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Stereo, Multichannel Audio Components Debut

The economic downturn and decline in 2008 component-audio sales haven’t kept component-audio suppliers from launching new two-channel and multichannel audio electronics here at CES.

New products include A/V receivers and preamp/processors incorporating various volume-leveling technologies that maintain a consistent volume level when audio and video sources are switched, TV channels are changed, and a TV or video program transitions to a louder commercial or to a softer scene. The technologiesa are from Dolby, Audyssey and Pioneer. The technologies also dynamically and automatically compensates for the human ear’s lower sensitivity to bass and treble sounds as volume levels decrease.

Also at the show, A/V receivers with embedded decoding of all Blu-ray surround formats will fall to a suggested $299 with the launch of new Pioneer A/V receivers (AVR). Pioneer’s $299 model (see story, p. 94) is the lowest-priced AVR announced to date with decoding of all Blu-ray surround fotrmats. It joins a $399-everday model launched last year from Sony. Other suppliers start at an everyday $499 and a suggested $549.

In other introductions, dealers will find:

  • NAD’s first components that decode all Blu-ray surround formats.
  • new preamp/processors from multiple companies, including Emotiva, with Dolby’s volume-leveling technology, called Dolby Volume. They join AVRs announced late last year by AudioControl, Harman/Kardon and Arcam with Dolby Volume and scheduled for shipment early this year. The technology will also appear here in select Toshiba TVs.
  • NAD’s adoption of Audyssey’s portfolio of volume-leveling technologies, which are already available from audio suppliers Denon, Integra and Onkyo.
  • an assortment of DACs, CD transports and monoblock amps.
  • McIntosh’s first compact stereo.
  • and an array of of speakers ranging from multipurpose models to esoteric high-end models from such companies Boston Acoustics, Definitive Technology, Loiminchay, Polk, Paradigm and O’heocha Design.

The products will debut after a year of declining component audio sales. Sales of A/V receivers fell 8 percent in units to 866,000 during the 10-month period ending October 2008, while dollar sales fell 6 percent to $308.1 million, The NPD Group’s retail tracking service found. During last year’s first 10 months, receiver sales were 2 percent in units and 8 percent in dollars.

Sales of home speakers fell in the 2008 10-month period by 17 percent in units to 1.7 million, with dollar volume slipping by 16 percent to $419.2 million. In the year-ago period, unit sales were down 6 percent on a dollar drop of 1 percent. The NPD service tracks sales through major brick-and-mortar and online retailers, excluding Wal-Mart.

With slipping sales in mind, dealers shopping the show will find new components from the following companies, among others:

AudioControl: The Concert AVR-1 theater receiver, shown at the CEDIA Expo, will be on display and will ship in January at a suggested $5,500. The company’s first receiver incorporates decoders for all Blu-ray surround formats, Internet radio and 7×120-watt amp. It’s also Sirius-ready and features five HDMI inouts and two HDMI outputs supporting deep color.

Blueblade Audio: The Capistrano Beach, Calif.-based startup plans to demonstrate a new audiophile-qualuty Class D digital amp design said to offer the warmth of analog amps and THD down to 0.0009 percent in a compact module that can be used inpowered speakers, A/V receivers, component amps and other devices.

The technology will be demonsrated at the Venetian.

Bel Canto: Two new high-end monoblock amps and a stereo amp will be displayed. They are the REF500 monoblock at $4,990/pair, the REF 1000 Mk II monoblock at $5,990/pair and the stereo S500 at $2,995. All are analog-switching amps with fully balanced input stages.

Bryston: The company upgraded its eight SST series amplifiers while maintaining the price points and power ratings of the originals. Depending on the model, the upgrades include balanced input stages to reject EMI and RF noise to improce the signal-to-noise ratio, new power supply transformed design to deliver instananeous current while reducing noise, gradual power ramp-up to reduce the strain on a home’s AC system and higher frequency extension. Prices start at $2,650 for a 2×100-watt (into 8 ohms) model to an $8,000 1,000-watt mono model. A three-channel amp and a five-channel amp are part of the lineup. All ship Jan. 1.

Emotiva Audio: The Franklin, Tenn., company will display a preamp/processor equipped with Dolby Volume in the Dolby booth. Additional details were unavailable.

Lexicon: Two new products are the the MV-5 A/V preamp processor at $2,999 and the flagship ZX-7 7×300-watt (into 8 ohms) power amp at a suggested $7,999.

The ZX-7 features fully balanced design, which dedicates one amp circuit per channel to drive the positive input signal and another to drive negative inpuit signal, lowering noise, lowering distortion , improving immunity to stray electro-magnetic fields. The result is greater clarity and dynamic range. It features balanced RCA and XLR connectors and trigger input so it can be powered on and off when a Lexicon preamp/processor is powered on and off.

The MV-5 AV preamp/processor, which connects to an optional iPod dock, is an eight-channel model that supports two zones and has 12 configurable inputs. It’s the first Lexicon preamp/processor with Faroudja video processing,.

McIntosh: For its 60th anniversary in 2009, the company is reissuing its MC775 monblok tube amp, in production from 1961 to 1970, and its C22 preamp, in production from 1963-1972. They’ll be sold as a bundled set limited to only 60 sets per sales region when they ship in the spring. Pricing wasn’t available. The preamp features moving-magnet and mobing-coil inputs, two balanced inputs, five unbalanced inputs, six tubes and remote. The mono amp delivers 75 watts into 4-, 8-, and 16-ohm loads.

The brand also plans to display its first tabletop stereo system, designed for audiophiles with small spaces. The two-channel multichassis MXA60 has CD/SACD/MP3 CD player, hybrid transistor/tube preamp, 2×75-watt amp, watt meters, and separate speakers, each with 4-inch midwoofer, 20mm dome tweeter and bass-reflex design. The system also features subwoofer preout and aux input. It’s due in the second half. Pricing wasn’t given.

The MXA60 uses all of the common McIntosh design themes appearing in larger McIntosh components, including output meters, glass faceplates and polished stainless-steel chassis.

Pass Labs: The company plans to exhibit the $5,200-suggested XP-10 and $8,600 XP-20 stereo preamps, promoted as the company’s best-ever, and the $25,000/pair four-way SR1 floorstanding speaker.

The preamps combine a “dramatically superior noise floor and very fine detail retrieval” to listen to music at low volumes without a loss of musicality, the company said. The XP-20 adds external power supply. Both preamps feature two balanced and three single-ended inputs, and both are available.

PS Audio: The PWT (PerfectWave Transport) CD transport and companion PerfectWave DAC/preamp can be used together or separately to control a planned music system. Both feature front-panel touch-screen controls.

The PWT plays back CD music after it has been ripped into 64MB of solid-state memory. That gives the drive the chance to read and re-read the disc as necessary to get bit-perfect data. In the case of damaged discs, it provides error correction.

Prices are expected to be less than $2,999 each when they ship around March 1.