Component Audio Evolves With Atmos, HRA, Networking - Twice

Component Audio Evolves With Atmos, HRA, Networking

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LAS VEGAS – Enough with soundbars, wireless multi-room audio and Bluetooth speakers. Traditional audio components like A/V receivers, integrated amplifiers and floorstanding speakers built the audio industry, and their suppliers are not going to let you forget it even if the business is struggling.

Audio dealers at the show will find audio components continuing to evolve with more AVRs connecting to the home network and to Bluetooth devices, new electronics and speakers delivering a Dolby Atmos surround experience, and new home and portable devices reproducing high-resolution audio (HRA).

 Though the products are evolving, sales have been devolving, with traditional passive in-room speakers falling in 2014 by about 20 percent in units and dollars by some accounts. Receivers, on the other hand, haven’t fared so poorly. In 2014, Futuresource Consulting estimates AVR unit shipments in the U.S. fell 1.4 percent to 1.34 million, and it forecasts a 3 percent decline in 2015. At the retail level, dollar volume is nonetheless up, rising an estimated 4.9 percent in 2014 to $556 million and forecast to rise 1 percent in 2015, Futuresource said.

Audio suppliers hope to juice up the numbers in part with the launch of Dolby Atmos-enabled AVRs, preamp processors and speakers. During the show, Atmos demos will be conducted throughout Las Vegas by such brands as Analog Devices, Atlantic Technology, Definitive Technology, Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Texas Instruments and Yamaha, Dolby Labs said.

New component electronics from Theta Digital and Steinway Lyngdorf will embrace Atmos decoding as well as rival Auro-3D surround. Atlantic Technology will show what it believes is the first in-ceiling speaker optimized for playback of object-oriented surround formats such as Atmos. And more components will get networking, with Cambridge showing its first networked AVRs. In 2016, Futuresource Consulting forecasts that 77 percent of all AVRs shipped globally will feature Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or both.

DTS’s object-oriented surround technology will also be heard behind closed doors from a chip maker that will demonstrate a processor incorporating Atmos and DTS’s technology in a consumer product. Details were unavailable.

In HRA, the drumbeat will grow louder with the introduction of dozens of new products.

Here’s a look at some of the newest products coming to market:

ATC: Lone Mountain Audio, the importer of ATC speakers, is bringing an active version of the flagship three-way floorstanding speaker in ATC’s home hi-fi series. The curved-cabinet SCM40A, priced at a suggested $12,999/pair, is the first of ATC’s passive hi-fi series speakers to get built-in amplification, joining active ATC speakers designed for pro-audio applications and priced up to $99,999/pair. More hi-fi series passive speakers will get active counterparts later this year, a spokesperson said.

Atlantic Technology: The company plans January shipments of what it called the first in-ceiling speaker that’s purpose-built to serve as a height speaker for object-based surround systems. With dual tweeters firing at angles and with unspecified crossover settings, the speaker delivers a “very wide scatter” that minimizes “hot spotting” and replicates the movie-theater experience in which ceiling speakers are positioned high up and can’t be localized, Atlantic president Peter Tribeman explained. The IC-6 0BA speakers will produce “a bubble of height information above you” as a movie-theater’s ceiling speakers do, he said. The speaker scatters upper midrange and high frequencies.

Tribeman said he doubts the effect could be achieved with current residential in-ceiling speakers promoted as wide-dispersion speakers, saying dual angled tweeters are likely necessary.

The 4-ohm speaker features 6.5-inch dual-voice-coil woofer, dual 1-inch silk-dome tweeters, and 10- to 125-watt RMS recommended power. It will be priced in the low to mid $300s.

Balanced Audio Technology (BAT): The Chicago manufacturer of ultra-high-end vacuum-tube and solid-state audio components is celebrating its 20th anniversary with the introduction of four new products. They are the VK-23SE and VK-43SE solid-state stereo preamplifiers and the VK-225 and VK-225SE solid-state stereo power amplifiers.

The $4,995-suggested VK-23SE preamplifier features fully balanced circuit topology throughout to eliminate noise and preserve signal purity. The $8,995 VK-43SE is the company’s new top-of-the-line solid-state preamplifier, which features dual- mono design with transformer-coupled outputs for each channel. The $4,995 VK-225 amplifier uses symmetrical discrete bipolar output transistor design to provide “exceptional clarity, dynamic authority and accurate, extended frequency response,” the company said. It delivers 2x150 watts into 8 ohms (or 2x300 into 4 ohms). The $6,495 VK-225SE amplifier adds BAT’s Super-Pak power-supply circuit to increase energy storage capacity to convey music with “effortless dynamic authority, nuance and realism,” the company said.

Lyngdorf: The new SDA-2400 digital power amp with analog and digital inputs will ship in the first quarter at $2,399. It features optical in, 96/24 coaxial digital in, single-ended analog in and balanced analog XLR in to connect to streaming music players, TVs, and surround processors. It uses pulse-width modulation on the output stage to deliver low distortion and a high S/N ratio.

Monitor Audio: Through importer Kevro International, the company is launching its first two passive soundbars and an upgraded its Gold series of in-room speakers.

The first passive soundbars, both three-channel models in the new SB series, are the SB-2, designed for use with 50- to 60-inch TVs, and the SB-3, which is custom-built for screen sizes exceeding 60 inches. Both models feature three separate driver arrays for left, center and right channels.

The $750-suggested SB-2 measures 5.7 inches by 43.6 by 3.5 inches, and the $900 SB-3 measures 5.7 by 51.5 by 3.5 inches. They were expected to ship before CES.

The new Gold-series in-room speakers, shipping in a few months, are positioned a step below the company’s flagship Platinum series and above the Bronze and Silver series. The eight SKUs consist of two three-way floorstanding speakers, two two-way stand-mount speakers, two center channels, and a switchable monopole (discrete)/dipole (diffuse) surround speaker. It can be switched manually or automatically via 12-volt trigger. A 15-inch, 650-watt DSP subwoofer is also included. Prices were unavailable.

Paradigm: The company is unveiling its first three products compatible with Play-Fi wireless multiroom-audio technology. They are two tabletop speakers and one streamer/amp.

Also new: the CS Pro and CS Elite series of architectural in-wall/in-ceiling speakers. The company is phasing out the SA and SIG lines.

The new Prestige seven-SKU in-room speaker series includes three 2.5-way floorstanding speakers, two three-way center channels, a three-way surround, and a two-way bookshelf speaker. The series is part of the Reference Collection, which is a notch below the flagship Signature series.

The Prestige series features a new cleaner look with sharp lines. A new Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA) tweeter lens blocks out-of-phase frequencies to deliver smoother, extended high frequencies with higher output, the company said. New rear-mounted tweeters and midrange/tweeter modules eliminate mounting hardware on the baffle for a clean look. Active Ridge Technology (ART) surrounds extend excursion to boost output by 3dB compared to standard surrounds.

Steinway Lyngdorf: The company will display its new P200 surround processor, which will decode Atmos and Auro-3D and be available in the first quarter at an introductory suggested retail of $18,000.

Theta Digital: The ATI-owned brand is launching its first A/V processor with Dolby Atmos decoding along with a new DAC and a new modular amplifier.

The A/V processor is the modular Casablanca IVa, configured for Dolby Atmos 11.1.4 playback at a suggested $29,995. It’s also firmware upgradable to add other 3D audio formats such as Auro-3D. Key features include up to 24-channel. It also features eight HDMI inputs, two HDMI outputs, HDMI 2.0 switching (with no HDCP), and Dirac Live 96K digital room-correction technology.

If Auro-3D is added in the future, the component will simultaneously support Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 speaker systems and Auro 3D speaker systems configured as 5.1 over 5.1 (11.1). The device would store output configuration by input, so users would, for example, choose one input to drive an Atmos configuration and a second input to drive an Auro 3D configuration.

The modular component has three input and three output slots. It will accept a new $6,000 six-channel Xtreme D3 balanced 192/24 DAC.

The new modular amp, the Dreadnaught IV, can be loaded with up to eight amplifier-channel modules, bringing the price to $11,995. The Dreadnaught outputs up to 8x200 watts RMS per channel. Channel pairs can be bridged to deliver 4x500 watts RMS.

Wharfedale: The company is introducing its Diamond 200 speaker series through importer/marketer Sound Solutions to replace the Diamond 10 Series.The series consists of the 210 and 220 bookshelf monitors, three floorstanding towers, a center channel, and the WH-D8 and WH-D10 subs, all with upgrades from the previous Diamond 10 Series. They will be available in January at suggested retails ranging from $299 to $1,699/pair.

The Diamond 200 delivers a “more room-friendly design” because the speakers can be placed closer to a rear wall to achieve optimum performance and imaging. Their appearance has been upgraded with a minimalist design.

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