Unlike video demos, which need only a blacked-out area, audio demos at CEDIA are tough to pull off because of the acoustic requirements. Nevertheless, several companies presented impressive demos of their audio equipment.
Magico's new QSub-18 features dual-opposed 18" drivers. Photo by Mark Henninger
Display Development provided a projector for a mostly audio demo in a room adjoining its main booth. The audio system used Magico speakers, featuring two of the company's new QSub-18 subwoofers ($36,000 each) with dual-opposing 18-inch drivers and 2000 watts of amplification per driver as well as the new SC5 center-channel speaker ($16,800), S5s ($29,400/pair) for the front left and right, and the new S1.5s ($TBD) for the surrounds in a 5.1 configuration. The source was an Oppo Blu-ray player, the surround processor was a Datasat RS20i ($19,000), and the amps were from Constellation Audio, including three Centaur Mono amps ($27,000 each) for the three front channels and a Centaur Stereo amp ($27,000) for the surround channels. All cabling was provided by WireWorld.
The Magico SC5 center-channel speaker brought Katherine McPhee's voice and Chris Botti's trumpet to life. Photo by Mark Henninger
Let's see, that's around a quarter-million dollars for the audio system, so it had better sound good! Fortunately, it did—phenomenal, in fact, at least on the Chris Botti concert clip featuring vocalist Katherine McPhee singing "I've Got You Under My Skin." Her voice sounded rich and natural, while Botti's trumpet sparkled, the upright bass sounded like it was in the room with us, and the bass trombone growled quite convincingly—and having majored in that instrument in college, I know what it's supposed to sound like.
However, it was a different story when they switched over to Iron Man 3, which sounded quite harsh as Tony Stark's house is attacked by helicopters firing missiles. That clip was also way too loud, as were many audio demos at the show. Sadly, I didn't have my good SPL meter with me, and the mic in my iPhone can't handle those levels, so I don't know the exact levels that were being achieved. Nor do I know if the harshness was due to the volume—in which case, there was a problem with the system—or if it was inherent in the source signal.
Pro Audio Technology placed three SCR-2115SM speakers behind a Stewart Microperf X2 screen, below which were two huge LFC-24SM subwoofers. Photo by Mark Henninger
Another tremendously loud demo was presented by Pro Audio Technology with two of its new LFC-24SM subwoofers that include a 24-inch driver in a huge ported enclosure. The front LCR channels were reproduced by three SCR-2115SMs located behind a 10-foot-wide, 2.35:1 Stewart Microperf X2 screen. The side surrounds in the 7.1 configuration were two SCR-12AIs, and the rear surrounds were two SCRS-26IMs. All speakers (including the subs) were powered by the company's new DMA-1508 and various PMA class-D multichannel amps with a total power of just under 10,000 watts. Also, the amps provide an extensive suite of DSP functions to optimize the sound for the room and compensate for speakers behind acoustically transparent screens. Pro Audio Technology does not quote retail prices for its products, but the entire speaker/amp package was in the $95,000 range. The projector was a Runco LS-12d being fed by a Kaleidescape server system.
Concert footage of Michael Buble sounded sublime—the rendition of his voice and the orchestra behind him was totally natural, super-clean, and distortion free. Plus, it was at a reasonable level. Not so Michael Jackson's "Thriller"—company founder Paul Hales measured an average level of 110 dBC during that clip! It was so loud, the screen was vibrating, which was pretty distracting visually. I must admit I was impressed with the clarity and lack of distortion at that level for the few seconds I had my fingers out of my ears.
The screen in the Wisdom Audio demo room dwarfed VP of sales Jon Herron and me. Photo by Mark Henninger
My favorite audio demo was by Wisdom Audio, which had set up a giant theater in one of the Colorado Convention Center's large conference rooms away from the main show floor in what was called the High-Performance Audio area. The company built a standalone wall to hold a 250-inch-wide, 2.4:1 Seymour-Screen Excellence Enlightor 4K woven screen, behind which were placed three pairs of stacked LS3i line arrays ($30,000 each) to reproduce the front LCR channels.
In this shot, you can see two L75 line-array speakers, an STS RTL subwoofer, and some RPG BAD acoustic panels. Photo by Mark Henninger
Six L75 line arrays ($9300 each) were placed around the room for the surround channels, and six STS RTL subwoofers ($11,000 each) brought up the bass. The electronics included two Wisdom SC-1 crossovers with room correction ($6500 each), a Datasat RS20i surround processor, Lab.Gruppen FP10000Q power amps for the front LCR and subs, and Wisdom SA-3 amps ($6000 each) for the surrounds. The video was provided by a Kaleidescape server and Runco LS-12HBd projector, and RPG Bass Absorber Diffuser (BAD) panels were placed around the room to tame the less-than-ideal acoustics.
The Wisdom Audio demo utilized a 150-amp circuit. Photo by Mark Henninger
The total cost of equipment in that room was around $500,000, and the total amplifier power was greater than 60 kilowatts! In fact, Wisdom had to access the convention center's 150-amp service to power the whole shebang.
And it was a serious shebang! The demo included clips from WALL-E, Skyfall, and concert footage from Peter Gabriel and The Police, and I could find no fault in any of it. The entire audio spectrum was well-balanced, the bass was tighter and more defined than any other demo I heard, and the rest of the frequency range was equally clear and clean. Yes, it was loud, especially the shootout and explosions near the end of Skyfall, but it was so clean that it didn't bother me as much. The Wisdom planar-magnetic line-array speakers provided a seamless surround soundfield that put us right in the middle of the action without blowing us out—and the concert clips were gorgeous.
The most interesting audio demo was by Datasat, which supplied the surround processor for at least four other booths at CEDIA. This company has been in the professional/commercial side of the audio industry for a long time, but it's now moving into the high-end residential/consumer arena with the RS20i surround processor ($19,000) and RA2400 ($12,000, 2x400W) and RA7300 ($14,000, 7x300W) power amps, all of which are available now.
The Datasat RP20i surround processor was used in at least four demos other than Datasat's. Photo by Mark Henninger
The RS20i utilizes eight SHARC DSP chips to implement Dirac Live room correction with 512-band EQ in addition to third-octave manual graphic EQ and three bands of manual parametric EQ for each of its 16 audio channels. With that many channels, the RP20i can accommodate system configurations up to 14.2 or 12.4. It can decode DTS-HD Master Audio and Neo:X, Dolby TrueHD, and PCM, and it will add Auro 3D capabilities early next year.
The demo was presented in 11.4 with Triad Gold Monitors for the front LCR, Gold MiniMonitors for the surrounds and height channels, and four Gold subwoofers. Video was provided by a Christie HD6K-M firing onto a 12-foot-wide, 2.35:1 Seymour-Screen Excellence Enlightor 4K woven screen. The first two clips—a DTS-supplied animated short and the initial cavern-exploration scene from Prometheus—had native 11.1 soundtracks, which were very effective in enveloping the audience in a 3D soundfield, and they were at a reasonable volume. The next two clips—the shootout at the end of Skyfall and a Datasat promotional short—were in 7.1 expanded to 11.1 by the processor. These were also fairly effective, but the Skyfall clip was very loud, and the bass distorted at the end. Otherwise, the sound quality was superb.