CEDIA Expo 2015 was jam packed with audio and video demonstrations of the latest products and technologies relevant to the custom-installation market. I spent a significant part of the show checking out various audio demos, ranging from affordable stereos and lifestyle speakers to ultimate budget-busting immersive surround systems.
Judging audio quality on the show floor is tricky because it's effectively impossible to achieve an ideal acoustical environment, largely due to the amount of ambient noise generated by the exhibitors and attendees. Even in the enclosed sound rooms used by some companies, the noise floor was far too high to detect much nuance. Furthermore, a surprising number of audio demos took place out in the open, where the ambient noise level hovered around 80 dB.Despite these difficulties, I did hear some sweet sounds in several demos; here are the best:
1. JBL Synthesis Auro-3D, Dolby Atmos, and DTS:X Demo
Bar none, the best-sounding surround demo I heard at CEDIA 2015 was the JBL Synthesis demo featuring the company's new SDP-75 pre/pro that's based on a Trinnov Altitude.
The 13.4.11 speaker configuration—with JBL Synthesis M2 speakers up front—created a seamless soundfield that fully immersed me. From the deepest bass to the highest highs, I thought the sound of JBL's Synthesis demo was profound.
2. Polk Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 Demo
With a cost that's closer to a compact car than a new house, Polk's demo set the show standard for high-performance immersive audio that's not priced in the stratosphere. The entire system was running off a relatively mainstream AVR—an Onkyo TX-NR1030.
Polk's Atmos system used several of the company's existing speaker models to maximum effect. Up front, a pair of LSiM 707 towers served as left and right channels. The center was an LSiM 706C, and two pairs of LSiM handled surround. Polk's 900 LS in-ceiling speakers were used for the four Atmos elevation channels, while a pair of MicroPro subs pumped out the bass.
Unlike some (pricier) systems I heard, the Polk demo created a seamless soundfield—the speakers remained invisible to my ears. This sense of transparency is a key quality in a surround system; it makes the listening experience more believable. The result is suspension of disbelief and occasional goose bumps.
3. GoldenEar In-Ceiling Invisa HTR-7000 Dolby Atmos Demo
While I do love the sound of surround systems that use tower speakers, GoldenEar's ultimate Invisa Atmos Lifestyle System—which used in-ceiling speakers for the front LCR channels—turned out to be so good, I would gladly use it as my primary immersive-audio system.
The GoldenEar system at the show featured the exact same speakers I reviewed just a few weeks ago (((link))). It used HTR-7000 in-ceiling speakers for the front LCR channels as well as the Atmos elevation channels. Amazingly enough, the system produced a legitimately immersive listening experience while GoldenEar's SuperSub XXL subwoofer belted out impressive amounts of deep bass that was also tight and well-defined.
GoldenEar's CEDIA 2015 demo sets a very high bar for how good an in-ceiling surround system can sound.
4. Grimani Systems Beta Speaker 2-Channel Demo
The new Beta speaker from Grimani Systems was the subject of the best two-channel demo I heard at CEDIA 2015. Granted, the speakers are designed to be only a part of a complete surround system, but at the show, a pair of Betas got to strut their stuff in a traditional stereo configuration.
The Beta is an incredibly dynamic, actively amplified speaker that features a highly advanced waveguide with its compression tweeter. It possesses exceptional dispersion characteristics throughout the entire audio spectrum, which keeps the stereo sound field from collapsing when you sit off center.
There's a lot of science, research, and experience behind the design of the Betas. Nevertheless, the proof of performance has always been in the pudding, and once Anthony Grimani started playing music through the Betas, it was clear that his claims were not mere boasts. If I could afford speakers that cost $20,000 apiece, I would've placed an order for a pair of Betas already—that's how good they are.
5. Tannoy Revolution XT 8F Speakers 2-Channel Demo
I was incredibly pleased to hear how good Tannoy's Revolution XT 8F 3-way speakers sounded. Tannoy has been around for a very long time, and the concentric driver in the Revolution series speakers has a 60-year history of development.
When I demo'd the Tannoy towers, the smooth and articulate sound they produced drew me directly into the music. It was also a tremendously good-sounding system—especially when considering the $2600/pair price. That's a bargain for speakers that perform as well as the Tannoys did.