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SVS Fits Deep Bass Into A Small Footprint
Royole’s Moon 3D Glasses Take You To The Cinema
TESTED PARASOUND HALO A 52+ AMPLIFIER
• AGELESS TECH: Modular Design Gives he NAD T758 V3 New Life Where Technology Becomes Entertainment ™
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A BOX OF BIGSCREEN THE HISENSE LASER TV ULTRA SHORT THROW PROJECTION SYSTEM PUTS 100 INCHES WITHIN YOUR REACH
Polk Audio is a DEI Holdings, Inc. Company. Polk Audio and Polk, are registered trademarks of Polk Audio, LLC. Polk. Expect Great Sound. is a trademark of Polk Audio, LLC. Chromecast is a trademark of Google Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Amazon, Alexa and all related logos are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its ailiates.
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MAY 2018 Volume 83 No. 4
ON THE COVER Beam Machine: Sony VPL-VW885ES projector. Additional gear from GoldenEar Technology, Hisense, NAD, Royole, and SVS.
ON THE WEB
LOG ON TO soundandvision.com and sign up to receive our new, free eNewsletter for first-rate, up-to-the-minute reporting of everything that’s hot in the world of home theater.
36 Closer han It Looks: Your Path to the Ultimate Home heater Experience
COLUMNS Rob Sabin Track One: The Big Picture Ken C. Pohlmann Signals: Smart Speakers and he Art of War Michael Antonoff Apptitude: Lights Off, Breeze On Al Grifﬁn Ask S&V: A/V Games John Sciacca The Connected Life: Voice Control: The Next Interface Frontier
8 21 22 24 26
Technical Talk The Bose 901 Speaker System Closer han It Looks Your Path to the Ultimate Home Theater Experience
DEMAND MORE DEMAND SERIESâ„¢ LEARN MORE AT DEFINITIVETECHNOLOGY.COM
REPORTS FEATURE REVIEWS
Sony VPL-VW885ES LCOS Projector Laser etched. by Kris Deering
DEPARTMENTS Letters What you really think about the “inconvenience” of vinyl. Perfect Focus New gear, top news, how to, and more. New Gear A look at the hottest new A/V gear and gadgets. Entertainment Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Dunkirk, Kingsman: he Golden Circle, and more on Ultra HD Blu-ray. Premiere Design McIntosh XRT2.1K Speaker System
14 18 30 68 74
GoldenEar Technology Invisa Signature Point Source In-Wall Speaker System In-wall we must. by Darryl Wilkinson
Royole Moon 3D Mobile heater Face time. by Rob Sabin
NAD T758 V3 A/V Receiver Modular Dirac. by Mark Fleischmann
Hisense Laser TV 4K DLP Projector Projection TV. by Al Griffin
SVS PC-4000 Subwoofer Go tubular! by David Vaughn
Parasound Halo A 52+ Ampliﬁer Power plus. by Al Griffin
ON THE WEB
Visit The “How We Test” link on our Website for a detailed explanation of our testing regimen and a list of our reference gear. soundandvision.com
UDP-203 Ultra-HD Blu-ray Disc Player
TrackOne May 2018
THE BIG PICTURE The technology changes, but the goal remains the same. In prepping for this issue’s focus on front projection, I found myself philosophizing on the value of having a big image for viewing movies, TV serials, and sports. Not just big, but really big. We can, of course, make all the jokes about how no one shopping for a TV BY ROB SABIN, ever complained about having too big EDITOR a set when they got it home (a truism for the most part, by the way). But there’s a reason that dedicated sports bars really sprung up as soon as afordable front projectors began seeping into the market, and why the trend in cathode-ray-tube and now lat-panel televisions has always been toward larger and larger screens. If I had more time, I’d try digging into the science of how our brains engage with cinematic images; how our emotional response to the program changes as the percentage of our peripheral vision is increasingly illed, as surely it must. But I don’t need the science to prove what I know anecdotally to be true: Bigger is always better. Some of the technology to achieve a truly huge image at home remains expensive and elusive for the mass market. We’ve frequently mentioned in these pages the exorbitant cost of lat-panel televisions above 75 inches, though we know from experience that, as time marches on, manufacturers will build facilities capable of creating larger and larger substrate panels. hese are the ginormous master panels from which smaller screens are cut. he bigger the substrate, the greater eiciency in punching out bigger individual screens. hat ability to drive volume in these larger sizes with each new generation factory eventually leads to cheaper prices, even more volume, and... How big will be big enough? At CES this year, Samsung showed its cutting-edge miniLED display—dubbed “he Wall”—at 146 inches diagonal. he technology relies on small modules that can be conigured for any size they wanted, but company reps said they arrived at this dimension because the average U.S. home has at least one wall that is 8 to 9 feet wide and therefore large enough to accommodate a 16:9 screen of that size. Perhaps the sweet spot is really somewhere in between there and today’s 75- and 85-inchers. But the trend is clear, and for now it’s still toward bigger and bigger images. Samsung’s Wall will launch later this year, at a inal size and price that remained unannounced at press time. I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t cost multiple times my annual salary. But this relentless drive to expand image size has also resulted in the emergence of more afordable new technologies intended to bring the big picture to a wider audience. Two are explored in this issue. he irst, addressed in our annual front-projection
Products like ultra short throw projectors and virtual theater glasses broaden the market for a truly big-screen experience.
primer update (page 36) and in our review of the Hisense Laser TV (page 58), is the recent concerted push by manufacturers to promote ultra-short-throw projectors for home use. For those unaware, these are modestly sized components typically suitable for tabletop mounting that throw a projected image of 100 inches from only 6 inches away from the screen. Mated with an ambient light rejecting (ALR) screen mounted on the wall behind them, they’re a suitable substitute for a day-to-day lat-panel TV and considerably less costly than any modernday LCD or OLED TV of that size. But the key beneit is not so much their ability to function in ambient light, which traditional projectors do as well. It’s the hugely simpliied installation. All that’s required is a traditional TV credenza to support the projector and house the usual source and audio components—no mounting, no snaking long signal wires through ceilings and walls, no need for running electricity to some remote location. he Hisense marks the second 4K UST model to come through our shop, and we’ve tested a more afordable 1080p option as well. I don’t doubt well see more. Another fascinating big-screen alternative is the Royole Moon virtual home theater headset tested on page 50. Technically, this is a portable, wearable display device, but its intent to reproduce a genuinely cinematic experience and utilize the entirety of your peripheral vision really makes it more like a projector than a classic TV display. It wasn’t without its caveats, not least of which are its nearly pound-anda-half weight and its $800 price tag. But it got the job done and left me wondering if future generations of products like this won’t also make the big, big, big-screen experience accessible to an even wider audience.
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Bring the concert experience into your home
The new Q Series hi-fi speakers The new Q Series were made to bring the energy and emotion of a live performance into your home, and look great doing so. Q Series features a revamped Uni-Q driver array and an altered cabinet construction that allows the speakers to output clearer, more articulate sound than ever before. You know how your favorite album and movies are meant to sound, so why settle for anything less than perfection in your speakers?
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Triton Reference $4249 ea.
“ oldenEar’s New Triton Reference Redeines Ultra High-End Performance and Value! ” “Hearing my reference tracks on those über-expensive ( $85,000) speakers, I was surprised at how well the Reference compared … unbridled excellence” - Al Griin, Sound & Vision
“ he Triton Reference presents a serious challenge to speakers in the multi $10K range” – Robert Deutsch, Stereophile
GoldenEar’s Triton One is one of the best selling high-end loudspeakers ever, consistently thrilling listeners and reviewers alike and winning an enviable and unmatched collection of the industry’s most prestigious awards, including “Loudspeaker-of-the-Year” and “Product-of-the-Year” from key publications all around the world. Clearly, we knew that the One would be a very hard act to follow. here was a spirited discussion within our product development group about an all-out assault on the ultimate, cost-no-object, state-of-the-art, to produce a six-igure loudspeaker to do battle with the most esoteric and expensive loudspeakers on the planet. However, after much soul-searching, rational minds won out, and the decision was made to create a new GoldenEar lagship, positioned above the Triton One (of course still current and available), that would joust with the best, but still stick to our trademarked slogan, “We Make High-End Affordable.” We are pleased and proud to introduce the new Triton Reference. he Reference has begun gathering its own collection of honors, winning the prestigious and coveted CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award, Digital Trends Best Home Audio Tech at CES, HD GURU Best High Fidelity Loudspeaker at CES and What HiFi Stars of CES! And Triton Reference won the grand slam from Absolute Sound at CES, where all four of their writers honored T Ref with their highly coveted accolade, “Best Sound (for the money)”!
“ Undeniably stellar … Yes, it does deliver the sort of performance previously delivered only by cost-no-object speakers.” – Dennis Burger, Home heater Review he Triton Reference is an evolution of everything that we have achieved with the Triton One, but taken to a stunning new level of sonic performance and sophisticated visual design. All the components in the T Ref: including larger, more powerful, active subbass drivers with huge “Focused Field” magnet structures, upperbass/midrange drivers with “Focused Field” magnet structures, and High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter with 50% more rare earth neodymium magnet material, are brand new, and have been speciically developed for use in the Reference. he powerful 1800 watt subwoofer ampliier, with level control to ine tune the bass to your room, and 56-bit DSP control unit are a signiicant evolution of those in the Triton One and our SuperSubs. here are a myriad of other signiicant upgrades and reinements, including: new internal wiring with a specially developed twist, further development of our signature balanced crossover including
ilm capacitors bridged across the high-pass section on the upperbass/midrange drivers, a unique proprietary mix of long-iber lamb’s wool and Dacron for more effective internal damping, intensive work with a high-resolution accelerometer to determine the most effective implementation of complex internal bracing, a 3/32˝-thick steel plate built into the medite base to further stiffen it for increased stability, new stainless steel loor spikes and cups, all of which results in higher resolution of subtle details … and the list goes on and on.
“ hey are lat-out incredible, knock-your-damnsocks-off, jaw-droppingly realistic, enrapturing speakers.” – Caleb Dennison, Digital Trends Visually, the Reference offers a strikingly beautiful upgrade to the classic Triton styling, with a gorgeous hand-rubbed piano gloss-black lacquer inished one-piece monocoque cabinet. Sleek, statuesque and reined, the Reference is simply an elegantly gorgeous statement piece that will excite listeners with its dynamic visual presence, as well as its extraordinary sonic performance. Sonically, the Reference has been engineered to perform with a dramatic and authoritative voice, comparable to speakers that sell for ten and more times its surprisingly affordable price. T Refs completely disappear, with superb three-dimensional imaging that will open up your room, stretching from wall to wall and beyond, and depth that makes the wall behind them seem to vanish. he astonishing bass is rock-solid, with low-frequency performance that is tight, quick, highly impactful and musical with extension lat to 20Hz and below. Another GoldenEar signature is a silky smooth high end that extends to 35 kHz with a lifelike sheen but no trace of fatiguing hardness, sibilance or stridency so common with lesser tweeters. Tremendous time and energy has been put into the voicing of the speaker and the seamless blending of the drivers, for unmatched musicality with all types of music, and home theater perfection. Rarely do speakers excel at both, but with their world-class neutrality, the Reference absolutely does. A special bonus is the Reference’s extremely high 93.25 dB sensitivity, which gives them tremendous dynamic range and allows use with almost any high-quality ampliier. You must experience T Ref for yourself !
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May 2018 Volume 83/Number 4
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Editor-in-Chief: Rob Sabin Executive Editor: Claire Crowley Senior Editor, Technical Editor, Video: Thomas J. Norton Audio Editor: Mark Fleischmann Technical Editor, Audio: Mark J. Peterson Editors-at-Large: Bob Ankosko, Darryl Wilkinson Contributing Technical Editors: Kris Deering, Barb Gonzalez, Al Griﬃn, Steve Guenberg, Michael P. Hamilton, Daniel Kumin, Fred Manteghian, 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 Copy Editor: Ken Richardson Web Monkey: Jon Iverson Contributing Photographer: Jorge Nunez General Manager: Keith Pray, 212-915-4157, firstname.lastname@example.org Associate General Manager: Ed DiBenedeo, 212-915-4153, email@example.com Advertising Sales Manager: Mark Aling, MAC Media Solutions Central & West Coast Manufacturers, National Retailers, Classifieds 289-828-6894, firstname.lastname@example.org Advertising Operations Manager: Monica Hernandez Advertising Coordinator: Lorraine McCraw Sales Coordinator: Rosemarie Torcivia, 212-915-4160, email@example.com ENTERTAINMENT GROUP MANAGEMENT President: Norb Garre VP, Sales & Marketing: Kristen Ude Production Director: Kasey Kelley Group Content Director: Micah Abrams DIGITAL GROUP Director of Engineering: Jeﬀ Kimmel Senior Product Manager: Marc Bartell Digital Content Strategies Manager: Kristopher Heineman TEN: PUBLISHING MEDIA, LLC President: Kevin Mullan SVP, Editorial & Advertising Operations: Amy Diamond CONSUMER MARKETING, ENTHUSIAST MEDIA SUBSCRIPTION COMPANY, INC. SVP, Circulation: Tom Slater VP, Retention & Operations Fulﬁllment: Donald T. Robinson III VP, Acquisition & Database Marketing: Victoria Linehan VP, Newsstand Retail Sales: William Carter
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Back Issues: To order back issues, visit TENbackissues.com. Subscription Customer Service: E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call (800) 264-9872 (international calls: 386-447-6383), or write to Sound & Vision, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235. Please include full name, address, and phone number on any inquiries. Canada Post: Return undeliverable Canadian addresses to IMEX Global Solutions, P.O. Box 25542, London, ON N6C 6B2. Reprints: For high-quality custom reprints and eprints, please contact The YGS Group at 800-290-5460 or TENreprints@theygsgroup.com. Any submissions or contributions from readers shall be subject to and governed by TEN: Publishing Media’s User Content Terms and Conditions, which are posted at hp://www.enthusiastnetwork.com/submissions.
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We welcome questions and comments
E-mail them to HTLetters@sorc.com. Please note: Questions about the features and 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 habits. All submissions are considered the exclusive property of Sound & Vision magazine and TEN Publishing. We reserve the right to edit letters for brevity. Due to the volume of mail that we receive, we regret that we cannot respond to every letter.
Straight Steer on Stereo Reading the reproduction of your 1958 article “Straight Steer on Stereo” (February/March and soundandvision. com) was like being transported by Mr. Peabody’s Wayback machine, particularly the section on radio broadcasts simultaneously using an AM and FM station to achieve a stereo broadcast. hat’s exactly how I irst heard stereo in the L.A. area (Santa Ana). My father set up two radios, and based upon scheduled broadcast times, we listened to the new efect in sound. Within the next year, he had bought a Bogen amp and FM tuner, Rec-o-Kut turntable with a Shure M12, a couple of AR2s, and accompanying electrostatic tweeters. From that point on, we only bought ‘Stereo’ records. I’m currently resurrecting the turntable for old time’s sake, in his memory. Gary Kinsman Pleasanton, CA
The “Inconvenience” of Vinyl More often than I care to, I will read a letter to Sound & Vision from some crank telling me what our beloved audio pastime should be and why we are all delusional for not following their prescribed method of participation. Herb Goldman’s letter in the February/ March 2018 issue (“A Flash of Vinyl?”) was the latest feeble rant to do so, replete with slams against Mike Mettler, “golden ears,” “status-hungry millennials,” the resurgence of vinyl, and the “lunatic fringe.” his 65-year-old crank wants to set the record straight (in whatever rpm you like). Goldman’s overweening thesis is that we should all bow down to the god of convenience. His paradigm of musical enjoyment is restricted to the least amount of efort required from a music playback source, wherein the iPod would rule the audio world. Strangely, he omits digital server streaming (maybe he hasn’t heard). His rationale is the traditional mass-market appeal of successive emergent formats of convenience. So he debunks variants
14 MAY 2018 soundandvision.com
like SACD and vinyl as regressive elements of the lunatic fringe. What a load of crap. Do you like to cook yourself a delicious meal, or do you prefer the convenience of driving through a dismal burger chain every night? Do you like to watch a 4K or Blu-ray Disc and enjoy the pristine picture and sound, or do you prefer streaming a convenient low-bandwidth, lowresolution facsimile? What the millennials have discovered in vinyl playback is not some trendy nostalgia (is any generation less nostalgic than our millennials?), but their desire for a closer connection to the music. his is the joy and advantage of vinyl and physical media. It involves us in the creative process of the artist. It is a richer multi-sensory experience than MP3 convenience can provide. I enjoy my iPod nano and little Grado ’phones on long walks. I enjoy streaming jazz, both Becks, and the Pixies while cooking and doing housework and shop projects. Very convenient. I also enjoy sitting down and listening to CDs, SACDs, DVDAudios, and vinyl in front of my robust Marantz/Wharfedale 7.2 surround system while I read liner notes. I love to take my time and let the music bring me to a diferent place. Same reason I have driven a stick shift V8 Mustang for the past 31 years. It’s not always the most convenient vehicle, but it gets me closer to the road and my love of driving. And when I stomp on the loud pedal, it makes a little music of its own. Magazines like Sound & Vision and Stereophile show us all the ways we can connect to the emotion and intelligence of movies and music. From budget wonders to high-dollar marvels, they cover all the bases. Let’s celebrate this hobby for all the reasons we can and not dump on the methods and motives of those who enjoy it diferently than we think practicable. Roger Vance Crescent City, CA
Herb Goldman, in his February/March letter, after a concise history of convenience in music listening, makes the blindingly obvious point that vinyl is less convenient than MP3s, then goes on to trash an entire group of music listeners, those of us who buy vinyl. According to Mr. Goldman, who alas doesn’t bother to cite the source of his statistics, we’re all either statusdesperate millennials or oldies who claim we have “golden ears” and can hear sonic improvements in vinyl... without actually listening to any. I’m 57, so certainly not one of Mr. Goldman’s “golden ears.” I have an MP3 player and an Alexa home speaker, but I get the most enjoyment out of listening to music seated on my sofa, between stereo speakers, uninterrupted by convenience, and sometimes that means vinyl. If that makes me a member of the “lunatic fringe,” so be it. Why vinyl? Not for status. Not for display. As a mid-level audio enthusiast, I wouldn’t make any claims to its sonic superiority (although it certainly sounds diferent to me). Perhaps there’s some nostalgia there, and certainly appreciation of a tactile object—but mostly, because I like it. Rather than questioning the reasons why people buy music in a particular format, I wish that Mr. Goldberg had celebrated the revival of vinyl, and the fact that there’s another format (yes, with its tradeofs of convenience and idelity) that allows music fans more options to choose from, rather than deriding and mocking those of us who buy vinyl. Robert Edwards Via e-mail
I ran Herb’s letter without comment (it spoke well enough for itself) and assumed I could count on readers to respond with opinions from both sides of the argument. We did get a few e-mails from the vinyl supporters who took ofense to the letter’s tone and apparent dismissal of the format, but alas, nothing In Defense of Herb. My perspective: I would hardly call everyone who genuinely enjoys playing LPs today an audiophile or golden ear—there are diferences in the character of vinyl and digital, even hi-res digital, that are obvious on good-quality, mid-priced playback systems. Whether you think vinyl “better” or merely different, it has its engaging qualities. But I do think Herb had a valid point in questioning what’s driving the current resurgence. Many of the so-called new “turntable” sales in the last few years
LETTERS have been nothing more than low-grade, suitcase-style all-in-one record players that have nothing to do with good sound. Visit an Urban Outfitters store, and youâ€™ll see them lined up on the shelves. Iâ€™d guess those are being purchased mostly by millennials who either didnâ€™t know any better or just wanted the convenienceâ€” thereâ€™s that word, againâ€”of a fully integrated system. Ater all, what existing component would they likely have to connect a â€œrealâ€? turntable to, anyway? So, while I donâ€™t think vinyl is going to go away again so fast now, I do think there is an element of the current market that may, in fact, grow tired and abandon it sooner than the rest, especially if the record companies keep charging premium prices for new LPs.â€”RS
Wow, Without the Fluer Michael Treiâ€™s review of the $1,699 Technics SL-1200GR in your February/ March issue raised a couple of questions in my mind. First, did I make a mistake when I sold my working 1974 Technics SL-1300 (a semi-automatic version of the original 1200) for only $100 two years ago? Second, why are there no quantitative test results in the review? When I bought the 1300, the reviews included
such lab measurements as wow and lutter, speed accuracy, induced buzz and hum levels, VTA range, tone arm mass, and variance in tracking angle across an LP. Mr. Treiâ€™s report has no performance measurements at all. Is this because modern turntables are so good that measurements are irrelevant? Or does it mean you, too, got rid of your turntable stuf a few years back, including test gear? Just askinâ€™â€Ś Thomas V. Lento Wilmington, DE
Your note brought a grin to my face, Tom. First, to the second question: Itâ€™s very much the latterâ€”itâ€™s been a long time since we had access to test gear that could measure those turntable parameters. We probably wonâ€™t do enough turntable reviews to justify a reinvestment at this pointâ€Śbut I admit the thought momentarily crossed my mind when I saw your letter. As for the verdict on you letting your SL-1300 go for $100â€Ś recent completed eBay sales of this unit range from about $125 up to $300 (or even more in some cases) depending on condition. But Iâ€™d say it was only a mistake if youâ€™re hankering now to listen to your old LPs.â€”RS
At-Home Engineering With regard to the letter in the January issue from the fellow looking for test equipment for measuring loudspeakers (â€œWhen I Grow Up, I Want to Be Mark Petersonâ€?): A good, reasonably priced, semi-professional means of measuring loudspeaker capabilities can be found using the software package Arta (artalabs.hr). I have been using this software for well over a year, and it provides most of the primary loudspeaker characteristics. he FAQ at their website recommends the necessary hardware to purchase to support oneâ€™s measurement needs. Keith Hollman Via e-mail
hanks for the recommendation, Keith. In our previous response, our own Tom Norton recommended the $300 OmniMic V2 system from Parts Express as an afordable and all-inclusive option (mic and sotware included, just add PC). Iâ€™m not familiar with Arta, but I can see from the website that the cost for unlocking this â€œsharewareâ€? for an individual user is just 79 euros (about $96) and that you would presumably just add a computer with one of the compatible soundcards and a calibrated mic.â€”RS
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Your writers, especially homas J. Norton, are hard to read because they are addicted to parentheses. I quit reading J.D. Salinger for this fault. Itâ€™s like listening to someone speak who has to pause every few sentences to vomit. Probably on my shoes. David Adelman Via e-mail
David, thanks for the observation; it brought a smile. I honestly canâ€™t argue with the criticism, and, as suggested by your comment, Tom is hardly the only ofender. At least a couple of the other guys are also fond of the more-thanoccasional aside, and I personally never met a comma- or M-dash-separated clause, parenthetical, or (wellconstructed) run-on sentence I didnâ€™t like. I suppose weâ€™re just trying to pack it all in, while also qualifying the subject matter (as is oten required) with some scant, extra technical detail that might otherwise, in its absence, result in a misleading statement or, god forbid, an outright falsehood. he upside of such constructions, should there be one, is a certain cadence to the language that we hope brings a bit of personality and lyrical joy to the proceedingsâ€”lest we become as dry and direct as a technical engineering paper...or perhaps, Hemingway.â€”RS
Perfect focus NEW GEAR, TOP NEWS, HOW TO, AND MORE... Edited by Claire Crowley
Bringing Back Victor Records 15 Minutes with Graham Alexander, President of Victor Corporation of America GRAHAM ALEXander is a talented musician, but he’s also an entrepreneur, historian, and music-label exec who has undertaken the enormous (and laudable) task of resurrecting Victor Records, the iconic brand that dates back to the earliest days of recorded music. We’re talking the label that recorded the likes of Sergei Rachmaninoff and forged an exclusive recording deal with the legendary opera singer Enrico Caruso. More than that, Alexander has created a delightful live-performance space called The Vault in the small town of Berlin, NJ, about 20 miles from Center City Philadelphia. The venue is unique in that it’s home to the official Victor Records archive as well as an assortment of historical artifacts and memorabilia. We sat down with Alexander to learn more about his multi-faceted operation. —Bob Ankosko S&V: We need to go back to the ’90s to tell your story. Talk about your musical influences and boyhood fascination with the historic RCA “Nipper” Building on the waterfront in Camden, NJ, home of the Victor Talking Machine Co. at the turn of the 20th century and later RCA Records. GA: I actually never knew it as the RCA Building since I was born in 1989—it
18 MAY 2018 soundandvision.com
was already the GE Building at that point. Locally, though, everyone I knew called it “The Victor Building.” I knew it as Victor because in the ’90s the Victor Victrola was a hot antique market item—every house had one again! So it seemed there was a revival in public interest. My earliest musical influences came from the Victor Victrola and my grandparents—one was a singer in a 17-piece big band, the other a folkie—my mother, who loved R&B and hip-hop, and my father who was (and still is) a singer-songwriter and bass player. I spent a large amount of time with my grandparents, who had a beautiful Chickering Parlor Grand piano and a Victrola phonograph. S&V: So a couple decades later, you came upon an opportunity that led to the acquisition of several iconic brands. GA: In short, I saw the music industry break—and watched a beautiful model that had given careers to a lot of musicians and writers absolutely collapse. When I was working on my first album [Graham Alexander, released in 2011], I had interviews at two of the three remaining “major labels” and quickly learned that, while they really liked music, they focused most of their attention on safe bets and back-catalog releases. Who can blame them? If I owned the rights to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, I’d reissue it on tree bark, too. [Editor’s Note: Visit victorrecords. com/hismastersvoice for more on this subject and Graham’s unique perspective on the music business.]
I turned down any offers and became determined to redesign the industry into one that took its music development money from another source: hardware. Manufacturing of home audio was the backbone of the entire industry at the birth of the music industry and, with the vinyl boom of the last 10 years, this system made a whole lot of sense. Victor was always on my mind when I worked on Broadway in NYC as a musician [he was a cast member of Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles in 2010-2011]. I had heard the Victrola label was up for sale, so I bought it and slowly began to revive Victor. The Victor Company managed to acquire virtually all of the original brands associated with Victor’s first 50 years in Camden, including, but not limited to, His Master’s Voice, Camden Records, Little Nipper, Victrola, Bluebird Records, and Victor. We then began to manufacture and press records, opened a music venue, and continued to run Victor Studios…and the rest is still unwritten. S&V: Tell us how you parlayed these wonderful brands into the new Victor enterprise, including their new home at The Vault in Berlin, NJ… GA: So our first order of business was opening Victor Studios, which we did in 2013 in Haddonfield, NJ (Camden County). Then, in 2015, we opened The Vault of Victor Records. We needed a place to store the archives of the company, and we wanted to be able to open that archive to music fans and researchers. On top of that, we wanted a cool intimate live music venue for showcases and Victor artists and album releases. Education and brand awareness is a major component of it all: There was not a single definitive book or online source of any meaning about Victor. S&V: Is it accurate to characterize the
Vault of Victor Records as the face of—or umbrella for—the new Victor? GA: I wouldn’t call it a face or umbrella, but it has been important to have a physical manifestation of the company on a smaller scale, as we build a new larger facility. When we open our new headquarters in 2018, the Vault of Victor Records will remain, but it has always been a satellite of the Victor brand itself as opposed to the other way around. The Vault of Victor Records became a place—the epicenter—that represents the Camden area reclaiming its music industry throne. Camden is the birthplace of the music industry. S&V: Tell us about the actual vault and the archive it houses. GA: The Vault of Victor Records [literally an old bank vault] is really cool. It holds 10,000 or so masters, test pressings, lacquers, and tons and tons and tons of corporate papers and film negatives, all part of the archival department of Victor Music Group. A lot of our acquisitions came from former employees, private collections, or were simply inherited from takeovers. Some of the coolest stuff there: presidential speech masters, the master lacquer of the first sounds of war ever recorded, unreleased Rachmaninoff recordings, and blues and jazz takes that were never issued. The list goes on and on and on and on.
The full version of this interview appears on soundandvision.com.
This Just In... By Mark Fleischmann
BluOS Is Streaming Amazon Music on Bluesound and NAD audio products. You’ll need the latest software update for BluOS devices (2.14.2) and the latest BluOS app (2.14.0 or higher)...
wireless products are on the way...
A New Board for NAD Samsung May Use LG LCD panels in future TV models, reports the Korea Herald. Samsung has been seeking a new supplier to replace Sharp, which bowed out after being acquired by Foxconn...
LG and Meridian are teaming up on the design of LG audio products. They’ll include soundbars and wireless speakers (see this month’s New Gear)...
Sony’s Android Smart TVs will run Comcast’s Xfinity TV Partner app in 2018. Watch live, on demand, and cloud DVR material via the X1 program guide...
Vizio’s SmartCast TV platform now has a working NBC app. Just the thing to catch that SNL skit they’re talking about at the water cooler...
Channel Master’s Stream+ combines over-the-air TV reception with support for all apps in the Google Play store except Netflix and Amazon Video. It
includes two tuners, voice search, Dolby Digital (and DD Plus), Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and a USB port (version 3.0, for future applications)...
Hulu’s New Live TV service and user interface are now running on the open-source Tizen OS, used in Samsung’s 2017 smart TVs and other products, plus Android, iOS, fourth-gen Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Nintendo Switch, Roku, and Xbox One. Samsung TV owners can upgrade service to include enhanced cloud DVR...
HDR10+ Is Now Streaming from Amazon Prime Video on Samsung premium smart TV models. This is the streaming debut of HDR10+...
Netflix May Expand HDR support someday, an executive told TechRadar. It already supports the widely used HDR10 and is mulling over HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, though not for the near future...
HDR-Enhanced TVs will grow from the current 12.2 million sets in homes to 47.9 million by 2021, says an IHS Markit forecast. However, only 23 percent of UHDTVs shipping this year offer “the full HDR experience,” an analyst adds, citing the cost of backlights as an obstacle...
Chrome for Android is getting HDR support. LG, Samsung, and Sony make HDR-compatible Android smartphones...
Cable Broadband is leveling off, with growth slowing by 17.2 percent this year for Comcast, and 17.9 percent for Charter/ Spectrum. Telco broadband providers like AT&T and Verizon are starting to eat the cable operators’ lunch...
Verizon Will Launch 5G wireless broadband service in Sacramento, California and four other undisclosed markets. It has tested “pre-commercial” gigabit service in the millimeter wave spectrum in 11 markets...
Verizon Added Netflix to some of its FiOS TV set-top boxes. Comcast and the Dish Network previously have done the same...
DirecTV Now passed the one million subscriber mark. The AT&T-owned streamer plans to roll out cloud DVR, UHD support, more VOD titles, individual profiles, and a new user interface...
radio stations around the world. Search for stations with the X1 voice remote...
Comcast Pulled Remote DVR scheduling from its Stream app after the International Trade Commission ruled that the feature violated two TiVo patents. You can still use Stream to download and play content...
Pay-TV Operators Will Lose 26 percent of their subscribers by 2030, forecasts the Diffusion Group. Household penetration will drop from 85 percent to 79 percent of U.S. homes...
Voxx International, owner of Klipsch, has expanded its membership in the Wireless Speaker and Audio Association (WiSA) to include its Acoustic Research, Energy, Heco, Jamo, Magnat, and RCA brands. That may mean more WiSA-compliant
modular two-channel products adds three HDMI-ins and one out. The MDC HDM-2 supports UHD including HDR10, 24/192 audio resolution, and sells for $299...
Key Digital Has Added Sonos to the streamlined integration products in its Compass Control Pro program. Bidirectional drivers afford control of EQ, audio, playback, queue, and browsing along with now-playing info...
Voice Search is used by only half of those who have access to it, says a TiVo study. Of those using it, 46.5 percent do so with satellite TV, 28.7 percent with Amazon Fire TV, 19.6 percent with Apple TV, and 17.2 percent with a game console...
Cinemark’s Movie Club gives you one 2D film ticket per month at any of 350 theaters for $8.99/month. You can also bring a friend at that price, enjoy a 20 percent discount on snacks, and roll over unused tickets to the following month...
Comcast Has Added iHeartRadio to its X1 set-top boxes, offering access to traditional soundandvision.com 19
Klipsch Heritage HP-3 Headphones
Klipsch Heritage HP-3 Headphones
Performance Build Quality Comfort Value
By Steve Guttenberg
A New Classic PRICE $1,199 THE HERITAGE HP-3 IS A clean break from all of Klipsch’s previous full-sized headphones. Although Klipsch’s previous headphones were decent, I never felt they put the same passion into their headphones as their speakers. Maybe that’s why the HP-3 feels like a new beginning. Klipsch is finally going up against the big boys in the high-end audio headphone biz. This bit in the HP-3 press release set me reeling: “The Heritage HP-3 was inspired by founder Paul W. Klipsch (PWK). Long before stereo existed, PWK’s first audio experimentation was with a pair of headphones that he modified for stereo reproduction in 1919.” Klipsch really was a forwardthinking man! As for the HP-3s, even before you pop them on your noggin, you can’t help but notice the build quality in their die-cast steel, handsanded and -polished wood, sheepskin (for the earpads), and machined aluminum mate-
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THE VERDICT At last, with the Heritage HP-3 there’s finally a Klipsch headphone founder Paul W. Klipsch would be proud of.
AT A GLANCE
Plus Q Solid machined wood earcups Q Rich sound balance Q Bio Dynamic drivers
Minus Q So-so comfort over long sessions rials. Klipsch offers the HP-3s in three solid-wood finishes—walnut, ebony, and oak. Klipsch-o-philes take note: The earcup grilles are the same material used
in the company’s 70th anniversary Klipschorn, Cornwall, and Heresy speakers. The HP-3s’ 52mm BioDynamic (a.k.a. biocellulose) driver comes from CM Foster in Japan. It’s a “free-edge” design that uses a roll surround, similar to the sort you see on speaker midranges and woofers. Most headphone drivers don’t have surrounds; instead, their thin film diaphragms adhere directly to the driver frame. Klipsch engineers collaborated with CM Foster to fine-tune the sound with a series of radial slots in the driver’s baffle. HP-3s are assembled in China. The genuine hand-stitched cowhide headband looks cool, but I wish it had more padding. Same for the ear cushions, which didn’t seal all that well. The HP-3s’ comfort over long listening sessions was good but nowhere near as comfy as, say, the Beyerdynamic T1 or Sennheiser HD 800S headphones. To get acquainted with the HP-3s’ sound, I checked out ex-Top Gear hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May’s new series, The Grand Tour, with the boys driving a V12 Aston Martin DB11, a supercharged V8 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, and a twin turbo V12 Rolls-Royce Dawn across Italy. The sounds of those exquisite rides massaged my eardrums to a fare-thee-well. The HP-3 was in all its glory. As for music, the HP-3s sound sweet, and the clarity is there, it just doesn’t shout detail or sound lean. Indeed, the sound flatters both male and female singers, who sound more full-bodied than they do on a lot of headphones. The bass deserves special praise for
Klipsch • klipsch.com
its dexterity—it doesn’t suffer from any thickness or flab, and dynamics are given their full due. Soundstage width and focus are quite nice. The HP-3s are very Americansounding headphones, by which I mean they’re big and bold. In that sense, they sound like a big Klipsch tower speaker. The HP-3s’ looks remind me of the $1,190 EnigmAcoustics Dharma D1000 hybrid electrostatic/dynamic headphones I reviewed for Sound & Vision back in 2015. I still have the Dharmas on hand, so I was eager to compare the two models. Of course, there’s a huge difference in the tech, and the D1000s’ electrostatic tweeter definitely supplied more top-end air and clarity than the HP-3. Lee Ann Womack’s The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone album’s tear-stained tunes had more soul over the HP-3s, while the D1000s’ sound was clearer and more hi-res. The two headphones offer two very different perspectives on the music, but if I had to choose, I’d go with the HP-3 for their more organic tone. The Heritage HP-3s aren’t the first Klipsch headphones, but they’re the company’s first ’phones that’ll tempt audiophiles. I’m sure they won’t be the last.
SPECS Type: Semi-open back, over-theear • Driver: 52mm biodynamic drivers • Impedance: 25 ohms • Sensitivity: 98 dB • Weight (Ounces): 15.9
Dragon Box Holds Pirate Booty
Smart Speakers and he Art of War Sun Tzu was a Chinese general and military theorist living in the 6th century B.C. He was the author of he Art of War, a treatise on military strategy and tactics. In addition to its profound military importance, his work has inluenced many other competitive enterprises. I imagine that business executives are studying Sun Tzu right now, as they plan for one of the greatest corporate wars of all time.
“The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.” he coming war, already building in intensity, is the war of the smart speakers. Who could have guessed that loudspeakers, such a sedentary technology, would suddenly become weaponized? Of course, it’s not the
Who could have guessed that loudspeakers would become weaponized? magnets and voice coils that are in contention; it’s their newfound intelligence. And it is vital that companies win that war or at least occupy some of the disputed territory. How important? It’s expected that smart speakers will be smartphones all over again.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Sales of smart speakers were a paltry $360 million in 2015. hat’s hardly enough for a company to remodel the restrooms in their headquarters. By 2021, the smart speaker market is expected to be $3.5 billion. hat’s a respectable igure, but it’s chump change compared with the real rewards at stake. Imagine that you had a device in every home that searched the internet, played music, made phone calls, read e-mail, bought goods and services, controlled other smart devices, etc. Leveraging that data low and data-mining it and selling the information would bring you untold billions.
“Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.” Amazon was the irst company to score major victories. Its Alexa products introduced smart speaker technology to the public; thanks to its head start, Amazon owns 70 percent of the smart speaker market. Alexa is integral to Amazon’s strategy of enlisting you into the army of Amazon Prime. Apple, Microsoft, and Google responded with their own smart speakers. And outside the home and oice, the battle is moving to cars. Talk to your new BMW, and Alexa will respond.
he people behind the Dragon Box are in big trouble. Amazon, Netlix, and major movie studios are suing in California district court because the box accesses their content without a subscription. he Dragon Box website says otherwise, claiming that it “acts merely as an index of media posted by other enthusiasts on the internet, which is completely outside of our control.” But the lawsuit contends that “when used as Defendants intend and instruct, Dragon Box gives Defendants’ customers access” to copyrighted material, not only including cable and streaming sources, but also movies still in theaters. he device sells for $350, and no, we’re not going to tell you where to ind it.—MF
“On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your allies.” he four combatants are all natural enemies in diferent respects. But Amazon and Microsoft don’t really go head to head in most of their endeavors. hus, they agreed to join forces for this battle. By the time you read this, Alexa and Cortana will be linked; you can ask one to access the other. Over time, as the integration strengthens, the systems will automatically route your request to whichever assistant is most competent to respond. his alliance makes complete sense; Alexa occupies millions of homes, and Cortana lives in millions of PCs via Windows 10, while Google and Apple own phone platforms and, as such, occupy the high ground. Apple, in particular, is very protective of its high ground. Amazon and Microsoft failed in the phone market and must do everything they can, including collaboration that efectively places two assistants in each hardware device, to compete against the powerful phone assistants.
Sharp Bows 8K Camcorder Don’t panic, 4K Ultra HDTV buyers, but Sharp has just introduced its irst 8K camcorder—for pro use, of course. he 8C-B60A uses a 33-million-pixel image sensor to record 40 minutes of 8K to a solid-state drive. It weighs 10 pounds and will cost 8 million yen, or more than $70,000, when the irst models are delivered to NHK, the Japanese broadcast authority. It’s unlikely that consumers will need to go 8K in the near future, so don’t worry about the 4K UHDTV you’ve just bought or are about to buy. Instead, pay attention to which HDR formats are supported by that 4K set you’ve got your eye on.—MF
“He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.” I have all four assistants arranged strategically around my house. In turn, I asked them if they knew who authored he Art of War. Each of them promptly responded that it was Sun Tzu. Clearly, they’ve been preparing for a ight.
AT&T Powers Up AirGig
Lights Off, Breeze On he snappiest way to adjust the ambiance in my home theater is to touch an icon on my phone to start the ceiling fan a-twirling. Touch another icon, and the fan’s room light turns of. Getting the fan’s speed right may require another tap or two. It should be fast enough to dry TV viewers’ brows but not so fast as to cause paper plates and napkins to ly of the cofee table. Touch control of the things that enhance our entertainment experience is pretty cool, right? Not cool enough, actually. he screen app has already been eclipsed by something even cooler. Let me explain. Doing my part to ight climate change, I made the switch from air conditioners to ceiling fans. I have six fans hovering over various rooms, including the living room, which doubles as the home theater. he wide-span, ive-blade fan rotates in tandem with almost all our TV viewing from May through October. Until now, it’s been operated entirely from a dedicated RF remote kept near the sofa. Compared with other gadgetry at trade shows, ceiling fans are decidedly low tech. But when I came across the Olibra booth, I
The next big interface will be spoken, not touched. was impressed by the company’s pitch that you didn’t need a smart fan to make it Wi-Fi-compatible. Even legacy fans could be app-controlled by the Bond, a $99 hockey-puck-like emitter. You plug it into an electrical outlet and install the free Bond app on your iOS or Android device. You point your fan’s remote at the Bond, which searches its database. he Bond had no diiculty identifying the fans in my reading room and home oice. Both were RF devices operable from other rooms. (If your remote is IR, the Bond will need line-of-sight to that particular fan.) Fans deploying only wall switches or pull-down chains are not compatible. he Bond stumbled when I tried to get it to recognize the Hampton Bay fan in my living room, home to movie night and the raison d’être for covering the product in
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AT&T’s AirGig delivers 1-gigabit-persecond internet service using a novel powerline-assisted technology. Signals don’t travel through the power grid directly. Instead, millimeter wave signals are guided by antennas connected to the grid by local electrical workers. he technology is designed to bring internet service to urban, rural, and underserved areas in general, in the U.S. and worldwide. he irst test is in a rural part of Georgia in partnership with a local utility, the Georgia Power-Southern Company. In addition to feeding mobile devices, AT&T also thinks the technology has applications in augmented reality and self-driving cars. (Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, the distinction between augmented reality and virtual reality is that “augmented reality enhances one’s current perception of reality, whereas virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated one.”)—MF
S&V. Chris Merck, Olibra’s chief engineer, called to explain that, unlike my other fan remotes, the model in my living room incorporates an LCD readout. I was advised to keep pressing a remote button rather than just holding it down to see if the Bond could capture the code. hat worked. I successfully commanded my fans over the internet using the app on an iPad away from home. It’s unclear why I’d want to do that except, perhaps, to cool a pet or turn on a light to give the impression that someone was home. In the support call, Merck told me something that was an aha! moment. He said that 90 percent of his users put away the app and operate the Bond entirely through an Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker. “I say, ‘Alexa, turn on kitchen fan.’ It’s what I prefer to do at home. You’ve got both hands full cooking. It’s very convenient to just use your voice.” Can you understand my dismay? Here I am writing a monthly column largely about apps on mobile devices, and now I’m being told by a company that makes apps that its app is not essential. I felt like calling it quits. But I didn’t do that after keyboards and mice took a back seat to palm-size screens. And I didn’t do it after the natural world succumbed to the virtual world. So, I’m not about to give up on screen apps just yet. But clearly—at least in the home—the next big interface will be spoken rather than touched. See bondhome.io.
Verizon to Stream NFL Verizon has struck a video streaming deal with the National Football League to bring games to Verizon-owned websites and apps. hey include Yahoo, Yahoo Sports, and go90, and of course games will be on the NFL app. Coverage will include pre-season, regular season, playofs, and the Super Bowl plus other original content. he Yahoo Sports app is available in both Android and iOS.—MF
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Motion Vision X
DirecTV Skeds UHD, HDR
A/V Games My system consists of a Sony XBR-X900E TV, a PlayStation 4Pro console, and a Yamaha YAS-207 soundbar. The PS4 Pro does not play Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs, so I’m planning to buy an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. Here’s my problem: I want to connect both the PS4 Pro and the disc player to the Yamaha, but the soundbar only has one HDMI input. I’ve looked around for an HDMI switcher that’s compatible with both 4K/60-Hz video signals and high dynamic range but haven’t been able to find one. Will I have to switch the cable connected to the soundbar from my sources on an as-needed basis to maintain best picture and sound quality? Paul Trava / via e-mail
I wouldn’t suggest doing that—unplugging and replugging cables each time you switch sources is a hassle, and it can also put signiicant wear and tear on the connectors. A more elegant solution to your dilemma would be to use an HDMI switcher. You can ind HDMI switchers that are compatible with both 4K/60-Hz signals and high dynamic range on sites like Amazon. Many of these cost under $50 and are made by outits with colorful names like Foscomax, Rooful, and Awakelion. My suggestion would be to look for a model with an Amazon’s Choice tag, which
Are Dolby Atmos and TrueHD the same thing? indicates that the product is highly rated by buyers. If you’re seeking a more road-tested solution—the type that would be used by a CEDIA-ailiated custom integrator—and are willing to spend more money, I’d also look at HDMI switchers from companies like Key Digital, Atlona, and Gefen. Having said all that, since you’re planning to buy an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, why not get a model that has built-in HDMI switching? Oppo Digital’s UDP-203 (Sound & Vision, May 2017 and soundandvision.com) features an HDR10compatible, 4K/60-Hz-capable HDMI input you can use to hook up your PS4 Pro. To select between the PlayStation and the UDP-203’s output, all you’ll need to do is switch them using the Oppo player’s remote control. At $549, the UDP-203 isn’t the cheapest Ultra HD Blu-ray player out there, but its HDMI switching feature will both solve your connectivity problem and
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ensure that you get the best A/V quality from each source. I recently bought an Xbox One X console and have it connected to my Yamaha RX-A2050 A/V receiver. When I watch Atmos demo videos using the Dolby Access app on the Xbox, my AVR’s front-panel LED display reads “Dolby Atmos.” I get the same result when I watch Netflix shows with an Atmos soundtrack. When viewing Ultra HD Blu-rays with Dolby Atmos soundtracks, however, the receiver’s front panel will read “Dolby TrueHD.” Are Atmos and TrueHD the same thing? Hans Furey / via e-mail
No, they’re not. Dolby TrueHD is a lossless audio codec that supports up to eight audio channels on Blu-ray Disc. Dolby Atmos soundtracks, in contrast, consist of audio objects—up to 128 of them—that are mixed in a 3D soundield during the production process. When the soundtrack is played back in a movie theater or home environment, the audio objects are rendered by an Atmos decoder to the available speaker set, which includes overhead ceiling speakers. While Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD are two separate soundtrack formats, Atmos data on Ultra HD Blu-ray is actually an extension to TrueHD that is folded into the bitstream to maintain backwards compatibility. Here’s how that works: If you play a disc with an Atmos soundtrack, the Atmos extension data is decoded by an Atmos-compatible receiver. If your receiver isn’t Atmos compatible, the extension data gets ignored and the soundtrack is decoded as regular Dolby TrueHD. Now that we’ve covered the diferences between Atmos and TrueHD, let’s discuss your Xbox One X. here are documented issues on the Xbox support site of Microsoft’s Blu-ray player app defaulting to TrueHD output when playing discs with Atmos soundtracks. Microsoft regularly updates their app (a patch was recently done to correct too-high black levels when playing discs with high dynamic range video), so your irst step should be to make sure you’re running the latest version. While you’re at it, also make sure to update the irmware on your receiver: Atmos playback problems with the Xbox One X are reportedly associated with speciic receivers and soundbar models, so Yamaha may have a related ix in the works.
Ultra HD goodies enhanced by HDR are comin’ round the bend from DirecTV. First to hit the birds was an NFL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vegas Golden Knights. hirteen NBA games were slated at press time, along with women’s college basketball, the Rose Parade, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra’s 14th annual Christmas Rocks! concert. DirecTV’s three Ultra HD and HDR channels deliver 60 frames per second, wide color gamut, and 10-bit color depth. Programming can also be viewed on non-HDR UHDTVs.—MF
Talk to Your Comcast Box Comcast has added voice control to its X1 DVR/receiver. he XR15 voice remote will enable you to go forward or back speciied lengths of time in DVR or VOD material—for example, “go back 10 seconds.” You can ask the voice remote what song you’re hearing in a movie, show, or ad. here’s also a ind-my-phone feature that lets you speak your name or number. —MF
The Connected Life
Voice Control: The Next Interface Frontier As audio/video systems have advanced in performance, features, and capabilities, they have also become increasingly more diicult to operate. Back in the day, a TV was just a TV, with a single remote control and about 13 channels to navigate. You pointed the remote at it, and if it didn’t work, you changed the batteries. A sound system had an input selector to choose what to listen to and a volume knob to make the music louder or quieter. hings rarely locked up or needed rebooting because there was no computer or microchip to lock up or reboot. here were no HDMI handshakes to deal with or copy protection schemes capable of rendering the whole system inoperable. Worst case scenario, someone would press a Tape 2 Monitor button or turn on Speaker B instead of Speaker A, and a single button press normally righted the ship. Today, the systems I install are often incredibly complex. he displays are fed by multiple sources from both inside and outside the house; the surround system can have upwards of 11 channels; and speakers are located throughout, driven by audio matrix switchers and multichannel ampliiers. Intertwined amongst this A/V gear are additional subsystems like lighting, security, surveillance, HVAC, and more, with the whole thing run by an advanced control system that replaces a tabletop full of remote controls. Even so, getting a picture on the screen or audio in a room can require multiple button presses. More than ever, the control interface needs to be intuitive and simple.
Companies are embracing voice for control in a multitude of ways. he gold standard for this would be one that passes the babysitter or mother-in-law test. hat is, something so inherently easy to use and understand that a guest user could come over and make it work…without having to read a laminated sheet of step-by-step instructions that sits on a cofee table by the pile of labeled remotes. A near-perfect example of this is Apple’s iPhone and iPad interface. My daughter, Audrey, is not quite 22 months old, but she’s already mastered the iOS interface. Once the screen is unlocked—a process she understands but has yet to master—she knows to swipe through multiple screens and even embedded folders until she inds the app (YouTube) she’s looking for. Once there, she swipes through videos, minimizing and closing ones that don’t meet whatever criteria she’s currently searching, pressing the home button to close the screen when she
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wants something else. his ethos was perfectly summed up by Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior VP of worldwide marketing in his recent interview with Bob Ankosko (available at soundandvision.com) where Schiller said, “he most important attribute, and the one we map all of our products to, is user experience: Apple’s legendary ease of use and the ability to just plug it in and it works.” Since the dawn of A/V, we have primarily lived with button pressing as the most intuitive user experience. Press this button, and something will happen: the volume goes up, the channel changes, the system turns of, etc. It’s cause and efect and, for the most part, efective and intuitive. Provided, of course, you know which button to press. But as we increasingly move beyond single room to integrated whole-home control, button pressing is frequently no longer the most ergonomic, and voice control appears to be the next frontier. his was especially apparent at this year’s CES where voice control demonstrations were practically everywhere. Whether Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, Apple’s HomePod, or Samsung’s Bixby, companies are embracing voice for control in a multitude of ways. hink of a fairly typical application like turning on lights and music for a party. You pull out your phone, unlock it, open a control app, navigate to lighting, select a lighting scene, then navigate to audio, ind and select the music to listen to, then add rooms where the music should play, then set volume levels in each area. Phew. hat’s a lot of button pressing. Instead, all of that could be accomplished by just walking into a room and saying, “Turn on Party Mode” or the like. I’ve had Alexa integrated with my Control4 and Lutron systems for the past 16 months, and it’s great for many things. Like walking into the house with my arms full and asking Alexa to turn on the lights. Or heading over to the couch with drinks in hand and asking Alexa to start Movie Time. Voice control is also great for mundane chores like checking the weather, setting cooking timers, getting daily news, getting a drink recipe, or just querying random facts (“Where are the 2020 Olympics?”). Voice control certainly isn’t perfect yet. For example, Alexa often tells me a device doesn’t exist, isn’t responding, or just ignores my request altogether. And interfacing with advanced control systems requires speciic programming for each command. Plus it isn’t ready for multiple strings of commands in natural speak like, “Turn on lights in the kitchen, dining, family and breakfast room, and play some jazz.” However, voice control integration is still in its infancy, and the resources behind it and companies driving its development forward look promising indeed!
VR Flies Through the Air Virtual reality via antenna? It’s almost here. LiveWorks has introduced an AR/VR platform compatible with the incoming ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard, using a $15,000 grant provided by the National Association of Broadcasters—for whom the next-gen over-the-air TV standard is of course a big deal. “HD live feeds can be switched, mixed and overlaid onto the live VR feeds in real time along with 3D graphics and other interactive and immersive content,” boasts the company. Advertising might evolve from traditional ads to “artful product placement” in games or stories, coupled with “rewards.” —MF
Roku Tries New Moves Roku has a bunch of new moves for other brands incorporating its platform. In addition to its own set-top boxes and various brands of Roku-hip smart TVs, there’s now a reference design for soundbars that uses the operating system for voice control, searching, and streaming (TCL announced the irst model at CES). It works with any HDMI-A RC-capable TV. here’s also a reference design for smart speakers in either single- or multi-room conigurations. Roku speakers can integrate with Roku TVs and boxes. hen there’s Roku Connect, for wireless speakers. And inally, a Roku Entertainment Assistant is being prepared as a free software update to the Roku OS. Roku might become an ecosystem unto itself. —MF
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Reference Tracks mikemettler Roxy Music’s Self-Titled Re-make/Re-model of Rock Convention Gets a Rich 5.1 Upgrade
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thing of being happy with having this blend of stuf. It didn’t have to be a funk or a blues or jazz, or something weird or psychedelic. We were all happy to have this combination of things built around very simple chords.
Courtesy Virgin UMC
No one had ever seen or heard anything like it before. When Roxy Music released their self-titled debut in June 1972—ironically enough, on the exact same day their spiritual brother-in-creative-arms David Bowie released he Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars—the artschool-tempered British sextet instantly ushered in an immediate sea change for both the style and sonic character of an already sagging rock scene. Roxy shook up the form’s visual sensibilities with a highly stylized, playfully suggestive front cover featuring internationally renowned fashion model Kari-Ann Muller, clad in a pinkand-white satin swimsuit and sprawled out with a shiny gold record placed just out of the reach of her outstretched right hand on the back cover. Not only that, but the music found within such provocative packaging undisputedly forged new ground—most especially the way the always forward-thinking master synth/tape operator Brian Eno manipulated the otherworldly sounds he was able to coax out of an EMS VCS3 portable synthesizer. “It’s easy to forget very few bands even had a VCS3 synthesizer in those days,” points out Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera (at left in the photo above). “Pink Floyd had one and we had one, but I can’t think of anyone else who was using one at the time. here may have been a Moog out there, but not in the
way we and [Floyd keyboardist] Rick Wright were using the VCS3. It was more of an electronic soundscape idea, with the diference being it’s coming from within the context of a pop band.” And now, the Roxy Music party is being properly feted with a 45th anniversary special edition 3 CD/1 DVD set that includes demos, outtakes, BBC Sessions, and surround sound guru Steven Wilson’s wholly immersive 96-kHz/24-bit DTSHD Master Audio 5.1 mix. I got on the line with Manzanera, 67, to discuss the band’s intuitive sense of interplay and why the album’s intent comes across even better in surround. Next time is the best time, we all know….
very much the right way of thinking about it—the idea of having musical conversations. I might play this [verbally mimes a rif], and Andy would play that [mimes another rif], and then Brian would play something else. hen you agree on something, bounce it of each other, and go somewhere else. And when Bryan is singing, you’re there to support the vocal and the lyric, to try and create a musical context for him. hat’s what all of us were really doing on that irst album. We were trying to create an interesting musical backdrop and context for this singer with a strange voice—and good looks! (chuckles)
MM: he individual relationships between the players is one of the things that makes Roxy Music such a special album, in my opinion. You and [vocalist] Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, and [saxophonist/oboist] Andy Mackay all have what I call an interplay shorthand. Did you feel you were working more directly with one person in certain sections of each song, or was it more of a group feel overall? PM: Deinitely in the instrumental bits, we were having conversations, really. hat is
MM: Steven Wilson’s surround mix puts us in a space that reinforces how every song on this album really has its own individual character. PM: It’s very diicult to categorize the styles of the diferent songs, because they chop and change around. hey are a bit like collages—and Bryan, of course, had been taught how to do painting collages by Richard Hamilton when he studied at [Newcastle] University. But I think by a complete sort of luck, he ended up with a bunch of musicians who had this natural
MM: Does the surround version of the album give you something you always wanted to hear, or something you didn’t expect? What does it mean to you? PM: To me, the 5.1 is the star of the show. Because if you’re a Roxy fan and you’ve heard these tracks for years, you now hear them in a diferent way. here’s so much to gain, so it’s worth it just for that. MM: Is there one particular song in the Roxy canon you would like Steven to mix in 5.1? PM: (slight pause) Ooh. Actually, I’d say “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” [from 1973’s For Your Pleasure]. I think that would be amazing to hear in surround. An extended version of the MettlerManzanera Q&A, including a discussion of the iconic solotradeof section during “Re-make/ Re-model,” appears in the S&V Interview blog on soundandvision.com.
CD & DVD LABEL: Virgin/UMC AUDIO FORMATS: 44.1-kHz/16-bit PCM Stereo (CD & download), 96-kHz/24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 96-kHz/24-bit Dolby AC3 Sound 5.1 (DVD) NUMBER OF TRACKS: 58 (39 on three CDs, 19 on 1 DVD) LENGTH: 4:41:52 (3:17:51 on three CDs, 1:24:01 on 1 DVD) PRODUCERS: Bryan Ferry, Darryl Easlea, Johnny Chandler (box set), Pete Sinfield (original album) ENGINEERS: Andy Hendricksen (original album), Steven Wilson (DVD 5.1 mixes); Ray Shulman (DVD mastering); Bob Ludwig, Frank Arkwright (CD mastering, studio tracks); Rhett Davies, Simon Willey (CD mastering, BBC Sessions tracks)
w w w.G o l d e n E a r.c o m |
THIS MONTH’S HOT STUFF...
A Emotiva DC-2 Desktop DAC Supercharge your desktop rig! That’s what you’ll be able to do with the DC-2, an update of Emotiva’s reference-quality DC-1 digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Emotiva CEO Dan Laufman calls the new half-height DAC a “no-holds-barred converter for any enthusiast whose music library is stored on a computer or hard drive.” Moving Up: The upgrades begin with a new 32-bit AKM Verita DAC—equipped to handle a range of hi-res audio formats, including DSD—an AK4136 sample rate converter selected for its “extremely low jitter and detailed sonics,” a beefed-up headphone drive stage, and a new low-noise switch-mode power supply. Connections include a USB port, standard (RCA) and balanced (XLR) analog inputs and outputs (one each), and three digital inputs (coaxial, BNC, and optical). You can select inputs and adjust settings via front-panel buttons or the supplied remote. Price: $699 Emotiva Audio • (877) 366-8324 • emotiva.com
G Marantz AV8805 A/V Preamp/Processor OK, you can stop salivating now. Yes, the new AV8805 flagship pre/ pro from audio pioneer Marantz is a beast. Allow us to dip into its vast reservoir of features, starting with the 13.2-channel architecture (with 15.2-channel XLR and RCA outputs for flexibility), which sets the stage for over-the-top 9.2.4 or 7.2.6 speaker layouts with Dolby Atmos or DTS:X object-based surround processing (both on board). Or you can go with Auro 3D processing, which will be available as a free firmware update in the future. From there, think state-of-the-art in technical design, processing, and connectivity. Futureproof: When you’re dropping serious coin on new gear, the last thing you want to worry about is obsolescence. Marantz told us AV8805 owners will be able to upgrade to HDMI 2.1 when the spec is finalized. It won’t be free, but you won’t be left out in the cold, either. Price: $4,499 Marantz • (800) 654-6633 • us.marantz.com
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J Riva Audio Riva Central Wireless Amplifier Think of Riva Central as a pathway for integrating existing speakers and other audio gear with Riva Audio Arena and Festival speakers you’ve set up around the house. Connect your speakers (or component) to the nondescript box, and they become full-fledged members of your wholehouse music network, with centralized control of your music sources through the Riva Wand app. If the speakers you’re adding are passive, no worries: A 55-watt-per-channel amplifier is included. Copious Connections: The Central’s impressive selection of connectors makes it possible to make just about any audio device wireless. In addition to speaker connections, Riva provides a USB input—perfect for a memory stick loaded with favorite tunes—plus analog and optical digital inputs and outputs and a 12-volt trigger to power an external amp. There’s even a line-level subwoofer output. Price: $399 Riva Audio • (844) 438-7482 • rivaaudio.com
D LG SKY10Y Dolby Atmos Soundbar System Last December, LG and Meridian Audio entered into a partnership to “raise the bar on acoustic performance, using natural and authentic sound derived from research and development.” The SKY10Y soundbar is the first LG product to emerge from the collaboration, and it’s got Meridian fingerprints all over it. Higher Ground: The bar supports Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 sound with two up-firing speakers and is built to handle hi-res audio files. In keeping with the high-performance theme, the SKY10Y has four HDMI 2.0 inputs and packs 550 watts of power, excluding the power built into the companion wireless subwoofer; it also incorporates Meridian’s Height Elevation technology, which lifts sound to screen level and improves dialogue intelligibility, and is compatible with Google Assistant for voice control and Chromecast built-in for access to a wealth of content. Estimated Price: $1,200 LG • (800) 243-0000 • lg.com
J Sony A8F OLED Ultra HDTV Sony continues its OLED comeback with a scaled-down version of the award-winning A1E, one of Sound & Vision’s 2017 Top Picks of the Year. Available in 55-inch ($3,000) and 65-inch ($4,000) versions, the A8F models drop the easel base in favor of a more conventional stand but retain Sony’s outstanding X1 Extreme processor, which does as good a job of upconverting HD and lesserquality video to 4K as we’ve seen. The processor handles three flavors of HDR—HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG)—and analyzes color and adjusts contrast in real time to produce a more realistic picture. See It, Hear It: The A8F series also retains Sony’s unique Acoustic Surface “sound on screen” technology that turns the entire screen into a sound-producing diaphragm, complemented by bass from a subwoofer mounted behind the screen. Sony • (239) 245-6354 • sony.com soundandvision.com 31
TECHNICAL TALK THE BOSE 901 SPEAKER SYSTEM Julian Hirsch’s review of the Bose 901 in 1968 helped set off one of the greatest and longest-lasting audiophile debates. There may be no singular product in modern audio history that has generated more accolades, derision, or pure controversy than the Bose 901 loudspeaker. Introduced in 1968 by a then four-year-old concern named after its MITeducated founder, the 901 neither looked, nor sounded, like any speaker that had come before it. With its pentagonal cabinet that faced eight of its nine identical 4-inch, full-range drivers at the relecting wall behind the speaker, its designer Amar Bose sought to have it mimic the way we hear in concert halls and imbue its sound with a giant soundstage and spatial realism that was unsurpassed. Beyond any success of its spatial trickery, the 901 had its issues— the combination of its small cabinet and unusual dispersion pattern required equalization at both ends of the frequency spectrum, and it was (not surprisingly) room and placement sensitive. Some sophisticated audiophiles bemoaned a perceived lack of detail and veiled quality to its sound. J. Gordon Holt, founding editor of our high-end sister publication Stereophile, noted in a 1971 commentary (available at stereophile.com) that the 901 “produces a more realistic semblance of natural ambience than any other speaker system, but we would characterize it as unexceptional in all other respects.” My own mentor, Harry Pearson, Jr., told me in the early 1980s that he bought a pair of irst-generation 901s after reading the positive reviews in the mainstream audio press and was so disappointed that it prompted him to found he Absolute Sound as an alternative voice. In the legend and mythology of the Bose 901, the review we’ve reprinted here, written by Julian Hirsch for HiFi Stereo Review’s September 1968 issue, looms large. It has been suggested by some observers that few factors beyond Bose’s own advertising contributed more to the
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speaker’s huge commercial success. While the review retained Hirsch’s usual dispassionate and professorial voice, it was certainly as close to a rave as he ever got. In 1998, when SR celebrated its 40th anniversary and Hirsch was asked to relect on the most noteworthy products he’d encountered, he cited the 901 right alongside such classics as the original Shure V15 cartridge, the Marantz 10B tuner, and the Dynaco A-25 bookshelf speaker. Back in ’68, the 901 review appeared without fanfare and was mixed among the several featured each issue in Hirsch’s “Technical Talk” department, which always began with a brief essay (not reproduced here), followed up by a handful of product tests. he 901, with periodic improvements, remained continuously available from Bose right up until 2017, when the company inally suspended production.—Rob Sabin DEPENDING on one’s viewpoint, the Bose 901 speaker system might be considered a revolutionary approach to sound reproduction, or simply a workable combination of well-established (and sometimes deprecated) techniques. he Bose 901 enclosures house nine small, specially designed drivers that have 4-inch cones and powerful magnetic structures. Eight of the drivers are angled to the rear, while the ninth is mounted on the front of the enclosure facing the listening area. his arrangement is intended to achieve approximately the same ratio of direct to relected sound that exists in the concert hall. he 901’s cabinets are quite compact, measuring 12-3/4 inches high by 20-9/16 inches wide when viewed from the front. Seen from the top, the rear of the enclosure forms a “V” of about 120 degrees. Basic to its operation is the requirement that it be mounted with
he uniformly excellent tone-burst response of the Bose 901 is illustrated by the oscilloscope photos of tone-bursts at (let to right) 130, 1,000, and 9,500 Hz. the “V” facing the wall, the apex being about 12 inches from the wall. When a pair of 901s are so installed, the sound appears to be uniformly distributed across the wall between the speakers completely free of any “hole-in-the-middle” efect. Since only 11 percent of the sound is radiated directly forward, it is almost impossible to localize the source. An intrinsic part of the Bose 901 system is an active (ten-transistor) equalizer that handles both channels; it compensates for the highfrequency losses inherent in the relecting process and also lattens out the bass response. (he uncompensated bass response is down because of the natural bass roll-of resulting from the very small volume of the enclosure.) Housed in a walnut cabinet 2-13/16 inches high by 9-1/4 inches wide and 6-3/4 inches deep, this self-powered equalizer unit is connected either between the preampliier and power ampliier or in the tape-monitoring signal path of the ampliier or receiver. In the latter case, the ampliier’s tape-monitor switch is left set to TAPE. So that the tape-monitor function would not be lost, Bose has built it into the equalizer. A tape recorder can be connected to the equalizer and the usual monitoring switching performed through it. here are ive controls on the equalizer, four rocker switches and one ive-position rotary control. One rocker serves as an on-of switch, another as the tape-monitor switch, and the third as a low-cut ilter that primarily afects frequencies below 40 Hz. his is intended to reduce rumble or acoustic feedback. he fourth rocker switch interacts with a rotary ive-position treble-contour control. When the rocker switch is set for NORMAL, the rotary switch provides a boost position, a lat position, and three positions of decreasing
high-frequency response from the speakers. When the rocker switch is set for TREBLE DECREASE, it introduces a depression in the response between 2,000 and 6,000 Hz. he ive switched contours then not only afect the very-high-frequency speaker performance, but also the frequencies between 500 and 2,000 Hz that are not afected with the rocker switch in its NORMAL position. In all, ten diferent high-frequency/mid-range response contours are available. For those who have well-trained hearing and musical judgment— plus the urge to tinker—it is possible to correct for poor recordings to a remarkable degree with the equalizer controls. Most people will probably prefer to leave them in their NORMAL settings. he active equalizer introduces no perceptible distortion. We measured its distortion at less than 0.13 percent for any output under 3 volts, which is greater than would be required with any ampliier we know of. he output signal is of approximately the same level as the input signal. In the August, 1968 Technical Talk column, I commented on the diiculty of Our original review of the Bose 901 in September 1968 was one of several that month in describing speaker performance in purely Julian Hirsch’s Technical Talk department. objective terms. he Bose 901 is a perfect illustration of this problem. After a couple of months of living with a Bose 901 system, I am convinced that it ranks with a handful of the inest home speaker systems of all time. Because of its unconventional mode of operation, I rather doubted that any frequency-response measurements I could make would account for the remarkable realism of its sound. Diicult as it is to measure the output of a single direct radiator in a normal living room, it is well-nigh impossible to measure an almost perfectly dispersed sound pattern such as that of the 901 without strong inluence from the efects of room acoustics. Nevertheless, a measurement was attempted. We placed the speaker in the recommended position relative to the wall. We did not have the equalizer in the signal path for our frequency-response and tone-burst measurements, but measured the equalizer
BOSE 901 SPEAKER SYSTEM response separately and added it to the speaker response to obtain the inal curve. Ten microphone positions were used, and their readings averaged. Harmonic distortion was measured at a 1-watt drive level with the equalizer installed. It was no surprise to ind that the inal response curve was not as lat as some we have measured. here appeared to be a broad rise of about 5 or 6 dB in the 130- to 250-Hz region, although we could not detect its presence by ear. he output fell smoothly above 1,000 Hz to –7 dB at 6,000 Hz, then rose to the 1,000-Hz reference level between 10,000 and 15,000 Hz. he low-frequency harmonic-distortion measurements were afected by the speaker and microphone placement. he distortion was 7 percent at 20 Hz, and reached maximums of 12 percent at 30 Hz and 10 percent at 50 Hz. It was considerably lower at other frequencies in the bass range. (As a point of reference, the better acoustic-suspension speakers have about half as much measured distortion at similar drive levels.) We listened to the Bose 901 in several listening rooms, which ranged acoustically from extremely hard and bright to quite dull. It was compared in A-B tests with several of the better speaker systems at our disposal. he Bose 901 had an utterly clean, transparent, and efortless sound. Its clarity and deinition when reproducing complex orchestral passages were, in the writer’s opinion, unsurpassed by any other speaker he has heard. his impression was conirmed by its tone-burst response, which was uniformly excellent across the frequency spectrum. Its low-bass response was diicult to credit to such a compact system. It had all the room-illing potency of the best acoustic-suspension systems, combined with the tautness and clarity of a full-range electrostatic speaker. he spatial distribution, which brings an entire wall alive with sound, contributes greatly to the sense of realism. here is, unfortunately, a serious obstacle to the universal accep-
tance of a speaker such as the Bose 901. he 12-inch gap necessary between the apex of the speaker and the wall places the front of the speaker about 30 inches from the wall. Bookshelf mounting is generally impractical, and it may be diicult to install the 901 in the correct location without disturbing room decor. Many potential users will be forced to decide between style and sound. Electrically, the Bose 901 is rather ineicient, and the 18 dB of bass boost supplied by the equalizer requires huge reserves of ampliier power if loud low-frequency passages are to be played. To a lesser degree, the same problem exists at the very high frequencies. Bose recommends ampliier power ratings from 20 to 200 watts per channel, into 8 ohms. We have used it successfully with ampliiers at both ends of this range. Unlike most speakers, the 901 sounds as good at a whisper as it does at a roar, but if you are ever tempted to turn up the volume a bit, an ampliier with a continuous power rating of at least 60 watts per channel is strongly recommended. A possible compromise is to use the “below 40 Hz” roll-of in the equalizer, which reduces low-frequency peak-power requirements by 8 dB and has little audible efect. Incidentally, don’t worry about overloading the 901. he individual drivers can each handle 30 watts without diiculty, and few of us are likely to be able to apply more than 270 watts to each channel. In the inal analysis, the judgment of a speaker must be subjective and personal in nature. I have, on occasion, warmly praised speakers that I considered to be outstanding performers. Everything I have said in the past is still valid. Nevertheless, at this moment, I must say that I have never heard a speaker system in my own home which could surpass, or even equal, the Bose 901 for overall “realism” of sound. My partner, Gladden Houck, concurs to the extent that he considers it a very ine system, certainly the equal of anything at or near its price. he Bose 901 system, consisting of two speaker units and the equalizer, is priced at $476.
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Some aﬀordable projectors, such as the Epson Home Cinema 4000 LCD projector ($2,200, at right and below), accept 4K HDR signals but use 1080p imaging devices with pixel-shiing to enhance resolution.
Closer Than It Looks With new ultra-short-throw and cheaper 4K projectors appearing on the market, your path to the ultimate home theater experience appears to be shrinking. by Rob Sabin
ast year in our annual front projection update (May 2017, available at soundandvision.com), we wrote about how the category wasn’t about to be left behind on the 4K, Ultra HDTV revolution. Nothing in this business stands still,
of course, and we’re happy to report that “front projection’s reinvention,” as we dubbed it last year, is moving into yet another phase. Not only are 4K-compliant projectors more readily available, better performing, and in some cases much cheaper, we’re also seeing a batch of fresh ultra-short-throw home theater projectors reaching the market in 2018. So what does this mean for you if you’ve always dreamed 36 MAY 2018 soundandvision.com
about sitting back in front of that giant 100-inch screen? Read on to ind out.
Let the Revolution Begin Let’s start with the premise that, for now anyway, there is no viewing experience you can have with any conventionally sized and
-priced lat panel that will match the impact of a large projection screen. Sitting, say, 12 feet back from a 100-inch-diagonal image ups the engagement factor, big time. hat said, it wasn’t too long ago that acquiring that big screen meant a serious commitment and willingness to deal with space
More critically, although an ALR screen should provide a surprisingly high-contrast image when the lights are on, as well as a boost in contrast versus conventional screens when the lights are of, they may produce a LG’s recently announced 4K ultra-short-throw projector, the HU80K, pearly or sparkly has an upright design that allows it to project images from the floor, quality to the image mounted on a wall, or hanging from the ceiling. surface that could be more noticeable in dark-room viewing. So if requirements, potentially complex installation, it’s paramount for you to get a smooth, ilm-like and the need to control ambient light to avoid picture in a darkened home theater, a convenwashing out the image. tional matte-white screen is still the best option. In the last couple of years, that’s started to Keep in mind, too, that you can still keep your change with the appearance of two signiicant 65- or even 75-inch lat panel around as your front projection technologies: ambient-lightday-to-day TV for lit-room viewing and let your reducing (ALR) screens and ultra-short-throw den or family room do double duty as a dark(UST) projectors. he new ALR screens have been a game changer in their own right up to room projection theater with the pulling of this point. Combined with UST projectors, shades and the push of a button that drops a though, they stand to introduce front projection retractable screen down in front of your everyday set. and the really-big-screen experience to a whole new class of customers. Let’s take the ALR screen irst. Sound & Skip the Install Vision has been reporting for years on so-called ALR screens may represent an opportunity to “high-gain” or gray screens intended to boost take front projection out into the light of your contrast in modest ambient lighting or with everyday living space, but the installation inherently darker source material, such as requirements for conventional projectors projected 3D images. But their performance remain a serious impediment. For a 100-inch was marginal at best. Today’s ALR screens are screen, most permanently installed projectors another breed entirely, and they employ some will likely utilize a ceiling mount placed at sophisticated, multilayered designs to more least 10 feet from the screen if not greater, directly eject light coming from overhead or the which provides the necessary throw distance sides of the screen while relecting light from (depending on the projector) and a clean line the projector back to the viewer. As long as the of unobstructed sight that prevents viewers projector has suitable brightness, some of these from casting shadows on the image every time screens can produce a remarkably high-contrast they get up for a snack. hat means hanging image, even in a lit room, something impossible a projector in plain view in your living space just a few years ago. So, ALR screens really open or somehow concealing it at the back of the the opportunity for taking projection out of a room, as well as snaking long cable runs dark-room home theater environment that through the ceiling and walls back to the requires controlled lighting and spreading it signal source. It’s easy to see why so many people take the pass. to multi-use spaces around the house as an alternative to the lat-panel TV. In response, Ultra-short-throw projectors tackle this issue projector manufacturers have been ratcheting up the light output as best they can on the latest projectors, even the more afordable budget projectors, with a few models hitting 3,000 lumens or more. To put that in perspective, until the advent of high dynamic range (HDR) content (more on that below), 1,200 lumens was generally considered more than enough to light up a 100inch-diagonal projection screen in a dark room. here are some caveats with these screens, though. Although late-gen ALR screens are deinitely appearing now at budget prices, these high-tech materials remain considerably more expensive True native 4K projectors, which can than traditional matte screens, and the better display all the pixels in a UHD signal at once examples of the breed can easily run $3,000 to with no need for pixel-shifting, remain rare in $5,000 or more for a 100-inch-diagonal, 16:9 the consumer market. Sony’s VPL-VW285ES version. ($5,000) broke a new low price for the category.
head on. A UST projector combines a small, typically component-like chassis that gets placed just below and only inches from the projection screen. An optimized lens allows it to cast a geometrically correct image of 100 inches or more on either a conventional screen material or an application-speciic ALR screen that accepts light from below and relects it to the viewer while rejecting it from all other angles. It’s a simple matter to place your video sources and audio components nearby, perhaps in the same console furniture that supports the projector or in an adjacent rack, so there’s no requirement for any mounting or in-wall cable runs. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, as some folks say. So, what’s not to like? Well, although UST projectors have been around for the business and educational markets for a while, home theater-centric models are just starting to appear. And while the UST projector/ALR screen combos we’ve tested so far have lived up reasonably well to their promise of replacing a TV for lit-room viewing, so far we’ve yet to see one that delivers the dark-room contrast and black levels of a high-performance theater projector. hat includes the top of the crop, where Sony has its $25,000 VPL-VZ1000ES laser-driven 4K SXRD projector, or at the entry level where Epson has the new LS100, a lamp-driven 3LCD projector priced at $3,000 (both reviews available at soundandvision.com). In this issue, Al Griin reviews the Hisense Laser TV, a 4K DLP projection system that retails for $10,000 and comes with its own UST screen and ofers a host of TV-like features, including a built-in tuner. See page 58 for his results. Still, we’re just at the beginning of this UST trend, and it’s reasonable to assume that in future generations manufacturers will get more serious about further improving image quality. One thing we’ll also be exploring in future reviews is how well these UST projectors might perform in dark-room applications with traditional white-matte screens. Given the ease of installation, a high-performance UST projector makes an attractive use-case even for a dedicated theater room with controlled light.
Details, Details Most new lat-panel TVs today are Ultra HD models, and front projection is very slowly heading in the same direction. As we’ve frequently reported, the beneits of Ultra HD start with 3840 x 2160 pixel resolution, or approximately 8 million pixels of detail versus the 2 million for 1080p or “Full HD” resolution. hat spec for Ultra HD comes close to the 4096 x 2160 pixel count for true digital cinema 4K—hence, the common use of both terms in describing UHD displays. he extra pixels beyond Full HD have frequently been dismissed by the pundits for displays of 75 inches or smaller, where the beneits are said to be lost unless you sit uncommonly close to the screen. On the other hand, they are most welcome for large projection screens, where they can visibly smooth diagonal and circular soundandvision.com 37
CLOSER THAN IT LOOKS
Thanks to DLP’s affordable new 4K imaging device, full-resolution 4K projectors are turning up below $3,000—with Optoma’s UHD65 ($2,500) among them.
edges on objects and generally provide a sharper overall image. he more recently introduced UHD features of wide color gamut (WCG) and high dynamic range (HDR) are more obviously discernible. But while the additional color range of WCG is a shared beneit among both lat panels and projectors, the noticeably brighter highlights and deeper blacks of HDR just don’t come across with the same impact as they do on traditional TVs. Brightness has always been a challenge for projectors casting a large image, which explains why the digital projector at your local cinema is a monster that dwarfs any consumer product. But the ability to hit the high peak-brightness levels on small isolated portions of a projected image to provide the same level of enhanced viewing you get with HDR on a top-notch direct-view display has, for now anyway, not been demonstrated in any afordable consumer projector. Complicating matters is the fact that, while the industry has issued a clear technical target for what HDR should ideally look like on a lat panel, it has yet to do so for projectors. With no standard in place, projector makers have been forced to develop their own formulas for the socalled “tone-mapping” that translates the brighter highlights and darker blacks found in HDR-mastered content to the screen. Some do it better than others, but all still seem to be feeling their way around for now. his doesn’t mean that there isn’t noticeable extra punch visible when these projectors are fed HDR content, just that the experience still falls short of the more visceral efects possible with today’s best lat panels. hat shouldn’t be enough to steer you away from the quite dramatic engagement you’ll have with an enormous projection screen or to avoid seeking out a projector with HDR capabilities. But it’s something to be aware of. Given the beneits of 4K projection with scaled-up 1080p material and native 4K content delivered by the Ultra HD Blu-ray format and 38 MAY 2018 soundandvision.com
video streams, you’ve got good reason to lean toward a 4K projector. Native 4K consumer projectors, which we deine as those whose imaging devices deliver all the pixels of a UHD frame simultaneously, are still scarce. Until recently, Sony was alone in this market, delivering a range of models that started at $10,000 and went up to $60,000. JVC joined them last year with a $35,000 model. his year, Sony broke a new low price barrier for a native 4K model with its $5,000, VPL-VW285ES (review at soundandvision.com). In the last year, though, several other manufacturers have introduced DLP-driven projectors, including several under the $3,000 price point, that use pixel-shifting to bring all the pixels in a UHD frame to the screen. hey use a new DLP chip that delivers the information in two sequential frames of approximately half-UHD resolution, with the pixels partially overlaid and diagonally ofset from one another. he rapid sequencing of the frames allows the eye to blend them into one image. his approach oicially qualiies as a UHD display under Consumer Technology Association rules, and our tests so far suggest that any diference in detail versus a true native 4K display is negligible with real program material. hat said, in our admittedly limited experience to date, this DLP chip does appear to ofer less native contrast than prior-generation DLP chips and would presumably need to be mated with suitable dynamic contrast-enhancing features such as an automatic iris or another method to suiciently modulate the light source. We’ve only tested three models to date, the BenQ HT9050 ($8,999), Optoma UHD65 ($2,500), and Hisense Laser TV (review this issue). Only the latter provided reasonably acceptable dark-room contrast. Alternatively, two manufacturers—JVC and Epson—are selling high-performance home theater projectors that accept 4K video signals (while providing WCG and HDR playback) and use similar pixel-shifting technology with 1080p chips to deliver onscreen resolution that is efectively in between 1080p and UHD. Although there’s some sacriice in detail versus 4K projectors, the proven contrast and blacklevel performance of these projectors, coupled with the beneit of having access to native 4K
content—especially on UHD Blu-rays, with their HDR- and WCG-enhanced images— makes for a very reasonable trade-of. JVC’s projectors start at around $4,000, and late last year Epson introduced a $2,200 1080p pixel-shifter, the Home Cinema 4000 (review at soundandvision.com). If a basic 1080p projector is all you need or can aford for now, you can ind acceptable performance below that $2,200 price point, and for as little as $600. he $1,200 to $1,500 range is a particularly ripe sweet spot for projectors with quite excellent color, reasonably high light output, and average to above-average contrast. hey are much improved over their predecessors in that price class of just a couple of years ago.
Pick Your Pic here are three major display technologies used in today’s consumer projectors: the aforementioned Digital Light Projection (DLP), liquid-crystal display (LCD), and liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS). DLP uses pixel-sized micromirrors arrayed on dedicated micromirror chips (called Digital Micromirror Devices, or DMDs). he micromirrors relect light toward the screen and oscillate at different speeds to brighten or darken the image. Most DLP projectors employ a single DMD together with a translucent color wheel that spins around to create the red, green, and blue primaries required for a full-color image. Some DLP projectors employ three DMDs, one for each color, and dispense with the color wheel, but they tend to be very expensive. Optoma, BenQ, and ViewSonic are among the popular projector manufacturers that typically employ single-chip DLP technology. LCD projectors shine a light source through translucent liquid-crystal panels whose pixels can be individually opened or shut down to modulate the brightness. Of course, this is the same technology used in the vast majority of lat-panel TVs today. LCD projectors typically employ separate red, green, and blue LCD panels for the primary colors, hence the “3LCD” branding used by Epson, this technology’s chief proponent. LCOS display devices are similar to LCD panels, but they have a relective backing: Light comes in through the front, hits the relector, bounces back through the LCOS device a second time, and is then directed through the lens and out toward the screen. JVC’s D-ILA (Direct-Drive Image Light Ampliier) and Sony’s SXRD (Silicon X-tal Relective Display) are variants of LCOS. Naturally, certain characteristics are attendant to each of these three display technologies. But with careful selection, you’ll ind highperforming and high-value projectors from all of them. Here are a few features and performance parameters to keep in mind as you shop: Brightness. Projector brightness is usually spec’d in lumens. However, there’s no irm standard for making this measurement that all manufacturers adhere to, so it’s best to use this spec only as a general guideline or for gauging
Ultra-short-throw projectors mated with ambient-light-rejecting screens, such as the Sony VPL-VZ1000ES shown here ($25,000), are now an alternative to costly, megasized flat-panel TVs.
the output of one projector versus another in the same manufacturer’s lineup. As mentioned, anything over 1,200 lumens will usually be enough to achieve adequate brightness on a 100-inch screen in a fully darkened room, but for high-ambient-light conditions, additional light output and/or an ALR screen might be required. Given the trend toward HDR among 4K-compliant projectors, more brightness is better—though in these projectors or any others, it ideally shouldn’t come at the sacriice of contrast. Contrast and black level. he ability to deliver something close to true black is as critical for image quality with projectors as with lat-panel displays. While high brightness can be had in many budget projectors, getting high output with good contrast is more challenging. Better projectors start with imaging devices that have a low native black level, then add a dynamic iris or other technique to modulate brightness on dark scenes to improve contrast. LCOS-based projectors have traditionally delivered the best blacks and have made them a favorite among serious enthusiasts, including the reviewing staf at Sound & Vision, but excellent contrast can be had with well-engineered, premium LCD and DLP projectors, too. 4K content playback. We’ve already covered the diference between true native 4K, pixel-shifted 4K, and the pixel-shifted 1080p projectors. All of these options provide the signiicant beneit of viewing 4K source material with higher resolution, wide color, and HDR, particularly from UHD Blu-rays. Low fan noise. In many home setups where the projector gets mounted near the seating, it’s critical for the projector to have a suiciently quiet cooling fan that won’t interfere with viewing. Our reviews point out when a fan is unusually noisy. Laser- and LED- versus lamp-based light
engines. Laser- and LED-driven light engines found now in some premium projectors have the beneit of not requiring the regular replacement of expensive lamps, which naturally lose brightness and shift their color proile as they age. And these projectors aren’t susceptible to damage from rapid or unexpected power cycles, the way lamp-based projectors are. Consider the rated lamp life of any lamp-based projector, and if you’re serious about always getting the best performance from your projector, be prepared to recalibrate periodically and replace the lamp prior to its rated half-life. (Half-life is the point at which the lamp’s output is expected to drop to half of its brightness when new, and it depends on how you use the projector—for example, the lamp brightness setting you select.) Lens and setup options. In permanent installations, setup is something you do once, so the lack of remote-operated, motorized controls for lens shift, zoom, and focus shouldn’t be a deal breaker. But you’ll ind this convenience in better projectors, along with lens memories that allow you, for example, to change from a 16:9 image to a widescreen 2.35:1 image with the push of a button. More critical, though, will be the potential lack in budget projectors of lens shift controls, or the burden of an overly restrictive zoom range. Make sure the projector you buy will it your space and mounting requirements.
Screen Dreams Some people think it’s OK to use a bare wall with white, of-white, or specialized screen paint for a home theater screen. Some projectors—usually cheap ones built on a biz-projector platform—even have menu
adjustments to change the color temperature to correct for diferent colored walls! You’re best of with a real projection screen. hese will be designed to relect back at 1.0 unity gain (or perhaps be more relective as the situation requires), to optimize contrast, and to provide a smooth, uniform, ripple-free surface that evenly distributes brightness and color. High-quality matte-white screens around 100 inches diagonal that live up to those criteria are available today for perhaps $200 to $300 from manufacturers like Elite Screens, VisualApex (VApex), and Silver Ticket. hat isn’t to say you can’t ind good reason to spend more on a screen. he price range cited above is for ixed-frame screens that hang on a wall, typically stretched on a black-felt frame that creates a light-absorbing border around the edge. But if your application requires that your screen be hidden until you need it, a manual or motorized retractable screen can provide a stealth installation—and also protect the screen from damage in a multipurpose room. Retractable screens come in surface or lushmounted casings, and in tensioned (generally recommended) and non-tensioned versions. Such screens are typically more expensive and may require professional help for proper installation. Should you need it, there are screens made from acoustically transparent materials that you can hide your speakers behind. And if you require use in high ambient light, there are those ALR screens discussed earlier. Note that some are stif panels rather than roll-up screens, and they come in a variety of gains and styles, including a bordered or edgeless look.
Get the Big Picture here’s no doubt that 2017 was an interesting year for the evolution of front projection, one that saw the introduction of more and less expensive UHD models and the emergence of a new category of product in the easy-toinstall ultra-short-throw projectors. With any luck, 2018 will bring more of the same and further smooth the path to front projection for everyone who’s ever dreamed about it. Stay tuned...
High-tech ambient-light-rejecting (ALR) screens have brought front projection into the living room, but enhance contrast in home theaters as well. Shown is the Seymour Screen Excellence Ambient-Visionaire Black 1.2.
Texas Instruments’ new DLP chip uses pixelshifting to flash up two half-frames of 4K video and achieve full UHD resolution. soundandvision.com 39
Laser Etched By Kris Deering
Sony VPL-VW885ES LCOS Projector PRICE $25,000 AT A GLANCE THESE DAYS, IF YOU WANT A TRUE native 4K projector (no pixel-shifting required) that doesn’t have a Sony badge on it, you’ll have to spend $35,000 and up for the privilege. Meanwhile, Sony now has four different models below that mark, starting at $5,000. Since the debut of the VPL-VW1000ES (in 2011!), we’ve been waiting for other manufacturers to join the native 4K fray—and yet, here we are. This past year, Sony introduced a few new treats to the company’s 4K line. The biggest announcement, however, was the VPL-VW885ES, a consumer projector showcasing a new laser light engine. At $25,000, it slips in at the exact same price as the original VW1000ES and just below its still-current follow-up, the VW1100ES (which I tested in 2014, review at soundandvision.com). But does the VW885ES have the goods to sit side by side with those groundbreaking designs and live up to its lofty price? Let’s find out.
Design The VPL-VW885ES is Sony’s third laser-based consumer projector. Its first was the $60,000 “prosumer” VPL-VW5000ES, also still in the line, which was followed up last year by the ultra-short-throw VPL-VZ1000ES. Like the other laser projectors we’ve reviewed, the VPL-VW885ES uses a blue laser diode that works in conjunction with a yellow phosphor and a prism system to create the red, green, and blue beams that light up the imaging devices, in this case, three of Sony’s SXRD-branded LCOS-based reflective chips, each with a native resolution of true 4K (4096 x 2160). The projector is rated at 2,000 lumens, and it essentially matched (or delivered slightly more than) the light of other projectors I’ve
The recessed lens has motorized focus, zoom, and shift.
40 MAY 2018 soundandvision.com
Plus Q True 4K (4096 x 2160) SXRD panels Q HDR support, including HLG Q Laser light engine
Minus Q Middling dynamic contrast Q Limited HDR adjustments
tested claiming the same output. The big difference here is that, unlike the performance of projectors driven by traditional UHP lamps, the light output should be much slower to fade over time. Sony rates the half-life at 20,000 hours. This projector sports a completely distinct chassis from those of the other Sony models, but it still looks right at home. The sleek lines and hefty weight are what you’d expect at this price. There’s support for high dynamic range (HDR10 and
HLG) via two full-bandwidth (18-gigabit-per-second) HDMI inputs. For those who care, there’s also 3D, made accessible via a built-in emitter (a feature often missing from other projectors). Other ports include RS-232 (for control systems), IR, Ethernet, and USB. Along the other side of the chassis, you’ll find basic controls for power and operation. The slightly recessed lens is fully motorized for focus, zoom, and lens shift, but it lacks a motorized lens cover. I was disappointed when Sony announced that this model would not use the fantastic ARC-F lens previously featured at this price point in the VPL-VW1000ES and currently in the VW1100ES. That lens delivers some of the best optics performance I’ve seen to date. Instead, this projector has a new lens that’s also found in Sony’s less expensive 4K projectors, including the VPL-VW675 ($15,000), VPL-VW385 ($8,000), and VPL-VW285ES ($5,000). This lens doesn’t quite live up to the lofty bar set by the ARC-F. Though it offered
satisfactory performance overall and good pixel delineation in the center of my 140-inch-diagonal matte white screen, its focus uniformity away from the center wavered a bit. I’m not sure this would be visible in every installation when viewed from the main seating distance, but in this $25K model, it suggests a trade-off of some optics quality to allow for inclusion of the laser engine. Chromatic aberration was barely a concern (some light fringing near the sides of the image was visible), and convergence of the RGB imaging chips was spot on. The VW885ES exhibits some of the same processing artifacts that I reported in my review of the VW1100ES and have seen on all Sony 4K projectors I’ve reviewed. This is associated with Sony’s choice to turn on sub-pixel convergence to assist in dialing in the projector convergence before it leaves the factory. It remains on by default when the projector reaches the consumer and is undefeatable except in the service menus. Interference artifacts
THE VERDICT Sony VPL-VW885ES SXRD LCOS Projector Performance Features Ergonomics Value
from this processing are always visible when viewing single-pixel 4K test patterns (typically as swaths of color across the screen, as if someone spilled watercolors on it), including full-field grayscale patterns up to about 45 percent white. The processing prevents the projector from performing true 1:1 pixel mapping to achieve the sharpest possible image and is one of the principal reasons why Sony’s Reality Creation enhancements are needed to compensate and bring back a bit of sharpness—though Sony’s position is that the processing improves image clarity and that the image would suffer if this was turned off. I initially worried that what was visible in the test patterns would carry into regular programming. Fortunately, although I saw some occasional banding from this processing, it was rarely an issue in day-to-day viewing and not something I think most users would spot. Like most other high-end projectors today, this one includes lens memories, allowing for different zoom, focus, and lens-shift positions at the touch of a button. This worked out great with my reference 140inch-diagonal, 2.35:1 Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 100 screen. Setting up lens memories for 16:9 and 2.35:1 took no time at all, and shifting between them was quick and painless. Focus remained
With the new VPL-VW885ES, Sony has added a premium laser model to its consumer projector line, but even at $25,000, it comes with some compromises.
consistent, and I rarely saw any need to fine-tune after a shift. Sony also provides some imagesizing options (1.85 and 2.35 ZOOM) to take advantage of the extra image width afforded by the projector’s 4096 x 2160 pro-4K panel (as opposed to the more typical consumer 4K at 3840 x 2160). This will give you a slight boost in light by using more pixels for the image. The remote is very similar to previous Sony designs, and it worked great. Picture modes and most image enhancement features are easily accessed, and the backlight provided ample lighting in my dark room.
Setup Sony has carried over the menu system from their past models, and it provides plenty of preset picture modes to serve across a wide range of viewing scenarios. As with most projectors, most of these were a bit overtuned for my critical taste. Aer measuring all of them, I seled on the Reference mode, which gave the most accurate image out of the box, with minimal display enhancements. (A full list of seings is available with the online version of this review.) Most of the Sony projectors I’ve tested have been fairly accurate prior to calibration, and this one was no exception. I approached the setup as I do with every projector. I did a full calibration for standard dynamic range material with a target of Rec. 709 color and BT.1886 gamma. I calibrate my peak white point for 16 foot-lamberts for viewing on my aforementioned 140-inch-diagonal, 2.35:1, 1.0-gain matte-white screen. Since I zoom the image out to accommodate 2.35:1, this is equivalent to a 148-inch-diagonal, 16:9 screen, which is typically asking a lot of most projectors.
SONY VPL-VW885ES LCOS PROJECTOR PRICE: $25,000 Sony • (877) 865-SONY • sony.com
With full output on the laser, the projector could deliver a whopping 27 ft-L on this screen. That’s about 1 to 2 ft-L more than what I could achieve with another lamp-based projector I had on hand that is similarly spec’d at 2,000 lumens output, though the laser-lit Sony would maintain this brightness for far longer with little drift. While the brightness was more than enough for my screen with standard dynamic range content, it still fell a touch short of my preference for HDR viewing (minimum 30 ft-L). This projector can support some pretty massive screens for standard dynamic range, but if HDR is a priority for you, I would recommend keeping the size below 140 inches for both 2.35:1 and 16:9 screens. Another option would be to move to a higher gain, though from experience I prefer the smooth uniformity of a highperformance unity gain screen material with 4K projectors. Still, if you desire a massive screen with plenty of light for HDR, a higher-gain material is a workable solution. Managing light output presented one of the more noticeable concerns I had with this new laser design. Most of the projectors I’ve used in past years featured a manual aperture/iris for dialing in the white level you want on screen exactly, while simultaneously increasing contrast as you close the iris down (due to the reduction of light scatter captured by the iris). This is a win-win scenario for any projector that delivers more light than you need, and Sony has provided this feature on
all the models I’ve reviewed over the years. The VPL-VW885ES departs from this, offering no iris of any kind. Instead, a laser level control is provided with a range of 0 to 100, though the range is limited: Moving the control from 100 to 0 only reduced the light output by about half and provided no benefit to the projector’s native contrast ratio (indeed, it actually lowered it slightly). Some say it’s rare to find projection scenarios where you have “too much light.” But given the limited range of this projector’s laser output adjustment, and the inability to shut down excess light with an adjustable iris, careful attention must be paid by those with commonly sized screens (100 to 120 inches diagonal), especially of the higher-gain sort. You may end up stuck with a brighter image than you’d prefer for standard dynamic range content. On the plus side, while the laser adjustment did nothing for contrast, it did help with fan noise levels: A value of 80 or below produced noticeably quieter operation. Still, even at full output, fan noise was on par or lower than most projectors I’ve used that are rated at this light output. In my experience, Sony’s projectors have always been in what I would call the upper-middle of the pack when it comes to native contrast performance (that is, the maximum dynamic range of the projector without the help of a dynamic contrast feature). This projector measured right in line with previous SXRD
The Sony sport clean lines and, at 44 pounds, has a solid heft.
Test Bench Sony VPL-VW885ES LCOS Projector
FULL-ON/FULL-OFF Contrast Ratio: Inﬁnite (Dynamic), 15,000:1 (Native) MEASUREMENTS were taken in various conditions, with most taken in the Reference preset and with the laser at 80%. The gamma correction preset was selected as 2.4. All calibration was done with the dynamic laser disabled, and the contrast ratio measurements were done with various seings for dynamic dimming, as noted. All viewing and measurements were done on a 140-inch-diagonal, 2.35:1 Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 100 screen (1.0 gain). THE full-on/-oﬀ contrast was measured with a Minolta T-10 meter at 12 inches away from the lens face. The highest native contrast ratio (dynamic laser disabled) was obtained with the projector at 100 laser power. This produced a contrast ratio of approximately 15,000:1. Using the dynamic laser in Full mode resulted in an inﬁnite contrast ratio, as the laser turns fully oﬀ. In Limited dynamic laser mode, the peak contrast ratio was 20,000:1. As noted in the review, these dynamic modes were essentially ineﬀective with real program material. For my viewing, I used the projector at 80 laser power for standard dynamic range. This produced a native contrast ratio of about 14,000:1 and
16 -L on my screen. (Note that user setup plays a signiﬁcant role in what type of contrast performance you can expect to see from this or any other projector.) THE RGB tables were captured from a calibration workﬂow in CalMAN from Portrait Displays. RGB color points and grayscale tracking out of the box were very good and on par with previous Sony projectors I’ve tested, with a peak Delta E of 5. (Delta E of 3 or under is considered reference and imperceptible to the human eye.) Minor tweaks to the grayscale and gamma controls resulted in a peak Delta E of 3. Gamma averaged 2.42 with the projector set to 2.4 and Rec. 1886 as my target gamma in CalMAN. THE color gamut in the Rec. 709 proﬁle was nearly spot on, with no value exceeding a Delta E of 3. Peak error aer calibration was less than 2 Delta E, which is excellent performance for any display. Luminance and saturation values throughout the inner gamut were also very accurate.—KRD
Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 22.06 x 8.78 x 19.53 • Weight (Pounds): 44 • Video Inputs: HDMI (2), RS-232, IR, Ethernet, USB
The lamp-free laser light engine is a big selling point. 42 MAY 2018 soundandvision.com
designs (approximately 15,000:1 native contrast ratio). But native contrast is just a starting point, and unlike some other Sony designs that rely on a dynamic iris feature to improve contrast scene by scene, Sony instead implemented a dynamic dimming function for the laser, similar to what we saw with the Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema LS10000 and the JVC DLA-RS4500. A dynamic laser should work conceptually like a dynamic iris in attempting to lower the light output (while gamma is simultaneously modified to keep highlights preserved), but it should ideally be able to respond faster to the signal and provide greater range than a mechanical iris system. However, the dynamic dimming feature on the VPL-VW885ES didn’t behave this way and delivered nearly imperceptible contrast enhancement with regular onscreen images in either of its two active settings. The Limited mode provided just a small but imperceptible bump in contrast, boosting the measurement to about 20,000:1 (from the native 15,000:1 starting point). I assumed the Full mode would significantly enhance this, but with this setting I discovered that the dynamic system would only react to 100 percent black signals, which would cause it to shut down the laser completely for a full onscreen blackout. Signal content that was even one notch above black would cause the laser to
re-engage and the image to come back on, in rapid, jarring fashion, at more or less the previous high level. This behavior allowed for dark transitions between scenes and a contrast measurement of infinite but no actual contrast enhancement with real program material. I confirmed these results by conducting measurements at image levels just above black, and the numbers showed no difference between the modes when it came to measurable contrast (again, the image would dim somewhat, but even this was barely perceptible). This is a surprising shortcoming for such a high-end Sony projector and a departure from the dynamic contrast performance we’ve become accustomed to with their other designs. Admittedly, dynamically modulating a laser’s light output has been challenging for other manufacturers as well, particularly in that first step out of black. I complained of similar jarring artifacts with the Epson LS10000 when I tested it (at a cost then of $8,000), though its dynamic system worked gradually through the range so it wasn’t quite as obvious and still provided benefit to low-light scenes in content. The JVC DLA-RS4500 ($35,000) is the best I’ve seen in this regard, with transitions in and out of black showing almost no artifacts at all, but even that projector had similar problems when it was first reviewed and was only improved later via firmware update. Hopefully this is something that Sony can also address with future updates to the projector.
The backlit remote provides good access to all major controls.
The rest of the setup and calibration for standard dynamic range went pretty smoothly. The Rec. 709 color mode was nearly spot on, with only minor adjustment needed in the menu, and grayscale and gamma needed only a small bit of work to get things dialed in nicely. Care should be taken, however, when setting grayscale and gamma, as you could unintentionally lower the overall contrast performance if you take away light to get the best possible grayscale. I saw contrast measurements drop by as much as 50 percent when I wasn’t carefully monitoring the effect of these settings. I would suggest a professional calibration to ensure the best performance. HDR tuning was another animal entirely. As we’ve covered at length here at Sound & Vision, HDR for projectors is not nearly as mature as it is for flat-panel TVs. There is no formal standard, and the limited light output of projectors generally means that each manufacturer has concocted its own secret sauce for applying the more aggressive tone mapping required to make HDR look right on your big screen. Sony’s approach is a bit simplistic compared with other recent designs I’ve used and reviewed. When the projector detects an incoming HDR signal, it changes its color mode to Rec. 2020 and applies its HDR EOTF over whatever picture mode is active. A new contrast adjustment is shown (labeled as HDR), which, Sony says, adjusts the brightness level of midtones to add some extra punch to the image. In practice, it also affects the clipping point for peak white, so care needs to be taken to avoid turning it up too high and creating clipping artifacts with HDR content. For HDR10 playback, there are two different modes available: HDR10
The two full-bandwidth HDMI inputs support high dynamic range.
and HDR Reference. Sony’s manual says the HDR10 mode should be used with titles mastered with a peak value of 1,000 nits or higher, and HDR Reference is for titles that are 1,000 nits or lower. Critically, black levels and shadow detail were an issue with HDR playback. The optimal brightness (black-level) setting required for HDR in this projector is different from the setting required for standard dynamic range material. But the brightness control is shared for any given picture mode. This results in black crush and a loss of shadow detail in darker content. As a workaround for this lack of control, I set up another picture mode just for HDR using the User picture mode option and selected that one when watching HDR content. We’ve seen other manufacturers’ projectors automatically go into a dedicated HDR picture mode (allowing for full picture setup options exclusive to HDR playback) when they detect an HDR signal. The lack of this functionality results in somewhat cumbersome operation on the Sony if you want to fully optimize it for HDR signals. Sony’s Rec. 2020 color mode does not use a filter to extend the usable color the way some other high-end designs do, but it does cover about 90 percent of the color range that most Ultra HD titles are being authored in today (P3 gamut within the Rec. 2020 container). We’ve seen full P3 coverage from projectors well below this price point, though you typically lose a bit of light output when a filter is employed to accomplish this. Still, it’s nice to have the option for it for those who have brightness to spare in their viewing environment. Of course, we’re still in the early days of HDR with projectors, but I
hope that Sony will start to offer a more user-friendly and full-featured HDR implementation. HDR playback should have its own picture mode with adjustability for not only the basic settings like contrast and brightness, but also the gamma/tone mapping, which I’ll talk more about in my viewing comments. I would also expect an option for full gamut coverage of at least P3, especially when Sony has shown they can accomplish it with their previous and current designs at this price point.
Viewing As a technical reviewer, it’s my job to be critical in my evaluations, and projectors have generally gotten so good across all price points that I’ve found I have to be even more hypercritical than in years past to make clear the sometimes subtle differences in design and performance among competing models. That holds even more true when evaluating a projector at this price given the already staggering performance we see today from the best examples in the sub-$10,000 market. That said, Sony has always delivered breathtaking imagery from their projector line, and the VPL-VW885ES follows suit. I had the opportunity to use it for several weeks with a wide range of content delivered from streaming sources, Blu-ray, and of course, UHD 4K Blu-ray. While my 4K UHD library is growing at a rather alarming rate, I still watch a lot of standard Blu-rays in my theater. For this evaluation, I paired the VPL-VW885ES with my reference Oppo UDP-205 UHD Blu-ray player and made sure the Oppo was in its Source Direct mode so that any video processing in the player was bypassed, allowing me to check how
the Sony handled the scaling and image processing duties. Since the VPL-VW885ES already has processing engaged with any content fed in (due to the internal panel alignment settings I mentioned earlier), evaluating its scaling performance was more difficult than normal. Every resolution pattern I looked at had obvious artifacts that would not only discolor the patterns but create interference patterns. Using Sony’s Reality Creation feature in its default settings to sharpen things up resulted in some image ringing (artificial edge enhancement) and subtle harshness while watching normal program content, but turning them down to their minimal settings resolved most of the ringing and overly processed look and left the image nicely detailed. Turning Reality Creation fully off actually made the image softer, which is not something I’m used to seeing when it comes to picture enhancement features. So, this is actually one of the few times you’ll see me encourage the use of a picture enhancement mode. Thus tuned, I watched quite a few staple films that I always look at for projector reviews, including Oblivion and Casino Royale. Oblivion looked spectacular, with excellent fine object detail and depth and fantastic shadow detail. This is still a go-to title on Blu-ray for showing just how good the format can look. Black levels suffered slightly in some of the most demanding scenes, and without a suitably well-performing dynamic contrast system to help with these darker scenes, they even fell short of what I’ve seen from previous Sony designs. Daniel Craig’s debut as James Bond in Casino Royale was a lot of fun on the Sony and reminded me how good this older Bond movie could
The Sony is a great projector capable of spectacular images.
TEST REPORT new chassis is redesigned •butTheis still unmistakably Sony.
look. At times the 1080p Blu-ray image took on a nearly native 4K quality, though I thought the VPL-VW885ES had some issues handling the film’s grain, giving it a more digital look reminiscent of compression noise. Color rendition was excellent, though, making for eye-catching experiences in some of the film’s tropical locales. Streaming sources are becoming more common in homes and home theaters everywhere, so I thought I’d see how the latest would hold up on the bigger screen via the Sony. Using one of the new 4K Apple TV boxes, I was able to sample a vast selection of 4K content from both iTunes and Netflix. I was surprised at how good the quality of these streaming components and the content itself has become, especially with darker scenes that were notorious in the past for showing compression issues. I would venture that most viewers would have a tough time telling apart the 4K HDR streams I was watching via iTunes from their UHD Blu-ray counterparts. The Apple TV’s constant shifting of frame rates and formats showcased the Sony’s excellent HDMI ports, which were substantially faster at locking onto the various changes in resolution and dynamic range than I’ve seen with my reference JVC DLA-RS4500 projector (and other JVC designs). This really takes the frustration out of viewing these types of sources that change output frequently. Certainly, the highlight of my time with the VPL-VW885ES was watching movies on Ultra HD Blu-ray. This format is indeed the pinnacle of content on the market today, and more and more titles continue to be released. Watching them on a native 4K display device always results in the best image resolution you can get from projection. Some of the
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latest pixel-shifting designs on the market have done wonders to narrow the gap, but native 4K designs always provide better rendition of background detail and the finer instances of small object detail that pop up from time to time. This is clearly evident with fine-lined objects, such as text in an image. Watching 4K Blu-ray also gave me a chance to see how Sony’s execution of HDR tone mapping compared with the rest of the HDR projectors that I’ve seen to date. I already commented on the lack of controls for tuning HDR, but what about the quality of their tone mapping? This basically refers to the projector’s ability to retain and render accurate colors and convincing highlights in the remapping of the HDR source content to the projector’s more limited brightness capabilities. Generally, I would place this projector’s default tone mapping as about average, falling in line with what I’ve seen from most other recently released HDR projectors. Overall image contrast fell a bit short with HDR, and shadow detail was lacking (a trait I’ve seen with all HDR projectors on the market today). This can give the image a slightly darker look and flatten out the image compared with better tone mapping solutions I’ve seen both in outboard video processors or in some flatpanel TVs with greater light output. The HDR Contrast control can help here, though as mentioned before, it must be set carefully to avoid clipping artifacts in the image. Setting up a dedicated mode for HDR using the User preset, as mentioned earlier, definitely allowed me to dial in the brightness and contrast controls for the best possible results. But with the limitations in tone mapping and vagaries in the mastering of content, I still found myself reaching for the remote a fair amount to
fine-tune on a title-by-title basis. Colors were vibrant, with plenty of punch, but a loss of saturation in greens and reds was noticeable versus projectors I’ve seen with full P3 coverage. Unfortunately, the drawbacks in the Sony’s dynamic contrast performance were obvious at times, especially with darker material like John Wick: Chapter 2 and the recent release of Stephen King’s It. The latter has a lot of dark sequences, which looked slightly muted and washed out at times. Brighter scenes looked better, with a reasonable amount of pop, but I know that more could be done to give the image the look that HDR advertises. Still, the VPL-VW885ES performed in line with most of the other projectors I’ve seen when it comes to HDR, and it may be a while before we start seeing bigger strides in this area. One of the noticeable highlights for this projector was its Motionflow settings, which allow you to add frame interpolation to the image in various degrees. I’m typically not a fan of these modes, but I found Sony’s implementation to be one of the best I’ve seen. There are also options for pure unprocessed handling of 24p content, but in their lower settings, the frame interpolation modes allowed for visible improvements in motion resolution with little to no soap-opera effect. Motionflow can be applied to any input resolution, so the benefit wasn’t limited to only HD content (as we’ve seen on Sony’s lower-end models). If this is a feature that you look for with displays, the Sony performed noticeably better in this regard than the JVC DLA-RS4500 and was even a touch better than most other projectors I’ve tried.
Conclusion At $25,000, the VPL-VW885ES demands a critical review reflective of its performance alongside competitive
models from Sony’s own lineup as well as other brands. Typically, projectors at this price point are designed to meet the needs of larger home theater screen installs, which require much higher light output and higher-quality lenses to retain fine sharpness across the expanse of the screen. While the VPL-VW885ES’s light output is on par with previous Sony designs at this price point, the lens it shares with the rest of Sony’s lower-priced line represents a step down from Sony’s past projectors at this level (as well as the still-current VPL-VW1100ES at slightly higher cost). The addition of a lamp-free laser light engine is obviously a big selling point, and in fairness I should note that alongside the JVC RS4500, the only other true native 4K consumer home theater projector with a laser engine (aside from Sony’s ultra-short-throw model), the VPL-VW885ES costs 40 percent less and has a considerably smaller and lighter chassis for installations where that’s a factor. Still, the significant premium attached to the laser here needs to be weighed heavily when there are less expensive lamp-driven models in the Sony line featuring the same lens, same native 4K SXRD panels, and (in most models) a dynamic iris that may deliver better contrast than the VPL-VW885ES in its present day form. This all brings into question the value proposition for this projector. Given their nature, I believe most of the shortcomings that I identified in this review could be addressed by Sony with firmware updates, and I hope they will do so. Still, at the end of the day, even with these caveats and technical concerns, it must be said that this remains a great projector capable of spectacular images—and one that could be fantastic if a few of these quibbles are addressed. Either way, those seeking a cutting-edge, lamp-less solution for large-screen applications should find plenty to marvel about in its picture.
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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
In-Wall We Must By Darryl Wilkinson
GoldenEar Technology Invisa Signature Point Source In-Wall Speaker System PRICE $7,250 as reviewed JUST AS NOT EVERYONE PREFERS to eat turkey on Thanksgiving, there are some people who don’t like to have tower speakers standing at attention (and drawing attention) in their family’s living room. At our family’s traditional Thanksgiving chow-down (at Christmas, we have a ho-ho-hoedown), we serve baked ham as an alternative to the delicious, funny-looking bird the rest of us enjoy. (Those who don’t like either choice get bread and water.) For people who can’t or won’t have tall, floorstanding speakers in the vicinity of their TV, the acoustic equivalent of baked ham is a set of in-wall speakers. (Those who don’t like in-room or in-wall speakers get their own kind of bread and water: a cheap soundbar with no subwoofer. Only those on the naughty list must endure the speakers built into the TV.) Although the thought that a pair of in-wall speakers could ever approach the sound quality of a really good set of in-room speakers is laughable for many people who are serious about listening to music and movies, there are a handful of speaker designers who honestly think it’s possible to engineer such a thing. In other words, these acoustic chefs believe that, with the right combination of spices, they can make ham taste—um, sound—like turkey. (But not sound like a turkey, because that would be totally plucked up.)
References, Please Sandy Gross of GoldenEar Technology is one of those pumpkin-pie-in-the-sky dreamers
who say, “I want to have my ham and eat my turkey, too.” Having helped co-found not only GoldenEar but also two other speaker companies, Polk Audio and Definitive Technology, Gross is no stranger to the design pitfalls of trying to shove a speaker in a wall and make it sound like it’s out in the room. He also has a reputation for coming up with in-room speakers that sound like, well, they’re not in the room: Most recently, Gross (with his engineering partner, Don Givogue, and the design team at GoldenEar’s facility in Ottawa, Canada) introduced the company’s top-of-theline ($4,250/each) Triton Reference powered towers, the ones that turned Al Griffin into an “audio crack”– addicted “music junkie” when he reviewed them for our June 2017 issue. (Word is he still hasn’t left his listening room.) Near the end of his review, Al asked of GoldenEar, “What to do next after creating a speaker called the Reference?” Gross’s answer is the new Invisa Signature Point Source in-wall LCR speaker. At a “mere” $1,000 each, it seems like a flea-market bargain compared with the hefty price of the Triton Reference tower—and, in a way, following up such a fantastic speaker with an in-wall model feels like a letdown. Architectural speakers are a different breed, though, and one thousand bucks for a single in-wall is
One folded planar magnetic tweeter nestles in between four woofers.
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definitely getting into eyebrowraising territory. In fact, you have to do some serious searching to find an in-wall or in-ceiling speaker that costs $1K or more. They’re out there—I’ve reviewed a few of them—but there aren’t many. So, for the moment, the Invisa Signature Point Source in-wall is GoldenEar’s first attempt at creating a “reference” architectural speaker.
AT A GLANCE
Plus Q Rotatable pleated tweeter for horizontal orientation Q 2½-way design Q High performance-to-cost ratio
Minus Q Horizontal installation requires modification of wall stud
Turning Towers into Walls Gross told me that the impetus behind developing the Invisa SPS was the number of customers who requested an architectural speaker with performance similar to that of the Triton series towers. Not surprisingly, the design goal was to “take as much of the technology in the Tritons as possible and put it into an in-wall speaker.” The result is a 2½-way speaker that borrows heavily from the engineering found in the GoldenEar towers, including four 5.25-inch cast-basket bass drivers—two of these handling midrange duties and employing the company’s multivaned phase plugs, and all four incorporating GoldenEar’s Focused Field magnet structure. The single folded planar magnetic tweeter— a standard component of every
THE VERDICT GoldenEar Technology Invisa Signature Point Source In-Wall Speaker System Performance Build Quality Value
With the Invisa Signature Point Source in-wall speakers, GoldenEar Technology has introduced an in-wall speaker with a performanceto-price ratio that rivals in-room competitors.
GoldenEar speaker—is largely based on the tweeter used in the Triton Reference tower. Next to the tweeter is a three-position high-frequency adjustment switch. Gross believes that perhaps the most important element of a
speaker is the crossover; he refers to it as the “conductor” that directs the performance of the “orchestra” of drivers. GoldenEar spent a significant amount of development time solely on voicing the speaker. The SPS measures 28.5 x 8.5 inches,
GOLDENEAR TECHNOLOGY INVISA SIGNATURE POINT SOURCE IN-WALL SPEAKER SYSTEM • Price: $7,250 (Signature Point Source, $1,000 ea; MPX, $500 ea; HTR 7000, $500 ea; SuperSub X, $1,250) • GoldenEar Technology • (410) 998-9134 • goldenear.com
and at about 3.75 inches deep; it fits into standard 2 x 4 stud-constructed walls. Embedded around the outer perimeter of the speaker’s front baffle are 24 small neodymium magnets that tightly hold the off-white metal grille (with a nearly invisible flange design) to the front. Four small pads strategically located inside the grille serve to further minimize extraneous vibrations. The extremely rigid, all-in-one baffle-and-mount assembly includes a double-channel support molded into the back. It has an unusually high number (12) of dog-leg-style clamps around the edges that, combined with the rigidity of the baffle, make the wall feel like it’s made out of brick rather than wallboard once everything is installed. GoldenEar ships each SPS configured for a straightforward, vertically oriented installation. For horizontal use, the tweeter has four very short screws that are easy to remove (and reinstall), allowing the tweeter to be rotated 90 degrees—which was how I installed the center-channel speaker in the
system. If you’re doing a retrofit installation, one of the major drawbacks of any horizontally oriented in-wall center speaker measuring more than 15 inches wide is that one (or possibly more) of the studs in the wall will need to be modified in order to make room for the drivers’ baskets and magnet assemblies. Most pro integrators are prepared to handle it, though. With new construction, the walls can be framed to accommodate the speaker’s dimensions ahead of time.
Newton’s Favorite Technology The system that GoldenEar put together for me to install and listen to included three Signature Point Source speakers (two vertically for left and right, one horizontally for the center) and two other models from the Invisa series: a pair of MPX Multipolar inwall speakers ($500 each), for the surrounds, and four HTR 7000 in-ceiling speakers ($500 each), for the front and rear Dolby Atmos height channels. From the SuperSub series came one of the company’s fairly recent small-form-factor freestanding subwoofers, the SuperSub X ($1,250). I’ve reviewed the MPX and HTR 7000
The smaller Invisa MPX and round Invisa HTR 7000 flesh out this review system.
Test Bench GoldenEar Technology SuperSub X Subwoofer
GoldenEar Technology SuperSub X Subwoofer Performance Features Build Quality Value
The SuperSub X is one of GoldenEars’ small-form-factor subwoofers.
SUPERSUB X (blue) Close-miked response, normalized to level @ 80 Hz: lower –3 dB @ 22 Hz, –6 dB @ 20 Hz, upper –3 dB @ 127 Hz using LFE input.—MJP
Invisa Signature Point Source: 5.25 in poly cone woofer (4), 1 in folded planar magnetic tweeter (1); 8.5 x 28.5 x 3.75 in (WxHxD), 14 lb • Invisa MPX: 4.5 in poly cone woofer (2), 1 in Folded planar magnetic tweeter (1); 7.25 x 13.875 x 3.75 in (WxHxD), 6 lb • Invisa HTR 7000: 7 in poly cone woofer (1), 1 in folded planar magnetic tweeter (1); 10 x 5 in (diameter x D), 4.5 lb • SuperSub X: 8 in fiber cone active woofer (2), 10.5 x 9.5 in Medite passive radiator (2); 1,400 watts peak; line-level input, RCA input; 14 x 12.75 x 13.25 in (WxHxD), 40 lb
speakers as part of previous systems, so I won’t spend much time on them here, other than to say that they include driver and crossover technologies similar in concept and engineering to that of the SPS speakers—especially when it comes to the tweeter in each one.
The sub houses two active and two passive drivers.
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The SuperSub X, measuring 14 inches wide x 12.75 high x 13.25 deep, is a powered subwoofer that uses GoldenEar’s patented Dual-Plane Inertially Balanced Technology. Basically, this is a configuration that pits two active and two passive drivers against each other in an attempt to cancel forces that would shake the cabinet instead of radiating all of the energy into the room—making the cabinet perform more as if it were inert. The SuperSub X is powered by a 1,400-watt-peak Class D amplifier. (The Reference towers include an 1,800-watt amp.)
I’d heard the SPS in-walls set up as part of a 7.2.4 Atmos system in GoldenEar’s CEDIA booth in September 2017, so I had a pretty good idea that they’d perform quite well in a twochannel system. (As a brief aside, I think a Dolby’s Atmos rig using Dolby Surround upmixing is fantastic with most two-channel source material. In my case, I normally listen to music with my system’s full Atmos array because I like the processing’s delicate handling and expansion of ambience cues in two-channel material. Mainly because of the Invisa series speakers’ similar voicing, the 5.1.4 configuration for this review sounded spectacular with nearly every music selection. But I digress.) If the Invisa SPS speakers were to truly live up to their Triton Reference pedigree, though, they were going to have to be damn good for listening to music—without any caveats related to theatrical performance. Yes, my experience at CEDIA was favorable. But as I started this review—when it was just me, a pair of the SPS in-walls, and the SuperSub X in my room—I was still caught off guard by how open and revealing the SPS speakers were. I was caught doubly off guard (off-off guard?) when I listened to the “neoteric and intriguing” duo of Arianna WarsawFan (violin) and Meta Weiss (cello), known as duoW, on their 2013 release, Entendre. (I listened to the 192-kilohertz/24-bit two-channel version, but the Blu-ray Audio edition includes DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 7.1 versions.) The release includes Kodály’s Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7, and throughout all three movements, the two instruments weave in and out and talk to each other in a musical language of their own. In the classical canon, there’s not a whole lot of music written for violin-and-cello pairings, but duoW’s performance of the Kodály is an invitation for composers to write more. It’s difficult to describe the life and emotion these two women imbue their instruments with. It’s nearly as difficult to describe how
incredible the SPS in-walls were at conveying that life force into the room. I always love the top end of GoldenEar’s speakers, and this variation of the tweeter in the SPS in-walls is truly worthy of its Reference badge. The violin was light and open, without any noticeable ringing or breakup. The lower voice of the cello was equally revealing, especially with the nuanced decaying resonance of the instrument’s body. I moved on to “Lullaby of Birdland” from Heather Masse and Dick Hyman’s Lock My Heart. The opening piano notes were not only widely spaced across the front of the room, they also had the same decisive percussive nature that the cello strings had on duoW’s Entendre. In fact, the lively dynamics of the piano across its tonal range were absolutely fantastic for an in-wall speaker. Masse’s sweet and fluid vocals had none of the boxiness or constriction that is often present with in-walls, and her voice was placed solidly in the center—as well as slightly out into the room. What’s more, the entirety of the soundstage had a sense of depth that was totally unexpected from speakers on a flat wall in front of me. On the subject of soundstage depth and width: “I Need Never Get
The Invisa SPS’s performance rivals that of an equivalently priced in-room speaker.
Small neodymium magnets securely hold the off-white grilles to the baffles.
Old,” the highly energetic opening track by Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats on their self-titled 2015 debut, had both in spades—starting with a solo guitar way out to the left before it is joined by another guitar equally far to the right. The horns that follow filled in the middle along with the drum kit and were smooth yet crisp, even when the SPS speakers were pushed to high volumes. The projection of the soundstage into the room was even more noticeable here than with “Lullaby of Birdland”— almost to that magical point of breaking out and matching the depth perception generated by an in-room speaker. But even that was bested by “Pocahontas” from Neil Young’s recent Hitchhiker release (of a 1976 recording session), during which I noted, “Damn, that guitar is living in the room!” Although I’d already noticed how well the SuperSub X blended with the Invisa SPS speakers, along with how musical it was (especially with the cello on Entendre), I auditioned a perennial favorite of mine: Linkin Park’s “When They Come for Me” (A Thousand Suns). The transition at 80 hertz was imperceptible, and both the tautness and the depth of the drumbeats were amazing— even more amazing when you consider that the SuperSub X is basically a cube that’s less than 14 inches in any dimension.
Wonderfully Wide Wilderness If ever there was a movie epitomizing the fact that sound is 50 percent of the overall movie experience, Walking Out is it. Set in the remote mountains of western Montana, it follows David, an urban teenager who lives with his mother in Texas, and his nearly off-the-grid father, Cal, who lives on sprawling acreage in those mountains, as they go (reluctantly, in the case of David) on the boy’s first moose hunt. Of course, the movie is more about the attempt of the two to emotionally reconnect than it is about moose hunting. It’s a traditional drama, one in which you’d expect the background music and dialogue to be the only important parts of the soundtrack. But here, while it’s true that there are few “surprise” surround effects (one of the most notable being a number of startled grouse that fly out of the grass directly behind the viewer), the subtle soundtrack is actually one of the main characters. For a movie like Walking Out, it’s vitally important that the speakers in your system perform as a seamlessly integrated single component—and this is exactly what the Invisa system became. For starters, although I was initially a little concerned about how the SPS speaker mounted horizontally for the center channel would perform, it turned out that the LCR trio was spectacular at smoothly handling sound that panned across the front. Just as important, the horizontal SPS didn’t have any of the boxy, constricted character that you can often get with in-wall center-channel speakers—an
attribute I highly appreciated with the dialogue-heavy Walking Out. The full-throated, open character of the horizontal SPS allowed the emotional nuances in the actors’ voices to stand out, since there was nothing extraneous to mask them. This also gave extra emphasis to the sometimes heart-wrenching sound of the violin in the soundtrack. The entire GoldenEar system was absolutely stunning during the outdoor scenes, both in the open fields and in the densely forested mountains, as it re-created a completely seamless audio envelope, bringing the sounds of the wind, animals, and flowing water into the room. A large part of this was obviously due to the wonderfully matched timbre of the speakers. I really can’t say enough about the artistry of the movie’s soundtrack— and the way in which the speaker system reproduced it. Awards should be given to both the movie and the speaker system. It feels awkward going from the sublimity of Walking Out to the rambunctiousness of Atomic Blonde, but the contrasting styles of the two movies’ soundtracks helped to show that the Invisa system was totally capable of handling shock and awe, too. I’m not sure I can give a good synopsis of this movie, but I can tell you that from nearly its very beginning, this was obviously going to be a thrill ride. Here again, the matching of the MPX surround speakers (and the four HTR 7000s in the ceiling for the height channels) with the front SPS speakers was marvelous. This was clearly demonstrated in a scene where a stolen Stasi car, its trunk in flames, flies overhead from the rear to the front, where it slams into the Berlin Wall and explodes. Later, when MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is having a conversation in a local bar, initially with a male and then a female Stasi agent, the horizontal center speaker’s openness and extremely close match to the vertical left and right speakers maintained intelligibility of the dialogue regardless of its position across the front. Meanwhile, the ’80s
music playing in the background politely filled the remainder of the room, creating a wonderful sense of space behind the close conversation in the front. While I was watching the movie, I wrote in my notes, “One of the best LCR matchups with in-walls that I’ve heard in a long while. Seamlessness defined!”
Conclusion In-wall and in-ceiling speakers get a bad rap—and for good reason. Most are designed with a low price point as the goal, and they merely provide background-music quality. But that doesn’t always have to be the case. GoldenEar Technology’s new Invisa Signature Point Source speakers are proof that you can build an attractive, non-intrusive in-wall loudspeaker offering performance that rivals (and, in some cases, surpasses) that of an equivalently priced in-room speaker. It’s often said that GoldenEar’s speakers sound as good as other companies’ speakers costing many times more. Architectural speakers are harder to compare using such a blanket statement because installation, size, form factor, and other things need to be considered as well as sound quality. That said, on price alone, I’m not sure you can find another speaker at the $1K price point that sounds anywhere near as fantastic as the Invisa SPS in-wall does—whether it’s for a two-channel or multichannel system. Once again, GoldenEar has set a new high for the performance-to-cost ratio. More important, they’ve done something extremely rare: They’ve created an in-wall loudspeaker that just might convince a die-hard in-room speaker fan.
The SPS’s planar magnetic tweeter can be removed and rotated 90 degrees for horizontal use. soundandvision.com 49
Face Time By Rob Sabin
Royole Moon 3D Mobile Theater PRICE $800 QUICK STORY: BACK IN THE MID ’90s, I was the editor of a gadget review magazine. As long as a product was geeky enough and ran on AC or batteries, it was fair game for a test. This led me to bring home a variety of doodads that had nothing to do with audio/video— a self-cleaning litter box, a sports radar gun, et al. One day I walked in with what was claimed to be a “personal air conditioner,” basically a black beanbag neck wrap that had an imbedded metal cooling strip; the idea was that applying the band to your neck would keep you chilled in hot weather. When I tried it on for
my wife, she walked by dismissively without even pausing. “That’s a good look for you,” she said. About a week later, I turned up with one of the first rudimentary attempts at the product we’re reviewing here, a pair of virtual home theater glasses. By nature, these are clunky devices that hang on to your face with a big headband. I put them on to show my wife, unable to see her reaction. This time, she paused in front of me and, I can only assume, spied me through raised eyebrows. “That’s great, honey,” she deadpanned. “Now all you need is that neck thing and you can be a total loser.”
Putting aside the, um, fashion statement you’re bound to make wearing something like this, the manufacturer of those glasses— Sony—wasn’t wrong in wanting to create a truly immersive, portable home theater experience. But the technology at the time didn’t permit the required display resolution, nor were we all carrying mobile smartphones and tablets to serve as video source components. It was a matter of years before the time was right to properly bring the concept to fruition. Now, someone has. I’ll spoil the suspense and tell you here that the Royole Moon 3D Mobile Theater is a thoroughly thought-out, wellexecuted piece of kit that was clearly conceived with the videophile and audiophile in mind. And it works. Royole is likely unknown to our readers, but the firm’s website suggests it is as much technological think-tank as traditional manufacturing concern. The company was founded by Stanford engineering grads in 2012 with representation in Fremont, California, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen, China (known today as a worldwide manufacturing hub). Its stated mission is “to improve the way people interact with and perceive the world,” and its research is focused primarily on developing “next-generation human-machine interface technologies and products such as advanced flexible displays, flexible sensors, and smart devices.” Company firsts include the introduction in 2014 of the world’s thinnest full-color AMOLED (active matrix organic light emitting diode) flexible display and a curved car dashboard based on flexible screen
AT A GLANCE
Plus Q Excellent video and audio quality Q Smart ergonomics Q Solid build quality
Minus Q Potential for viewer fatigue Q Battery gets hot Q Propensity toward video noise with low-bitrate streams
and sensor technology that it showed at CES in 2016. Royole has committed a $1.7 billion investment for a flexible display factory in Shenzen to supply screens to the industry. Along with the Moon, which Royole introduced in 2015, the company has one other consumer product called the RoWrite Smart Writing Pad, which digitally captures handwritten drawings and notes from a traditional paper-and-ink tablet.
Portable Projection Given that it’s easy today to board an airplane or commuter train with a pair of headphones and an iPad loaded with a movie or TV episode, you may wonder why anyone would need home theater glasses. It’s a matter of perspective, both figuratively and literally. When you wear glasses like this, you are presented with the equivalent of sitting relatively close to a large projection screen, with your peripheral vision essentially filled by the image. Royole suggests that the Moon provides the equal of an 800-inch curved screen (about 66 feet) viewed from about an equal distance away. That’s close to standard IMAX territory. The experience is akin to watching my 92-inch projection screen from a fairly tight 10 feet away, if not closer.
The Moon delivers a remarkably immersive theater experience in places where it’s otherwise impossible. 50 MAY 2018 soundandvision.com
HOME THEATER GLASSES
THE VERDICT Royole Moon 3D Mobile Theater Performance Features Build Quality Value
In other words, the same highly immersive quality we attribute to the front projection/cinema experience is apparent in spades here and is made all the more so by the addition of some good-quality earphones. The Moon is packed with whizbang technology and thoughtful features. The dual displays are AMOLEDs that deliver 1080p resolution to each eye, via a claimed 3,000 pixels per inch of device size. Since they’re OLED, they’re said to provide excellent contrast and fast image response time, something that was quickly borne out in my auditions. The unit plays both 2D and 3D content, automatically detecting the type. It is Wi-Fi capable and includes a browser that lets you connect to your streaming services, and it has an HDMI input for attaching to traditional video source components and game consoles, or to mobile devices via an adapter (not supplied). Alternatively, you can load content directly onto the Moon’s 32 gigabytes of internal memory from a hard drive, or via download from one of the video services. For playback of audio, the integrated closed-back headphones use 1.6-inch dynamic polyethylene (mylar) drivers and are assisted by active noise
Royole’s Moon successfully pulls off a serious home theater experience in a portable, wearable package.
cancelling (undefeatable) whenever the unit is switched on. Industrial design and build quality are excellent. The headband and earcups, and the visor ring that surrounds your eyes, are well padded and encased in a supple leather-like material. To provide ventilation and prevent fogging, there are air vents in the visor, and its cushion is perforated. Construction is mostly of high-impact molded plastic, but the Moon has a solid feel, and metal parts are used in key areas of stress, such as the click-action sliders that fit the headband and visor to your face. The device comes in three color schemes: black with brown ear- and eyepads (as with my sample), white with black pads, and gold with black pads. The headband folds down to the top of the visor for fitting the Moon into its supplied travel bag. Nitpick: The thin felt bag provides neither any real protection for the Moon nor any place to safely store the battery, charger, or cables in a way that would not potentially bring them into contact with the lenses. That was a disappointment given the obvious requirement and the product’s price point. As alluded to, a supplied battery pack feeds power to the Moon. It’s about the same size if a bit thicker and heavier than the average smartphone. There are three connectors. A micro-USB port accepts the supplied
ROYOLE MOON MOBILE THEATER PRICE: $800 Royole • royole.com/moon
wall charger, but it also allows hook-up to a computer for file transfers to the internal memory, or connection to a USB source via a supplied micro USB-to-Type A USB dongle. (The Moon is Android based and allows simple drag-and-drop file transfers from Windows PCs; Mac users require Android file transfer software.) The same dongle can be used to connect a mouse to the Moon to assist navigation of its onscreen user interface and browser (more on that below); this was exceptionally handy for inputting passwords for Wi-Fi and video services. (Bluetooth is on board for connection of a wireless keyboard as well, but not for audio-only streams from mobile devices; a promised firmware update will eventually enable this capability.) A second connector is a micro-HDMI port that takes a standard HDMI cable via a supplied dongle. Finally, a proprietary jack accepts the 4-foot cord from the headset. Royole claims 5 hours of battery life for its power pack. I typically got around 4 hours of continuous use on a single 2-hour charge—still more than enough to get through most feature films. Four tiny LEDs on the battery indicate charge level, and during viewing you get an onscreen warning when
you’re down to 10 percent power. Note that the battery pack can get very hot to the touch in extended use, something Royole warns about in the manual. It needs ventilation and won’t do well in a pocket or enclosed in a carry bag. The controls are extremely well thought out and simple to use. Besides the large power on/off switch on the battery pack (whose surround glows blue when the Moon is powered up) there are just two mechanical buttons on the visor unit. One is a small 2D/3D button under the visor in case the device fails to automatically recognize your 3D content. At the bottom of the right earcup is a Home button that will take you back to the Moon’s sophisticated onscreen user interface. The home screen you see when you first boot up offers a horizontal row of icons that allow access to things like network and display settings, input selections, stored content, etc. You scroll horizontally through the icons with a forward or backward swipe on the right earcup that’s picked up by a touch sensor. Tap once to enter and navigate the submenus with an up/down swipe as needed; tap twice to back your way out; or hit the Home button twice to return to the main menu. After a short learning curve, I was
The Moon is available in three color schemes, including black/brown, white/black, and gold/black.
A pair of thumbwheels beneath the visor adjust interpupillary distance and focus.
zipping around just fine. You can swipe the same touch sensor for transport control (play/pause, track forward/back) of content played from the internal hard drive. Volume changes are handled with another circular touch sensor embedded behind a curved recess around the right earcup’s perimeter; in the photos, that’s the space between the gold inner ring (on the black model) and the earcup’s outer edge. My finger found and rode the sensor perfectly every time, and the Moon responded instantly with a circular graphic superimposed over my content that visually tracked the change as volume rose or fell. Very easy, and very cool.
Setup Engineering a pair of expensive home theater glasses that doesn’t instantly generate buyer’s remorse the moment you place them on your face takes serious effort across a range of design criteria. Even before you can worry about the video or audio quality, a product like this has to be comfortable and stay firmly in place for long periods of viewing. Then, it needs to allow fine positioning and sharp focus of the eyepieces to minimize the potential for headache or eye fatigue. Beyond this, controls should be accessible and easy to use so the unit is not a burden to operate. If you get those things right, you’ve got a shot at adding top-notch video and audio to deliver the ultimate in-your-face theater experience. I’ll issue a strong warning to start out here so potential buyers won’t be surprised: The Moon headset is fairly heavy—just under 1.5 pounds—and starts out with the potential to be uncomfortable, particularly because the bridge of your nose must help support the glasses.
Fortunately, it adjusts to your face with two effective mechanisms. First, the well-padded headband has 1.5 inches of height adjustment on either side and can be swung forward or back nearly 180 degrees, allowing you to find the exact angle to allow your noggin to best support the glasses and take the pressure off your nose. This won’t likely be directly atop the crown of your head at the spot a regular headphone band might fall, but more forward toward the forehead. Finding the sweet spot didn’t fully eliminate the nose pressure for me but reduced it to where I could go movie-length periods without discomfort that would have encouraged me to abandon viewing. The occasional minor adjustment was all that was needed if the visor started to slip down a bit. Similarly, a pair of sliders allow fine-tuning of the distance between the front visor and the earcups. Given that these are closed-back, sealed headphones designed to lock out environmental noise, it’s critical to position them directly over your pinna and fully isolate the ear. Once adjusted, the headband and earcup sliders work together to keep the Moon firmly in place. With the Moon comfortably situated on your head, there are two optical tweaks performed with a pair of thumbwheels beneath the visor. Sliding these left or right allows the eyepieces to be independently aligned directly over your pupils. Fine-tuning this “interpupillary” distance eliminates parallax errors that might exhibit as ghosting. After that, you can independently spin the thumbwheels to fine-tune the focus. Thoughtfully, these focus adjustments have a wide enough range to allow most users to skip their prescription eyeglasses. Even with the attention paid by Royole to physical and visual comfort, the company is cognizant of the potential for this or any
other virtual glasses to cause fatigue or other side effects. Product literature recommends taking periodic breaks, and the operating system has an option to set onscreen reminders at 1- or 2-hour intervals if desired. I’m sensitive to motion sickness and have been triggered at least mildly by most virtual reality demos I’ve done, though these involve visuals that track head movements. In this case, the image stays put no matter how you move your head. I was pleased to find that, for me personally, the combination of high resolution and finely tuned optics allowed for hours of pleasant viewing. Though I noticed a touch of eye fatigue at the end of a 2-hour feature, I was so thoroughly engaged in the viewing that I never felt the need to take a break.
Viewing I watched content on the Moon from sources including movie downloads to my iPad Air 2, 1080p Blu-rays via direct connection to my Oppo player, and streaming content from Netflix via the Moon’s built-in browser and my iPad. The iPad viewing required an Apple Lightning-toHDMI adapter to which I added an HDMI cable and the Moon’s supplied micro HDMI-to-HDMI dongle. Apple’s adapter is a $40 add-on that needs to be purchased separately. Similarly, a third-party MHL/USB-to-HDMI adapter must be purchased for Android mobile devices. I began with a pair of flicks downloaded to my iPad from Amazon, xXx: Return of Xander Cage and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Putting aside the thin plots and the treasure trove of inane dialogue in Xander Cage, I couldn’t have asked for more fast-paced action. The Moon easily lived up to its claim of freedom from image lag; at no time did I see anything even remotely close to trails or other distracting motion artifacts. One Reacher chase scene composed of a lot of fast-cut handheld shots starts out on foot, moves to a car chase, and ends with Reacher (Tom Cruise) and Major Susan Turner (Cobie
Touch sensors in the right earcup provide menu navigation and volume adjustments. 52 MAY 2018 soundandvision.com
Smulders) running side by side at full speed across the Washington, D.C. Mall. All the action was rendered crisply, and even the actors’ pumping arms as they ran showed minimal smearing. I’m not a gamer, but Royole advertises the Moon as console-ready, and I have no reason to doubt them. An abundance of natural color and punchy highlights was evident in a viewing of Planet Earth II about mountain wildlife streamed from Netflix off my iPad app. I marveled at the detail in the sandy brown crags of peaks in the Arabian Peninsula, and in close-ups of the Nubian Ibex goats that fearlessly scale the cliffs as rubble falls away beneath their hooves. A meadow in the Rockies showed gray sky behind the distant mountains with some dusty storm clouds brewing, an appropriately natural dark green mat of grass on the floor of the valley, and brighter green highlights along with magenta flowers on the blooming plants in the foreground. The integrated headphones did a good job with the dynamics and textures in this episode’s occasionally swelling orchestral scoring. After doing some additional listening with familiar music tracks off my Tidal playlist, I’d characterize the sound of the headphones as fairly balanced, with a polite but reasonably detailed top end, a neutral midrange, and naturally rolled-off bass. The ’phones are well voiced for movies, delivering clearly discernible dialogue but never getting edgy or hard, even at loud volume with effects-laden action soundtracks. Gunshots, car crashes—no problem. Bass was solid, though I’d have welcomed a touch more contouring that might
HOME THEATER GLASSES
Display: 1920 x 1080 resolution AMOLED (2); virtual screen size 800-inch curved at 66 feet viewing distance (adjustable); interpupillary distance 58mm-70mm; diopter focus adjustemnt –7.0 to + 2.0; 24-bit RGB color; 60 Hz refresh rate • Headphones: 1.6-inch dynamic driver (2); active noise cancelling (22 dB) • Inputs: Micro-USB, micro-HDMI, Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), Bluetooth • Battery Life: 5 hours video play time on 2-hour charge • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 8.66 x 8.46 x 8.78 (extended); 3.85 x 8.46 x 8.78 (folded) • Weight (Pounds): 1.44
have delivered additional impact to low-end effects; tone controls to adjust for content would have been nice. The active noise-reduction functioned well and seemed particularly tuned to airliner cabin noise, which it nicely filtered out on a couple of flights I took with the Moon. Getting back to the video: Critically, I did notice that the Moon didn’t fare well with low-bitrate downloads and live streams. Many of these programs, even my fairly decent Jack Reacher download, suffered from digital compression artifacts on darker scenes or in darker portions of mixed scenes. For example, when Turner is seen at her office desk at night talking on the phone, with a desk lamp illuminating her front and darkness behind her, she looks stunning, with superb color and bright highlights on her face, crisp white formal shirt, and multi-colored uniform decorations. But the background took on a veiled and busy quality in this shot from subtle mosquito and block noise. Furthermore, the fine horizontal grid lines separating the pixel rows revealed themselves here—and in many other scenes from this and different programs when there was a consistently smooth backdrop. (The vertical pixel lines were never visible at any time.) The observance and degree of digital noise was quite dependent on the quality of the file and content of the scene. At one point, I abandoned watching a Netflix stream of a Stranger Things episode during the prime-time viewing hours
(when Netflix and the ISPs apply the greatest compression) due to massive amounts of undulating mosquito and block noise in the many dark scenes. The next day, I had much better luck streaming the same episode during off hours— most of the noise disappeared, and I learned that I could reduce the visibility of the pixel lines by setting the Moon’s three-position brightness control to its lowest Soft setting (versus High or the default Normal, which I preferred for most content due to its added punch). Of course, you can’t judge a display’s ultimate quality on its handling of poor video files, but some users may plan on doing a lot of live streaming and should know that the Moon was not kind to sub-par content. Fortunately, egregious video noise was never a distracting issue with other streamed serials generally shot in brighter environs, such as the aforementioned Planet Earth II. Eventually, I rigged the Moon to my Blu-ray player to see what it could do with some reference-quality disc transfers. Wow—what a difference. Blacks and shadow detail took on that inky quality we like to see and were near-equivalent to the best OLED flat-panel displays I’ve seen. I shouldn’t have been
surprised given the AMOLED display devices, but nothing I’d seen to that point suggested quite this level of quality. Black backgrounds behind white credits and black bars on widescreen movies disappeared into the frame beyond the edges of the screen. White objects on black backgrounds, such as credits or spaceships, had an almost threedimensional quality. They exhibited some haloing that you wouldn’t see on today’s top OLED TVs, but I’d score the Moon way better in this regard than most edge-lit LCDs I’ve encountered. Along with striking contrast, bright colors looked true and just popped off the screen, and fine details were remarkably sharp. While watching Oblivion, I was taken with accurate and highly natural fleshtones, not to mention the crisp detail, in the Tom Cruise close-ups that show all the stubble and cuts/bruises on his face. The aforementioned video noise cropped up rarely on some dark scenes but was extremely subtle here; it would have been missed in the action if I’d not been looking for it. When I switched over to Gravity, another great transfer, I saw the same stunning contrast and colors in the opening scene when the astronauts are doing their space walk before disaster hits, but I never saw a hint of any noise anywhere in the movie. To get a look at some earthbound scenes, I pulled out Draft Day, which I love to use as a reference for its overall bright lighting and mix of familiar NFL team colors. The Moon passed the test with its aerial flyovers of various NFL stadiums and their surrounding buildings and greenery, its natural renderings of interior shots in the sun-drenched team offices around the league, and again in its beautiful fleshtones, all delivered with utterly grainless clarity. Furthermore, the Moon also delivered some of the best 3D video I’ve ever seen. Images were super bright and engaging and showed absolutely no signs of ghosting on even the
finest details. Tim Burton’s stopaction animated movie Coraline may be the creepiest and scariest “kids” movie ever made, but it’s filled with stunning visuals that feature fine, moving vertical objects that exhibit ghosting with many 3D displays. The snake-like tail of a black cat, the undulating antennae of a giant grasshopper, a pair of lit candelabras on the dinner table that reveal themselves as the camera quickly pans back—all of it remained in perfect focus. Even the live-action Terminator: Genisys looked equally crisp and ghost free on both static and action scenes.
Conclusion The Royole Moon isn’t for everyone. Some may find the headset just too heavy or cumbersome for comfort; others may find themselves more prone than me to eye fatigue or headache. At the end of the day, using it means stringing a few things together with cables and dongles if you’re hooking up to an outside source device. And it sure ain’t cheap, either, at its $800 list price or the $600 promotional pricing announced by Royole as we went to press. But at even the higher price, I’d still call the Moon a great value. It’s a brilliantly engineered device that gets almost everything right, and it gives the user a remarkably immersive home theater experience in places where it’s otherwise impossible. I watched xXx and Jack Ryan while traveling coast-to-coast on a jetliner, and the absence of cabin noise, the Moon’s “giant” image, and its good sound made these two of the best flights I’ve ever taken. For a couple of hours each way, I truly forgot I was on an airplane and thoroughly enjoyed myself. What’s that worth to ya?
The Moon comes with a baery pack, charger, and a variety of HDMI and USB adapters.
Modular Dirac By Mark Fleischmann
NAD T758 V3 A/V Receiver PRICE $1,300 AT A GLANCE WHY ON EARTH WOULD A magazine devoted to the latest and greatest in surround sound review a receiver that made its debut in 2011? Seven years in receiver years is— well, a lot of years. But the NAD T758 V3 is not some old wheezer on its way out. The company’s Modular Design Construction allows the addition or swapping of slide-in modules offering new connections or features. “Instead of planned obsolescence,” the company says, “we have planned evolution.” The combination VM130 video and AM230 audio module that pushes this model from V2 to V3 adds Ultra HD video, Dolby Atmos, USB, and—via USB dongle—plug-ins for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, thus accommodating a control app and NAD’s BluOS, a grab bag of wireless audio streaming and multi-room features. The V3 also swaps out the previously used Audyssey room correction (which was pretty spiffy and convenient to begin with) with bleeding-edge-but-nerdy Dirac Live LE, making this one of the few receivers to have it. To accommodate the new board, the V3 loses one HDMI input, leaving only three in total for the receiver (plus one output), as well as two digital audio inputs (choose optical or coaxial for either). Having just three HDMI inputs is a notable limitation to be aware of, but probably not a deal breaker for most systems. Three is enough for
Plus Q Modularity allows upgrades Q Dirac room correction Q BluOS audio streaming Q Atmos 7.1.4 capable with external amplification
Minus Q Only three HDMI inputs Q No DTS:X (yet) Q Dirac execution more complex than most auto room EQ
a set-top TV box, a Blu-ray player, and either a streaming video player (Roku, Apple TV, etc.) or a game console—but not both. However, your streaming hub might be integrated today within your game console, or in your TV or Blu-ray player. In keeping with the times, legacy composite video inputs are absent altogether, having been eliminated in the V2. With TuneIn internet radio added via the BluOS functionality, NAD has also decided to avoid duplication and cut costs by eliminating the FM tuner. While that eliminates your local radio stations, you get them back again in streaming form along with stations from all over the world. Unless you have an analog-FM fetish,
you’ll probably agree it’s more than a fair trade. [Editor’s Note: OK, so the purging of FM tuners I’ve long predicted begins. Should we still call this a receiver? I suppose it’s still receiving radio signals, just via the internet, right?—RS]
Affordable High End For the few readers unacquainted with NAD, this British-turnedCanadian audio brand first became famous for the legendary 3020 stereo integrated amp. Now part of the Lenbrook Group, which also markets PSB speakers and Bluesound streaming audio products, it has a healthy line of two-channel and surround products. Among the surround products, the only other model to get a V3 upgrade so far is the brawnier T777 receiver; both the T758 and T777 have seven amp channels. NAD’s expertise in bringing high-end values to affordable price points makes it a friend to thrifty audiophiles. The T758 V3 is classic NAD, with a plain faceplate and minimal front-panel controls. Other than the volume
The relatively unadorned faceplate is in keeping with NAD's classic aesthetic.
54 MAY 2018 soundandvision.com
knob and navigation rocker, with its menu button, the only other buttons provided are source up/down and listening mode. They are almost puritanically small, but the NAD ethos is to put the good stuff under the hood, where you can manipulate it via remote control or the new control app. The remote is sensible looking, with controls well differentiated by size, shape, color, and layout. A second, smaller remote is supplied for Zone 2 operation. Rated power is 110 watts times two and 60 watts times seven, NAD being among the few manufacturers to provide an all-channels-driven spec. (As always, you can check that against our Test Bench specs.) Those seven amp channels are enough to run a 5.1.2-speaker configuration with two front height channels for Dolby Atmos or, not as much fun in my opinion, a 7.1-channel configuration with back-surrounds. You can add rear height channels to achieve 5.1.4 with connection of two channels of external amplification to the appropriate line outputs on the back, or also add back-surrounds for this unit’s maximum 7.1.4 configuration with an additional two channels of
THE VERDICT NAD T758 V3 A/V Receiver Audio Performance Features Ergonomics Value
external power (though in that case you might be an 11-channel receiver or even separates guy). DTS:X was absent at press time but planned in a future software update. The VM130/AM230 upgrade module contains all the aforementioned video and audio connections plus a USB jack. Out of the latter hangs an included USB hub with four ports. I filled three of them with the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth thumb antennas/ dongles, plus an included microphone preamplifier for the Dirac room correction. Ultra HD passthrough runs at a maximum of 60 frames per second with 4:4:4 color sampling (in other words, no color compression) and with HDR10 picture-optimizing metadata (but not Dolby Vision—so far). The company says that “Because the ARM processor we use for Bluesound and its BluOS High Res Network Streaming operating system also has extensive video processing capabilities, we were able to use this processor to manage the video and also allow BluOS network streaming, a major new feature upgrade.” NAD provides no video scaling, saying that job is better left to the video display—a tack also taken lately by other AVR makers in all but their most premium models. HDCP 2.2 DRM
NAD’s modular-upgrade strategy endows V3 of the T758 with bleeding-edge room correction and audio streaming without impairing its excellent sound.
NAD T758 V3 A/V RECEIVER PRICE: $1,300 NAD Electronics • (800) 263-4641 nadelectronics.com
ensures an orderly copyright handshake with UHD sources.
Doing Dirac But the biggest story here is the addition of Dirac, from the 15year-old Swedish company that offers room correction for high-end home theater systems as well as audio processing for mobile and automotive use. NAD has not just adopted Dirac Live LE but also gotten PSB’s speaker-designing eminence grise Paul Barton to tweak it. Barton created microphone calibration curves and a “RoomFeel” target “that is informed by his extensive research into acoustics and human perception of sound.” He also made the potentially valuable suggestion to keep the full impulse response correction of Dirac Live (which deals with time and phase anomalies) but also limit its frequency response corrections (i.e., equalization) to frequencies below 500 hertz. This bass range is where most rooms have the largest impact on performance. Many audiophiles prefer to avoid electronic tampering with their system’s midrange character and instead tweak the listening experience with acoustic treatments to the room. There is a camp that advocates for doing both.
If you want full frequency response correction, you can download the standard Dirac software for $99 extra. Most receivers have a combined auto setup and room correction program. Dirac works differently, leaving speaker settings to be manually input by the user and performing only room correction. Note that this receiver requires you to specify your speaker characteristics in the Speaker Configuration menu and then assign amp channels to either height or back-surround duties in a separate Amplifier menu. That's somewhat unusual and not well flagged in the manual. Failing to set both menus properly could result in the Dirac software not "hearing" your height or back-surround speakers and result in error
messages, as occurred for me initially until I got things straightened out with a little help from NAD. Even without this hitch, setting up for a Dirac run proved less straightforward than running the software in most AVRs. It involves linking together a chain of four included items. You end up with the microphone plugged into a barrel adapter, plugged into a USB mic preamp, plugged into a USB hub, plugged into the USB jack of the VM130 module on the back panel. The USB mic preamp can also be plugged directly into a PC, though your firewall and antivirus software might have to be disabled to allow the receiver to be recognized by Dirac—potentially leaving you open to criminal hackers during testing. Mac users must also select the USB Microphone in sound settings. Additionally, both the AVR and computer must be on the same local network. Once the setup was properly configured, I then used the software in the computer to measure the room acoustics from nine listening positions, loaded NAD’s proprietary RoomFeel target onto each group of channels, ordered the program to optimize settings, saved the project, and finally exported the settings to the AVR. You can save up to three versions in the software and select them in the receiver’s interface. The target-loading and optimizing steps share the same Filter Design tab on the PC-app user interface, and the app doesn’t step you through them sequentially—I needed a bit of extra hand-holding from NAD to get it
Front-panel connections are hidden by a clean-looking cover.
Test Bench NAD T758 V3 A/V Receiver
The main remote has small but well-laidout buons.
THIS graph shows the T758v3’s left channel, from Audio1 input to speaker output with two channels driving 8-ohm loads. Measurements for THD+noise, crosstalk, signal-to-noise ratio, and analog/digital frequency response were all within expected performance parameters. Full details available at soundandvision.com.—MJP 0.1% THD
Two Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads
Two Channels Continuously Driven, 4-Ohm Loads
Five Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads
Seven Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads
Power Output: 110 watts (8 ohms, 2 channels driven); 60 watts (8 ohms, all channels driven) • Auto Setup: Dirac Live LE • Video Processing: 4K passthrough, HDR10, 4:4:4, 60 fps • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 17.13 x 6.81 x 15.81 • Weight (Pounds): 33.9 • Video Inputs: HDMI 2.0a (3) • Audio Inputs: Coaxial digital (2), optical digital (3, 1 front), stereo analog RCA (4, 1 front), 7.1-channel analog (1) • Additional: Ethernet (1), USB (1) • Video Outputs: HDMI 2.0a (1) • Audio Outputs: Stereo analog (1), 11.1-channel preamp (1), ¼-inch headphone • Additional: RS-232 (1), 12-volt trigger (1), IR (1 in, 2 out)
right. NAD does offer a step-by-step video on its website and contextsensitive help in the Dirac app. Ultimately, Dirac is an audio
tweaker’s paradise; it’s great to see how your system measures in your room and how the program corrects it. And the results, as you’ll read
• 56 MAY 2018 soundandvision.com
below, were excellent. But be advised that, compared with the plug-and-play simplicity of most auto-correction schemes, the learning curve for this one is steep. Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers, two Klipsch RP-140SA elevation modules, Paradigm Seismic 110 subwoofer, Oppo BDP-83 universal disc player, Micro Seiki BL-51 turntable, Shure M97xE cartridge, and Denon PRA-S10 serving as phono preamp. All movie demos were on Blu-ray Disc.
Tighter and Snappier Desultory break-in listening, before room correction, revealed a reasonably neutral amplifier with no gross flaws or additive character. NAD is good at that. With Dirac, the most obvious difference was the improvement in bass response, which zapped my room’s standing wave and tightened rhythm sections. Leaving the basic midrange character of my room and speakers intact was no burden—the room’s balance of frequencies is agreeably listenable, if not unflawed, and the speakers are pretty neutral. The impulse response correction was more subtle, and where room
The NAD provides a total of three HDMI inputs and does away with the FM tuner.
correction is concerned, subtlety is not a bad thing. Imaging improvements were minor, but everything from top to bottom seemed a little snappier. The Guy Ritchie bomb King Arthur: Legends of the Sword was a Dolby Atmos feast, giving the height channels a good workout. Even with only one pair of Atmos speakers supported by the sevenchannel receiver, the soundfield was big, airy, and not terribly speaker bound, especially in front. What my notes call an “EZ tonal balance” didn’t prevent a finicky approach to detail, especially in the score’s buzzing trombone and cello flourishes, souped up in the mix for maximum menace. Well-measured bass rounded out the package. The Zookeeper’s Wife (DTS-HD Master Audio) is a true story about zookeepers who provided escape and refuge for people from Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto during World War II. The Nazi bombing of the zoo was all too forceful and evocative. This soundtrack had a warmer, softer feel and a slightly less vivid soundfield, though the receiver didn’t allow the softening to impair dialogue intelligibility. The finale was Game of Thrones, season seven, episodes one to three, an even more vigorous celebration of Dolby Atmos. As the White Walkers rose out of the mist in “Dragonstone,”
NAD provides a second, smaller remote to operate Zone 2.
the mix threw a surprisingly large proportion of the orchestral score into my up-firing Klipsch elevation modules. The battle of two naval fleets in “Stormborn” became more of a medieval battle scene as armed men crossed between boats and attacked hand to hand, filling the soundfield with mayhem—this was perhaps the only scene where I would have liked to have been running at least four height channels. It became abundantly clear in this scene that the net effect of Dirac room correction and height effects was greater than the sum of its parts, the room correction sharpening perception of numerous fast-moving objects rioting throughout the wedge-shaped soundfield.
Bliss of Bis Sibelius’s Kullervo and other works featured Osmo Vänskä leading the Minnesota Orchestra and YL Male Voice Choir on yet another
beautifully recorded multichannel hybrid SACD from the Swedish label Bis. (Vänskä’s Beethoven cycle is my go-to hi-res surround version.) The soundfield was extremely airy— probably because the receiver was receiving multichannel PCM from the disc player and upmixing it to Dolby Surround, with its simulated height effects, by default. But even with Dolby Surround switched off in the GUI, the soundfield was fine-grained and colorful, with notably clear, sumptuous, and well-integrated decays, especially with a solo clarinet part in the second movement. There was also a strong spatial sense of the venue, possibly a mixture of the RoomFeel target and information embedded in the recording. Billy Cobham’s second solo album Crosswinds (LP) harnessed his tireless and sometimes explosive drumming to a percolating jazzfunk groove, serviced by the Brecker
brothers and the late guitarist John Abercrombie. I compared the roomcorrected stereo mode to analog bypass and tried to listen beyond the obvious sub-on, sub-off distinction. I was well into side two before realizing that the soundstage was getting a little extra focus from Dirac, though again, it was subtle. Once I got used to tight, fast rhythm sections, I couldn’t resist going for more. Stewart Copeland’s prodigious playing on the second Police album, Reggatta de Blanc (LP), never sounded more disciplined and satisfying. But the room correction also excavated several distinctive high-frequency textures from his cymbal work. Andy Summers’ Telecaster was also a feast of spidery tone as he worked his way through tremolo, phase shifter, and other effects. Dirac rocked this album hard yet subtly. The Bluesound app was easy to install and trouble free, not balky or buggy as some are. The 16 supported streaming services included some new to me (Calm Radio, Murfie,
WiMP). Pandora was not among them, so I wasn’t able to access my free account, but Radio Paradise was an adequate substitute. It describes itself as “a unique blend of many styles and genres of music, carefully selected and mixed by two real human beings.” NAD gives it special prominence, along with TuneIn, on the streaming home screen. NAD’s Modular Design Construction makes V3 of the T758 a special occasion as one of the small but growing number of surround products with Dirac. Putting aside the aforementioned challenges with learning to use it, it's an empowering tool for the questing audio tweaker who wants the flexibility to experiment with room correction parameters. Coupled here with this fine-sounding receiver, the audible results are beautiful. Audio Editor Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Audio Systems, now available in both print and Kindle editions.
Projection TV By Al Griffin
Hisense Laser TV 4K DLP Projector PRICE $10,000 HISENSE HAS BEEN SLOWLY making headway in the U.S. TV market over the past few years, mostly through its lineup of affordable big-screen LCD sets. Another product that the company has teased at trade shows, and is now actively selling, is Laser TV, a flat-screen alternative that consists of an ultra-short-throw (UST) laser-driven DLP projector paired with a 100-inch screen. While other companies including Sony and Epson offer their own UST solutions, Hisense seems especially bullish on the category: At last CES, the company announced a second Laser TV offering that incorporates a dual-laser DLP light engine and comes with a 150-inch screen, and there’s also an 88-inch version in the works. While there’s no information yet concerning price or availability for those next-gen Hisense Laser TVs, the 100-inch version can be bought now for $10,000. The Texas Instruments Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) used in the projector is the same chip found in other 4K DLP projectors that Sound & Vision has tested, including the Optoma UHD65 (December 2017 issue and soundandvision.com) and BenQ HT9050 (soundandvision.com). In contrast with “4K Native” projectors, like certain models sold by Sony and JVC, this solution achieves 4K image resolution using XPR pixel-switching technology. Here’s how that works. The new TI DMD has a native resolution of 2716 x 1528 pixels. Using a combination of video processing and physical shifting of the display chip via an optical actuator, a full 8.3 million discrete pixels (approximately the same number provided by native Ultra HD displays) are flashed onscreen for each video frame, with the shift
The Laser TV is an unobtrusive 24 inches wide by 8 high.
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AT A GLANCE
Plus Q Bright picture with excellent uniformity Q Crisp detail with 4K sources Q Powerful built-in audio system
Minus Q So-so contrast ratio Q Occasional banding artifacts Q No extended color gamut coverage happening fast enough that the eye perceives a full 4K resolution image. Since the pixel array that creates the image is generated using a single-chip solution, it also appears onscreen with perfect color alignment. The screen that Hisense bundles with its projector is a 100-inch version of a Screen Innovations Zero Edge ST, the same type used in our earlier
review of Sony’s VPL-VZ1000ES (Sound & Vision, February/March 2018 and soundandvision.com). In this case, however, the screen arrives fully framed and intact—no assembly required. Screen Innovations’ ST screen is an ambient-light-rejecting material designed specifically for use with UST projectors. The ST has a gain of 0.6 and a 170-degree viewing cone, making it a good alternative to big-screen LCD TVs, many of which have a considerably more limited viewing angle (typically 30 degrees). Hisense’s strategy with its Laser TV was to make it indistinguishable from a regular smart TV. To that end, it has wired Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity, plus a smart TV GUI that serves up apps including Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, YouTube, and Pandora. Both Netflix and YouTube provide 4K and high dynamic range support (Amazon is 4K, but no HDR). There’s a built-in tuner for viewing over-theair digital TV broadcasts—another unusual add for a front projector— and a Harman Kardon–designed 2.1 audio system consisting of two 1-inch tweeters and 2.5-inch midrange drivers, each separately powered by
15-watt amps, and a wireless sub with a 6.5-inch woofer powered by a 60-watt amp. The built-in speakers are mechanically isolated from the projector chassis, so there’s no interference between audio and video components when movies get played loud. The specs for the Laser TV cite light output at 3,000 lumens (typical). Lifespan of the laser light engine is 20,000 hours in Standard mode, and 25,000 hours in Eco mode—long enough to last for two decades viewing 5 to 6 hours daily. Hisense also plans to supplement the Laser TV’s smart GUI with Alexa integration. The upgrade, which will require a firmware update and new remote control with a built-in microphone, is expected sometime this spring. Though the Laser TV’s design isn’t as swanky as Sony’s $25,000 UST projector, effort was put into giving it a living-room-friendly appearance. The 24 x 8.1 x 15.7-inch (WxHxD) case is fronted by a black mesh speaker grille. A metal-hued strip swoops diagonally from top to bottom, giving the chassis an aerodynamic look. Connections on the rear panel
THE VERDICT Hisense Laser TV 4K DLP Projector
Hisense’s Laser TV strikes a good balance between performance and price for a 4K-res ultra-short-throw projector-and-screen package.
Performance Features Ergonomics Value
include a LAN port, an RF antenna input, and two each USB and HDMI 2.0a (one with ARC) ports. There are also optical digital and analog RCA audio outputs for routing audio back to a receiver. Hisense supplies a sturdy, metal-encased remote control with the Laser TV. Its main feature is a directional touchpad that’s used for navigating menus and selecting items from the set’s GUI such as inputs and picture modes. There’s a quartet of buttons at the top that take you directly to the big four streaming services: Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, and YouTube. Buttons to adjust volume and change channels are located on the bottom half, where they can be easily accessed with your thumb—a good thing for a projector where you’re likely to be using the built-in sound system and OTA digital tuner.
Setup Setup of the Laser TV is made somewhat easy by the fact that it ships with a preassembled screen. Most of the work involves mounting the screen on your wall, and Hisense provides adjustable, heavy-duty hardware mounts to help make that process go smoothly. Once mounted, I positioned the projector on a 20-inch-high table beneath the screen. The distance from the projector’s back surface to the screen plane was 6 inches, and the
same distance spanned the projector’s top surface and the screen’s bottom edge. Tweaking image geometry involves calling up a test pattern from the setup menu and leveling the height of the five adjustable feet on the projector’s bottom. The Screen setup menu provides settings for floor, ceiling, and rear-projection installations; Screen Type (in this case, ALR); Geometric Correction (not recommended since it’s an electronic adjustment that reduces picture resolution); and Focusing. Once powered up, the projector’s fan noise proved relatively low and was easily masked by movie and TV soundtracks. Adding the wireless subwoofer to the setup involved a visit to, confusingly, the Network menu, where a Bluetooth pairing process could be initiated that required pressing a button on the sub. The Audio menu provides Total Sonics, Total Surround, and Total Volume options. I experimented a bit with Total Sonics, which added some clarity to dialogue and increased bass punch, but I ultimately found that I didn’t need it with most programs. To calibrate the TV’s picture settings, I used its Theater mode for standard high definition and
Under the front grille, the Laser TV rocks two Harman Kardon woofers and one tweeter.
HISENSE LASER TV 4K DLP PROJECTOR PRICE: $10,000 Hisense • hisense-usa.com
Calibrated HDR mode for Ultra HD/ high dynamic range programs. Although the TV is only capable of displaying images in the Rec. 709 (HDTV) color space, I still selected the Enhanced HDMI 2.0 format option in the Picture menu, which enables passthrough of 4K/60-hertz signals with 10-bit color encoding. The other adjustments I made were to switch off Motion Enhancement and Overscan (both turned on by default in the Theater picture mode), select the Gamma 1 preset, and turn off Active Contrast. Picture modes with names like Active Contrast on projectors typically engage some form of dynamic contrast adjustment, but on the Laser TV they merely changed picture gamma in a manner that made faces look bright and flat, with absolutely no effect on contrast ratio. Calibrating the Laser TV’s grayscale and color points for SDR/Rec. 709 display proved to be a snap using the adjustments in the White Balance and Color Tuner menus. Postcalibration, the Delta E
values for grayscale and color points averaged an impressive 1.2 and 2.3, respectively. Gamma also closely tracked the 2.2 target with the Gamma 1 setting active. After notching down the Laser TV’s Light Level adjustment from the default maximum to the 17 setting, contrast ratio measured 1,354:1—not exactly a great native contrast reading, but better than both the Optoma UHD65 4K DLP projector and the Epson LS100 LCD UST projector, two related models that Sound & Vision has recently reviewed. With contrast set
A narrow-form-factor wireless subwoofer rounds out the audio system.
Test Bench Hisense Laser TV 4K DLP Projector
The decorative diagonal metal strip gives the Laser TV a space-age chic.
FULL-ON/FULL-OFF Contrast Ratio: 1,354:1
WITH the 1 Gamma preset selected, the Delta E for gamma in Theater mode averaged 3.9. Post-calibration, gamma PRE-CALIBRATION measurements improved substantially, closely trackwere made with the Hisense Laser TV’s ing the 2.2 target for most of its range Theater preset active. Post-calibration with a high of 2.4 at 90 IRE. measurements were made in the same mode. All measurements were made UHD/HDR using the 100-inch-diagonal Screen WHILE it’s technically an Ultra HD Innovations Short Throw screen that’s display, the Hisense Laser TV’s color included with the projector. reproduction capability only extends to the Rec. 709 (HDTV) gamut. The set’s Gamma 1 setting provided the HD/SDR closest match to HDR’s EOTF AFTER calibration in Theater mode, (Electro-Optical Transfer Function, the projector’s black level measured 0.020 ft-L and peak white 27.08 ft-L for a which is the specified “gamma” for UHD), while its grayscale Delta E contrast ratio of 1,354:1. An Advanced averaged out to 4.5 post-calibration. Picture Options menu provides variPeak HDR light output in the Calibrated ous Active Contrast presets, but none HDR mode measured 130 nits on of these had any effect on picture contrast; instead, they appeared to alter a 10% white window pattern and picture gamma with negative results. remained consistent across a range Maximum light output was measured of window pattern sizes, along with at 31.76 ft-L with contrast set to full-screen white. maximum in Vivid mode. PICTURE uniformity was excellent: BEFORE calibration in Theater White full-field test patterns showed mode with Low color temperature only minimal brightness drops selected, the Laser TV displayed between the center and edges of the mostly good grayscale tracking, with screen, and there was no visible color the Delta Es averaging out to 3.2. shifting. Off-axis uniformity was also Calibration in the User mode improved excellent. Our suite of video procesthat average to 1.2, with a high of 1.8 sing tests revealed mostly good at 10 percent brightness. (Delta E is performance, with the projector only a figure of merit that indicates how tripping up on HD and SD 2:2 pulldown patterns, a not uncommon result.—AG closely a display adheres to the Rec. 709 HD color standard. Experts generally agree that levels below 3 are visibly indistinguishable from perfect Dimensions color tracking.) (WxHxD, Inches): 24 x 8.1 x 15.7 WITH the Theater mode’s default • Weight (Pounds): 42 • Video settings active, the projector’s Inputs: HDMI (2, one ARC); VGA measured color points were somewhat computer • Audio Inputs: Minijack inaccurate, with the Delta E averaging analog stereo (1) • Audio Outputs: out to 6.3. Post-calibration, the Delta E Optical digital, RCA analog stereo for color points averaged out to 2.3— • Other: LAN (1), USB Type A (2), a notable improvement. RS-232C (1)
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to the highest level in Vivid mode, maximum light output was measured at 36.7 foot-lamberts. That’s about half the light output that the Epson UST projector managed when I reviewed it, but I never had a sense during my testing that the Laser TV’s picture was insufficiently bright. Adjusting the picture for HDR presented more of a challenge. The projector tracked the HDR’s EOTF (the specified “gamma” for UHD) relatively closely, but its grayscale Delta E averaged out to 4.5 post calibration. Peak HDR light output, meanwhile, measured 130 nits on a 10 percent white window pattern (about 38 ft-L), and it remained consistent across a range of window sizes plus fullscreen white. While 130 nits is hardly sufficient to deliver a full-scale HDR experience, that measurement isn’t unusual for a typical projector.
HD/SDR Performance When I watched the Blu-ray Disc version of Passengers on the Laser TV in dark room lighting conditions, the picture displayed excellent color accuracy and good contrast. Skintones looked natural and showed a decent level of variation,
and there was also plenty of detail. When I compared the upconverted 4K output of an Oppo UDP-103 Ultra HD Blu-ray player with the same upconverted image on the Hisense, I didn’t notice any serious differences: Both pictures for the most part looked solid, detailed, and clean. Switching to a Blu-ray of the black-and-white “Noir” version of Logan, the most recent entry in the X-Men film series, the Hisense’s picture displayed excellent uniformity—the range of gray tones in the image showed little variation over the full expanse of the 100-inch screen, and contrast remained solid even when viewed from a far off-center seat. I did notice a bit of banding noise in streaks of light coming through the ceiling of an abandoned structure in a scene where Logan administers medication to Charles Xavier, but similar artifacts popped up only rarely during the film. The dynamic visual impact of the Laser TV’s 100-inch screen really kicked in when I viewed a Blu-ray of Dunkirk, a movie that was shot using a combination of IMAX and 65mm
The remote has a unique directional touchpad.
Connections include two HDMI ports (one with ACR) and both Toslink and RCA audio outputs.
large-format film stock. Watching the film’s opening scene, I saw a wide range of subtle colors in the seaside village where the British soldiers get shot at. When Tommy, the lone army private from his group to escape the barrage, arrives at the shore where the rest of the army is desperately awaiting rescue, the blue and green hues of the ocean came across as vivid, yet completely natural. I did notice some banding noise in the clouds over the ocean, especially in the aerial fight scenes between the British and German planes, but it was mostly limited to scenes that showed a vast expanse of sky. (Generally, banding noise was more pronounced on programs that were originally shot on film.) Dunkirk also proved to be great demo material for the Hisense’s sound system. In a scene where German planes attack the beach, for instance, the detonations as a line of bombs aggressively made their way toward the camera perspective had a powerful bass impact. In another scene where German planes attack a mass of British soldiers lining a pier leading to a rescue ship, the screaming sound of planes descending, and the spray of bullets raining on the pier, was surprisingly immersive for a 2.1 system. Dialogue in this scene and others also sounded consistently clear and unstrained.
episode, there was plenty of detail to be seen in the scaly hides of a pair of dueling Komodo dragons. The streamed 4K image looked solid and mostly noise-free, and it had satisfactory brightness. Watching Ultra HD versions of the same Blu-ray Discs I had watched earlier, I also noted a boost in picture detail, especially with Dunkirk. The addition of HDR didn’t seem to make much of a difference, however. For example, viewing a scene from Passengers where the two premature risers conclude their date by donning spacesuits and floating outside the ship, the blackness of space, and the shadows in the recesses of the ship’s exterior, didn’t appear any deeper, and I only noted a slight boost in the brightness of highlights. In a nighttime scene from Dunkirk where a torpedo unleashed by a German
U-boat hits a British rescue ship, I noted good contrast between the black ocean that the soldiers dive into and the light from fires rippling on the water. Here again, however, it wasn’t a dramatic improvement over watching the same sequence minus HDR on regular Blu-ray. The set’s inability to display greater-than-Rec. 709 color was yet another factor that contributed to its minimal wow factor with HDR sources.
Conclusion Coming into this review as a movie fan who strongly prefers viewing in a room with little to no ambient light, I’m inclined to be more critical of the Hisense Laser TV’s shortcomings than its strengths. But let’s look at both. In the strength column, the Laser TV can claim excellent 4K detail and picture uniformity, along with spot-on post-calibration color accuracy. Its picture is bright enough to compete with daylight in a well-lit room, and its contrast ratio is slightly above average when compared with competing solutions. It also offers the smart functionality viewers have come to expect from their TVs, with apps that support 4K streaming and
UHD/HDR Viewing When I streamed the BBC nature documentary Planet Earth II in 4K from Netflix, the boost in picture crispness delivered by Ultra HD on the Hisense’s screen was easy to appreciate from my 10-foot viewing distance. Watching the Islands
The Hisense Laser TV is a complete out-of-box solution.
HDR, and forthcoming Amazon Alexa integration. Yet another feature that makes the Hisense projector TV-like out of the box is its built-in Harman Kardon audio system, which is capable of delivering dynamic sound and clear, unstrained dialogue. Moving to the minus column, though HDR-compatible, the Laser TV delivers only minimal extra visual impact when displaying HDR content, and its color coverage only extends to the Rec. 709 (HDTV) color space. It exhibits occasional banding noise artifacts, and its contrast ratio isn’t nearly as impressive as projectors designed for dim home theater viewing environments, as well as pricier UST projectors like Sony’s VZ1000ES. Adding up the plus and minus points, I’d say that for many viewers the Hisense Laser TV would come out on top: It’s a very good option for watching in a bright room, and it also performs well when you dim the lights for movie time. The projector’s preassembled screen, streaming apps, and built-in audio system also make it a complete out-of-box solution, one that you could easily install yourself. If you’re looking for the largest flat-screen TV possible and your budget maxes out at $10,000, you might want to consider a Laser TV instead.
Go Tubular! By David Vaughn
SVS PC-4000 Subwoofer PRICE $1,800 SVS HAS BEEN A STAPLE IN THE home theater industry for 20 years now, and I’ve been a proud owner of one of the company’s PC-Ultra cylindrical subwoofers for the past 13-plus years. When I was introduced to the brand, I remember taking a lot of heat from my wife for puing a “scratching post” in our family room. When she heard it for the ﬁrst time, though, she realized that no cat in its right mind would ever go near the beast! The majority of people seem to prefer their subwoofers to come in the shape of a box, not a vertical tube, for various reasons. On the other hand, if floor space is an issue, a cylinder (depending on its height) can provide similar cabinet volume in a smaller footprint. The PC-4000, with a 13.5-inch driver, has a diameter of 16.5 inches. But it’s just under 47 inches tall, so unless you hide it behind a potted tree, it won’t exactly disappear into the room. The PC-4000 is among SVS’s recently released 4000 series subwoofers, which take some technology developed for the PB16-Ultra and SB16-Ultra ﬂagships I reviewed in late 2016 ($2,500 and $2,000 respectively, February/March 2017 issue and soundandvision. com). The PC-4000 has two box-shaped siblings, the sealed SB-4000 ($1,500) and the PB-4000 ($1,900), which, like the PC-4000, is ported and houses the same hardware. The PB-4000’s footprint measures a considerable 20.5 inches wide x 27.7 deep, and it weighs 60 percent more than the PC-4000 (153 pounds versus 92)—so moving the tube is much easier on the back!
An LED readout and control buons are located near the base of the unit.
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AT A GLANCE
Plus Q Outstanding bass response Q Onboard parametric EQ Q Useful remote and smartphone app Q Uncommon form factor
Minus Q Lacks auto-calibration Q Uncommon form factor
Still, there are tradeoﬀs for gaining some ﬂoor space with the PC-4000. Its rated output is slightly less than that of the PB-4000. The laer sub goes a few hertz deeper (according to the spec sheet, 3 Hz deeper in Extended mode than the PC-4000’s rated 16 Hz), and it provides a few more decibels of output overall.
An Old Friend As noted below, I now use multiple subwoofers in my system. But I lived with a cylindrical model as my singular, primary sub for a long time. In my room, the sweet spot for sub placement is in the front le corner. This location provides the most output, due to room gain—and in my case, the coverage is acceptably even. Unfortunately, there’s a ﬁreplace hearth that infringes on that ﬂoor space, and geing a boxed sub in that particular corner is impossible without unreasonable room modiﬁcations. However, a cylinder ﬁts perfectly, with room to spare. The PC-4000 arrived with the shipping box looking like it had been to hell and back. I was nervous to crack it open, but the well-packed sub had survived without a hint of damage; SVS certainly knows how to package their wares for the long journey to a customer’s home. Although the sub is heavy, most of its
THE VERDICT SVS PC-4000 Subwoofer Performance Features Build Quality Value
weight is in the base, where the driver and ampliﬁer reside, so maneuvering it into that tight corner was easy. Compared with my vintage PC-Ultra, the PC-4000 has a fresh look. First, the top ring is ﬁnished in a piano gloss black, which is a nice touch. Also, the fabric wrapping around the tube isn’t as fuzzy as that of my reference sub, giving it a slimmer, more reﬁned quality. The PC-4000 comes standard with SVS’s SoundPath Subwoofer Isolation System (reviewed on our website), accessory feet that I added aermarket to my PC-Ultra. In my home, these amazing elastomer props provide a bit more punch to the sound while removing room rale and bass bleed to the rest of the house. Another design change involves the cabinet’s base. The one on my older sub has a wood plinth approximately 2 inches below the woofer (with the feet aached to the boom of it). The PC-4000 lacks this, so I’m curious to see how it will balance when siing on carpet. The technical details are extremely impressive, highlighted by the new 4000 series driver, which is a beast. Besides its 13.5-inch diameter, it weighs 49.6 pounds, and it features an eight-layer aluminum ﬂat-wire edge-wound 3-inch voice coil, along with two stacked ferrite magnets. Powering this impressive woofer is a
If floor space is an issue but you still want subterranean bass response, the PC-4000 is the perfect choice.
Sledge STA-1200D ampliﬁer, rated at 1,200 was RMS and providing more than 4,000 was peak power (cue Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor’s grunts). The amp has both balanced and unbalanced inputs/outputs, a 3V-12V trigger input, and a detachable grounded power cord.
There’s an App for That For the initial installation, there are three options for seing up the various controls. Just above the SVS logo near the base of the cylinder is an LED display, along with control buons. If you don’t want to bend down, you can make all of the adjustments from the money seat using the IR remote (line of sight needed). Or beer yet, download the SVS app from the iTunes Store or Google Play and use your phone/ tablet to connect to the sub via Bluetooth. This is the most convenient of the three options, since you don’t have to learn to navigate the somewhat complicated menu tree. In addition to controlling volume, the app lets you set the low-pass ﬁlter, phase, polarity, and room gain compensation (a much-needed feature for rooms where the lowest frequencies are exaggerated), and it even includes a parametric EQ (PEQ). PEQs are handy because they let you set the desired frequency of the ﬁlter (20 to 200 Hz), increase or decrease
SVS PC-4000 SUBWOOFER PRICE: $1,800 SVS • (877) 626-5623 • svsound.com
the SPL (dB) boost or aenuation of the ﬁlter band, and adjust the bandwidth (Q factor) to tailor the sub’s output to ﬁt your particular room. Furthermore, there are three user presets (Movie, Music, and Custom) to save your seings for various listening scenarios. You can select these from the app at the push of a buon. My reference system has four subwoofers: the SVS PC-Ultra, a 15-inch Hsu Research VTF-15H MK2, and dual 10-inch JL Audio Fathom f110 cabinets, all of which have been painstakingly calibrated using a miniDSP along with the freeware soware Room EQ. For this review, I initially ran the PC-4000 by itself with no equalization applied, but I ultimately employed the Anthem Room Correction (ARC) from my AVM 60 pre/pro. Since my room is treated, the before and aer graphs were quite similar, but the room correction helped with a slight dip in the 35-Hz range. [Ed. Note: Readers should observe that our quasianechoic measurements showed a dip in output for the sub in this range that may have contributed, though it should be easily corrected with the sub’s onboard EQ. See Test Bench.—RS] I performed all of my testing in the sub’s Standard mode, but SVS provides port plugs that let you adjust the tuning to your liking. Plugging one port—and changing a parameter in the SVS app—places the sub in Extended mode. This means it will have greater
If floor space is an issue, a cylinder can provide a smaller footprint.
output below 20 Hz but less maximum output versus Standard mode. If you seal all three ports, the response below 35 Hz is reduced in level, but the bass is a bit tighter and more controlled. If I were using this sub for music only, sealed would be my preference. For movies, however, it would be a toss-up between Standard (more output) and Extended (deeper bass extension). Bear in mind that every mode works well with all types of content, so which you choose is a maer of your environment, preferred listening levels, and how you like your bass to sound.
Ain’t That a Kick Auditioning subwoofers is among my top things to do. (I’ve found, however, that my wife and dog don’t seem to appreciate deep-basspounding scenes played back at reference levels. I just don’t get it.) Fortunately, there’s a plethora of movies oﬀering demo-worthy moments that highlight a sub’s ability to dig deep and play loud. By far my favorite Michael Bay ﬁlm is 13 Hours, which tells the story of the survivors from the Benghazi aack. Whether or not you agree with the movie’s subtle political undertones, the Blu-ray is well worth watching for its kick-ass Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Sure, the overhead eﬀects are great, but the bass response is what really sets it apart. The ﬁnal assault on the CIA annex has it all: gunshots, including
SoundPath Isolation feet come standard. soundandvision.com 63
TEST REPORT ON THE WEB
See soundandvision.com/ TestBench for full lab results and technical deﬁnitions.
Reﬁned cosmetic touches include a piano gloss black top ring and a sleek fabric wrap.
With the SVS app (iOS and Android), your tablet or phone can operate the PC-4000 via Bluetooth.
Test Bench SVS PC-4000 Subwoofer
Two Are Better Than One
PC-4000 (blue) Close-miked response in Extended mode, two ports open, normalized to level @ 80 Hz: lower –3 dB @ 17 Hz, –6 dB @ 15 Hz, upper –3 dB @ 190 Hz with Crossover set to Oﬀ. Please note: Response is –5.05 dB @ 39 Hz, making the crossover and level seings required for proper integration tricky at best. There are internal EQ adjustments provided to ﬂaen the response in your room, and they should be utilized.—MJP
13.5 in paper-composite cone woofer (1); Class D ampliﬁer, 1,200 was (4,000 was peak); stereo RCA input/passthrough, stereo XLR input/passthrough; 47 x 16.5 in (H x dia), 92.4 lb
both small arms and pulsating 50-caliber weapons, and mortar rounds, which generate the most bass response. The PC-4000 met every expectation I had for this movie. I could not only hear the impact of the bass but also feel it as the subterranean sound shook my room on its raised foundation. Hearing a 50-caliber machine gun is impressive enough, but feeling every shot as if you were there is what makes watching movies in a capable home theater truly special. The pounding mortars were icing on the cake. Keeping the bale theme alive, I watched the Ultra HD Blu-ray of Hacksaw Ridge, which was my personal pick for Best Picture of 2016.
It’s the story of a true American hero who put his life in harm’s way to save 75 men in World War II during the Bale of Okinawa, while never carrying a ﬁrearm, due to his religious beliefs. Before his company’s initial foray, baleships oﬀ the coast launch a barrage of shells from their massive 16-inch guns in order to soen up the well-fortiﬁed Japanese units. Once again, the PC-4000 ﬂexed its muscles with deep, pounding bass response. Every cannon blast hit with such force that I could literally feel the impact in my chest. Man, I love bass! Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague is the newest addition to my Blu-ray library, and its bass-infused Dolby Atmos mix is outstanding. The concert features various selections from his movie
scores, including excerpts from Gladiator, Inception, and the Pirates of the Caribbean series. “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” from Man of Steel is one of the best tracks on the disc, as it engages the full orchestra, especially the bass section. The PC-4000 mated perfectly with my M&K Sound S-150 satellite system as the Blu-ray dipped below 80 Hz. Zimmer loves his drums, cellos, and bass, so a subwoofer that’s up to the task is a musthave. The bass response here was taut; drum notes didn’t linger, and their natural resonance was reproduced faithfully.
The SVS PC-4000 is well worth auditioning. 64 MAY 2018 soundandvision.com
As you can tell, I really like the PC-4000. Of course, it’s about 8 inches taller than my reference subwoofer—and with the upgraded internals, its output is greater, and it can dig deeper. This was particularly noticeable on tracks that dip below 18 Hz—bass that’s felt, not heard. And seing up this sub is much easier, given its remote and its handy phone/tablet app. My only gripe is that I wish SVS would have supplied a mic and soware (or app) to allow use of the built-in PEQ without having to tap a third-party soware solution or to manually build your own curves with the assistance of an SPL meter and a spreadsheet. Granted, this would add to the cost, and it may not be necessary for many users, given how good the room correction soware is in most AVRs these days. That nitpick aside, this is one fantastic subwoofer, and if ﬂoor space is an issue for your system, it’s well worth auditioning using SVS’s 45-day in-home trial. Beer yet, get two to enjoy eﬀortlesssounding output and more even coverage in your listening environment. Highly recommended.
SVS includes a small IR remote.
September 4-8, 2018 San Diego, CA
20,000 home tech pros. 500+ exhibitors. The event thatâ€™s making smart homes genius.
Live life connected.
Save 66% on Expo only pricing when you register before May 4. Get your badge for $100!
Registration Opens mid April 2018. Learn more and Register at CEDIAExpo.com
Power Plus By Al Griffin
Parasound Halo A 52+ Amplifier PRICE $2,995 WHILE ATTENDING THE 2017 CEDIA Expo in San Diego, I happened upon a small European audio electronics manufacturer that was showing a prototype five-channel amplifier. When I asked why the company was planning to release a multichannel amp after many years of making stereo-only gear, I was told matter-of-factly that home theater was “making a comeback.” A comeback? To me, home theater had never gone anywhere, so I found the response surprising. It was only later in the discussion that the deeper meaning of the statement became clear: Home theater is making a comeback at the entry level. By “entry level,” I don’t mean $200 soundbars. Instead, the growth of Netflix, Amazon, and Vudu is fueling interest in affordable, high-quality audio gear. How? Streaming services are giving people who maybe wouldn’t have partaken in the past an opportunity to experience surround sound. They might not own a collection of Blu-rays, but by simply streaming, they now have access to loads of movies with 5.1 soundtracks, and even some with Dolby Atmos or DTS:X mixes. Parasound may have been thinking along these lines when they engaged the well-known amplifier designer John Curl to create their new five-channel amp, the Halo A 52+ ($2,995). It fills the hole
that was left in 2012 when Parasound discontinued the $2,500 A 52. Since that time, anyone looking for a fivechannel amp from the company had to step up to the A 51, a $4,795 model that, at 250 watts per channel, is more than is needed in many systems. You don’t get a plus sign after your name for nothing, and the Halo A 52+ earns that distinction by delivering a specified 180 watts to each of its five channels (all channels driven, continuous, into 8 ohms), compared with the 125 watts per channel of its predecessor. The new amp also features a larger toroidal transformer to facilitate the boost in power. According to Parasound, multiple secondary windings within the transformer provide each channel with an independent power supply, which lets the amp easily meet performance requirements under a range of conditions. As always, see our Test Bench for measurements. The input stage uses discrete JFETs arranged in a differential configuration to reduce noise. The driver stage has a matched pair of MOSFETs, which Parasound says were “selected for their tube-like sonic qualities,” while three pair of 15-ampere bipolar transistors are employed for each channel’s output stage. According to the company, the input and driver stages operate in pure Class A mode, and the output stage is Class A/AB. Parasound opted to give the A 52+ a basic, black look. (Unlike other products in the Halo line, it doesn’t
The sizeable Parasound A 52+ measures 20 inches deep.
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have a silver option.) Still, the slightly curved, anodized front panel lends it a degree of flair. Optional brackets are available for rack mounting. The power button is located at the lower left, and there’s a row of five blue LEDs, which light up when the amp is turned on and operating properly. The rear panel provides both gold-plated unbalanced RCA inputs and balanced XLR inputs for all five channels. Speaker outputs are gold-plated five-way binding post connectors. A set of controls located above the main on/off switch and IEC power cord jack offer a variety of power-on options, including manual, Automatically12V trigger, and AutomaticallyAudio. For that last mode, a trim control lets you dial in a threshold level for incoming audio signals to automatically turn on the amp. After 8 minutes with no input signal above that threshold, the amp then automatically turns off.
Setting Up I carried out most of my testing of the A 52+ in my home theater with the amp driving a GoldenEar Technology system comprising Triton Two powered towers for the front left/right channels, a SuperSat 50c for the center, and Triton Five towers for the surrounds. Other
AT A GLANCE
Plus Q Ample power for all channels Q Dynamic sound Q Affordable
Minus Q Signal-sensing power-on mode can be fussy
components included an Anthem AVM 50v preamp/processor and an Oppo UDP-203 Ultra HD Bluray player. I also spent some time listening to music in a two-channel system with the A 52+ driving a pair of MartinLogan Motion 20 tower speakers. It took some time playing with a number of Automatically-Audio turn-on settings to find one that would reliably power up the amp. Eventually, I fixed on one near the side of the dial, labeled Quieter, which let it turn on consistently from a moderate volume. Once it’s on, the color of the blue LED behind the power button changes briefly to red as the amp’s internal circuits stabilize. After that’s complete (the process takes a few seconds to come out of protection mode), the five blue channel-indicator LEDs light up, and the amp is ready for action.
THE VERDICT Parasound Halo A 52+ Ampliﬁer Performance Features Ergonomics Value
Parasound’s new five-channel amplifier is a versatile performer, delivering clean power with ample headroom for both movies and music.
PARASOUND HALO A 52+ AMPLIFIER PRICE: $2,995 Parasound • parasound.com
Test Bench Parasound Halo A 52+ Amplifier Performance Getting the chance to see Christopher Nolan’s World War II film Dunkirk in my local IMAX theater was a visual treat. But I found the soundtrack to be just as engaging, mostly due to Hans Zimmer’s score, which is equal parts stirring and unsettling. At home, I cued up the film on Ultra HD Blu-ray in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. In a scene where a British rescue ship is torpedoed by a German U-boat, the resulting explosion—and the sound of water sloshing from front to rear and back again as the interior cabin floods— ripped across my room, calling all channels into action. The amp’s immersive rendering of the pulsing electronic noise in this scene also helped convey the sense of desperation. The Parasound’s ability to effortlessly unleash its reserves served it well in another scene from Dunkirk, where British Spitfires engage in an intense aerial battle with German fighter planes. In this sequence—yet another where the film’s soundtrack blends music and effects—eerie layers of strings are punctuated by loud blasts of fire from the planes’ guns. The A 52+ served
up the intense dynamic contrasts in a manner that literally caused me to sit up straight on my couch. Multichannel music was also handled well by the Parasound. When I played “Hey Boy Hey Girl” from the Chemical Brothers’ live performance Blu-ray, Don’t Think, the beats sounded tight and had a powerful envelope. The squelchy synths displayed a solid trajectory as they drifted from the front to the rear of the room, and there was a vivid sense of being surrounded by a cheering festival crowd. I also heard impressive dynamics in the buildups and drops where the song would climax, cut to silence, and then aggressively lurch back into a beat. Moving the A 52+ over to my stereo system with the MartinLogans, I listened to a Tidal stream of “Guinnevere” by Crosby, Stills & Nash. The vocals came across as intricately layered, and the acoustic guitars had a clean, upfront quality. Although there was some warmth to the midrange, I wouldn’t say the sound was tube-like, whatever Parasound meant by that. I mainly heard excellent clarity and image depth. The control and immediacy of the A 52+ made another
THIS graph shows the A52+’s CH1 ampliﬁer channel, with two channels driving 8-ohm loads. Measurements for THD+noise, crosstalk, signalto-noise ratio, and analog/digital frequency response were all within expected performance parameters. Full details available at soundandvision.com.—MJP 0.1% THD
Two Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads
Two Channels Continuously Driven, 4-Ohm Loads
Five Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads
Power Output: 5 x 180 was (8 ohms), all channels driven; 5 x 255 was (4 ohms); 0.05% THD, RMS continuous power, 20 Hz to 20 kHz • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 17.25 x 5.9 x 20 • Weight (Pounds): 55 • Audio Inputs: Gold-plated RCA (5, single-ended), balanced XLR (5) • Audio Outputs: Five-way binding posts (5 pair) • Additional: 12-volt trigger input and loop output
track shine: “Good on the Ground” by the Vijay Iyer Sextet. In this freeform jazz cut, the saxophone and piano struggle for dominance over a driving layer of standup bass and drums. When I listened with the Parasound and MartinLogan combination, all instruments were distinctly conveyed, and the drums in particular had a muscular presentation. The standup bass seemed a bit softened in attack compared with the sound put out
by my reference amp on this track, but overall I was impressed by the bass control I heard with most music.
Conclusion Listening with the Halo A 52+ in my system was a pleasure. Parasound’s new five-channel amp delivers clear, dynamic sound and has plenty of headroom to handle the explosive effects in movie soundtracks. Stereo and multichannel music also sounded great with the A 52+, making it a versatile all-around performer for entry-level and advanced home theaters alike.
Unlike other Halo models, the A 52+ is only available in basic black, not silver.
Better Killing Through Technology call attention to the much-touted 3D conversion bankrolled by StudioCanal and released in theaters last year. Vexingly, no home 3D version is available, but a new 4K master was created, and the results are good but could have been better. Adam Greenberg’s crisply focused, Oscarnominated cinematography is a ine it for 2160p, highlighting individual hairs and threads and pores, even the increasing accumulation of dirt on Arnie’s leather jacket. Many stark close-ups serve to ground this fantastic story in humanity. he movie was shot in the Super 35 ilm format and so should have a distinctive grain structure, but that appears to have been purged by overzealous digital video noise reduction.
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Backgrounds often display an unpleasant twitch, while smooth surfaces such as big, oily muscles can take on a mushy, artiicial look. hat a perfectionist like Cameron approved this new edition is surprising. he implementation of HDR enhances the 2.4:1 image somewhat, the bright elements in nighttime scenes showing noticeably more pop. Colors are strong throughout. he 4K disc carries the theatrical cut only, while the Blu-ray ofers that plus the Special Edition Version (Sarah’s full dream sequence!) as well as the Extended Special Edition Version (the future coda!). hese reinstated scenes have not been restored, and so the transitions are somewhat jarring. Curiously, a German DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is supplied, but English (and French) are 5.1 channels. he English track doesn’t disappoint, however, with tremendous, controlled bass for the meaty explosions, Arnold’s throaty Harley Fat Boy, and everything in between. Voices and the minutest cues have outstanding clarity and ine resonance when needed, celebrating the creativity of the sound efects. (his soundtrack won Oscars for both Sound and Sound Efects Editing.) Brad Fiedel’s musical score feels more evident in this mix, while the canal chase remains a surround home run. All of the extras reside on the Blu-ray. he T2 laserdisc was once a landmark for supplemental materials, and among the ported content here are a making-of and two commentary tracks: Cameron with co-writer William Wisher plus a cast/crew jam with 23 participants. Matthew Field’s 54-minute documentary “T2: Reprogramming the Terminator” is an excellent new bonus, its exclusive interviews bringing a perspective that was simply not possible before now. he Digital Copy is the theatrical cut only, in HD, with no extras. Judgment Day (8/29/97) may have come and gone, but Judgment Day’s inluence can still be felt across modernday blockbusters. OChris Chiarella
Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong
PICTURE 3D-NESS SOUND EXTRAS
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
It’s time to remind everyone what a big deal Terminator 2: Judgment Day still is. he action/adventure genre underwent a serious evolution in the ’80s, and by 1991, to be taken seriously, T2 had to be bigger and better than anything that had come before. And it was. Filmmaker James Cameron’s budgets have grown exponentially, and this sequel was staggering in its scope and complexity. Building upon the computer-generated imagery pioneered for he Abyss, he was able to tell the story of a relentless liquid metal assassin sent from the future to end all of mankind by killing the boy who would grow up to be our last hope. With only BLU-RAY his bad-ass mother Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and last-year’s-model über-robot STUDIO: Lionsgate, 1991 ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) standing between AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master him and certain doom for us all, Judgment Audio 5.1 Day blended science-iction and action in a LENGTH: 137/153/156 mins. MPAA RATING: R/Unrated uniquely thrilling way. DIRECTOR: James Cameron Text bookends the feature presentation to STARRING: Arnold Schwarzenegger,
Entertainment Reviews in High Definition
Not like me. A T-1000, advanced prototype.”
AMERICAN MADE FLYING HIGH AGAIN
he dramedy action ilm American Made from director Doug Liman (Swingers, Edge of Tomorrow) is based on the true story of airline pilot Barry Seal (played here by Tom Cruise), who in the late 1970s was recruited by the CIA to become a drug runner for the Medellin cartel in Central America. Seal eventually became a key igure in what would turn out to be one of the biggest political scandals in the following decade, the Iran-Contra “gate.” While this might sound like heavy material, American Made is far from a heavy ilm. Liman and screenwriter Gary Spinelli infuse the story with a major dose of comedy, giving it more of a “Big Short with action” feel. Cruise slides right into the role of rapscallion Seal with charisma to spare, while Liman’s direction is taut and quick-paced throughout. American Made was shot in 2.8K resolution on various Arri digital cameras and arrives on 4K Ultra HD in an HEVC 2160p encodement framed at 1.85:1 with HDR10 high dynamic range. he overall image could easily pass as being shot on ilm thanks to what are apparently some excellent ilm grain efects added in post-processing. he implementation of HDR on this ilm is the irst I’ve seen that’s geared more toward playing up the vividness of the color palette than the pop of the highlights, and there are only a few moments when the latter comes into play. Compared with the also-excellent Blu-ray, the colors here are almost psychedelic, itting for a ilm that starts out in 1978. American Made gets a pretty solid DTS:X immersive mix on 4K Ultra HD. It’s not as aggressive as some other mixes, but it’s full of atmosphere. he overhead channels are used judiciously to help with the sound of airplanes lying overhead, and they spread out the sound of the period musical track. Low end is beefy, while dialogue comes through plainly. American Made isn’t overlowing with must-see special features, but there are a few that are entertaining, all located on the Blu-ray Disc. Top of the list is “he Real Barry Seal,” in which Seal’s son reminisces about life with his father while old family photos and movies meander by. here are also six deleted scenes with optional commentary. Universal packs this set with a Movies Anywhere Digital Copy, allowing BLU-RAY STUDIO: Universal, 2017 you to watch the ilm digitally on practicASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 ally any device across multiple providers, AUDIO FORMAT: DTS:X including Vudu, Google Play, Amazon, LENGTH: 115 mins. MPAA RATING: R iTunes, Fandango, and the Movies DIRECTOR: Doug Liman Anywhere service itself. OBrandon A. DuHamel
STARRING: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright
DUNKIRK ON THE BEACH
Less than three weeks after the Germans invaded France in May 1940, the British Expeditionary Force found themselves backed up against the English Channel. he evacuation that followed sought to rescue over 300,000 British and French troops using a combination of British warships and hundreds of “little boats.” No one expected this efort, dubbed Operation Dynamo, to succeed. But it did, and the remarkable events from late May to early June 1940 are brilliantly re-created in Dunkirk, one of the best ilms of 2017. Director Christopher Nolan’s approach, to blend three diferent time lines for the action on the beach, in the air, and at sea is a bit confusing at irst, particularly when the scene shifts abruptly from day to night and back. he actual evacuation took nine days. If you just go with the low, however, it isn’t diicult to follow. I could also quibble a bit about a few technical details here and there. But that’s beside the point; Dunkirk is truer to actual events than are most historical ilms. he movie was shot with large-format cameras (including Panavision and IMAX) on ilm (not digitally). As in the theater, the aspect ratio on this video release alternates between 2.2:1 and 1.78:1—though it’s mostly in the latter. he 4K image is nearly impeccable though just a hair short of reference quality. he colors are often subtle and intentionally subdued, apart from occasionally too-rosy leshtones (as viewed on two diferent displays and both the HD and Ultra HD versions), and the 4K resolution was hard to fault. he blacks are rich, and while the HDR isn’t particularly dramatic, it was used efectively on bright highlights, particularly in the darkest scenes. he DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound will knock you of your chair. Be careful in the opening sequence; the ilm begins so quietly that you’ll be tempted to turn up the volume— until the irst gunshots tear through your speakers and hit you in the gut. he roar of aircraft engines, the crack of their guns, and Hans Zimmer’s relentless score also ratchet up the tension from beginning to end. he reference-quality extras are all in superb HD on a separate Blu-ray. While they can be watched as a selection of outstanding making-of shorts covering everything from the special efects to the BLU-RAY score, they’re best when viewed in a single STUDIO: Warner Bros., 2017 sitting. But be sure you have the time; ASPECT RATIO: 1.78:1 and 2.2:1 they run a total of nearly two hours— AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master longer than the ilm itself! Audio 5.1 LENGTH: 106 mins. MPAA RATING: PG-13 DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan STARRING: Fionn Whitehead, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance
OThomas J. Norton
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SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING ONLY ONE THING BUGS ME...
Following his introduction to Marvel’s well-established “Cinematic Universe” in Captain America: Civil War, the beloved Spider-Man has been fully rebooted (again) in the wildly enjoyable Homecoming. Decked out in a new high-tech costume, he’s eager for big adventures, but until then, he occupies himself as a local do-gooder in his Queens neighborhood— when not attending high school. Young star Tom Holland is a perfect it for Peter Parker and his alter ego, an agile dancer/athlete with an irresistible wide-eyed enthusiasm. A ruthless criminal is selling devastating weapons, however, built from the scraps left by the invading Chitauri in he Avengers, and only Spider-Man is willing to stop him. And that’s my sole gripe: Iron-clad genius Tony Stark is Spidey’s mentor, but a lousy one, dismissing deadly serious reports of major criminal activity and leaving this green teen to go it alone. And so a true hero is born. At 4K, the limits of some of the generally great special efects begin to strain, but for the most part, the CGI Spider-Guy is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, right down to the almost suedey look of the red-and-blue tights. he minuscule readouts of his heads-up display are insanely sharp. here’s some rare strobing in fast action, and I noted just one instance of some wonky stripes. Homecoming is Sony’s irst live-action movie with Dolby Vision high dynamic range. I watched in HDR10 and found the wide color gamut to be rich and inviting throughout, while the glowy alien artifacts were distinctly more so here. Available separately, a Blu-ray of the quite-good 3D conversion is highlighted by the Washington Monument rescue sequence. I tuned to the Dolby TrueHD mix lurking within the Ultra HD-exclusive Dolby Atmos track (the bundled Blu-ray is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) and was promptly struck by the ine use of subtle of-camera cues. Focused bass adds genuine menace to the otherworldly weapons. Dialogue is clear, with an interesting array of tones, such as the distinctive character of the Spider-suit’s built-in digital assistant, voiced by a melliluous Jennifer Connelly. Superb but infrequent optional trivia/ BLU-RAY insight pop-ups enhance repeat viewings, STUDIO: Sony, 2017 while a gag reel and a mixed bag of feaASPECT RATIO: 2.39:1 turettes can be found over on the Blu-ray. AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos / he deleted/extended scenes are mustTrueHD 7.1 core LENGTH: 133 mins. see, although many memorable moments MPAA RATING: PG-13 glimpsed in the trailers are still notably DIRECTOR: Jon Watts absent. A 4K UltraViolet Digital Copy is STARRING: Tom Holland, Michael also included. OChris Chiarella Keaton, Marisa Tomei
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WESTWORLD SEASON ONE – THE MAZE DEAD OR ALIVE
In a not too distant future, the wealthy plunk down big bucks to enter Westworld, a Disneyland for adults populated by “hosts”—human-like A.I. androids capable of fulilling their every desire. With a cast of A-list names such as Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Jefrey Wright, and Ed Harris, this psychological, character-driven drama series goes beyond the gimmickry of its 1973 original to ofer up a well-crafted exploration of what it means to be human as well as the blurred lines between good and evil and past and present. Could it be a replacement for Game of hrones? Only time will tell. Westworld is the irst TV series to get a 4K Ultra HD release, and oddly enough it’s also one of the dwindling number of series to be shot on ilm. he Super 35 (3-perf) production was done on various Arri cameras with a 2K DI utilized in post-production. his 4K release from Warner arrives in a 1.78:1-framed 2160p (4K) HEVC encodement with Dolby Vision. he results are varied. he image can look grainy, but there are some moments where detail on faces smoothes almost as if heavy-handed DNR has been applied. he pop in highlights of the indoor control center is excellent, but the outdoor setting lacks the stunning color variations we’ve become used to with the wide color gamut on HDR releases. here are also issues with black crush. he Man in Black and Dr. Ford sufer the most, their suits often dissolving into amorphous blobs. he included Blu-ray, while not as crisp in detail, provides a more consistent viewing experience. he Dolby Atmos (compatible with TrueHD 7.1) soundtrack for Westworld is atmospheric with a few moments of aggressive mixing and discrete, solid efects in surrounds and heights. his mix works well for this material even though it isn’t as enguling as some of the other mixes we’ve had from HBO’s lagship series Game of hrones. It provides clean dialogue and wide efects. From the opening title sequence, you can hear that the piano has more height and width than in its DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Blu-ray counterpart. Packaged in a limited-edition tin, this BLU-RAY set is brimming with features. here’s the STUDIO: Warner Bros., 2017 excellent “Crafting the Narrative,” in which ASPECT RATIO: 1.78:1 executive producers Jonathan Nolan and AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos Lisa Joy provide commentary on the inal (Compatible w Dolby TrueHD 5.1/7.1) episode; “Reality of A.I.,” where cast and LENGTH: 619 mins. crew ofer thoughts on the existential threats MPAA RATING: TV-MA of A.I.; and more. An UltraViolet Digital DIRECTORS: Jonathan Nolan, Copy and Blu-ray also tag along. Lisa Joy STARRING: Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris
OBrandon A. DuHamel
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE KENTUCKY-FRIED BRITON
England’s super-secret civilian intelligence agency, Kingsman, is dealt a devastating blow by a mysterious new enemy. It’s been one year since ballsy-yetcompassionate Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and his crew saved the world from an eccentric criminal mastermind, but with their resources and personnel all but eliminated, they must now seek the help of Statesman, their American counterpart. Together, this unlikely team travels the globe to uncover the truth behind the recent attack, as well as the details of another ruthless plot that could soon kill millions. Working from his own script (with Jane Goldman), director Matthew Vaughn spins a story that’s bloody, funny, and full of surprises, although possibly a bit too long. he cast is crammed with Oscar winners, so there are a great many characters and subplots, some of which remain underdeveloped as a consequence. he action set pieces, however, are both plentiful and ambitiously executed, an entertaining blend of credible peril and exaggerated, almost superhuman heroics to meet it head on. Fox’s Ultra HD disc is simply gorgeous. he 4K, 2.39:1 image displays outstanding depth of focus, most demonstrably in early scenes as we peer down the London streets. he Golden Circle has a rich color palette throughout: Eggsy’s orange tuxedo is appropriately eye-catching. Blacks are deep and solid without any unpleasant video harshness despite the movie’s digital origins. A variety of complex visual efects is employed rather aggressively, and HDR10 adds extra punch to the already impressive picture. he Dolby Atmos soundtrack is reined as well as formidable. (his review discusses the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 at its core.) Phasing between the speakers is smooth and realistic, a challenge considering the shifting camera angles during frenetic action sequences. Subtle room tone is preserved, the presentation of the music beneits from a thoughtful mix, and many small cues are meticulously placed in the surrounds. Bass is sharp and efective but never over the top. For those seeking a sonic alternative, the Blu-ray ofers DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. All of this set’s extras can be found on that Blu-ray, chief among them “Kingsman: Inside the Golden Circle,” a two-hour BLU-RAY program covering just about every facet STUDIO: Fox, 2017 of the production. here’s also a separate ASPECT RATIO: 2.39:1 featurette speciically about the opening AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos / car chase/ight scene, plus a still gallery of TrueHD 7.1 core photos and artwork. A Digital Copy is also LENGTH: 141 mins. MPAA RATING: R supplied, compatible with the new Movies DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn Anywhere service. OChris Chiarella STARRING: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges
YOUNG MR. LINCOLN PRINT THE LEGEND
Young Mr. Lincoln is a biography that avoids dramatizing any major achievements or historical events that make up a person’s destiny. Instead, they are alluded to by visual metaphor, audio clues, or pieces of Civil War music. At a local fair, we see Lincoln judging a pie contest, having to choose between a Georgia peach and an American apple pie, winning a logsplitting competition by dividing the body in two, and helping a tugof-war team succeed by hitching their end of the rope to a wagon; all subtly stand in for Lincoln’s moral struggles with slavery, justice and rule of law, and the coming Civil War. he central story involves him, as a young lawyer, irst saving from a lynch mob two brothers accused of murder and then defending them in court, trying to avoid sacriicing one to prevent the death of both. Even personal experiences, such as loss of family that helps create the melancholy that pervades, aren’t shown but only talked of or, in the case of his irst love, Ann Rutledge, presented through a poetic scene at her graveside. Yet the ilm gets across the whole life, personality, and times of the future great president. his new digital restoration was done from a 4K scan of an original 35mm nitrate print and, in damaged sections, a ine grain safety print. he resulting high-def black-and-white transfer is free of all scratches, fading, and other wear and tear of time. Contrast is perfect, with deepest blacks to Lincoln’s frock coat, boots, and top hat, bright whites in shirts and snow, and a beautiful sea of grays. Detail is plentiful throughout, even in shadows, with grass, grain in the ever-present fences, and texture in surfaces of rivers all tactile, along with patterns in corduroys, tweeds, and ine lace all visible. he uncompressed monaural soundtrack taken from 35mm magnetic tracks has had all clicks, hiss, and assorted audio issues repaired and rebalanced. Music and dialogue are exceedingly full, vibrant, and clear so that during courtroom scenes silences resound as much as the marvelous, homespun-wisdom speeches. A new commentary by scholar Joseph McBride analyses the ilm with knowledge and insight. An episode of the British TV show, Omnibus, has Lindsay Anderson examining fellow director John Ford’s pre– World War II work, career, and personality BLU-RAY with informative intelligence illustrated STUDIO: The Criterion Collection, with plentiful clips. here’s also a talk show 1939 appearance by Henry Fonda, audio interASPECT RATIO: 1.37:1 views with him and Ford, and a radio AUDIO: Linear PCM mono LENGTH: 100 mins. dramatization of the ilm. All are entertainMPAA RATING: R ing, adding to a wonderful experiencing of DIRECTOR: John Ford a masterpiece of cinema. OJosef Krebs STARRING: Henry Fonda, Kenneth Macgowan, Alice Brady
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Courtesy Legacy Recordings
EYE IN THE SKY – 35TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTOR’S EDITION THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT
It’s quite itting that when Alan Parsons—the well-respected English producer and engineer whose enviable behind-the-board C.V. includes the likes of he Beatles, Pink Floyd, he Hollies, Al Stewart, Pilot, and Ambrosia—inally ventured out on his own as a titular recording artist in the mid-’70s, his collective work was dubbed he Alan Parsons Project. Actually, using his as the possessive pronoun there is somewhat of a misnomer, as he Alan Parsons Project was really deined as a push-pull partnership between Parsons (above left) and Scottish songwriter Eric Woolfson. he APP became the collective’s name mainly because Parsons’ résumé carried quite a fair amount of pre-existing weight, but the group’s overall sonic presentation was most deinitely born on a two-way street. One of the deining tenets of the APP was how shrewdly Parsons and Woolfson (who passed away in December 2009) were able to cast such a wide net in stocking themselves with a truly deep bench of high-caliber golden-throated vocalists whom they could cull from at will for whatever mood a song required. he pinnacle of the APP pyramid came a half-dozen theme-oriented albums into the partnership with 1982’s Eye in the Sky, an almost perfect intersection of Parsons’ progressive production leanings and Woolfson’s mid-road pop sensibilities, not to mention their penchant for capturing the sense of paranoia surrounding the ideas of clandestine surveillance and reverence for religious-deity oversight. he ever-sparkling title track, as sung by Woolfson, has long since become the most popular track in the APP canon. Some, however, may argue the album’s lead track, the uplifting, rif-driven instrumental “Sirius,” is even better known given its international sports-arena ubiquity—most notably stateside via the Michael Jordan–era Chicago Bulls—but I cosmically digress. Either way, the quite prescient Eye is now getting its proper due with a mondo 35th anniversary special edition box set, consisting of three CDs, one Blu-ray, two half-speed-mastered LPs at 45 rpm, a replica of an of-era promo lexidisc, and an extensive 60-page hardback book among its supremely rich contents. Disc 1 holds six additional cuts, while Disc 2 is a 47-minute peek behind the curtain of Woolfson’s songwriting process, as chosen by his family members. hey’re all wise choices indeed, especially the irst four “songwriting diaries” chronicling the evolution of the title track. It’s truly fascinating to hear Woolfson behind the piano and building lyrics around his repetition of the key phrase “I can read your mind,” humming the ensuing melody and illing in the lyrical blanks as he goes forward.
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Disc 3 is chock-full of aurally mesmerizing bonus tracks and single edits. I’m most enamored with the 12-string acoustic version of “Children of the Moon” (which also features a dramatic, 28-second marchingband-style snare-drum break carrying the song to the fadeout); the isolated, swelling orchestral snippet of “Psychobabble” that would do Bernard Herrmann proud; and Chris Rainbow’s stacked, Beach Boys–esque harmony break on a shelved vocal idea for “Old and Wise.” Once again, the depth of the material contained on this collection’s three CDs shows how Legacy keeps raising the bar for how historical box sets should be compiled and presented. Naturally, our eyes (and ears) turn most excitedly to the 96-kHz/24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix done by Parsons on Blu-ray. Parsons has long been a proponent of surround sound, with latter-era solo albums such as 2001’s On Air and 2006’s A Valid Path each getting invigorating respective 5.1 treatment, as well as with the more recent 40th anniversary edition of the APP’s 1976 debut, Tales of Mystery and Imagination. (he breadth of Tales’ “A Dream Within a Dream/he Raven” is a personal favorite 5.1-mix sequence of mine.) Back in 2006, I asked Parsons about his 5.1 mixing philosophy and he said, “he consumer pays for six speakers, so he might as well hear them. And I have a irm belief the center channel has its roots in the cinema, not modern music.” Parsons stays true to his 5.1 word here, with “Sirius” opening the proceedings in full-channel glory, its signature opening Fairlightprogrammed synth lines in the front channels and swelling strings and throbbing guitar rifage carrying the load in the backline. Woolfson’s vocal/lyrical showcase, “Silence and I,” inds high drama thanks to an enveloping orchestral wash overseen by CD, BLU-RAY & LP Andrew Powell, while the inal track, “Old LABEL: Arista/Legacy and Wise,” builds dramatically around AUDIO FORMATS: 44.1-kHz/16-bit Colin Blunstone’s full-life-lived, worldPCM Stereo (CD, LP & download), 192-kHz/24-bit LPCM Stereo weary breathy vocals spread wide across (Blu-ray), 96-kHz/24-bit DTS-HD the front stage and properly supported by Master Audio 5.1 & LPCM Mel Collins’ outgoing sax solo and Powell’s Surround (Blu-ray) full-on brass/orchestral support combo in NUMBER OF TRACKS: 86 (62 on 3 CDs, 10 on 1 Blu-ray, 10 on 2 LPs, the rears. 4 on 1 Flexidisc) Here’s looking at you, Eye in the Sky. And LENGTH: 4:52:04 (3:10:52 on 2 I can read your mind, since we’re two of a CDs, 42:27 on 1 Blu-ray, 42:27 on kind, and I know we jointly project the next 2 LPs, 16:18 on 1 Flexidisc) PRODUCERS: Alan Parsons, Eric valid path for Parsons and company would Woolfson (original album); Alan hopefully be to fete the 40th anniversary of Parsons (5.1 mix); Alan Parsons, 1978’s Pyramid with the same amount of Sally Woolfson, Colin Rice, Darren hands-on mulitrack-driven care. Salmieri (box set) ENGINEERS: Alan Parsons, Tony Richards (original album); Dave Donnelly (bonus material mastering); Miles Showell (vinyl mastering)
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A Commanding Presence McIntosh XRT2.1K Speaker System If you’re easily intimidated, McIntosh’s lagship XRT2.1K towers probably aren’t for you—assuming you could even aford them in the irst place. Two of these mini skyscrapers will set you back $130,000, but they are the stuf audiophile dreams are made of: 162 custom drivers meticulously arranged in a pair of 7-foot aluminum towers inished with seven layers of high-gloss piano black paint. Each speaker is a four-way design with six 8-inch woofers and two 6.5inch lower midrange drivers housed in a large ported cabinet and capped of with a magniicent line array consisting of 28 2-inch upper midrange drivers and 45 0.75-inch tweeters—all perfectly aligned on a panel suspended in front of the main enclosure on four steel spiders, each inished to mimic the silverringed control knobs that have adorned McIntosh ampliiers for decades. he vertical linesource arrangement of high-frequency drivers— all made of aluminummagnesium—is designed to disperse sound evenly throughout the listening space while producing exceptional stereo imaging and clarity, in part by eliminating loor and ceiling relections that muddle
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the sound. he impressive column of drivers can be easily concealed by a black-knit grille with magnetic fasteners, but why would you want to do that? (McIntosh doesn’t even show the grilles in its brochure.) Bass extends down to a thunderous 12 hertz thanks to the use of multiple long-throw woofers in a spacious cabinet expertly tuned to accommodate the lowest of low frequencies and supported by an elegant aluminum-and-glass pedestal. he critically important crossover network—engineered to ensure an even frequency response across the audible spectrum—uses high-current, low-loss capacitors and inductors, carefully chosen for their linearity, even at high power levels. he McIntosh monoliths are built to handle up to 2,000 watts of power but deal with that power in a superbly eicient way, as evidenced by the speakers’ 90-decibel SPL (1 watt/1 meter) sensitivity rating. I had the pleasure of hearing the XRT2K, predecessor to the XRT2.1K, at the World of McIntosh Townhouse in New York City last year when Giles Martin was in town to preview his stunning remix of he Beatles’ masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I was blown away by the enormous soundstage and detailed imaging and can only imagine how much grander the presentation might be on the XRT2.1K, which amounts to a complete ground-up redesign executed with the assistance of McIntosh sister company Sonus faber. he company that powered Woodstock and the Grateful Dead’s legendary “Wall of Sound” has, indeed, brought the concert home. —Bob Ankosko
Sound & Vision (ISSN 1537-5838) (USPS 504-850) May 2018, Vol. 83, No. 4. COPYRIGHT 2018 BY TEN: Publishing Media, LLC. All rights reserved. Published 10 times a year (January, February/March, April, May, June, July/ August, September, October, November, December) by TEN: Publishing Media, LLC., 1212 Avenue of the Americas, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10036. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY and additional mailing oﬃces. Single copy price is $5.99. Subscriptions: U.S., APO, FPO, and U.S. Possessions $23.94 for 10 issues. Canadian orders add $10.00 per year and international orders add $20.00 per year (for surface mail postage). Payment in advance, U.S. funds only. POSTMASTER: Send all UAA to CFS. (See DMM 707.4.12.5); NON-POSTAL AND MILITARY FACILITIES: send address corrections to Sound & Vision, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235. Mailing Lists: Occasionally, our subscriber list is made available to reputable ﬁrms oﬀering goods and services we believe would be of interest to our readers. If you prefer to be excluded, please send your current address label and a note requesting to be excluded from these promotions to TEN: Publishing Media, LLC., 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245, An: Privacy Coordinator. Subscription Service: Should you wish to change your address or order new subscriptions, you can e-mail email@example.com, call (800) 264-9872 (international calls: 386-447-6383), or write to: Sound & Vision, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235.
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