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Speaker Design Catches Up To Video Displays

Audio suppliers hope to reverse the declining attachment rate of quality audio to big-ticket video-display sales with the launch here of component speakers whose graceful, trim cosmetics are as appealing as the cosmetics of flat-panel TVs.

The enhanced styling, suppliers contend, will help eliminate aesthetic objections from consumers who are attracted to flat-panel displays as much for their striking cosmetics as for their picture quality.

Here at the show, Definitive Technology will expand its selection of plasma-friendly Mythos speakers, and Klipsch and Thiel will launch their first plasma-friendly speakers.

“A major retail challenge is attaching good audio to the new display technologies,” said Definitive Technology president Sandy Gross. Speaker suppliers can contribute by “providing appropriate product from a styling, price point and performance standpoint.” All plasma TVs, he noted, “come with contemporary styling, so consumers need speakers with coordinated styling” in on-wall, floor-standing and table-standing versions.

By late last year, only a handful of companies had been shipping speakers cosmetically designed to match new flat-panel displays, but this year, the selection will grow, he said.

Better design is also turning up in speakers not specifically designed to complement flat-panel displays.

“Traditional audio suppliers, especially on the speaker side, have been slow to move as quickly as TV sets into contemporary design and look,” said Eli Harary, Infinity’s sales and marketing VP.

Klipsch president Paul Jacobs said speaker suppliers must work harder to develop innovative designs. “We don’t see a lot of growth in the traditional boxes,” he noted.

Also at CES, Yamaha will unveil a single wall-hanging active speaker that delivers all channels of a 5.1-channel source. Pricing was expected to be well below the $40,000 price of a single-speaker Pioneer surround system.

Here’s a company-by-company summary of new speakers at the show:

JBL: Project Array consists of three large satellite speakers, a center channel and a powered subwoofer that adopt technologies from JBL’s ultra-high-end K2 speakers and from its professional recording studio monitors. The three-way satellites feature an unusual design intended to optimize response. Each features a horn-loaded tweeter positioned at the top of a vertically oriented freestanding midrange horn driver that sits on top of the woofer cabinet. By eliminating an enclosure around the tweeter and midrange, JBL eliminates enclosure diffraction to deliver “exceptional imaging along with a wider, deeper, more three-dimensional sound stage,” the company said.

Prices and ship dates weren’t available.

The SCS300 and SCS200 7.1-channel speaker packages are priced respectively at $649 and $549. They ship in the spring.

Klipsch: The company is expanding its Reference speakers series with its first plasma-friendly models and an opening-price compact home theater speaker package. The series is targeted to AV specialists and custom installers.

For use with plasma and LCD displays, the company plans August shipments of the extruded-aluminum on-wall/table-mount RVX-42 and the floor-standing RVX-54. Their targeted suggested retails are $450 and $750 each, respectively.

Mission: A new company, Mission USA, has begun marketing the British brand’s speakers in the U.S. At the show, the company will unveil three Elegante multichannel speaker systems intended to meet the demands of the DVD-Audio and SACD formats. Pricing was unavailable. Also new: five Volare series models priced from $450 to $1,350. Both series ship in the first quarter.

Paradigm: The company is targeting the high and low ends with introductions that include its highest-end offering to date, the Reference Signature Series. Signature is more than twice the price of Paradigm’s previous high-end offering, the Studio v.3 Series. Signature tops out at $6,000 for a pair of towers.

At the other end, Paradigm is launching its most affordable home theater speaker package to date, the Cinema 70 HTiB, at $549.

Polk: A new custom series (see page 126) and new powered sub are on tap.

The LSiw sub, replacing the PSW650, ships in April at a suggested $1,199 with dual 10-inch drivers, 2-inch voice coils, 400-watt digital amp, phase switch, front-panel volume and variable low-pass controls, auto on/off, and unfiltered LFE input. It’s part of the LSi series.

Snell Acoustics: The new Series 7 speakers, due in the first quarter, was developed by speaker designer Dr. Joseph D’Appolito.

Eight models start at $1,200/pair. They comprise a tower, three bookshelf monitors, a dedicated center channel speaker, a switchable monopole/bipole surround speaker, and two powered subwoofers at 150 watts and 300 watts. They feature a sleek contemporary look that fits in with a wide range of decorating styles, D’Appolito said.

Thiel: The company plans first-quarter availability of its made-to-order, two-way ViewPoint, which uses an aluminum cabinet whose length is trimmed to match the length of the customer’s flat-panel video display. Thiel also paints the cabinet to match the color of the display.

Design elements eliminate wall-reflection cancellations said to mar the performance of almost all other wall-hanging speakers. ViewPoint mounts directly next to wall-hanging displays and hides the connecting wires and wall-mount bracket. Pricing was unavailable.

See for more information on speaker introductions.