I found it extremely
The Riva Arena, with its Trillium stereo
technology (which uses drivers on
is, indeed, Music noticeably fails to deliver
all the sound quality inherent in
simple to set up and use.

three sides to create a semblance


of a stereo pair), threw a noticeably
a remark- the HomePod.
Beyond this, the HomePod—
Conclusion
In the end, Apple’s HomePod proved
more dimensional image than the
HomePod. And it delivered the
able sonic trapped as it is in Apple’s
ecosystem—doesn’t have the
itself—to me, anyway—to be the
shining triumph of audio engi-
opening horn blast with a more
visceral dynamic peak that clearly
achievement. incredibly rich and growing
laundry-list of third-party devices
neering the company portends it
to be. Assuming you’re an iOS user
exposed the HomePod’s limiting and the closely miked vocal from this and skills that Amazon can claim to start with, your opinion of this
at work. But even this speaker, cover delivered a clear win for the and Google seeks now to emulate. speaker will come down to your
which also delivers good bass for HomePod, it being the only of the Unlike with Steve Jobs’s early vision priorities and where you are on the
its size, was totally outmatched at four speakers to render it with its of having outside developers build smart speaker adoption curve. If
the bottom by the HomePod. It, warm chestiness and nasality intact. apps for the first iPhones and you’re already deep into Alexa and
too, made the horns sound less And when the organ break and its allowing that ever-expanding feature Google territory in your home, with
smooth and weighty, and more edgy, bass line kicks in, the other speak- set to drive the product to ubiquity, one or multiple speakers, you may
by comparison. ers sounded almost one-notey there’s no similar infrastructure here be used to certain features (Audible,
I could go on at length with how compared with the detailed depth for Siri beyond that for HomeKit anyone?) or music services that
the HomePod delivered similar and note delineation coming from automation. That could really hurt simply aren’t available on the Home-
revelations track after track. The deep the HomePod. it in the long run, which would be Pod. You’re not likely to swap these
opening bass drum thwacks that If you haven’t already gotten the a shame given what a fine audio out for HomePods no matter how
open John Mayer’s “Gravity” had not message from all this, here’s the product it is. good they sound.
only more texture and noticeable takeaway: The Apple HomePod is, However, if you’re not yet steeped On the other hand, if you’re just
decay than I’ve heard on these other hands-down, the best-sounding in Amazon’s Echo world and haven’t dipping your toe into smart speakers
speakers, but on the HomePod speaker of its size I’ve ever heard, become a smart speaker techno- and aren’t put off by the monthly
delivered more visceral weight and and, note-for-note, an absolute snob, you may just find that Home- commitment to Apple music, you
dynamic impact; the HomePod’s pleasure to listen to every moment Pod does pretty much everything need to ask yourself what you really
smooth midrange, meanwhile, made it’s on. It is, indeed, a remarkable you need a smart speaker to do plan to use your smart speaker for.
Mayer’s giant vocal more solid and sonic achievement. reasonably well enough (if not with Are you buying one to get a rise out
emotive. Massed strings in orchestral excellence), while delivering the best of your window shades? Or a lift
recordings were delivered with a Speaker Smarts damn sound you’ve ever heard from from your music? Although I
soothing lushness and texture that As good as it sounds for its class, a compact speaker during the 99 appreciate a lot of what Alexa and
was more reminiscent of the real the HomePod has gotten pretty percent of the time you’re just lis- Google Assistant can do and the
thing compared with the other speak- well hammered in the press for its tening to music and not asking it to advancement of those platforms, I
ers, again perhaps due to the rich- lack of speaker smarts and gen- tell you the temperature, recite news fall into the category of people who
ness of the lower register. eral flexibility. Putting aside the headlines, or give you the Cowboys- put the music first. How about this
Similarly, Kehlani’s sparse ballad aforementioned privacy issue with Giants score. Although Siri doesn’t approach: If what you’re looking for
“Honey,” a recent go-to reference activating Personal Requests, the share the more advanced artificial is a great lifestyle speaker, skip the
track thanks to the finely recorded biggest limitation by far is Siri’s intelligence of Google Assistant or whole smart thing altogether and just
near-a cappella arrangement (guitar incompatibility with Alexa or the ability to fire buy a HomePod to use as an AirPlay
and voice) and the syrupy purity of music services beyond up your Roomba by wireless speaker. If you never even
the artist’s voice, was just magical Apple Music. And it voice, it still does the ask it the time of day, it’s still worth
on the HomePod; noticeably more goes beyond Apple’s basics, offering up every penny of its $349 price. And
full-sounding and embodied than the desire for exclusivity weather, traffic, tips on then some.

44 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


TEST REPORT

Eye Opener
JVC DLA-X590R D-ILA Projector
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value

By Thomas J. Norton

JVC DLA-X590R D-ILA Projector


The SDR gamma adjustments
PRICE $3,995 from running past Friday, I’ll limit the are only marginally less flexible than
feature discussion here to how the those of the X790R, but they still
TRUE NATIVE 4K PROJECTORS AT A GLANCE X590R differs from the X790R. offer custom values from 1.8 to 2.6
(those that deliver full UHD reso- It’s not a long list. The X590R and the same fine-tuning adjust-
lution to the screen with no reliance Plus offers the same two HDCP 2.2- ments (Picture Tone, Dark Level,
on pixel-shifting) are thin on the Q Impressive blacks compliant inputs (which can each and Bright Level).
ground when it comes to prices that Q Wide color gamut accept a full 18-gigabit-per-second
most home theater fans are likely to Q Crisp, natural detail bandwidth), the same excellent, HD/SDR
consider. As I write this, only Sony backlit remote control, and full 3D The JVC passed both 3:2 HD and
offers one model for as little as capability—though the external 3D MA HD (motion adaptive HD) in our
$5,000, the VPL-VW285ES (reviewed Minus synchro emitter ($99) and the 3D standard HD/SDR video tests, but it
in our February/March issue and glasses ($179/each) are pricey, failed 2:2 HD (a not terribly uncom-
Q Not native 4K
also available at soundandvision. extra-cost options. (My several- mon result with other displays). The
com). To keep costs in line, JVC uses Q No automated lens cover years-old JVC transmitter and glasses projector won’t accept a native 480i
a pixel-shifting technique employing worked fine with the X590R, so if input, which makes our standard-
three 1920 x 1080 “Full HD” D-ILA you’re a veteran JVC owner looking to definition tests irrelevant. It passed
imagers. (D-ILA is the company’s instead of DLA-X, but they’re ident- upgrade, you should be good with both luma and chroma resolution
version of liquid crystal on silicon, or ical in design and price to the your older 3D accessories.) but clipped both above white and
LCOS.) JVC offers three pixel-shifting equivalent Procisions. They differ Like that of the X790R, the lens of below black in the Auto (default)
4K projectors in the Procision line, only in that the RS designs are dis- the X590R is fully powered and offers setting of the Input Level control. It
ranging in price from the $3,995 tributed directly to custom installers lens memories, but it doesn’t have a did, however, extend just enough
DLA-X590R, reviewed here, to the rather than to consumers. powered lens cover. Also, this below black to allow for accurate
$7,995 DLA-X990R. projector has fewer picture modes setting of the Brightness control.
JVC’s current version of e-shift is Features and doesn’t offer either a THX picture The JVC will fully display below black
e-shift5, the fifth generation of the The DLA-X590R is a close sibling to mode for standard dynamic range and above white in the Enhanced
technology. It’s said to analyze all of the pricier DLA-X790R (April issue (SDR) or a BT.2020 color profile. setting of the Input Level control, but
the pixels in the original 4K source, to and our website). I refer you to that But I didn’t find any of these to be the correct setting of the Brightness
retain superior sharpness and detail. review for a full description of the significant limitations. The X590R controls in Enhanced dropped to
E-shift is on by default with any input, features in the X590R, including a does have both auto and manual –16 (from zero in Auto) and offered
but it can be turned off with an input more detailed explanation of pixel iris modes.
of 1080i or 1080p. shifting. To keep this tome
On the face of it, the e-shift tech-
nique seems kludgy. But it works, and
works amazingly well, helped by the
fact that the difference between 2K
and true 4K—at normal viewing
distances on domestically sized
screens—is far less obvious than you
might expect. By falling between the
two native resolutions, and being
arguably closer to true 4K than to 2K,
pixel shifting offers more than just a
taste of the 4K in the source.
There are actually six e-shift
projectors in JVC’s current inventory
(not counting a special limited-
edition model for the 20th anniver-
sary of the company’s D-ILA tech-
nology). The other three models, in
JVC’s Reference line, carry model
numbers beginning with DLA-RS

• While the JVC lacks a powered lens cover, the


lens itself is powered and offers memories.

46 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


THE VERDICT PROJECTOR
We’d like to see JVC offer a true 4K design, rather than a pixel-shifted JVC PROCISION DLA-X590R D-ILA PROJECTOR
one, at a consumer-friendly price. But you’ll forget about all of that after PRICE: $3,995
your first two minutes viewing this outstanding projector—with either a JVC • (800) 582-5825 • jvc.com
2K or a 4K source.

no visible picture benefits. I stayed


with Auto for this review.
Even out of the box, the projector
looked good. JVC rates the lamp
life at 4,500 hours in the Low
lamp mode, though I suspect the
obsessed videophile will want to
replace it at well under 2,000 hours,
particularly for maintaining peak
brightness with high dynamic range
(HDR) content. If you do replace a
still functioning lamp for this reason,
keep it for a useful emergency spare.

“ Animation
looks impres-
sive on most
the iris set to manual in its
maximum setting and the lamp on
High, the peak white level measured
61 foot-lamberts—after I had racked
up 100 hours for a pre-calibration
crisp, and dynamic. I pre-
ferred to leave the e-shift5
feature off with this and other
non-4K films, as I had in my review
decent displays, break-in! This was far too high for
SDR, of course; I turned the lamp to
underappreciated Billy Wilder
comedy starring a brilliant, manic
of the DLA-X790R. E-shift subtly
softens HD sources, though it looks
but it was even Low and the manual iris to –13 or –14,
dropping the peak brightness down
James Cagney in his final lead role)
and Sink the Bismarck! reminded me
superb with Ultra HD 4K.
Animation looks impressive on
more eye- to a still more than generous 25 to 27
ft-L on my screen.
that, once upon a time, Cinemascope
movies were sometimes shot in
most decent displays, but it was even
more eye-popping than usual on
popping than Oddly, neither of the two Auto iris
modes made any visible change to
black-and-white. Despite the limited
resolution of 480i DVD (upconverted
the JVC. I had intended to sample
only a few key scenes from two of my
usual on the the peak brightness or black levels in my Blu-ray player, since the JVC favorites, How to Train Your Dragon
relative to the Manual setting. I stayed won’t accept native 480i directly), and its sequel, but I was so blown
JVC. with manual mode throughout the these discs looked nearly as good as away by the brilliant colors and rich
review for both HDR and SDR. the images I see in my sad, local textures that I ended up watching
But remember that a new lamp will During those first 100 hours, I multiplexes. Ditto for the DVD of them nearly all the way through. It
also call for a new calibration fol- watched a broad range of material, Byron Haskin’s 1953 version of The certainly helped that I was able to
lowing its break-in period. including widescreen black-and- War of the Worlds. watch at peak white levels of around
On my 96-inch-wide, 2.35:1 white movies from my dwindling Soon, though, I moved on to HD. 25 ft-L. Of course, that’s a bit of a
Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 collection of standard-definition The best Blu-rays looked outstanding cheat; theatrical projection is lucky
screen (gain 1.3), with DVDs. One, Two, Three (an on the JVC both before and after I did to reach 60 percent of that figure.
a full color calibration. Victoria & But I suspect the filmmakers wouldn’t
Abdul looked glorious. The vivid object if they saw how amazing
colors in the royal court (particularly their movies looked at that bright-
the early banquet scene) and the ness level (which is still far less
intricate details in the production than what most viewers experience
design were exceptionally clean, with HDTVs).

• The 34-pound unit measures 17.9


inches wide, 7.1 high, and 18.6 deep.

soundandvision.com 47
TEST REPORT

Test Bench JVC’s remote is an
uncluttered, backlit
model that proved easy
JVC DLA-X590R D-ILA Projector to use.

last hour of Harry Potter and


BEFORE Calibration the Deathly Hallows: Part
2—could be better, but we’ve
become spoiled by the black
levels currently achievable
in the best OLED TVs. No
projector can achieve that,
regardless of cost. The JVC’s
blacks still set a standard
not yet exceeded, in our
AFTER Calibration experience, by any projector
selling for the same price
or less.

UHD/HDR
On my Stewart screen, the
JVC entered HDR clipping at
just under 190 nits (55 ft-L)
with a 10 percent white
FULL-ON/FULL-OFF Contrast Ratio (SDR): indistinguishable from ideal. From 3.0 (or window. This doesn’t even
27,400:1 4.0) to 10.0, most viewers will notice the approach the HDR experi-
THESE measurements and charts were deviations but will not likely find them ence achievable on a good
produced using SpectraCal’s CalMAN objectionable. flat-screen TV, a limitation of
software, together with Photo Research THE HDR results shown below were all current projectors. But it
PR-650 and Klein K-10A color meters and a derived with the CMS off. The JVC’s HDR still produced impressive
test-pattern generator from Murideo. The color performance, in my tests overall, was punch on bright highlights,
picture settings used here will be posted at better with the projector’s CMS turned helped to no small degree by
soundandvision.com. All measurements off—even after the latter had been dialed the projection-sized screen.
were taken at approximately 14 feet from a in during calibration. While our sample’s SDR
96-inch-wide, 1.3-gain Stewart Filmscreen OUR experience suggests that post- performance was respect-
StudioTek 130 screen. calibration HDR Delta Es that exceed able out of the box, the
THE SDR peak white reading for this the recommendations shown above are default HDR settings varied
measurement was 27.4 ft-L (93.9 nits), and not uncommon, particularly when from the HDR PQ (gamma)
the black level was 0.001 ft-L (0.0034 nit). luminance errors are included. But with curve in a way that will pro-
These measurements were read from my luminance errors excluded, the projec- duce a darker image over
Stewart screen using the Klein meter in tor’s post-calibration HDR Delta Es never much of the brightness
the approximate middle of the projector’s exceeded 3.0. range before the bright HDR
zoom range. AS with all UHD/HDR displays we’ve tested, It will come as no surprise highlights kick in. I’ve noticed
FOR HDR, as calibrated, the full-on/full-off the JVC falls well short of full coverage of to longtime watchers of the this on a number of displays;
contrast ratio measured 13,869:1 at a peak BT.2020. But it did an impressive job with projector parade that this possibly, it’s done deliber-
white level of 55.4 ft-L (190 nits with a 10% P3—more significant today than full model’s black levels were on ately because it pushes
white window) and a black level of 0.004 BT.2020, as no consumer material we the edge of being unreadable peak white clipping to a
ft-L (0.0137 nit). know of exceeds P3. As calibrated (with by our test gear. Most films higher level. A reasonable
THE charts shown above are for SDR. the results from the same measurement on feature truly dark scenes, and compromise, perhaps. But
Before calibration in the SDR Cinema the DLA-X790R in its BT.2020 color profile that’s where JVC projectors if the JVC’s HDR Gamma
Picture Mode, the grayscale Delta Es shown in parentheses), and using the excel. But that doesn’t mean adjustments (particularly
ranged from a minimum of 2.59 at 40% to 1976 CIE standard, the DLA-X590R covered the blackest blacks on the Picture Tone and Dark Level)
a maximum of 5.1 at 60%. After calibration, 69.2% (73.1%) of BT.2020 and 94.2% (98%) DLA-X590R are invisible. are used, together with test
the minimum was 0.57 at 80% and the of P3 inside the BT.2020 container. When the image fades to full tools available to most
maximum 1.71 at 50%. The post-calibration AS is common for an HDR display, the HDR black in a darkened room, calibrators, the projector
red, green, and blue SDR color Delta Es peak white varied with the size of the white you’ll still see it as dark can be adjusted to produce
were all below 3.35 after calibration, but window used for the measurement. On the gray—though it approaches a very close match to the
cyan, magenta, and yellow were a less X590R (the results for the X790R are shown true black more closely if the PQ curve, which is how I
impressive 4.1 to 5.37—with their errors in parentheses), these results, in nits, were full black screen follows a watched it.
primarily in luminance (the x/y coordinates 65 (50) for a 2% window, 140 (110) at 5%, bright scene more quickly With its PQ curve cor-
were much more accurate than those Delta 185 (141) at 10%, 205 (160) at 25%, and 203 than your eyes can adjust. rected during a good
E values might suggest). At a setting of 2.4, (160) at 100%.—TJN Some of the darkest, most calibration, the DLA-X590R
the SDR post-calibration gamma ranged difficult material—think the never disappointed on a
from a maximum of 2.4 at 90% to between
2.29 and 2.34 from 20% to 80%.
DELTA E is a figure of merit indicating how
SPECS Dimensions (Wx-
HxD, Inches): 17.9 x 7.1 x 18.6 • Weight
close the result comes to the target value. (Pounds): 34 • Video Inputs: HDMI 2.0b
Delta Es below 3—some experts allow (2, HDCP 2.2 compliant) • Other: Trigger,
for 4—are generally considered visually remote (RS-232C/Control), LAN (RJ45/
Control), 3D Synchro
48 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com
PROJECTOR

• The two HDCP


2.2-compliant inputs
can accept a full
18-Gbps bandwidth. the calibration, but not
to a visually signifi-
cant degree.)
As noted earlier, the
X790R offers a BT.2020
color profile, while the
X590R does not. The
former’s BT.2020 profile
(which I used in this
comparison but did not
use in my review of that projector)
should provide color that more
diverse selection of HDR material. JVC has done a remarkable job settings were adjusted to equalize closely approximates P3 (the color
The computer-animated Trolls came in keeping this potential issue the two projectors’ peak brightness. found in most Ultra HD Blu-rays). It
across in brilliant, wide-ranging, and under control. (For SDR, the X590R’s iris had to be puts a color filter in the optical path;
deeply saturated color. Furthermore, As promised by its 18-Gbps turned down considerably to match you can hear it snap into place. In
the JVC’s crisp detail accurately bandwidth, the projector will play the output of the X790R.) theory, this should sacrifice some
rendered the felt-like textures that 4K, 60-hertz material at a full 10 The brighter X590R outdid its light output. However, I didn’t find
bits. The only such Ultra HD Blu-ray sibling in its rendition of bright the X790R’s peak brightness to
currently on the market, Billy Lynn’s highlights in HDR sources, when be noticeably higher without the

“ Most films
feature truly
dark scenes,
Long Halftime Walk, looked so
amazing here that it almost tempted
me to sit through the entire movie
again. Almost.
My 3D experience with the
both projectors were driven with
wide-open irises in their High lamp
settings. In the dark street scene in
chapter 2 of Allied, for example, the
bright streetlights, as well as the
BT.2020 filter engaged.
As it turned out, when I consid-
ered the X790R alone, its BT.2020
color profile rendered a color gamut
closer to P3 than did the projector’s
X590R was brief. But the projector’s lights on the nightclub in the dis- HDR color profile. This was more
and that’s where inherent brightness produced what tance, stood out more brilliantly on evident by measurement than by eye,

JVC projectors might have been the best 3D pic-


ture I’ve yet seen from any remotely
the X590R.
However, that projector’s
but it was still worthwhile. Interest-
ingly, however, the X590R’s HDR
excel. affordable projector. Kung Fu Panda
2 was vivid, crisp, and rewardingly
advantage in rendering bright
highlights, while evident both visually
color profile was very close to P3—
far closer than the X790R’s HDR color
punchy in the brightest scenes, and and by measurement, was only profile. Go figure. But nevertheless,
dominate the movie’s art design. And nicely detailed in darker ones. obvious in a direct A/B comparison. the X790R, in its BT.2020 profile, did
bright highlights stood out against The X790R won the day in most other produce marginally deeper reds
the otherwise subdued lighting of the JVC vs. JVC respects. In dark scenes in SDR than the X590R (for example, Drax’s
darker sequences. On this projector, Luckily, the DLA-X790R was still (such as the starfields and cave tattoos and the red tips of Gamora’s
the third act’s banquet scene vividly in house. After touching up its calibra- scenes in Prometheus) and HDR long hair in Guardians of the Galaxy
demonstrated both the movie’s gen- tion, I set it up for a face-off against (such as the nighttime rooftop Vol. 2), as well as an overall richer
erous but subtle use of HDR and its the DLA-X590R by driving both scenes in Allied), the X790R took the image. The X790R’s better blacks
over-the-top color palette. projectors with a one-in, two-out prize. While its blacks measured no and contrast also gave its image a
The JVC’s blacks in HDR were AVProConnect 4K HDMI splitter. better than those of the X590R (due more three-dimensional look—in
also good, though a bit less so than While each projector had more to the limits of our Klein color meter), both SDR and HDR.
in SDR—as you might expect, given than 100 hours on its lamp, the the more expensive projector did a
the High lamp mode needed for X790R had about 100 hours more better job in rendering the most Conclusions
HDR material versus Low for SDR. than the X590R. But I don’t believe difficult black scenes. The difference If my face-off had resulted in the
In theory, the blacks should be the that this was responsible for the was relatively subtle—the X590R’s cheaper projector fully outper-
same, but the High lamp setting increased peak brightness available blacks are still standard-setters at the forming its more costly sibling, the
needed for the best HDR can from the less expensive X590R, price—but it was visible. A critical DLA-X590R could be declared one
more easily leak light through though this wasn’t evident on SDR videophile will see it. of the biggest video bargains of
the projector’s optical material after the iris I did notice that some bright the year. But in a way, it still is. The
path in dark animated HDR material looked a differences between these two,
scenes. Still, bit overblown in my preferred while clearly observable, shouldn’t
settings on both projectors. I be overstated. And there’s much to
also saw this occasionally be said for the less expensive model
in live-action films. But it when it offers performance within a
was easily fixed by reducing hair of a projector that costs 50
the Contrast control by a percent more. JVC has another
few steps. (This will shift winner on its hands.

• Rounded edges give the JVC


an aractive, polished look.

soundandvision.com 49
TEST REPORT

Coincident Atmos
By Mark Fleischmann

KEF Q Series Q350 Speaker System


PRICE $3,150 as reviewed AT A GLANCE
is mounted in the center of the throat
ONE OF THE HEADLINES I Atmos-enabled elevation module of the woofer or midrange driver, Plus
considered for this review was add-on ($500/pair). The latter effectively using the cone as a wave-
Q Atmos add-ons
“What Becomes a Legend Most.” It’s can sit atop any of the floorstand- guide, albeit one that is moving with
Q Coincident Uni-Q drivers
a poignant song from Lou Reed’s ers or monitors to bounce Dolby the audio signal. The Q350 monitor
Q Sub has three placement
New Sensations. Before that, it was Atmos or DTS:X height channels off mates the 1-inch tweeter with a
EQ modes
an advertising slogan that sold the ceiling. 6.5-inch woofer, while on the baffle of
mink coats in ads featuring Judy KEF makes a pointed suggestion the Q650c center the 6.5-inch Uni-Q
Garland, Lauren Bacall, and Marlene by shipping all Q Series models is flanked by one additional woofer Minus
Dietrich, among others. Somehow, except the Q50a without grilles. to the right and one Auxiliary Bass
it fits KEF, the British speaker man- And KEF’s online manual for the Radiator (passive radiator) to the left. Q Grilles not included
ufacturer responsible for numerous Q50a confirms that grilles are The Q50a places the tweeter at the Q Not as dressy as other KEF
driver-related innovations, including included for that model (see “Inside apex of a 5.25-inch woofer. All products
the Uni-Q coincident array. KEF’s the Box”). If you want grilles for the diaphragms are aluminum.
Muon and Blade towers have the other speakers, you can buy them at Atmos-enabled speakers are the
fragrance of luxury about them. convenience-over-performance, and total weight of 45 pounds. It’s


The LS50 mini-monitor is a crowd- therefore not surprisingly the most powered by an internal 300-watt
pleasing peacock, always strutting The Uni-Q popular, method of adding height amplifier, conservatively specified in
down the runway in new colors. channels to your system. The best RMS (not peak) power. Intelligent
However, less affluent surround array is the effect is achieved by mounting actual Bass Extension, or iBX, uses DSP to
audiophiles can have a slice of
the KEF tradition in the new and
centerpiece height speakers overhead. However,
that solution is often unpalatable, so
analyze the input signal and reduce
bass extension as volume increases
affordable Q Series. And no inno-
cent little minks had to give up
of most KEF bouncing the higher frequencies of
the height signals off the ceiling
to ensure there’ll be useable output
even at high volume levels. Even
their lives.
products. provides a reasonable sense of
elevation in a practical manner. Dolby
the inputs are smart, auto-detecting
mono LFE or stereo signals and
Basic Black Labs tells us that Atmos-enabled adjusting gain to match. Three DSP
Unlike the luminaries above, the Q extra cost. But if you do that, your speakers work best in rooms with a EQ settings tailor the sub’s output
Series isn’t especially fancy look- guests won’t see the fairly subtle blue flat, hard ceiling at a height of 8 to 9 to the situation with freestanding,
ing. The matte black vinyl-clad Uni-Q Driver Array lettering on the feet, though up to 14 is acceptable. in-wall or in-cabinet, or corner
appearance of my samples was edge of the basket, and shame on Light fixtures, moldings, and
decidedly plain, aside from a you for hiding a legend behind drab vents probably won’t interfere
protruding KEF badge. The line fabric. The system under review here much with the ceiling bounce;
includes three floorstanding comprises four of the Q350 monitors, vaulted or angled ceilings and
speakers: the Q950 ($900/each), topped with four of the Q50a, plus acoustic treatments will.
Q750 ($750/each), and Q550 ($550/ the Q650c center and the Kube12b The Kube12b sub places a
each). Then there are two monitors, subwoofer ($700), for a total price 12-inch reinforced-paper cone
the Q350 ($650/pair) and Q150 of $3,150. driver in the front of a solid,
($550/pair), as well as the Q650c The Uni-Q array is the centerpiece sealed enclosure resulting in a
center ($650) and the Q50a of most KEF products. The tweeter

• An additional woofer and a passive radiator


flank the coincident array in the Q650C center-
50 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com channel speaker.
THE VERDICT SPEAKER SYSTEM
KEF Q Series Q350 Speaker System KEF’s Q series combined with its new Kube sub- KEF Q SERIES Q350 SPEAKER SYSTEM
Performance woofer line brings the trademark Uni-Q driver array
Build Quality
PRICE: $3,150 (Q350, $650 pr; Q650c, $650;
Value and a potent bottom end to a lower price point, with Q50a, $500 pr; Kube12b, $700)
reliable performance and an Atmos add-on option. KEF America • (732) 683-2356 • us.kef.com

placement. This may not be my room’s uncor-


a substitute for well-done rected standing
room correction, but it affords wave undoubtedly
more flexibility. contributed to it.
Associated equipment However, every sub
included a Denon AVR- I review is affected
X7200W A/V receiver, Oppo here and I wished my reviewer’s by that, and yet it
BDP-83SE universal disc player, creed hadn’t forbidden the use of was more problem-
Micro Seiki BL-51 turntable, Shure the receiver’s room correction as atic this time. A
M97xE cartridge, and Denon PRA- one variable too many—though I voiceover by Javier
S10 serving as phono preamp. All Bardem localized

“ The Q
movies were on Blu-ray Disc. heavily in the sub,
prompting me to push
Precise, Not Fussy
The Q monitor and center create
monitor and the sub volume down yet again,
which proved to be a good move by
sub. The soundfield was generously
big, notably un-speaker-bound, and
a soundstage with precisely
delineated images, and I’d expect
center create the time I got to the battle-heavy
Dolby Atmos demos.
not as cut and dried as I might have
expected. The overall effect was full
no less of a coincident design
wielded with the benefit of long
a soundstage They began with The Mummy, a
Tom Cruise swashbuckler that uses
and rich, confident in its presenta-
tion but not unduly finicky, with a
experience. But they weren’t bright with precisely its Atmos height channels sparingly high comfort level.
or unduly fussy. The all-aluminum- and not always in the most obvi- Comfort level continued to be
diaphragm drivers sounded delineated ous places. My favorite instance an asset in the next Atmos demo,
smooth and well behaved at was the low exhalation of air mov- as my binge on season 7 of Game
high volumes. They had good images. ing quietly around the underground of Thrones continued with the last
bass response, too, even before tomb, a subtle effect that benefited four episodes. Episodes 5 and 6
factoring in the sub. And that sub did get interesting results later on enormously from timbre-matched are bookended by battles featur-
had plenty of output, no doubt when I fooled around with the sub speakers all around. In a scene ing Queen Daenerys mounted on
assisted by its robust amp. Starting EQ modes. where the tomb raiders are under a fire-breathing dragon, repelling
with my usual default sub and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men attack, the hiss of airborne first a human army, then an army
processor settings, I knocked Tell No Tales (DTS-HD Master Audio) explosives precedes a satisfying of the dead (though at a terrible
its level down more than once. had a thick tonal balance that almost all-channels boom, with force from price). With the sound mixer opt-
Something unusual was going on tipped over into congestion—though the 6.5-inch woofers as well as the ing for aggressive use of the height

• Mounting the tweeter in the center of


the woofer allows the woofer cone to act
as a waveguide.
soundandvision.com 51
TEST REPORT
See soundandvision.com/
• The Kube 12b subwoofer
offers separate EQs for
KEF Kube12b Subwoofer
Performance
ON THE TestBench for full lab results and In-Room, Wall/Cabinet, Features
WEB technical definitions. and Corner placement. Build Quality
Value

placement mode from in-room

Test Bench to corner. The sub wasn’t


actually in a corner, but now I
was getting optimum Charlie; I
KEF Q Series Q350 Speaker System wished I’d done it sooner.
The self-titled debut of the
Lounge Lizards (LP) com-
bines saxophonist John
Lurie’s hook-laden quasi-jazz
compositions with Thelonious
Monk covers and the distinctive
atonal guitar playing of Arto
Lindsay. The monitors abetted Teo

directing a pipe-organ blast into the Macero’s clean, ungimmicky pro-


Q350 (purple) +0.65/–3.49 dB, 200 Hz to 10 kHz; –3 dB @ 56 Hz, –6 dB sub, which rose to the thundering duction, reproducing a bracing
@ 41 Hz; impedance minimum 4.54 ohms @ 177 Hz, phase angle occasion. Complementing this freshness. I liked the way the
–65.15º @ 96 Hz; sensitivity 87 dB, 500 Hz to 2 kHz. high-volume virtuosity was the monitors and sub brought out the
delicacy displayed in extended solo subtle tunefulness of Steve Piccolo’s
Q650C (green) +0.95/–4.80 dB, 200 Hz to 10 kHz; –3 dB @ 65 Hz, –6 passages for violin and flugelhorn. bass playing.
dB @ 53 Hz; impedance minimum 5.19 ohms @ 15.2 kHz, phase angle At either end of the dynamic scale, The one thing I haven’t said yet
–50.74º @ 4.2 kHz; sensitivity 87.5 dB, 500 Hz to 2 kHz. the speakers had a superb spa- about KEF’s Q Series is what a great
tial sense—and while a good value it is, nestled between the
Q50A (yellow) +3.15/–2.92 dB, 200 Hz to 10 kHz; –3 dB @ 107 Hz, –6 dB multichannel recording makes step-up Reference line and the
@ 91 Hz; impedance minimum 4.83 ohms @ 223 Hz, phase angle that easier, there was no mistaking compact-satellite-based home
–55.62º @ 136 Hz; sensitivity 86.5 dB, 500 Hz to 2 kHz. the speakers’ contribution to the theater packages. You can have a
seamless integration of instruments 5.1.4-channel Atmos treatment with
KUBE 12b (blue) Close-miked response, normalized to level @ 80 Hz: and their reflections from the original refinement and a whole lot of
lower –3 dB @ 17 Hz, –6 dB @14 Hz, upper –3 dB @137 Hz with EQ venue’s walls. woofing and subwoofing for just
switch set to In-Room, Crossover control set to maximum.—MJP The golden age of the Rolling north of three thousand bucks. At
Stones, the Mick Taylor era, ended $650 a pair, the Q350 would also
with It’s Only Rock ’n Roll (LP). It was serve with distinction in a two-
SPECS Q350: 6.5 in aluminum cone woofer, 1 in alumi-
num dome coincident tweeter; 8.27 x 14.09 x 12.05 in (WxHxD); 16.8
delightful to hear the coincident array
tracking his fluid guitar parts, with
channel starter system—at half
the price of the popular LS50 mini-
lb • Q650C: 6.5 in aluminum cone woofer (2), 6.5 in aluminum cone their ever-changing timbres, as they monitor. And I’m impressed by how
passive radiator, 1 in aluminum dome coincident tweeter; 24.76 x 8.27 x weaved around the much performance KEF got
11.97 in (WxHxD); 30 lb • Q50a: 5.25 in aluminum cone woofer, 1 in alu- monumental rhythm out of the $700 price of the
minum dome coincident tweeter; 7.09 x 6.85 x 10.2 in (WxHxD); 9.4 lb parts and occasional Kube12b sub. A legend
• Kube12b: 12 in reinforced-paper cone woofer; 300 watts RMS; LFE leads of an under-the- has to be earned. KEF
and stereo line-level RCA in; 15.47 x 16.14 x 16.14 in (WxHxD); 45.41 lb weather Keith continues to earn it.
Richards. Charlie
Watts was more Audio Editor Mark
prominent than Fleischmann is the
speakers, often filling all nine of the Job, Mick, and the Lizards usual in the mix, author of Practical
Denon receiver’s amp channels, the Vaughan Williams’ Job orchestral which could only Home Theater: A
KEF system stood up well to these suite and Symphony No. 9 arrived help; the monitors Guide to Video and
massive and extended dynamic on hybrid SACD from Chandos with and sub made his Audio Systems,
challenges, maintaining its surround and stereo mixes. The bass drum kick like now available in
smoothness as well as its poise surround track omits the LFE a mule. It seemed both print and
at high volumes. channel, but that didn’t prevent the muddy, though. I Kindle editions.
receiver’s bass management from switched the EQ

• KEF’s Q50a Atmos module is designed to fit atop


both floorstanding and monitor speakers.

52 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


TEST REPORT

Digital Director
By Al Griffin

Cambridge Audio CXUHD Ultra AT A GLANCE

Plus
HD Blu-ray Player Other back-panel connections
include a pair of HDMI outputs
Q Dolby Vision compatible
Q High-quality Blu-ray video
PRICE $700 (one HDMI 2.0a and the second
audio-only), coaxial and optical
upconversion
Q Plays SACDs, DVD-Audio
While the CXUHD doesn’t look digital audio outputs, and a pair of discs, and Blu-ray 3D discs
CAMBRIDGE AUDIO IS A BRITISH substantially different from the USB 3.0 ports. In addition, there are
manufacturer known for their UDP-203 (which I had on hand for Ethernet and RS-232 control ports
sleek, well-built, affordable audio comparison during this test), it does and an IR trigger input and output. Minus
components and speakers. They are have a nicer design, with rounded Cambridge’s remote control has a Q No analog audio outputs
also known for their universal disc edges and fewer buttons cluttering nicer look than the one that comes
Q Remote control not backlit
players, which are based on Oppo its brushed-metal faceplate. There’s with the Oppo, and its rubbery back
Q Pricey compared with
Digital units but sold minus the also no front-panel USB port on the gives it a nicer feel as well. Buttons
competition
built-in digital-to-analog convert- CXUHD—or a headphone output, for are provided to directly control most
ers and analog audio outputs. player features, from selecting the
According to Cambridge, this is Pure Audio mode (which turns off all

“ The CXUHD
meant to “decrease interference video circuits) to switching the video M65-E0 LCD Ultra HDTV (January
to the signal, improving quality by output format. Unlike Oppo’s remote, 2018 and our website) and its
reducing video noise.” Since the is based on the the keypad on Cambridge’s wand isn’t second, audio-only HDMI output
brand makes A/V receivers with backlit, and it also omits buttons to to an Anthem AVM 50v preamp/
built-in DACs designed to mate with platform for directly call up picture adjustment processor. The speaker system used
their players, there’s some sound menus and enable the player’s AB for the evaluation was a GoldenEar
reasoning behind that strategy. Oppo’s UDP-203. Replay mode. The latter button is one Technology suite: Triton Two pow-
The company’s newest $700 that most people don’t regularly use ered towers for the front le/right
CXUHD Ultra HD Blu-ray player is (outside of video reviewers, that is); channels, Triton Five passive towers
based on the platform for Oppo’s that matter. On the other hand, unlike the former is one that won’t likely be for the surrounds, and a SuperSat
$549 UDP-203 (reviewed in our some other lower-priced players missed except by tweakers who often 50c for the center.
May 2017 issue, also available at on the market, the CXUHD has adjust picture settings during viewing. For DLNA music streaming, I
soundandvision.com). Other than substantial build quality, something tapped my Netgear Orbi 802.11ac
the Oppo’s 7.1-channel analog evident in the smooth action of its Setup router’s 5-gigahertz band to send
output jacks, the two players are disc tray and in the presence of an To test the CXUHD, I connected its audio to the player, with JRiver Media
essentially the same, right down to IEC power input on the back panel. main HDMI 2.0a output to a Vizio Center 21 software for Mac OS X
the basic GUI and setup menus.
They also provide compatibility
with both the HDR10 and Dolby
Vision formats of high dynamic
range (HDR), and besides Ultra HD
Blu-rays, they can play regular and
3D Blu-rays, DVDs, CDs, SACDs, and
DVD-Audio discs.
Like the Oppo, the Cambridge
omits streaming services like Netflix,
Amazon, and Vudu, though its wired
and Wi-Fi network capability can be
tapped to stream video and audio
files from a DLNA server. Audio
formats supported by the player
include AAC, MP3, FLAC, and WAV. It
can also be set up to output a DSD
bitstream when playing SACDs.

• A brushed-metal faceplate and rounded corners give the


Cambridge an upscale look.

54 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


THE VERDICT BLU-RAY PLAYER
Cambridge Audio CXUHD Ultra Cambridge Audio’s CXUHD CAMBRIDGE AUDIO CXUHD ULTRA HD
HD Blu-ray Player
Performance provides faultless video BLU-RAY PLAYER
Features performance in a streamlined PRICE: $700
Ergonomics Cambridge Audio • cambridgeaudio.com
Value
package.

when upconverted by the soldiers scan an


the player. For example, abandoned mansion,
when I watched the looking for zombies,
scene in Passengers the contrast created by
where Jim and Aurora deep blacks in the
begin their date with a shadowy space and
drink at the bar, the bright beams from the
picture looked crisp, with rifle-mounted flash-
a wide range of subtle lights gave the image
colors. I could also see a a powerful sense of
good amount of detail in depth. I also noted
her black dress and his plenty of detail in the
dark gray suit. room interiors and the
I then switched over uniforms of the soldiers.
controlling playback. I also con- that lets you configure the player to the movie’s Ultra HD Another Dolby Vision
nected a Roku 4 streamer to the for SDR-only output when display- Blu-ray edition in HDR10. disc I watched, The
player’s HDMI input for viewing ing HDR discs using a regular, The same scene looked Fate of the Furious,
videos from Netflix, Vudu, You- non-HDR TV. notably more dynamic: didn’t have the same
Tube, etc. Although the Roku 4 isn’t One setup glitch came when I Blacks had better depth visual impact, but I did
compatible with HDR, the HDMI attempted to upgrade the player’s and detail, and highlights see a boost in con-
2.0 input on the Cambridge doesn’t firmware. To briefly sum up: There such as the backlit trast and shadow
support HDR passthrough, so was a mismatch between the cur- surface of the bar were detail when, after
no loss there. rent firmware version listed on brighter and displayed switching to the reg-
Video output settings I selected Cambridge’s website and the one a greater sense of pop. ular Blu-ray, I returned
in the player’s setup menu included available for download over a Colors, too, particularly to the HDR version.
UHD Auto Custom Resolution, Auto network connection. Also, when the of the bottles lining the
Color Space (other options: YCbCr company made the latest firmware shelves of the bar, came Audio
4:4:4, 4:2:2, and 4:2:0), Auto Color available for me to download via a across as more saturated Performance
Depth (other options: 12-, 10-, and Dropbox-type service, the player and with a wider range of Since the CXUHD hands
8-bit), and Auto Deinterlacing. For wouldn’t load the file. Cambridge hues. Also, fine details the job of digital-to-
settings in the Audio output menu, I assured me that my player had the such as the shimmer of analog conversion over
selected Secondary Audio Off, Auto current firmware version, however, light on Aurora’s earrings to an A/V processor or
HDMI Audio, Multichannel SACD so I continued with my testing. caught my attention, receiver, my evaluation
priority, and PCM SACD output. As whereas they hadn’t when I of the player’s audio
with the Oppo player, a subtitle shift Video Performance watched the regular Blu-ray. performance was mostly
setting lets you adjust the placement As expected given its provenance, To check out the player’s handling limited to confirming that things
of subtitles in the frame when using the CXUHD passed all of our video of Dolby Vision HDR, I viewed the
a projection screen with a 2.35:1 processing tests without breaking a Ultra HD Blu-ray of Resident Evil:
aspect ratio. There’s also a setting sweat. Regular Blu-rays looked great Vendetta. In an early scene where

• The very few buttons keep the CXUHD’s front panel


clean and uncluttered.

soundandvision.com 55
TEST REPORT

• Though the CXUHD lacks


built-in streaming, it’s easy to SPECS Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 16.9 x 3.2 x 12.3 • Weight (Pounds): 11 • Video Outputs:
connect a streaming device HDMI 2.0a (1) • Audio Outputs: HDMI (audio-only), coaxial digital, optical digital • Other: HDMI 2.0 input, LAN,
via the HDMI input. USB (2), RS-232C, trigger in/out

worked. First up: a hi-res FLAC surround can be. When I listened to rubbery and fat, with its impressive be a sensible purchase for someone
download of “My Valentine,” a jazz Audivi Vocem de Caelo, a John low-frequency reach augmented by seeking a Dolby Vision–capable
ballad wrien by Paul McCartney Taverner composition on a multi- the hypnotic thump of Bill Bruford’s Ultra HD Blu-ray player designed for
and played by the Brad Mehldau channel SACD by early music vocal kick drum. A snare drum rhythm is digital-only output. Along with its
Trio. When I streamed it to the ensemble Stile Antico, the massed introduced about halfway through excellent video performance, the
CXUHD from my computer over voices had a soaring quality, and the the track; here, the sound came CXUHD offers great looks and build
Wi-Fi, the player handled it without reverb trails when they paused across as dry and crisp, with a firmly quality, and its HDMI input provides
a glitch. Not only that, but the sound singing for a few beats saturated my centered positioning that locked a convenient way to access stream-
retained the lush, warm tone and room. Closing my eyes, I felt like I was down the mix. ing services through the addition of
spacious presentation I’m used to listening in a cathedral. an inexpensive Apple TV, Chrome-
hearing with this track. Digging out my Steven Wilson– Conclusion cast, or Roku box. I was impressed
I always enjoy reviewing universal mixed multichannel DVD-Audio of I can’t say that the Cambridge Audio by what I saw and heard during my
players because it allows me to King Crimson’s Discipline, I played the CXUHD, as auditioned in my sys- time with the CXUHD, and I would
rediscover the SACDs and DVD- title track and became caught up in tem, provided any performance easily recommend it as a streamlined
Audio discs in my collection. It’s easy the intertwined web of guitars. Tony advantage over the Oppo player it’s alternative to Oppo’s excellent Ultra
to forget how much fun music in Levin’s Chapman stick sounded based on. But I can see how it would HD disc players.
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O R D E R AT A M A Z O N . C O M O R Z V O X . C O M
TEST REPORT

Exploring New Depths


By David Vaughn

Monoprice Monolith 12” and 15” THX Ultra


Subwoofers back to 1982 and was the brainchild of
George Lucas, who was not pleased
response, distortion, etc.—and be
able to play at 85 decibels and have
PRICES $800, $1,300 diagonal, it’s still pretty modest by with the way theaters were showing +20 dB of headroom at the specified
serious home theater standards). If I his films. He hired audio scientist listening distance. The takeaway is
pop in a Dolby Atmos demo, they’re Tomlinson Holman, who set up a that THX Ultra subs must have low
REPRODUCING A MOVIE amazed by the sound coming at rigorous program that started at the distortion and the ability to play down
soundtrack in a home environment them from every direction. But I get production studio before reaching to at least 20 hertz.
isn’t an easy task. At your local the biggest reaction, by far, when a theaters and, eventually, home com- The internet-direct subwoofer
cinema, the theater will hopefully bottom-heavy scene comes up: “I ponents. THX certification comes in market is extremely crowded,
have sound dampening so you don’t can’t believe how much I felt the four flavors: Compact, Select, Ultra, especially in the realm below $1,500.
hear outside noise. And if you’re bass,” they’ll usually say. “The entire and Dominus. THX Select applies to The Monolith 15” sub checks in at
lucky, the system will be calibrated floor was vibrating!” rooms up to 2,000 cubic feet, and $1,300, with the 12” version at a
properly and provide enough head- Editor-in-Chief Rob Sabin calls me THX Ultra is for rooms up to 3,000 relatively budget-friendly $800.
room so there’s no clipping or distor- the resident basshead at Sound & cubic feet. To attain Ultra certification, Currently, shipping is included
tion during the dynamic portions of Vision, and that’s a badge I wear with subwoofers (and other speakers) with these prices, which makes them
the soundtrack. honor. My reference system includes must undergo myriad tests—for very competitive.
In most homes, you have to four subwoofers: an SVS PC-Ultra, sensitivity, frequency
contend with a lot of extraneous a Hsu Research VTF-15H MK2,
factors. The acoustics may not be and dual JL Audio Fathom f110
right, with the room being too bright cabinets, all calibrated using the
(not just sound-wise but also freeware program REW and a
light-wise) or too dead (making for miniDSP to get the subs to play
lifeless audio). This can affect your nice with each other. It took
me days of calibrating to get

“ The ported the quartet just right, but if you


care about bass like I do, it’s time
designs give well spent.

both models New Kid on the Block


Being the basshead of S&V gives
substantial SPL me certain perks—among them,
the opportunity to sample a lot of
capabilities. subwoofers and be one of the first to
do so. Enter Monoprice, best known
enjoyment of the movie. Furthermore, for cables that deliver high-quality
the quality of your gear matters. Sure, picture and sound at prices the
a 32-inch budget TV and soundbar masses can afford. As time has
from the local big-box retailer may gone on, the California-based
be fine for watching the news, but company has started to expand into
do you get the visceral impact that’s self-branded components—such
required when Luke blows up the as Monolith amplifiers, one of which
Death Star? I reviewed quite favorably in our
While every component plays June 2016 issue (also available at
its part in the presentation, the soundandvision.com), and now
subwoofer is arguably the one that Monolith THX-certified subwoofers.
can make the most noticeable These new subs come in three
improvement to a budget home different sizes: the 10” THX Select and
theater system. When I have visitors the 12” and 15” THX Ultra. The latter
over, they often marvel at the size of two are the subject of this review. The
the screen (though, at 88 inches conception of THX goes all the way

• Monoliith’s 15” model


includes three front ports,
the 12” model two.

58 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


THE VERDICT SUBWOOFERS
Monoprice Monolith 15” THX Ultra Entry into the crowded internet-direct subwoofer MONOPRICE MONOLITH 12” AND 15” THX ULTRA
Subwoofer
Performance market is a bold move from Monoprice, but the per- SUBWOOFERS
Features formance of these subs will surely make some waves PRICES: $800, $1,300
Build Quality
Value and breed some fierce competition. Monoprice • (877) 271-2592 • monoprice.com

fiberboard), which adds to the


AT A GLANCE weight significantly, but this
Monoprice Monolith 12” THX Ultra does help the sub maintain a
Subwoofer
Performance
Plus sonically inert structure.
Features Each driver has been
Build Quality
Q Clean, copious, and
Value articulate bass customized for Monoprice
Q Outstanding build and appears to be well con-
Specs-wise, both subs check quality structed to provide extreme
all the right boxes. The 12” has two Q Five-year replacement cone movement. The 12-
ports and sports a 500-watt Class inch woofer is specified to be
warranty
D amplifier built around a Texas capable of more than 80mm
Instruments 48-bit data path (with peak-to-peak mechanical
28-bit filter coefficients) and DSP Minus excursion; the 15-inch woofer
engine. The 15” has three ports and expands this to more than
Q No parametric equalizer
is powered by a 1,000-watt Class D 90mm. To put that in perspective
Q No app control
amp built around the same Texas for the U.S. audience, that’s 3.15
Q Extremely heavy
Instruments DSP engine. The use of and 3.54 inches of front to back
ported designs allows both models cone movement, respectively.
to have substantial SPL capabilities, Connections on the back
and port plugs let you customize the Monoprice has chosen to use panel include stereo line level
character and extension to fit your chamfered corners that provide an inputs, an XLR balanced
particular room and tastes. octagonal shape to the front face input, an XLR passthrough,
versus a boring square box. The and an IEC power cord
Not Your Typical Black woofer, embossed with a Monolith socket. There are six con-
Box logo, can be covered using the trols on the amplifier: three
Generally speaking, subwoofers removable grille, which is floated knobs for Crossover, Phase,
won’t be entered to win any beauty slightly away from the baffle. The and Level and three toggle
contests, but these Monolith subs cabinet itself is built with HDF switches for Crossover (On/
are quite attractive. For each, (high-density Off THX), EQ (Extended/
THX), and Power (Auto/
Always On). Unfortunately,
Monoprice doesn’t provide a PEQ
(parametric equalizer) or control via best to use some sliding furniture
a smartphone app, as can be found movers (available at your local
on some subs from competitors. I hardware store) to position it.
consider a PEQ and app control as Monoprice includes a pair of white
nice-to-haves, not have-to-haves. gloves in case you want to provide
As I stated earlier, the Monolith your own white-glove service and
subwoofers check all the right boxes. keep oily fingerprints off the satin-
But how do they sound? Spoiler finish, black ash vinyl.
alert: awesome! Given their size, neither of the
subs would fit in the preferred front
Not for Girly Men left corner of my room, due to a
Unboxing either subwoofer is a fireplace hearth and my wall-
two-person job: The 12” weighs mounted front left speaker. (I usually
just under 100 pounds (98.5, to be put the small-footprint, cylindrical
exact), and the 15” weighs 128.5 SVS Ultra there.) So I placed each
pounds. Then there’s the added of the Monoliths in Position No. 2,
weight of the double-boxed ship- which is along the right side of my
ping container. There are no room, about a third of the way—
instructions for unpacking the beast, where I usually keep my reference
but it’s best to open the top of the Hsu Research sub.
outer box, slowly flip the whole thing
over, and lift the outer box off the
inner one. Repeat the process to
remove the sub from the inner enclo-
sure; your back will thank you. Each
sub has spiked rubber feet, so it’s

• The grille, as seen at right,


sits slightly away from the front
baffle when in place.

soundandvision.com 59
TEST REPORT
See soundandvision.com/
• The back panels have
Crossover, Phase, and Level
ON THE TestBench for full lab results and knobs and Crossover, EQ, and
WEB technical definitions. Power toggles.

his grandson search for treasure

Test Bench with a metal detector. With the 15”,


I could literally feel the approach-
ing giant before I saw him come
Monoprice Monolith 12” and 15” THX Ultra Subwoofers through the fog thanks to its
reproduction of the accompany-
ing low-bass information. The
same scene on the 12” didn’t have
quite the same visceral impact.
Granted, my room approaches
5,000 cubic feet, so it really puts
the 12” in a situation beyond its
intended application.
In most every case, I was able
to hear—and feel—either subwoofer
My go-to audio tracks to test deliver movie sound that had ample
subwoofers include Justin Bieber’s bass above 20 Hz, such as the
“Baby,” Regina Spektor’s “Fidelity,” dive-bomb scene on the beach in
and Joss Stone’s “Sleep Like a Child.” the first part of Dunkirk or the battle
I moved back and forth between the in “Blackwater” (season 2, episode
12” and the 15” with each of these 9) from Game of Thrones. Each
songs multiple times, and I was sur- sub was able to cleanly reproduce
prised at how well the 12” was able articulate bass with good exten-
to hang with its larger sibling. In a lot sion down low and plenty of output,
MONOLITH 12” (red) Close-miked response in Extended mode with of cases, the 12” was a tad tauter, but although I always got more oomph
both ports open, normalized to level @ 80 Hz: lower –3 dB @ 19 Hz, –6 with the larger sub.

“ I could liter-
dB @ 17 Hz, upper –3 dB @ 161 Hz w Crossover switch set to Off. To be fair to the 12” and gauge
its performance in a more suitable
MONOLITH 15” (blue) Close-miked response in Extended mode with
two ports open, normalized to level @ 80 Hz: lower –3 dB @ 16 Hz, –6
ally feel the space, I spent some time with it
in my secondary system that’s
dB @ 14 Hz, upper –3 dB @ 236 Hz w Crossover switch set to Off.—MJP approaching housed a 1,100-cubic-foot room.
In that room it performed marvel-
giant before I ously with movies. So this cer-
SPECS Monolith 12”: 12 in two-layer long-fiber pulp/
glass fiber cone woofer (1) in dual-port cabinet (bungs sup- saw him come
tainly is a case of choosing the
proper subwoofer, or quantity of
subwoofers, for the environment.
plied) • Amplifier: Class D, 500 watts • Inputs: RCA (2), XLR with
passthrough • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 16.7 x 22.8 x 23.6 through the fog. I’m sure that dual 12” Monoliths
would have performed flawlessly in
• Weight (Pounds): 98.5 • Monolith 15”: 15 in two-layer long-
I’m really splitting hairs between the my larger theater.
fiber pulp/glass fiber cone woofer (1) in tri-ported cabinet (bungs
two subs when it comes to music:
included) • Amplifier: Class D, 1,000 watts • Inputs: RCA (2), XLR
with passthrough • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 17.7 x 26.8 x 27.6 •
Both sound fantastic. Double the Fun
On some bass-intensive rap Monoprice has definitely impres-
Weight (Pounds): 128.5
tracks, such as N.W.A.’s “Dope Man,” sed me with their initial offering of
the 15” definitely showed that it could THX-certified subwoofers. Each
I set up two user profiles—one As mentioned, you can choose dig a little deeper and play louder warrants a Top Pick—but if you
for the 12” and the other for the to use either sub sealed by instal- than the 12”, which foretold what I can swing the extra cash for the 15”
15”—in my Anthem AVM 60 pre/pro ling the provided port plugs. This would hear later with movie sound- model, it would be my preference,
and calibrated the speaker output will give you the tightest bass, at tracks. Of course, that shouldn’t be a especially if you have a large room.
levels using an SPL meter and test the expense of some low-frequency surprise given the 15” sub’s larger One thing worth repeating: In order
tones from a THX calibration disc. extension. Or, given the multi-port enclosure, woofer, and amplifier. to receive THX certification, these
design, you can close one of the The Ultra HD Blu-ray of Pacific subs need to meet a low distortion
two ports on the 12” or two of the Rim is one of my favorite discs in the number, which really translates
three ports on the 15”; by doing new format. Not only does it boast to clean and controlled bass
so, you’ll get the greatest extension fabulous-looking HDR, but the Dolby response. I truly enjoyed my time
at the expense of reducing maxi- Atmos mix is a stellar example of the with both of these subs and
mum output. I listened to both breed with its ample use of overhead wouldn’t hesitate to recommend
subs in this extended mode, as effects and its deep, sub-20-Hz bass them to a friend, but I would add
well as with all ports open. For content. In the movie, after the Jaeger to this my usual adage: Two is
music, I really liked all ports open, battles the Kaiju off the coast of better than one, because, well...
but for movies, I preferred the Alaska, the Jaeger makes its way there’s never such a thing as too
extended mode. to shore while a grandfather and much bass!

• The cabinets feature a handsome black ash vinyl finish.

60 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


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Few speakers have garnered such critical acclaim as the original Debut Series,
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©2018 ELAC Americas Inc.


TEST REPORT

A Naim You’ll
Remember
By Daniel Kumin

AT A GLANCE

Naim Uniti Atom Wireless Plus


Music Player analog-stereo line input, and an
analog-stereo line pre-output. In
addition, there’s a sole, ARC-ready
Q Outstanding sound quality
Q Very high standard of fit,
finish, and industrial
design
PRICE $3,000 maker relies on for noise decoup- HDMI port meant for TV-audio
Q Generally excellent
ling. More important (in my book, reproduction—stereo-only, of
anyway), its digital-to-analog course. You also get an RJ-45 ergonomics with well-
IS IT AN INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER hardware is capable of up to 384 Ethernet jack (Wi-Fi is built in, too, conceived app
with onboard wireless and network kilohertz/24 bits resolution and with internal antennas integrated into
streaming, or an audio streamer with decodes every important hi-res the heatsinks) and a USB port for Minus
built-in amplification? format up to and including DSD128. fixed storage, such as on a hard disk
Q Premium pricing may scare
Yes. The Uniti Atom, from British or thumb drive. (A second USB jack
iconoclast Naim Audio, is both of Setup off some buyers
Q Occasionally slow


these, as well as a quarterback for The Atom is the “all-in-one wireless
the company’s Mu-so wireless- player” member of Naim’s Uniti line, The Atom’s volume-control response
multiroom ecosystem (and a few which includes hard-disk library via iOS app
other things mixed in). Like all Naim and CD-player/ripper companions, quality look
products since the brand’s inception among others. It’s a machined-
in the mid-1970s, the Atom is dis- aluminum art object with the kind of and feel are (½-inch) pairs. The unit comes
tinctly different from most competing
designs in both appearance and
fit and finish that few other brands
can equal—sort of Bang & Olufsen
unmissable. packed with matching dual-pin plugs
to be affixed to your speaker wires,
operation; the company’s proxim- but for tech nerds rather than but despite the stern warning printed
ity to the powerful vibrations of interior-design geeks. From the lives up front, along with a head- on the back panel (probably a liabil-
Stonehenge doubtless has side-inset heatsinks to the front phone minijack.) ity issue in the U.K., where their
something to do with this tradition. panel’s gorgeously high-resolution The only tricky installation bit is AC-mains plugs are similar), the
That said, the Atom is less different color display, the Atom’s quality look the speaker-cable hookup: The Atom individual bananas I used worked
from its competition than many a and feel are unmissable. provides stereo banana-plug sockets just fine, and my house has yet to
previous design, because this sort Around back, there are three digi- set into the rear panel, but these burn down. I also know not to
of streaming amp is what the classic tal inputs (one coax, two optical), an aren’t spaced for U.S.-standard connect my speaker wires
stereo integrated amp seems to directly to a wall outlet.
have morphed into, here in the post- Otherwise, setup of
physical-media 21st century. But network, libraries,
perhaps the rest of the world has rooms, and so on is
simply caught up, or caught self-guided via clear,
sideways, to Naim. step-wise, onscreen
Still, the Atom has its distinc- instructions, and unlike a
tions. It exploits the digitally few other such products
governed analog volume control I’ve experienced, every-
Naim uses in their preamps and thing proceeded
integrated amps for maximal without a hitch.
sound quality, along with
the same sort of massive Listening
toroidal transformer The Uniti Atom
and meticulous power- may provide
supply design. It’s also only 40 watts
packed with a high-zoot per channel of
power cord that the rated power, but

• A high-resolution
color display dominates
the clean front panel.

62 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


THE VERDICT MUSIC PLAYER
Naim Uniti Atom Wireless Music Player An excellent solution, for those who NAIM UNITI ATOM WIRELESS MUSIC PLAYER
Audio Performance
Features can afford it, for a streaming/computer- PRICE: $3,000
Ergonomics audio system where sound quality is as Naim • naimaudio.com
Value important as features or user interface.

Test Bench
Naim Uniti Atom Wireless Music Player

apparently float-in-
Naim watts are space nature
like U.S. dollars in that signals true
Australia: At no point high-fidelity reproduc-
in my listening did I feel tion. But the Atom’s hallmark
shortchanged in level, seemed to be its handling of
dynamics, or slam, compared definition and detail. A 192/24 FLAC
with my everyday 150-watt-per- file of the Firebird Suite (Budapest
channel power amp. And everything Festival Orchestra, Ivan Fischer)
I played through the little Atom sounded broad and deep, but it
sounded simply great. I added a retained impressive soundstage
handful of 320-kilobit- expansiveness and layering
per-second internet-radio streams through even the most complex of
to my list of “Favourites” (British, Stravinsky’s textures, with equally THIS graph shows the Uniti Atom’s le amplifier channel with two
remember?), and almost every one satisfying heft and definition to channels driving 8-ohm loads. Measurements for THD+noise, crosstalk,
sounded unexpectedly hi-fi. (In the big, loose bass drum that pun- signal-to-noise ratio, and analog/digital frequency response were all
doing so, I stumbled across a ctuates the climax. within expected performance parameters. Full details available at
wonderful Arnold Bax string quar- soundandvision.com.—MJP
tet, hitherto unknown to me, that The Ergonomic Side
0.1% THD 1.0% THD
sounded exactly like a bastard child For any new-age component
Two Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads 38.4 was 44.7 was
of Elgar and Bartók—precisely the like the Uniti Atom, the hands-
Two Channels Continuously Driven, 4-Ohm Loads 42.8 was 60.6 was
sort of discovery that makes me love on experience is probably as
internet radio.) important to real-world potential
I did most of my evaluative customers as the sonic one. There’s
listening to files streamed from
my own library, which
a lot going on in a design like the
Atom, so how Naim
SPECS Power Output: 40 watts per channel at 8 ohms
• Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 9.65 x 3.75 x 10.43 • Weight
sounded uniformly as handles the user (Pounds): 15.4 • Audio Inputs: Coaxial (1), optical digital (2), USB (2,
excellent as I expected. interface is key. The front 1 front), HDMI 1.4b (1, ARC); analog line-level stereo (1) • Additional:
Stuff like Lyle Lovett’s panel has a quartet RJ-45 Ethernet • Audio Outputs: Stereo speaker level (banana jacks),
beautifully recorded of hardware buttons line-stereo (1), headphone (⅛-in stereo, front panel) • Wireless: Dual-
“Cowboy Man” from beside the razor-sharp band Wi-Fi-b/n/ac, Bluetooth (aptX HD); Apple AirPlay, Google Chro-
Anthology, Volume One screen (which, though it mecast • Wireless Streaming: Spotify Connect, Tidal, internet radio
(a lossless FLAC rip) seems like it should be a (TuneIn), others via Chromecast • Computer Audio: Streaming via
was solid and present, touchscreen, isn’t one); wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi (UPnP-DLNA/equivalent), USB fixed-storage;
with a razor-sharp stereo in addition to power, HRA capable up to 192/24, including native-DSD 2.8/5.6 MHz
image filling the entire play/pause, and input
width of the speakers (step-through), there’s
and even a bit more; a Favourites button that
meanwhile, the steady calls up a list of inter- hard drive (or a pile of CDs) on top
thump of kick-drum/ net streams. The most is a nonstarter.
standup-bass unisons obvious hardware Naim supplies a very sexy,
had the kind of meaty control, though, is the motion-activated, illuminated
definition I’ve long heard ginormous, illuminated remote control that duplicates
from my much bigger volume knob set into these commands and adds a
everyday setup. Lovett’s the top panel. This is few more, such as skip, mute,
quirky baritone had real undeniably cool, but it and (display) brightness. Naim
projection out front, as means that stacking bills this as a two-way remote,
well as the airy, something like a USB but the only real reverse info is a

• Naim’s sleek, all-black


remote is illuminated and
• The heatsinks, which integrate
the required Wi-Fi antenna, are set
motion-activated. into the Uniti Atom’s side panels.

soundandvision.com 63
TEST REPORT

• The large spinner on top operates Naim’s digitally governed


analog volume control.

duplication of the top-panel knob’s choices and clean, well-organized


volume-level indicator, a curved- graphics and screens. That said, I
dashes circle that lights up and still had a couple of peeves. A
grows or shrinks in length as volume larger typeface for track and title
changes. This is situated around the listings would have been welcome.
remote’s five-way navigation key set. (Although there’s a broad selection of
The interface I imagine the wallpaper themes available, I could
majority of users will end up find no way to modify this default.)
employing most of the time—I did, And the volume slider found at the wide-dynamic-range material). A bit engineered, and executed a product;
anyway—is the Naim app (iOS or bottom of the screen was sometimes surprisingly, I found no way to select if the Atom were only a passive piece
Android). Having loaded this to my a bit slow and lumpy in its response. net-library streaming from the front of sculpture that did nothing but light
iPhone 6 in response to front-panel Nor could my phone’s up/down panel, where one might find oneself up alluringly and look high-tech,
prompts during the Atom’s setup rou- volume buttons be designated to for headphone listening; doing so you could doubtless find plenty of
tine, I found it to be almost entirely activate it; for smooth, instant vol- requires either the remote control well-heeled folk to buy it without
intuitive, with intelligent layout ume adjustment, I needed the Naim or the app. The Atom is expandable hesitation. It’s just that plenty of
remote control. to an outboard power amp via its brands—NAD and Yamaha spring
RCA-jack line outs, or, I suppose, to mind, for two—will sell you less
Odds, Ends, and the End a subwoofer, though without bass elegant but similar functionality, less
The Atom’s front-panel headphone management. There’s a ground- intuitive but similar integration, and
output—a ⅛-inch stereo minijack— lift switch on the back panel to less refined but similar performance
serves up fine listening. I tried a trio break any ground loops, but my for a great deal less.
of headphones from NAD, HiFiMan, Atom setup remained dead silent Similar, but not identical. And
and Sony and had ample level and in either position. similar is not identical, especially in
copious sonic finesse from all of In sum, I loved almost everything the case of this—or, for that matter,
them (though the hardest-to-drive about Naim’s Uniti Atom stream- any—Naim product. If you value
HiFiMan Edition X needed most plifier—everything, that is, except the originality as much as quality and
of the Atom’s volume-control range price. Which is not to say that $3,000 performance, the Uniti Atom just may
to reach concert-like levels on is unfair for so beautifully conceived, seem a bargain.

The World’s Finest Film Makers Choose M&K

Visit us at mksoundus.com

Distributed by Audio Gear Group. audiogeargroup.com


September 4-8, 2018 San Diego, CA

20,000 home tech pros. 500+ exhibitors.


The event that’s making smart homes genius.

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Entertainment
Reviews in High Definition

Reference
Excellent
Good
Poor
RATINGS

Fair
PICTURE
UHD BLU-RAY
Blade Runner 2049
3D-NESS
SOUND
EXTRAS

thinking that its simulated technology is


much cooler than it actually is, a pitfall
nimbly avoided by the original.
Shot digitally by sometimes-
collaborator Roger Deakins (Sicario,
Prisoners), Blade Runner 2049 arrives
with a pristine Ultra HD 4K master. he
ine, stable clouds of dust, or the organic
way a stress-inducingly dense cityscape
reveals itself through rain beg the
question, why can’t every movie achieve
such clarity? Behold too far more under-
stated elements, such as the faint pattern
of a leather jacket or a silk kimono, the
cragginess of a familiar face late in the
game, or the translucence of a virtual
girlfriend in a variety of environments.
he 2.4:1 image is a worthy showcase for
the wondrous production design and
state-of-the-art special efects realized on
an epic scale. Shadows are employed
extensively, with enhanced drama born
of high dynamic range, while the color
Warner palette is successfully bleak, sometimes
downright eerie.
We’re informed that 7.1-channel
Atmos is the audio format recom-
Recycled Memories, Broken Dreams mended by Villeneuve, but the underly-
ing Dolby TrueHD does not disappoint:
From the irst boom of the percussion,
he 1982 science-iction opus Blade Runner remains an always be better… if only there this is a mighty track with substantial
undeniable visual spectacle that ired the imaginations was a way for replicants to low end, including the musical score by
of many a viewer. While neither a bona ide critical or reproduce on their own. Benjamin Wallisch and Hans Zimmer
commercial success upon debut, it visualized a Los Young officer K (Ryan Gosling), plus ample gunshots and explosions.
Angeles of the future beyond anything we’d meanwhile, is tasked with rid- Surround activity is clean and precise,
seen before and set the stage for endless fan ding the world of any remaining with seamless phasing between chan-
speculation that has led to ive diferent problematic old-school repli- nels. Gentle echoes are thoughtfully
studio-sanctioned cuts thus far. he sequel, cants, but a series of shocking sustained, while nuances such as room
2049, was released to much of that same discoveries in the course of his tone are well preserved.
indiference. hirty-ive years coming, it still duties sets him on a far more he bundled Blu-ray contains all of
failed to generate a response beitting a cult dangerous path. the extras. A trio of prologues—one
franchise of this magnitude. Following stellar praise for animated—is set in three diferent
he new story is set three decades ater his past work, director Denis intervening years, starring members of
blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) Villeneuve was given tremen- the movie’s cast. hat eclectic assemblage
went on one last job to “retire” a group of dous freedom to create his Blade of actors is highlighted in one of the
rogue replicants, synthetic people created BLU-RAY Runner, and the sights and sounds two substantive featurettes, the other
by the Tyrell Corporation as slaves who STUDIO: Warner, 2017 he has given us here are utterly exploring the creation of 2049’s dis-
ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1
are prone to turn on their human masters. AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos / mesmerizing. he movie is also tinctive look. here’s also a gallery of
More reined, more reliable versions have TrueHD 7.1 core much too long, languorous in that rather slight promotional clips, a letdown
since been developed, by a far more sinister LENGTH: 164 mins. Kubrickian sort of way, and vic- for such a potentially momentous sequel.
conglomerate. Business is good but could MPAA RATING: R tim to the common sci-i trap of OChris Chiarella
DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
STARRING: Ryan Gosling, Harrison
Ford, Robin Wright

soundandvision.com I had your job once. I was good at it.”

66 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


UHD BLU-RAY

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US IT


Fox Warner
PACK YOUR LONG UNDERWEAR COULROPHOBICS BEWARE
he Mountain Between Us is part survival adventure and In the late 1980s in the town of Derry, Maine, a young
part love story within a compelling premise. Ben and boy goes out to test a paper boat during a torrential
Alex meet by chance at the airport; their light has been rainstorm. Braving the elements, he places the boat in
cancelled due to inclement weather, and both have urgent the gutter and runs alongside to watch its progress.
need of reaching their destinations. Ben (Idris Elba) is a prominent Unfortunately, he’s too slow and watches it descend into the storm
neurosurgeon who is needed in surgery the following day, and Alex drain. He bends down to see if it’s lost forever and is surprised to
(Kate Winslet) is a photojournalist who's getting married in 24 hours. see a clown staring back at him. Startled, he quickly jumps back. he
hrown together by necessity, Alex charters a small plane to take them clown introduces himself as Pennywise and ofers to be the kid’s newest
to Denver. Beau Bridges nicely ills in the obligatory role of Walter, the friend—instead, the boy becomes the clown’s latest victim. As more
doomed pilot who sufers a debilitating stroke at the worst possible kids start to disappear, a group of young teenagers, led by the boy’s
time, causing the plane to crash in the snow-covered mountains. older brother, band together to get to the bottom of the story before
he survival element of Mountain takes on a paint-by-numbers more people go missing.
aspect as it meanders through a string of nagging plot contrivances that Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, this ilm lands
ultimately keep our two protagonists resolutely and conveniently on in the upper echelon of adaptations of the famed writer's work. I’m
their own with little hope of rescue. hrough this perpetual air of generally not a fan of horror ilms—especially gory ones—but the
danger, a potential romance tries to blossom in the frigid climate but popularity of this one enticed me to give it a go. Director Andy
can’t seem to get of the ground, so to speak, due to unspoken thoughts Muschietti breaks the dense novel into two chapters, the childhood
and feelings, thereby creating the metaphoric mountain between them. story being told in this ilm, and the story jumping ahead 27 years in
he 4K transfer takes the overall brightness of standard HD down a the next installment coming in 2019. In this chapter, he provides just
notch and yet punches up the textural details and sharpness. Daylight enough background information on the history of the cursed town
exteriors ofer some glorious panoramic vistas of the mountain ranges, to keep the audience on the edge of their seats and leaves you anti-
and nighttime sequences are not so egregiously overlit to the point cipating the sequel. As expected, there are a lot of scary scenes, plenty
of being unrealistic. he dimly lit interiors of an ice cavern or an of bullying—a recurring theme in a lot of King stories—and the
abandoned cabin ofer sublime contrast between light and dark occasional gore, but the central focus is always the story, which is
elements, whereas standard HD can take on the artiicial appearance why this works so well.
of a movie set. Shot digitally and inished in a 2K master for its theatrical run,
he 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is present on both the 4K and the 4K upconversion is mostly pleasing. Direct comparisons to the
standard HD discs. It's more than sufficient for the action taking place fabulous-looking Blu-ray show minimal improvement overall other
on the screen and doesn't try to overreach than the dark scenes—and there are
its limitations by being unnecessarily lashy. many—which provide more depth and
his is primarily a dialogue-driven drama shadow detail due to the HDR grading
that's only occasionally punctuated by versus the 1080p release. Colors look about
the various and ever-present elements the same with the exception of red, which
of danger. While the harrowing crash is deinitely more vibrant in UHD.
sequence is the highlight of this mix, there he Dolby Atmos track is quite good at
are signiicant yet subtle touches of auditory providing the suitable ambiance to scare
panache like the scene in the plane prior to and shock the audience. he enveloping
the crash where the droning hum of the soundtrack is on full display as water
engine realistically forces the characters to rushes through the room, houses creak,
have to shout to be heard. BLU-RAY BLU-RAY and general mayhem occurs. here’s also
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox, 2017 STUDIO: Warner, 2017
Bonus features are included on the ASPECT RATIO: 2:40:1 ASPECT RATIO: 2.39:1
good use of the LFE channel, especially in
standard HD disc and consist of three short AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos the opening scene.
featurettes, deleted scenes, a photo gallery, Audio 7.1 LENGTH: 135 mins. Housed on the Blu-ray, the supplement
audio commentary with director Hany LENGTH: 112 mins. MPAA RATING: R package contains three featurettes, deleted
MPAA RATING: PG-13 DIRECTOR: Andy Muschietti
Abu-Assad, and the theatrical trailer. DIRECTOR: Hany Abu-Assad STARRING: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden
scenes, trailers, and a UV Digital Copy.
OCorey Gunnestad STARRING: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard ODavid Vaughn
Beau Bridges

soundandvision.com 67
UHD BLU-RAY

JIGSAW EARTH: ONE AMAZING DAY


Lionsgate BBC Earth
CONFESS YOUR SINS ONCE AROUND
2010’s Saw 3D was ostensibly the inal ilm in the popular Remember those A Day in the Life of… cofee table books
horror saga. And then, lo and behold, a mere seven years that gave us glimpses of Hollywood and the Soviet Union
later, the franchise was rebooted with Jigsaw. Directed by and the like over a single 24-hour span? Imagine that
Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, the story inds the same dynamic applied to some carefully selected,
elaborate, gruesome Jigsaw killings mysteriously starting up all over human-free locales across the globe, and you start to get the idea
again. As before, law enforcement is at a loss as to how the legendary behind Earth: One Amazing Day. his sequel to the 2007 nature
serial killer Jigsaw—dead and buried!—could possibly be committing documentary Earth takes us from the pre-dawn hours well into the
these nasty new murders. Meanwhile, as is the tradition with Jigsaw, night, revealing visions of lora and fauna we’ve likely never seen before.
a fresh group of victims has been ensnared in his intricate traps and (Girafe smack-down!) he single-rotation construct does help to unify
forced to confess their own crimes or risk death. he gore-porn horror the disparate proceedings, even if the voiceover sometimes tries a bit
franchise’s latest installment delivers on all the basics that have deined too hard to entertain us.
the series over the years and includes a twist ending viewers will not he production values on the movie (and the disc) are top-notch,
likely see coming. If you are a fan of the Saw ilms, then Jigsaw should with Dolby Vision high dynamic range and Dolby Atmos dimen-
be wholly satisfying, although it may not count as a genuinely original sional surround enhancing this 4K Ultra HD presentation. Long shots
take on this well-worn concept. astound, serving up abundant detail at great distances. Herds of various
Jigsaw was shot on an Alexa Mini and utilized a 2K digital intermedi- animals are remarkably individualized, with a throng of monochro-
ate in the post-processing stage. he 2.40:1 image arrives on 4K Ultra matic penguins truly popping within the 16:9 frame. Rolling hills
HD in an HEVC 2160p (4K) encodement with Dolby Vision (compat- show appreciable depth as they extend toward the horizon, while
ible with HDR10) high dynamic range. he Dolby Vision is what really strands of fur, blades of grass, litting insects, and stars in the heavens
makes the diference with this transfer. While the detail looks crisp and are all readily discernible. he colors of life are expectedly lush, and
ilmic, the expanded colors and pop in the highlights are what bring when sunset arrives they become achingly beautiful. he stark play
this ilm to life. he vermillion paint on a wall, the eerie green glow of of light and dark as El Sol makes its irst appearance beneits from
lamplight, or the shocking electric blue of, ahem, laser cutters: Jigsaw HDR, particularly the solid silhouettes and the nuances visible within
is, arguably, the best-looking ilm in the franchise on home video. a shadowy valley.
he overhead channels in the Dolby Atmos (TrueHD 7.1 com- Referencing the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core of the Atmos track, the
patible) mix carry an abundance of atmospherics that really assist home theater teems with animals singing in happier moments and
in building the tension for this sort of horror. But it’s not just the wailing when the going gets dicey. Efects are surely exaggerated for
atmosphere: here are ample directional dramatic purposes and almost certainly
sound efects that move around the room. added outright as well: A raging ocean
We get excellent dynamics and clear dia- brings low-end power, and rain and
logue with a decent amount of extension thunder ill the surrounds. his is simu-
in the low end as well. lated realism, in contrast to the scrupulous
Jigsaw comes with an anemic selection of on-location photography. he movie's
special features, included on both the Ultra majestic orchestral score is mixed wide and
HD and Blu-ray Discs. here’s an audio with impeccable clarity. As One Amazing
commentary with producers Mark Burg, Day was produced in partnership with
Oren Koules, and Peter Block, and two China—yielding some otherwise unattain-
behind-the-scenes programs. here’s the able footage—a Mandarin Dolby Digital
excellent seven-part “I Speak for the Dead: BLU-RAY BLU-RAY 5.1 track is also provided, with narration
he Legacy of Jigsaw” documentary, which STUDIO: Lionsgate, 2017 STUDIO: BBC Earth Films, 2017 by none other than Jackie Chan.
ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1 ASPECT RATIO: 1.78:1
explores the entire franchise as well as AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos / AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos / Extras are relatively sparse: a talky
the new ilm, and the brief featurette “he TrueHD 7.1 core TrueHD 7.1 core behind-the-scenes vignette plus brief
Choice Is Yours: Exploring the Props.” An LENGTH: 91 mins. LENGTH: 94 mins. featurettes that illuminate the making of ive
UltraViolet and iTunes Digital Copy is also MPAA RATING: R MPAA RATING: G key segments. An HD Blu-ray of all of the
DIRECTORS: Michael Spierig, Peter DIRECTORS: Richard Dale, Lixin Fan,
included. OBrandon A. DuHamel Spierig Peter Webber above is provided as well.
STARRING: Matt Passmore, Tobin STARRING: Robert Redford, Jackie OChris Chiarella
Bell, Callum Keith Rennie Chan, a bunch of animals

soundandvision.com
68 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com
ENTERTAINMENT MOVIES

GROUNDHOG DAY GEOSTORM


Sony Warner
LET'S DO THAT AGAIN! FINGER IN THE DAMN
Phil Connors, a TV weatherman from Pittsburgh, is Facing their own complete extinction due to extreme
dispatched to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the storms that are destroying whole cities, the world inally
annual Groundhog Day festivities where he’s teamed up comes together, sending 17 teams of scientists and
with a young and annoyingly cheerful producer and a engineers to create a system, a series of satellites all
smart-aleck cameraman. With impending ofers from other stations, controlled by a giant space station that can use an assortment of
Connors has short-timer’s disease and isn’t what you’d call a pleasant devices—super lasers, thermal missiles, freezing beams, etc.—to
guy to be around. In fact, he’s a irst-rate pain in the rear whom his stabilize the weather. Naturally, someone’s gonna try to seize control of
coworkers want to spend as little time with as possible. Ater a surprise Dutchboy, as the system is known, and weaponize it to make himself
blizzard traps the team in the small town, things go from bad to worse; president of an all-powerful country that will destroy its enemies and
Phil wakes up the next morning to ind it’s Groundhog Day all over rule the planet.
again…and again…and again. Contrast is good, producing bright whites of a frozen village in the
Bill Murray has had quite a career, and Groundhog Day was the desert, ranges of grays and yellows of halls of power and congressional
vehicle that showed he was more than just a funnyman. he script from committee rooms, and deep blacks of the suits’ suits set of by the rich
Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin plays perfectly with Murray’s personal- colors of the Stars and Stripes. Each environment has its own color
ity. Connors goes through several metamorphoses throughout the scheme, such as the rich blues, silvers, and whites inside the space
movie: sarcastic and pompous in the irst act, scared and desperate in station and greens of the astronauts’ uniforms. he range of tones in
the second, and hero in the third. Reliving the same day presumably each is wide, making objects distinct and solid. Although focus is
thousands of times would deinitely give a person time to relect on frequently shallow in order to isolate combative characters—such as
their life and improve themselves, and that’s exactly what happens here. the two siblings running the project—from each other and the light-
his is more than your average comedy. ing is oten hazy, images still have plentiful detail, particularly in the
I have to hand it to Sony on its UHD releases—they deliver a spectacular and highly convincing CGI sequences of the activated
best-in-class experience. In lieu of taking an old 2K scan and upcon- weather disasters and those set on the space station. Earth, in compari-
verting it, the studio went through the process of taking the original son, is oten lat, airy, and visually dull.
35mm elements and minting a terriic 4K scan of the comedy classic. here’s not much use of the surrounds for efects pans or atmo-
Some may not like the grainy appearance if they’re used to today's spherics, just for the ever-present bombastic and uninspired score.
digital productions, but for us old fogies, this is how the movies looked It’s constantly in use, with a slow, steady beat to try to force a rise in
when we were growing up. Colors are a tad laid-back given the settings, tension, despite a sagging story or static ill-scenes of politispeech or
but there are a few scenes where the HDR comes into play. pseudo-scientiic babble. his before a tsunami of rumblingly sinister
Shockingly, Sony provides a Dolby Atmos orchestra and electronica crashes over you
track as well, which is surprising given in an undiferentiated wash in the regu-
the genre. Regardless, it’s a welcome larly inserted disaster set pieces where
addition and sounds fantastic. Dialogue everything rapidly swells. Nonetheless, the
is crystal clear, there’s plenty of openness priceless dialogue—“proof of sabotage from
in the exterior shots, and there’s even an the highest level of government . . . trust no
explosion that has some good LFE punch. one”—is all clear and crisp even when up
he studio didn’t skimp on any aspect against the cacophony of music and
of this release. thunderous (literally) efects.
All of the supplements are housed on Extras consist of 16 minutes of inter-
the bundled Blu-ray and include an audio esting featurettes. One focuses on the ilm’s
commentary with director Ramis, an BLU-RAY BLU-RAY sets, miniatures, and CGI. Another, with
STUDIO: Sony, 1993 STUDIO: Warner, 2017
interview with the late director, two ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1
director Dean Devlin and the cast, delves
ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1
featurettes, a PiP track (remember those), AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos AUDIO: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 into the development of the concept of a
and some deleted scenes. here’s also a UV LENGTH: 101 mins. LENGTH: 109 mins. story about the wackily logical outcome of
Digital Copy to redeem with your favorite MPAA RATING: PG MPAA RATING: PG-13 global warming, and one on the interna-
DIRECTOR: Harold Ramis DIRECTOR: Dean Devlin
streaming service. ODavid Vaughn STARRING: Bill Murray, Andie
tional cast’s experience of working together
STARRING: Gerard Butler, Abbie
MacDowell, Chris Elliott Cornish, Ed Harris . . . in space. OJosef Krebs

soundandvision.com 69
ENTERTAINMENT MOVIES

BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES II: THE


INFERNAL BATTLEFIELD THE FOREIGNER
Well Go USA Universal
EVERYBODY WAS KUNG-FU GRIEF RONIN
FIGHTING
he 2014 wuxia ilm Brotherhood of Blades established he Foreigner, a superior action-thriller from Martin
the story of three members of an elite palace guard unit Campbell, the director of two of the best Bond outings
during the Ming Dynasty who must abandon their bro- ever—Casino Royale and GoldenEye—not only delivers
therhood and apprehend one of their own ater he goes both excitement and dramatic complexity but ofers a
rogue, only to ind themselves caught up in an even larger conspiracy. surprisingly moving performance from its star, Jackie Chan. Presented
he Infernal Battleield continues the story of these best-of-the-best in a Blu-ray of impressive picture and sound quality, it makes for
guardsmen. It brings back much of the cast, but this is a standalone ilm memorable home theater.
that doesn’t require viewing the irst to be understood. When a bomb goes of in London, aging Chinese restauranteur,
Shen Lian (Chang Chen), a captain, inds himself trapped in a con- Quan, loses his last surviving family member, sending him on a quest
spiracy by rebels ighting against the palace, and in order to clear his to identify and punish those involved. Since a youthful IRA splinter
name he must align himself with the elusive—and gorgeous—wanted group, “Authentic IRA,” claims responsibility, he decides that Northern
rebel Bei Zhai (Yang Mi) and her cohorts. Classic elements of the wuxia Ireland Deputy Minister Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan, also displaying
genre combine with story lines that may seem familiar from ilms like his acting chops), an ex-IRA member, will ofer him the lead he seeks.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero to ultimately provide a not Facing resistance, in the form of verbal rebufal and then henchmen,
wholly original yet still compelling ilm illed with fantastic choreogra- ex–Special Forces ighter Quan uses increasingly extreme tactics
phy, splendid wirework, and edge-of-the-seat action sequences. he to persuade Hennessy to deliver the names, bringing into play the
political machinations tend to slow the ilm a bit too much, however considerable destructive skills and tactical knowledge he’d acquired
(we’re not talking Phantom Menace shut-up-and-get-on-with-it levels, in Vietnam.
but still), and the plot also becomes a little too convoluted, but these In the bright, crisp picture, contrast is spot on, with everything
nitpicks aren’t enough to make BoB II unsatisfying. distinct and sharply delineated. Colors are well deined, with a wide
Brotherhood of Blades II was shot in the anamorphic format on Arri range of tones—greens and browns of the many countryside scenes are
XT and Arri XT Plus cameras at 2.6K resolution, and a 2K DI was used nicely variegated—with rich primaries, deep blacks, and bright whites.
in post-processing. he Blu-ray arrives with a beautiful 2.66:1 AVC Skintones are natural throughout. Compositions have depth and are
1080p encodement that's clean and free from banding and noise while detailed from front to back so that each tree in the wood stands out
maintaining a ilmic appearance. It has wonderfully nuanced shadows while individual hairs in Brosnan’s beard and lines around Chan’s eyes
free from crush, which is welcome for a ilm that spends much of its are all visible. Combined with the frequent moody modeled lighting,
time in darkened streets and forests at night. igures and faces have sculptural volume.
Brotherhood of Blades II gets a competent Mandarin DTS:X mix he thrilling electronica score—the best I’ve heard in a long time—
(compatible with DTS-HD Master Audio is extremely well served here. Using all
7.1). An English dub in DTS-HD Master 7.1 channels to immerse you, the music
Audio 5.1 is also included. While the completely comes forward into the room,
dynamic range for the DTS:X mix sounds giving great depth of sound, pulsing behind
a bit narrow even as the low end is oddly you in the surrounds and rears, at times
overblown, the overheads are put to good seemingly inside your head, and dispers-
use with frequent rainstorms—apparently, ing all around, well separated into each
weather during the Ming Dynasty was channel. Voices, held up front, are clear, full,
prone to downpours—and lots of atmos- and vibrant. Explosions—not just bassily
phere for the score. Foley efects are well booming but having a higher-range snap
placed throughout the soundield as well. that lends an authentic quality—start at
his is a typically bare-bones release BLU-RAY BLU-RAY the source on screen before rushing
from Well Go USA that comes to Blu-ray STUDIO: Well Go USA, 2017 STUDIO: Universal, 2017 forward to envelop you.
ASPECT RATIO: 2.66:1 ASPECT RATIO: 2.39:1
with only a nigh-ive-minute behind-the- AUDIO FORMAT: DTS:X / DTS-HD AUDIO: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Unworthy extras consist of two fea-
scenes featurette composed of interviews, Master Audio 7.1 core LENGTH: 114 mins. turettes (amounting to only ten minutes).
some B-footage, and the original theatrical LENGTH: 121 mins. MPAA RATING: R his is a letdown of an otherwise excellent
trailer. A standard-deinition DVD is also MPAA RATING: NR DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell presentation of an involving ilm.
DIRECTOR: Yang Lu STARRING: Jackie Chan, Pierce
included. OBrandon A. DuHamel STARRING: Chen Chang, Mi Yang, Brosnan, Rufus Jones
OJosef Krebs
Yi Zhang

soundandvision.com
70 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com
ENTERTAINMENT MUSIC

KICK – 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION


INXS
can better
hear how
Hutchence
selectively tempers his
deliberate beat-for-beat three-syllable
enunciation of the key title word of the refrain of “New Sensation”—
“sen-say-shun”—ever-so-slightly diferently with each pass, while his
best work is found in the pleading inlectional shits from verse to
verse in “Never Tear Us Apart” (as well as his layered chorus response
lines in the rear channels) and the warped, warbling free-low
rhymes of “Mediate.”
he band’s intuitive instrumental prowess is also well highlighted.
Tim Farriss’ sharp lead guitar rifs on “Need You Tonight” come at
you in diagonal call-and-response stabs, initiating their parrying in
the front right and following with assertive return thrusting in the
rear let. Kirk Pengilly’s closing sax solo on “Mediate” is detly
Courtesy of Atlantic Records

centered but not mix-dominant. Garry


Gary Beers’ sub-channel-loving low-
end bass complements the vocal
plunges of “Devil Inside” and
supplements Jon Farriss’ sharp,
ping-ponged front-to-back percus-
sion, while brother Tim’s chiming
INXS were riding high as the calendar got deeper and deeper into guitar leads envelop the proceedings just
1987. he alt-rocking Australian sextet had truly come into their own right. Even the opening rear-channel
following the wider international penetration of 1985’s Listen Like shakers on “Guns in the Sky” are the very
hieves. hey were also burgeoning MTV darlings, mainly thanks to deinition of the word crisp—and that’s
the magnetic presence of poster-boy frontman Michael Hutchence. the crux of the sound of Kick right there.
hat said, the band had enough musical acumen to override their Martin and Okell’s Atmos mix is akin to
video-centric image, best exempliied by the churning, layered groove pumping fresh air into a room, clearing
of hieves’ big hit, “What You Need,” itself born of the interlocked away any residual muddle to reveal just how clear and vibrant
songwriting axis of lyricist/vocalist Hutchence and keyboardist/guitarist everything has always been at the album’s core.
Andrew Farriss. Given how wholly crystal-clear and immersive this new Kick mix is,
he band’s October 1987 efort, Kick, sealed the aural deal, ultimately I would absolutely love to hear Martin and Okell tackle other key INXS
going six-times platinum and serving up four Top 10 hits on the U.S. tracks in this fashion, such as the rif-driven seductive chugfest “he
charts. And now, Kick is being properly feted in a four-disc 30th One hing” from 1982’s Shabooh Shoobah, the somewhat funkiied
anniversary box set. In addition to the remastered main album on “Original Sin” and “I Send a Message” tandem from 1984’s Nick
Disc 1, Discs 2 and 3 ofer 27 fascinating demos, alternate mixes, and Launay/Nile Rodgers–produced he Swing, the aforementioned “What
B-sides. But the true kicker of Kick is clearly Disc 4, a Blu-ray with a You Need” and title track from 1985’s Kick
Dolby Atmos mix of the album (and eight iconic promo videos) as CD & BLU-RAY
template precursor, Listen Like hieves, the
shepherded by Giles Martin and Sam Okell. You can also experience it LABEL: Petrol/Atlantic/Rhino ever-skittery “Suicide Blonde” from 1990’s
via Dolby TrueHD 7.1, which I did at home (though I did get the full AUDIO FORMATS: 44.1-kHz/16-bit X, and the touching ballad “Not Enough
Atmos treatment at a separate locale’s listening session). PCM Stereo (CD), 44.1-kHz/24- Time” from 1992’s Welcome to Wherever
bit PCM Stereo (download),
We’ll explore Kick’s impact in the Atmos stratosphere in a moment. 96-kHz/24-bit Dolby Atmos
You Are. Come to think of it, M&O could
But irst, it should be noted the linchpin for Kick’s super sonic results (Blu-ray) do a full-on surround update of 2002’s he
was producer Chris homas, who cut his teeth helming a number of NUMBER OF TRACKS: 59 (39 on 3 Best of INXS to cover all the bases.
key tracks on he Beatles’ 1968 magnum one-for-all opus, he White CDs, 20 on 1 Blu-ray) Incidentally, I asked Martin about the
LENGTH: 3:53:37 (2:46:16 on 3
Album—albeit without a listed credit at the time, but nonetheless CDs, 1:07:21 on 1 Blu-ray)
possibility when I saw him in the Hi Res
undertaken with producer George Martin’s full blessing. homas PRODUCERS: Chris Thomas Audio Pavilion at CES 2018, and ater
further honed his crat behind the board for the likes of Badinger, Sex (original album and bonus his initial, silent Cheshire grin, he said,
Pistols, and Human League, a production potpourri that actually best material); Bob Clearmountain “Wouldn’t that be great fun?” (Perfect
(original album mix); Tim Farriss,
readied him to be the prime choice to harness the late-’80s intersection Andrew Farriss, Kirk Pengilly
moments, impossible to refuse. . .)
between INXS’s pop chops and their underlying punk spunk. (bonus material); Giles Martin, Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get
With homas’ levelheaded production as their stencil, Martin and Sam Okell (Dolby Atmos mix); kicked. But when it comes to the Dolby
Okell opened up Kick in ways I’ve never heard before—and, frankly, Chris Jenkins (near-field mix); CM Atmos mix of Kick, your ears are the
Murphy (box set)
did not expect. Perhaps due to his overall glamorous image and ENGINEERS: David Nicholas
ultimate winners of receiving the brunt
tragic passing in 1997, Hutchence gets overlooked as a singer, but his (original album); Don Bartley of the album’s elegiac full-channel boot—
intriguing vocal choices are oten front and center here, and/or rightly (original album mastering); every single one of us, the audiophile inside.
spread all around you as necessary. With Atmos’ inherent clarity, you Giovanni Scatola, Alex Gordon OMike Meler
(bonus material mastering); Nick
Launay, Julian Mendelsohn, Ben
Liebrand (bonus material)
soundandvision.com
72 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com
Instant Information for Our Readers...
PAGE# MANUFACTURERS PAGE# MANUFACTURERS PAGE# MANUFACTURERS
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crutchfield.com kef.com polkaudio.com

5. . . . . Definitive Technology 64. . . . M&K Sound 45. . . . Revel


(410) 363-7148 mksoundus.com (781) 280-0300
definitivetech.com revelspeakers.com
C4 . . . . Marantz
61. . . . Elac (201) 762-6500 39,C3 SVS
elac.com us.marantz.com (877) 626-5623
svsound.com
8-9 . . . GoldenEar Technology 11. . . . MartinLogan
(410) 998-9134 martinlogan.com 57. . . . ZVOX Audio
goldenear.com (866) FOR-ZVOX
7. . . . . Oppo Digital, Inc. zvoxaudio.com
56. . . . HSU (650) 961-1118
(800) 554-0150 oppodigital.com
hsuresearch.com

Information listed in this index is done so as a courtesy. Publisher is not liable for incorrect information or excluded listings. Advertisers should contact their sales representative to correct or update listing.
PREMIERE
DESIGN

All Aboard

James
Loudspeaker
Steampunk Speaker James Loudspeaker • (707) 265-6343 • jamesloudspeaker.com

James Loudspeaker sells just about that conjured the age of steam power. he homeowner was so com-
any kind of speaker you could want— mitted to the Wild West theme that part of the house was designed
or imagine. You can choose among its to mimic a mineshat!
dozens of high-performance models CDI asked James to create a tower-style speaker with subwoofers built
and buy “of the shelf ” or have a into the base to conserve loor space but let the rest up to the designers’
particular model customized with imagination. A pair of these speakers would be the centerpiece of the
a special inish or feature. Or, you home’s streampunk-themed media room as well as anchor a discreet
can get creative and dream up your 7.2-channel sound system, so it was imperative that they sound as
own speaker design. he Califor- good as they look. he design team went through several render-
nia-based company prides itself ings before settling on the fantastical design shown here, which
on its ability to meet the unique combines a pair of 10-inch woofers in the speaker’s base with a
needs of its customers, whether that driver coniguration borrowed from James’ QX530 in-wall
means solving an installation prob- speaker: two 5.25-inch midrange drivers and four 0.75-inch
lem or creating something special… aluminum-dome tweeters, each angled at 22.5 degrees and
and personal. James built more than arranged in a unique “quad array” to achieve wide dispersion.
300 custom products in 2017 alone, Everything was assembled by hand and meticulously
but the Steampunk Speaker is per- appointed with pressure gauges, control valves, interlocking
haps its most interesting—and gears, brass accents, and copper tubing. he cabinets are in-
unusual—project. ished with beautiful walnut veneers, leather, and brass hard-
When Denver-based tech inte- ware, including those wonderful wire-mesh grilles fashioned
grator CDI Services called looking to look like stream grates. As a inal dramatic touch, ive
to commission a set of speakers (non-working) vacuum tubes were mounted in the middle
with a “steampunk design,” CEO of the structure.
Mark Schale admits to not having When all was said and done, the tab for James’ intricate
a clue what that meant. Digging handiwork was $20,000 for two speakers. I like to think that
deeper, Schale and his design team the location of James Loudspeakers—California’s legendary
learned that CDI’s client was building a home Napa Valley—contributed in more ways than one to the
outside of Denver and wanted to pay homage to the area’s inspiration needed to come up with this most uncommon
mining history with design elements that would evoke the Gold speaker. If you’re contemplating a custom speaker, be sure
Rush era of the mid-19th century. Copper, wood, galvanized steel, to check out the Custom Page at jamesloudspeaker.com for
and leather inishes were used throughout the home along with props an overview of their extraordinary work.—Bob Ankosko

Sound & Vision (ISSN 1537-5838) (USPS 504-850) June 2018, Vol. 83, No. 5. COPYRIGHT 2018 BY AVTech Media Americas Inc. All rights reserved. Published 6 times a year (January/February, March/April, May/June, July/
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74 JUNE 2018 soundandvision.com


SVS 4000 SERIES SUBWOOFERS.
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One Subwoofer to Rule Them All.

Featuring technology from the SVS 16-Ultra


Series; named top subwoofers in the world
by nearly every audio publication and
industry group in 2017, the 4000 Series
demolish all preconceived notions about
subwoofer performance and technology
and unleash reference quality bass at a
groundbreaking value.

(RUWOHVV3RZHUDQG&RQWUROIURP1,200
Watts Continuous, 4,200+ Watts Peak
Power6OHGJH67$'$PSOLHUZLWK
Fully Discrete MOSFET Output

13.5” High Excursion SVS Driver3URGXFHV


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Subwoofer DSP Smartphone App

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notes don’t linger and their natural ZRXOGFU\XQFOHUVWΖQWKHHQGΖORVW QHYHUKHDUGEDVVOLNHWKLVLQWKH&1(7
UHVRQDQFHLVUHSURGXFHGIDLWKIXOO\+LJKO\ SVS has another undeniable winner on its OLVWHQLQJURRPΖKLJKO\UHFRPPHQGLWȋ
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Learn more at SVSound.com