2007 Home Entertainment Show, May 11-13, 2007

Well, the 2007 Show was great!

This year the Show was held at a new venue, the Grand Hyatt next to Grand Central Terminal, an excellent location geographically. The floors were a bit small, and the Show was spread over five floors, but there were many stairwells (kudos to the Hotel and the Show for having the stairwells unlocked) so with a bit of exploration it was possible to move easily between the floors, bypassing the occasionally long lines for the elevators.

The Show was mostly audio-related, with only a few displays having video projectors. However, there was one very impressive home theater setup, and a lot of flat screen TVs being used for various purposes.

One thing that surprises non-audiophiles who attend the show is that almost none of the equipment is made by any company they have ever heard of! The high end audio business is its own world, with products that far exceed (in performance, and unfortunately also in price) the brands available at regular stores. Companies include Balanced Audio Technology, Bel Canto, Burmester, Cabasse, Cardas, Chord, Cinepro, Dynaudio, Eggleston Works, Gershman Acoustics, JM Focal, KEF, Krell, Lamm Industries, Magico, Martin Logan (not attending this Show), MBL, Meridian, MIT, Nagra, Nordost, Oracle Audio Technologies, Peak Consult, Plinius, Shunyata Research, Tact Audio, Tad Home Audio, Totem Acoustics, Usher, Vandersteen, VTL, Wadia, and Wilson Audio. And those are just the big “well-known” companies! Even the record companies are special: AIX Records, Chesky, JVC/XRCD, and Reference Recordings. And this stuff is expensive, due to the product complexity and low manufacturing volumes. Krell for example, which makes arguably the best amplifiers in the world, was showing a 900 watt amplifier that costs $40,000! And this was a monoblock single channel amplifier – you need a separate one for every single speaker! Of course there were companies showing affordable equipment. There were quite a few companies demonstrating speakers from $200-$3000 per pair (the really good ones are $20,000 and up). Outlaw Audio, an internet-only company with good value products, was there with a demo and big exhibit. They sell speakers and receivers in the $1000-$3000 price range. Paul has one of their receivers. And Hewlett Packard had a big room showcasing their latest big screen TVs, printers, and notebook computers.

I spent all day Friday getting around the Show quickly, finding the most interesting rooms and learning my way around. Saturday and Sunday would give me time to get back to the best rooms and listen more carefully.

There were three demonstrations that I found particularly surprising and educational. The first was a peak power demonstration. Digital meters were attached to a speaker that showed average power usage and peak power usage. The peak power was always MUCH higher than the average, but on one CD they played the average was running at about 2 watts (and the speaker sounded good and at normal volume), but the peak meter was running at 200 to 300 watts!! Their points were that you don’t always know when your amplifier is in trouble, and that your amplifier is in trouble (clipping) much more often than you think. Ouch!

The second educational demonstration was about room treatment to reduce echoes from the walls (which are heard as distortion). There were two roughly identical rooms, one with room treatment and one without. Each room had $50,000 or so of stuff in it, so it wasn’t the equipment’s fault if things didn’t sound right. And the untreated room didn’t sound good. The treated room threw a better stereo image, and had much better bass. It wasn’t even a close comparison.

The third important demonstration was the home theater room. CinePro ran a 7.2 system with tiny little speakers (and two big subwoofers) and played a section of the Master and Commander movie at full reference volume. The dialog was at a reasonable level, but when cannon went off – WOW! Their point was that systems need to have a large power reserve to create the sound effect dynamics. Most systems just can’t hit the peak levels. The resulting distortion when the amplifier clips is what causes people to yell “Turn it down!”.

After these surprises, I am seriously considering upgrading my home system with much higher power amplifiers, and by adding acoustic panels to the walls. Not cheap, of course, and so not immediate, but I can at least start planning.

Below is a picture of the mbl room that I felt had the best sound of the Show. (Congrats also to the TAD room for great sound). Everyone I talked with agreed it had impressive quality sound. For a mere $200,000 you can have this system in your home! The system is made by mbl (all lower case), a German company, and has unique speakers that put out sound in all directions equally. The stereo soundstage seems to suffer a little bit, but the sound is seamless, smooth, and very dynamic.
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Saturday morning before the Show started I ate at the breakfast buffet inside the Grand Hyatt. It cost $30, but it was a VERY nice buffet. I absolutely stuffed myself to survive until dinner without taking a lunch break. (Sunday I ate at a cheaper buffet).

Saturday friends dropped by to see the Show. Ben, Paul, and Boris and Margarita all came in for the afternoon, and I tried to make sure they heard the highlights, including the spectacular CinePro home theater demo at the end of the day.

After the Show on Saturday we all went out to dinner, joined by Susan, Delphine and her brother Mark. So we had eight people for dinner! Working from a list of restaurants I had prepared, we wandered down south of 42nd Street looking for a suitable restaurant we could all fit into. However, along the way, Paul pointed out a good Mexican restaurant he was familiar with, and they graciously took us in without a reservation. It turned out to be a good choice. They set up a round table for us right in the middle of the restaurant, and we had a long, loud, and leisurely meal. When we came out unfortunately and surprisingly it was pouring rain, se we had to hastily split up and go our separate ways.

On Sunday morning I attended a live performance of a piano / electric bass / drum jazz trio. It was interesting hearing the instruments live, and watching the interaction between the players.

Image not found Sunday afternoon Susan joined me at the Show, and she bought speakers! She was in the market for an upgrade from the small bookshelf speakers she currently had. The premier hi-fi store in New York City, Sound by Singer, ran a series of 5 rooms containing a sequence of increasingly expensive systems. In the first room they were running a pair of low end JM Focal Chorus 836V speakers that sounded wonderful. JM Focal is a French company that designs and manufactures some of the best speakers in the world, with the best weighing hundreds of pounds and costing around $100,000. One of their specialties is the treble produced by their custom tweeters (high frequency drivers). One reason Susan was impressed by the speakers is that she is very sensitive to those high frequencies that give acoustic performances, especially strings, their lifelike sound, and Susan’s musical training and concert-going means she knows what instruments should sound like. The speakers we heard at this particular demo sounded MUCH better than anything else in their price range at the Show, including the new $2500 bookshelf speaker by Usher which we listened to for quite a while. After comparing speakers in various rooms, Susan decided to try to buy the Focals. We had to talk to Andrew Singer personally, which for me was quite impressive because I have seen so many of his demos at Shows and his ads in magazines. Unfortunately, the actual pair being played at the Show had already been sold. However, he had permission to sell others at the same Show discount price, as long as the purchaser could wait for them to be shipped. So for $2250 plus $150 delivery and setup cost, in a couple of weeks Susan will have a wonderful-sounding pair of speakers that retail for $3000. Update: Susan has since received the speakers, and likes them very much. See picture on the left (they are about 4 feet tall):

I bought some CDs (two DVD-As, and a specially mastered CD), at the music booths, including a modern recording of Surf music – wahoo! The people with me on Saturday didn’t get to shop there because the hotel made the record booths shut down early because the room was needed for another event. Oops, sorry about that.

Thanks to those of you who were able to drop by, either for the Show or for dinner. It was great seeing everyone again, and it was fun accompanying people through the Show and comparing notes and opinions.

So, it was an interesting and educational Show, as usual. I’m already looking forward to the next one – hopefully next year!