A two-channel tiger prowls the surround-sound jungle

Just concluded in Minneapolis this year, the CEDIA show is ostensibly dedicated to custom installers and their growing needs for convergence products. As though sporting different stripes like your correspondent, CEDIA 2002 witnessed many mainstream music -- rather than movie -- focussed companies that, instead of waiting for the Las Vegas CES in January proper, launched their new 2-channel products three month prior to Xmas.

This burgeoning trend indicates the growing importance whereby audio manufacturers view CEDIA and the effects of attendance here on their companies' overall business and long-term bottom line. Simply put, it's where much of the industry is headed - more boxes to sell, hefty labor charges to bill for what amounts to often very complicated and challenging whole-house integration projects. Whether music-loving folks truly need to buy into this craze fostered upon us by an industry in constant need to reinvent itself and its software delivery formats - that remains an open question.

CEDIA is a temporary university campus. A plethora of workshops dedicated to educating installers about the latest in technological advances and providing comprehensive certification courses begin well in advance of the open floor. They are as important to the event as the actual roll-out of hardware introductions. With its own daily paper and broadcast, the organizational skill and concern of CEDIA's show organizers point, by comparison, at the lamentable lack of properly adapted support CES offers its two-channel High-End contingent. 

Overall, CEDIA is a show'n'talk rather than show'n'demonstrate affair. Making good sound is pretty much impossible. Exhibitors share a football-stadium sized convention floor with each other. Erecting what in many cases amounts to terribly expensive temporary circus-type structures of impressive detail work insures a certain amount of privacy. But it doesn't isolate well enough from the ubiquitous monster sub explosions on the floor to pull off first-rate demonstrations. The focus then is on showing the new stuff, talking about it and -- via usually smaller setups -- prove that it actually makes sounds and produces pictures.

This led a few firms to offboard in the neighboring Millennium or Hyatt hotels that could be reached on foot or via some of the inner city's many skywalks. The home boys of Bel Canto Design hosted one such exhibit in the Millennium's top-floor penthouse. Of the exhibits I listened to, they made by far the best sound to provide a welcome oasis I retreated into on a daily basis. (Hey, those flakey-dough spinach-filled spanokopitas, fruit juices and dedicated music-only room perhaps also had something to do with that.)

CEDIA will return to Indianapolis for the next 3 years, then move to Denver for the following 3. Renegade T.H.E. Show organizer Mike Malony took pity on those companies still believing that a proper demonstration -- selling the actual experience -- beats talking about it. He has booked a suitable venue that will host an offboard event paralleling next year's CEDIA. I would advise prospective companies to use a modest 2003 main-floor booth and book a more lavish coincident hotel room to set up a fully isolated, living-room-type demo in Malony's hotel. It will corral all such exhibitions into one place, thereby making life more convenient for attendees who always turn lead-footed and sore-kneed canvassing any sizable show erected on endless concrete floors. Walking the beat -- to the beat perhaps? -- takes on civilian meaning.

The following reportage views CEDIA through the looking glass of a die-hard two-channel fossil. No attempts were made to be conclusive, complete or even align the inner compass of lust and instinct with the show's main home theater theme. Rather, I attended "on vacation". Apologies to those whom I overlooked. If you indulged in massive explosions, that was by design. Otherwise, I simply missed you. There's a logistic limit to how much one guy can cover without losing his mind entirely.

Steve "we got the power" Brunner has much to smile about. Vice President of Sales at
Adcom after his former gig with Sensory Science's CAL and Go Video brands, Klein Group owned Adcom is launching a wave of new products. The new multi-channel monster amp is dubbed the GFA-7807 ($3,200). It outputs 7 x 300w RMS. That's full-power driven across all channels, hence requires a dedicated 20 amp circuit. This beast was designed by former CAL president and chief engineer Dan Donnelly. It sports 156,800uf of storage capacity, true balanced input circuitry, monaural power supplies and Dan's latest take on his former "Power Boss" architecture dubbed "Power Rig" in its latest incarnation.

Adcom's always enjoyed a strong value perception. Now under ownership of former California Audio Labs engineering talent, the performance half of this "banging-buck" equation seems guaranteed as well. It suggests that there could be a lot more under the GFA's mighty hood than yet another brute-force amplifier. The big CAL amp was certainly anything but, and knowing Steve's 2-channel roots and those of his former teammates at CAL, I predict Adcom-reborn may hold many pleasant surprises for us music lovers.

Michael Kelly of
Aerial Acoustics was showing his new Model 9 ($8,000/pr) with sloped top available in January. Still, my audiophile hot buttons ran amok when eyeing his 90dB Model 20T in silver lacquer ($25,500/pr), sporting a California Raven ribbon tweeter and outboard cabinet stabilizers and spike receptacles.

The Model 9 is a 6-driver 3-way design incorporating advances first pioneered in the 20T. Its four paralleled 7.1" cast-framed woofers combine for a wavelaunch surface area exceeding that of a conventional 12 incher, but with four times the magnet power.

Frequency response is given as 30Hz to 22kHz +/-2dB, sensitivity as 89dB, low reactance impedance as 4 ohms (3.2 ohms minimum), crossover frequencies as 350Hz and 2,500Hz, weight as 112lb and dimensions as 47.7" h x 11" w x 18.1" d.

The cutaway pictures show some rather serious internal bracing, and a close-up-and-personal inspection of Aerial's veneers showed quality second to none. For traditional dynamic designs of moderate sensitivity, Aerial is one of the top brands that comes to mind, and -- with the new Model 9 -- now one with 12 different speakers to chose from. How about that raw transducer in Aerial's SW12? On the subject of transducers, keep your eyes peeled to our coverage of Velodyne, too...

Mark Markel of
Analysis Plus shared his time between the main floor and the Bel Canto Design Millennium hotel exhibit he wired. Here he proudly displays his latest offering, the Power Oval 10 AC ($199/6ft) that's UL approved for up to 600 Volts, clad in the firm's trademark purple, very flexible, terminated with a WattGate 320 IEC and Marinco 5266 plug and, according to its designer, optimized for high-current delivery.

For the well-heeled, Analysis Plus will launch its 24-carat gold-plated speaker cable sibling to accompany the firm's heirloom Golden Oval interconnect at CES in a few months.

Christopher Klein, formerly with Acoustic Sciences, now heads ARS Acoustic Room Systems, LLC as Director of Sales & Marketing. The ARS SelectSound Reversible Acoustic Panels sport low-frequency absorbers that also reflect mid to high-range frequencies while the other side absorbs mid to high range frequencies.

The accompanying SelectSound Diffusive Panel are specifically designed to fit seamlessly with the acoustic panels and "liven up" a space for best full-spectrum frequency response and overall imaginig. The unique part of the ARS room tuning system is its concealed nature.

The panels are mounted atop the sheetrock sub-structure (absorbers, deflectors and diffusers can be liberally blended) and then finished in more than 400 colors and styles of acoustically and fire-tested fabrics. Special retainers hold the fabric securely in place until a decorating change of heart mandates a revised scheme. The retainers can double up as wire chases for low-voltage wiring.

Anyone with a hard-earned appreciation for the deleterious effects of room interference on one's sonic performance and pocket book -- endless and costly hardware upgrades naturally keep hitting the stops imposed by the room itself -- would do well to investigate what ARS has to offer. Looking at the solution displayed, I feel confident that for once, room treatments can not only co-exist with interior design sensibilities but in fact enhance the latter. Now that's novel!

Audio Analogue of Italy showed their new 6x150w Cinecitta amplifier ($5,995) sporting impeccable construction details including two absolutely massive toroidal power transformers (mounted vertically behind the front panel and shielded by two plates) and the kind of elegant Euro chic appearance the brand has become known for (a matching Cinecitta PRE-PRO is forthcoming).

The front panel's channel pilot lights, for example, are arrayed in a circle rather than linear-but-boring straight line. My personal mantra "we look at our audio gear more than we ever get to listen to it" seems to have many adherents - particularly in this small boot-shaped peninsula from whence the Romans once ruled the entire known world. Why can't certain US-based firms follow suit, dress up for the occasion and embrace old-world style and aesthetic sophistication? Will we forever be the ugly Americans?

To emphasize the connection "Minneapolis =
Bel Canto Design", the firm's John Stronczer [above left] had set up an ambitious surround-sound system. With a flamboyant hint at the cool-running, 90% efficient prowess of his Digital Power Processing eVo architecture, he drew on 360w of bridged eVo 2s per channel while using one of the hotel's standard 15A outlets. Eggleston Works speakers and BCD's new PrePro processor with Crystal Semiconductor 43122-KS EP DACs for 122dB of dynamic range on all channels augmented the hardware assortment. The PrePro (ca. $8,000) sports a clever FTP display to enable access to SACD/DVD sub menus without the need for a regular monitor or screen.

A two-channel system around the Bel Canto DAC 2, Pre 6 and one eVo 2 driving Eggleston Works Rosa floorstanders enticed with effortlessly natural sound that remained transparent even at low levels but could crack a ferociously precise whip à la Indiana Jones when asked to reproduce rauceous drum kit at 95dB base levels.

For more indepth coverage on Bel Canto, wait for our upcoming interview with John Stronczer.