Monthly Archives: February 2011

 

 

PURE just recently introduced is their next generation i-20 digital iPod dock.  This dock sets itself apart from the common folk, as it taps directly into the raw digital audio stream of your iPhone/iPod/iTouch.  How’s that for pure?

The i-20 extracts the digital signal from the iPod or iPhone and uses PURE Clearsound digital end-to-end technology to produce its digital audio outputs, ensuring maximum integrity when connected to a digital amplifier or hi-fi system.  For its analogue output, i-20 again extracts the digital signal and uses its Cirrus 4353 hi-fi quality DAC and high-precision low-jitter clock to deliver true hi-fi audio performance levels with a -105dB signal to noise ratio,  better than -93dB THD+N and 2V RMS audio output from its 24-bit 192KHz digital audio processor. 

 The i-20 supports all digital audio output compatible iPod models including the iPod Touch and iPhone and includes video outputs to allow users to view videos stored on their iPhone or iPod on their TV.  A docked iPod/ iPhone charges while docked and can be controlled and navigated using the supplied remote control.

 The PURE i-20 is currently available at a price of $99 U.S.

 More information to be found at: www.pure.com

The Consumer Electronics Show is over for another year and if the products demonstrated are any indication, the upcoming year will be a great one for home theatre fans. While in the past, it took a few years for technology to trickle down into consumers’ living rooms, the lag from prototype to booth demonstration to production is quickly narrowing.

2010 was supposed to be the year of the 3D TV and while uptake has been slow due to a variety of factors – price, performance, and the lack of content – 2011 will kick it up a notch with dedicated 3D-content TV networks, lower prices and most exciting of all, glasses-free and passive glasses 3D televisions (more on that below). 3D will continue to make inroads as more 3D-capable digital cameras and camcorders become available. LG currently bundles Fuji’s W3 still- and video-capable 3D digital camera with their 3D HDTVs to enable consumers to immediately create and enjoy 3D content.

On the non-AV side, this year will see an influx of tablets from various manufacturers playing catch-up and eager to take a bite out of Apple’s commanding market share. Google’s open-source Android operating system will be powering most new tablets and consumers will have a plethora of options to choose from. Everything from simple e-book readers to 3G (cellular) connected multimedia tablets, there’ll be a tablet for every niche in sizes from 5 to 10 plus inches. For many users who only surf the Internet (email, social networks, video streaming, browsing), tablets could easily replace their laptops/desktop computers.

Hitting the road, practically every automobile manufacturer has an “infotainment” system with iPod compatibility, USB memory key functionality (MP3, AAC and other formats), Bluetooth synchronization (address book, text messages, etc.) and A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) which allows the streaming of high-bitrate stereo audio from a Bluetooth-equipped cellphone or other device. These features are available in $14,000 budget subcompacts all the way up to Audi’s Bang & Olufsen-equipped executive sedan. More vehicles are also coming with Sirius satellite radio for commercial-free listening across North America.

Not to be left out, even kitchen appliances are well on the way to getting connected. Samsung showed off an Internet-connected fridge that allows consumers to check their calendar, pull up recipes from Epicurious, check the weather and run other quick apps. It hits the Canadian market in May. Similarly, Kenmore showed off a whole range of smart appliances such as dishwashers, stoves, and laundry pairs that allow remote monitoring, limited control, and remote diagnostics. Applications for iPod/iPhone and Android were demoed but these won’t hit the market until 2012.

Back in the living room, the TV is rapidly evolving from more than just a dumb display and future HDTVs will be Internet-capable and have a variety of non-video functions to augment their use when your favourite TV show isn’t on. The popularity of the Internet-calling program Skype is seeing Panasonic, Vizio and Sony, among others, offering high-definition webcam add-ons to allow video conferencing from your living room couch. New connected, smart TVs stream YouTube content, allow you to browse Amazon and access streaming sites such as Netflix, which recently launched in Canada. The addition of Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) capabilities will allow HDTVs to stream content (video, photos, music) from network-connected devices such as Windows Media Servers, Boxee, Apple TV, and XMBC.

Many connected HDTVs allow users to customize their TV’s functionality by adding on widgets or applications. Samsung is poised to create an application market just for their smart TVs with both free and paid apps in 2011. Everything from stock/finance applications to specialized content (CNET, TED Talks, NPR, etc.) are available as dedicated add-ons for many smart TVs ensuring there is always something to watch.

Google’s Android-powered TV, while slow out of the gate, is also being picked up by more manufacturers and is supposed to enter Canadian markets this year in both set-top and embedded versions. Google TV offers a full Flash-capable browser, access to the Android application market (imagine Angry Birds on a 55″ HDTV) and PVR control, which is currently available in the US with Dish Network PVRs (hopefully Canadians will see similar integration with Bell, Shaw and Rogers PVRs). Google TV also comes with advanced built-in search capabilities: enter a query and it searches local TV listings and the Internet, making the static program guide much easier to navigate and schedule.

For die-hard cinemaphiles, Philips is finally bringing its ultra-widescreen 21:9 aspect ratio HDTVs to North America. The LED-backlit, 3D-capable HDTVs should be available in time for the holidays. Philips also announced its first wireless-HDMI (WiDi) capable Blu-Ray player. Older, non-WiDi-equipped HDTVs can utilize a dongle to receive the signal. WiDi is being integrated into HDTVs to help reduce the clutter of cables coming out of the latest, design-conscious TVs being released. Intel showed off laptops with built-in WiDi transmitters and is also working on wireless power, though it’ll be a while before they’ll be able to transmit the wattage required to power a TV – and do it safely.

Love it or hate it, 3D is here to stay. Indeed, 70 percent of Sony’s 2011 lineup is 3D-capable and it will be introducing glasses-free HDTVs in time for the 2011 holidays. A quick refresher for those that missed our 3D article: glasses-free 3D uses lenticular filters which direct separate images to each eye. The brain then interprets the different images as 3D. The downside of this technology is that the viewers must be located in a specific spot away from the TV – a sweet spot – where the TV’s filters are “projecting” the separate images. LG, JVC, Toshiba, Sony and Vizio are all set to introduce glasses-free and passive-glasses 3D HDTVs in time for the holiday season in sizes ranging from 20″ all the way up to 65″. By the end of the year, there will be over 100 3D Blu-ray titles available and at least two dedicated 3D TV networks.

The other 3D technology that hopes to push adoption is the introduction of passive-glasses 3D. This 3D technology uses very affordable ($10-$30) passive, polarized (similar to anti-glare sunglasses) glasses that filter the image entering each eye. These glasses are virtually the same as the ones used in 3D movie theatres. They are cheap and practically disposable, which is a significant advantage compared to the $150 to $250 active-shutter 3D glasses currently used by 1st-generation 3D HDTVs. Most importantly, they offer a flicker-free image from any viewing angle or location. As always, there are disadvantages with this technology. The first is that the HDTVs capable of projecting two separately polarized images simultaneously are more expensive when compared to HDTVs which use active-shutter glasses. But as with all technologies, this will eventually come down. The second is that vertical resolution is cut in half when viewing 3D content (1920 x 540 pixels instead of 1920 x 1080).

Last, but not least, George Lucas announced the release of the entire Star Wars saga on Blu-ray. The complete six-film set will contain more than 30 hours of extras, including new and alternate scenes, on three separate discs, all remastered in the highest quality (LucasArts/Industrial Light & Magic does own THX after all). The box set will be available on Friday, September 30th, 2011 with preorders already available from some retailers.

Get ready for a year where everything you purchase will have the ability to go online and content will be available anywhere, any time.

Lately all I seem to be hearing is DAC, DAC, DAC…kinda sounds like a duck.  It’s just where the industry is going to meet consumer demands data streaming products.  That said, it’s nice to see some of the serious audiophile companies come out with new products in this space – and so it goes with Electrocompaniet’s new Prelude PD-1 Balanced DAC.

 Electrocompaniet’s new Prelude series model PD-1 DAC has USB, Coaxial and optical inputs.  Analogue outputs are XLR or RCA, and as an extra avenue for music distribution it can be supplemented with a point-to-point wireless Media Streamer module. It supports sampling rates at up to 192kHz/24 bit, so is capable of handling high resolution Master Audio files.

This all means you can channel music from your CD-player, TV/Satelite tuner, iPod or PC / MAC with much improved audio results.  When connected to a PC via USB the PD-1 can (a) stream music and (b) control media players via the supplied remote control.  Output volume can also be controlled if using powered speakers or going directly to a power amplifier. 

Point-to-point wireless capability can be added via the optional EMS 1 Media Streamer $499 U.S., which can be connected via USB to a remote computer to allow streaming at 16Bit/48kHz without the need for any local wireless network. 

The PD-1 is available currently at an MSRP of $2499 U.S. 

For more details: http://www.electrocompaniet.com

Anthem has long been considered as the “dream brand” by many home theatre buffs.  Its components are the equivalent of exotic cars in the home theatre universe, and for a very good reason – Anthem produces some of the most respected, highest performance audio video components in the world.  What’s more is that almost all Anthem products are made right here in the Great White North and that makes us Canadians very proud.  But there is a small problem.  Although many enthusiasts aspire to have their home theatres outfitted with Anthem components one day, many of us simply don’t have enough disposable Loonies in our wallets.  Anthem’s product line-up consists of expensive, high-end components such as AV processors, amplifiers, projectors and a Blu-ray player.  But now there is another more affordable option.

In 2010 Anthem announced that the company will be introducing a line-up of three AV receivers, at achievable price points: the MRX 300 ($1,099), MRX 500 ($1,649) and MRX 700 ($2,199).  The news sent shockwaves through the AV industry and home theatre enthusiast communities.  Would a home theatre enthusiast with an average budget finally be able to afford an Anthem component?  But the most pressing question is – are these new AV receivers any good?

When the MRX 500 arrived at our headquarters, we opened the box with the joy of a child opening a box of Lego.  A brief inspection revealed that the fit, finish and build quality appear to be excellent.  The design of the front aluminum plate is attractive and will nicely distinguish the Anthem AV receivers from other receiver brands in the market.  All of the front panel buttons, the multi-way button pad and the large volume dial appear to be of good quality.

So what makes an Anthem AV receiver?  All four models offer seven amplifier channels powered by a class A/B amplifier.  Anthem says that a substantial amount of time was devoted to designing these amplifiers, making them cleaner and stronger than other AV receivers in the market today.  Each MRX receiver has an extruded aluminum tunnel for heat-sinking, which helps continuous 4 ohm output capability without resorting to an impedance selector which reduces power output.  The features common to all of the new MRX AV receivers include seven amplifier channels, the infamous Anthem Room Correction (ARC) system, HDMI 1.4a (3D compatible) inputs and output, decoding of the latest audio formats including Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Pro Logic IIz, video up-conversion to 1080p and Dolby Volume.  In addition to these features, the MRX 500 and 700 models also offer music playback from flash drives or USB hard drives and Internet radio.  The biggest difference between the four models is the power rating.  The MRX 500 is rated at 100 watts per channel.  The MRX 500 is smaller than I would have expected, measuring 17” wide, 13.5” deep and 6.5” tall, and weighs in at 31.6 lbs.

The MRX 500 offers 4 HDMI inputs (all 3D capable) as well as 3 component and 2 composite video inputs.  Audio inputs include 3 optical, 2 coaxial and 7 stereo RCA inputs.  There are also 2 USB inputs for digital audio and video.  The MRX 500 does not have multi-channel analogue inputs and does not decode DSD bitstreams via HDMI – hence SACD/universal players will have to connect to this receiver via HDMI and perform their own DSD to PCM conversion.  An Ethernet port allows access to Internet radio when connected to a home network.

The supplied remote offers logically laid out buttons, however most are the same or similar size and shape and none really stand out by feel, other than the multi-directional buttons.  There is a backlight for all the buttons (hurray!) however the button which turns on the backlight is not in the best of spots and does not stand out from the bunch at all.   The one thing that bothers me about the design of the remote is the large protrusion in the back, designed to support your index finger when holding the remote.  This works nicely when holding the remote but when you place the remote on the table, it rocks back and forth a few times before it comes to a rest (a bit of an oversight?).

From a technical standpoint, the most exciting feature of the new MRX receivers is the ARC system, which is the same system that’s found in Anthem’s high-end components like the AVM 50v/D2v AV processors.  The key difference is that the AV processors have twice the processing power of the MRX receivers which allows them to achieve a frequency curve that’s closer to the target frequency curve.  The other difference is that correction range in AVM 50v/D2v can be manually set up to 20 kHz whereas for MRX the limit is 5 kHz.

The ARC setup isn’t as simple as the calibration systems implemented in other AV receivers but it isn’t terribly complicated either.  I suppose the question is – is the extra effort worth it?  The vast majority of AV receivers on the market come supplied with a microphone which plugs directly into the receiver.  The receiver plays a series of test tones through each speaker while the microphone listens and then the system determines how to best optimize the sound in your particular room.  Easy peasy.

The ARC system supplied with all of the new Anthem MRX receivers is composed of several pieces: a microphone, a microphone stand, a USB cable, a serial cable and the ARC computer software (for PC and Mac running Windows emulation).  Unlike other calibration systems, the ARC requires a computer to perform the calibration since it requires much more processing power than can be achieved by chips built into AV receivers.  If you own a laptop this won’t be a big deal, but if you don’t you’ll have to temporarily set up a desktop computer in the home theatre.  The ARC system requires that you connect the AV receiver to the computer using the provided serial cable.  However, most laptops don’t have a serial port so you’ll likely need to make a trip to a local computer store to pick up a USB to serial adapter.  Anthem recommends using the Keyspan (USA-19HS) USB to serial adapter which can be purchased directly from Anthem for $25, or Anthem dealers.  Once you’ve got everything connected, the ARC runs just like any other room calibration system – test tones are played on each speaker as the microphone is repositioned a number of times around the room and then the system adjusts the frequency curve for each speaker in the attempt to provide the flattest response.  With five microphone locations, the ARC took about 20 minutes to run.  Some users may find the documentation supplied with the ARC system a little insufficient, while others may require the help of someone who’s computer savvy.

What I did like about the ARC is that unlike most other calibration systems, this one displays a frequency response graph (frequency vs. amplitude) for each speaker.  Each graph has three frequency responses plotted on it: measured, target and calculated (by the ARC).  Hence the graphs allow you to visualize how each speaker originally performs in your room, what the target frequency response should be and how it is modified by the ARC system.  That’s wonderful!

During this review, the MRX 500 was connected to the Sinclair Audio Brighton speakers which I just finished reviewing for the Feb/Mar 2011 issue of CANADA HiFi.  Following the ARC calibration I listened to a few stereo CDs and found the MRX 500 to offer an excellent audio performance with a soundstage that was large and had great definition.  However, I saved all of my detailed note-making for a couple of multi-channel albums: the Rolling Stones “Shine a Light” on Blu-ray and the Dire Straits “Brothers In Arms” SACD.  It didn’t take very long for me to pick up on the characteristics of the MRX 500 – the sound was highly detailed with a touch of warmth and a perfectly clean background.  Keith Richards playing the 12 string guitar on “As Tears Go By” sounded delightfully real, as if someone was playing it right in front of me.  My ears could easily pick up the sound of each string as the guitar pick hit it yet all the strings put together played in perfect harmony.  Mick Jagger’s voice played cleanly in the centre channel and the MRX 500 ensured that all the tiniest nuances of his voice arrived at my ears.  The rear channels in the meantime, accompanied the live performance with a well balanced enthusiasm of the audience – they were audible throughout the song but never overwhelming.  Livelier tracks like “Some Girls” and “Start Me Up” had no trouble with the dynamics even when I pumped up the volume all the way up to 0 dB.  I don’t normally listen to anything this loud because it just makes my ears tired very quickly but somehow the MRX 500 wasn’t bothering me at this rather silly volume level.  And even playing this loud, it sounded like the amplifier section still had lots of headroom.

The first track “So Far Away” on the Dire Straits: Brothers In Arms SACD simply sent chills through my body.  The MRX 500 provided a rich, melodic music experience, all in a perfectly balanced soundfield.  The synthesizer effects in the intro to “Money For Nothing” swept across from the front to the rear of the soundstage seamlessly, placing me in the middle of an imaginary landscape.

After listening to these two discs, I concluded that the ARC system produced the most balanced sound that I’ve heard in my room to date.  The flattening of the frequency response in each channel resulted in a very accurate, smooth sound from every speaker.  Was the ARC calibration worth the extra effort then?  I’ve been turned into a believer.

I listened to a few more discs because I didn’t want to jump to conclusion too quickly.  Regardless of what I threw at the MRX 500, it never failed to deliver a wonderfully musical, highly involving sound.  I have never had the opportunity for an extended listening session with any of the high-end Anthem separates in the past (due to their rather high price points) but I have no doubt that these new receivers utilize some of the lessons learned from their designs.  There are many other tests that I will be putting this receiver through, but at this point in the game, I’m tempted to say that this is possibly the best sounding AV receiver I’ve heard at the sub-$2000 price point yet.  Stay tuned for more comments as the review progresses.

A couple of days later I returned to my home theatre and put the MRX 500 through a barrage of sonic tests with a number of Blu-ray movies, starting with Sherlock Holmes which features a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.  This movie offers countless challenging scenes for both the video display and the audio system.  In addition to dark, demanding on-screen visuals, many scenes in this movie rely on audio to create specific environments.  The MRX 500 couldn’t be more effective at producing convincing sonic landscapes such as crowded city streets, the prison grounds, the circus training grounds and various indoor scenes.  During all of the outdoor scenes in the city, I was surrounded by character voices, horse carriages as they travelled along cobblestone roads, church bells and animals among others.  The MRX 500 constructed an enveloping 360 degree soundstage around me, precisely placing various sounds within it.  You may be tempted to think that the vocals would be lost in all these layers of audio coming at me from all directions.  But this in fact was not the case.  Conversations between Holmes and his colleague Watson punched through all the commotion very clearly in the centre and front channels when required.  The suspension of disbelief was undeniably present in many scenes thanks to the immersive, well reproduced audio.  Everything sounded just as I would expect it to in real life.

While watching Sherlock Holmes I very quickly noticed a difference in the way the bass sounded in my room, compared to what I’m used to hearing.  In earlier parts of the movie, bass is used in the soundtrack to create suspense in certain scenes.  This bass sounded tighter and better defined than I ever recalling hearing it.  Explosive action sequences later in the film confirmed that the ARC calibration system indeed smoothed out the bass frequency response noticeably in all four seating positions in my room.  This improvement in the bass earned the MRX 500 some very high points in my book.

Robin Hood on Blu-ray, with its well mixed DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, was another great test for the MRX 500.  From the very moment the Universal and Image Entertainment movie studio animations hit the screen, I knew that I was in for a treat.  The quality and impact of the audio that accompanied the animations was just as I’d expect them to sound in a well calibrated movie theatre.  In the opening scene of the movie, the wind blew across the soundstage, dry leaves crunched under the thieves’ feet and horses’ galloping filled in the lower registers.  These effects together with the MRX 500’s excellent performance combined to produce a dark, suspenseful scene.  Then in a warfare scene, powerful blasts rocked my room as the English army attempted to blow up the gate of the French castle.  The bass reached great depths, with excellent definition and control.  In the chaos of the battle archers shot arrows which zoomed seamlessly from channel to channel and swords made contact with a metallic cling that resonated through the air.  The MRX 500 easily handled the dynamics of the battle and never came anywhere close to straining.  In fact, regardless of what was thrown at the receiver, it always had more headroom to offer.  Yet through all this commotion, the MRX 500 always delivered a clear, easy to hear dialogue at just the right volume.

At the end of the day, I can say with confidence that the Anthem MRX 500 AV receiver is one of the greatest sounding receivers that I’ve had the pleasure of being entertained by.  The on-board Anthem Room Correction system performed a noticeably better job of improving the sound in my room compared to the systems integrated in most, if not all, AV receivers that I’ve listened to in the past.  Its sound signature leans toward the warmer side, yet it offers a very dynamic sound that’s filled with rich details.  Overall, you might be tempted to think that you’re listening to higher-end separates rather than an AV receiver – yes, the sound is that good.  The MRX 500 does not offer as many features as other similarly priced AV receivers – you won’t find a plethora of surround modes, multi-channel analogue inputs or THX certification.  Instead it completely focuses its attention where it matters – on audio performance.  The MRX is simply a class act and worthy of being distinguished with the CANADA HiFi Editor’s Choice badge.

Anthem Electronics
www.anthemav.com
(905) 362-0958

Anthem MRX 500 AV Receiver
Price: $1,649 CAD

At one time or another, we all long for things great from the past.  This sometimes takes the route of retro styling.  Studio Electric is a company that seems to have retro in mind when it came to the aesthetics of their new Studio Electric Monitor.  This speaker model retains much of the sound signature of other Studio Electric products but is said to be slightly more linear / true to source.

 The Studio Electric Monitor utilizes a 6.5″ proprietary driver together with a silk dome tweeter, crossed over at 4 kHz.  The crossover uses custom inductors and custom capacitors manufactured by Clarity Cap for SE.  

 Price for the new SE Monitor is $2.550 U.S. / pair.

 For more information see: http://www.studio-electric.com

Blessed Cables is a brand new Canadian audio cable manufacturer. Its first product is the OMH-1 speaker cable available at an introductory price of $325 for a 6-foot pair. Of course other cable lengths are available.
Each Blessed cable is hand made in Canada and uses wire that is a perfectly balanced high strand, oxygen free copper and silver blend. The 8 wire 18awg braided cable uses about 100 feet of wire for a 6 foot cable pair, with over 250 strands per cable pair.

The Blessed OMH-1 cable promises a warm sweet airy sound with a more defined soundstage.

Each cable comes with a 15 day guarantee that says if the sound of your audio gear is not better once you hook up the Blessed OMH-1‘s you can return them for a full refund.

For more info, please visit www.blessedcables.com.

Now here’s a speaker whose origins date back to the 1980s but which benefits from dozens of design improvements over the years to keep it at the leading edge of bookshelf designs. That type of longevity is given to very few audio components so there must be something special going on here, right? French designer Daniel Dehay built the original model on these simple design precepts: custom designed wide bandwidth drivers, a direct connection between the bass/midrange driver and the amplifier, time alignment of the drivers and phase coherence throughout the frequency range.

Time alignment is achieved by a backward slanting front baffle, giving this speaker and also the bigger Veena, Episode and Grand Veena speakers a distinctive profile, now widely copied in the industry (but you heard it here first). A moving coil speaker with a directly driven bass/midrange is still a rarity since most drivers do not have the right mechanical qualities to perform across a wide range of frequencies without breaking up at the upper frequencies. You usually need a crossover to cut back the signal to the driver at the frequency extremes and gently cross over to the tweeter. The trick here is to design a drive unit that achieves the same effect mechanically so that no electrical attenuation is needed. This allows the driver to be connected directly to the amplifier, removing a whole layer of complexity and inefficiency.

The MM de Capo i come with removable black mesh grills, and I like the look of them better with the grills off so you can see the gorgeous woodwork and lustrous finish. The sound is very slightly cleaner this way too. When I say this is a bookshelf speaker, I suspect most users will use them stand mounted. I put them up on sturdy 24 inch Target metal stands, but you might prefer the good looking adjustable wooden stands the manufacturer offers ($395). You can choose from a variety of finishes for the speakers themselves, the top of the line (a $400 premium) featuring 11 thick layers in a high gloss epoxy finish applied over Natural American Maple or Red Cherry for additional cabinet stiffness and a more refined sound. My test sample was Natural Maple in a Satin finish which would set you back $2,995.

What you’d hope to get with a speaker designed along these lines is something quite efficient, an easy match for any high quality amplifier, capable of throwing a very stable three dimensional image and offering high levels of detail and low distortion. That was the aim of the original design and by the standards of the day, those objectives were met, resulting in a strong reputation amongst reviewers and audiophiles alike. The passage of time has seen elevated levels of competition. There are many fine bookshelf speakers form the likes of Proac, Spendor, Rogers, KEF, B&W, to name a few well respected British imports, and this country has seen some very fine local designs, particularly from Montreal-based Totem Acoustic.

Many reviewers worry most about tonality, detail, transient response and distortion but to me these fade into insignificance next to the key attributes of image stability and dynamics, which make music sound like the real thing. It’s not that you don’t need all those other qualities, but the fact is that most speakers in this price range do well in those areas today, while far fewer offer realistic imaging and dynamics. Imaging, the portrayal of musical instruments and voices in three dimensional space, comes from very careful attention to the smallest of details and sound fundamental design. Phase coherence is one of the key factors, and another is the physical placement of the drivers. Ideally you would use one single driver across all frequencies, and some have tried this approach but very few succeeded. Certainly if you are going to use moving coil drivers, like most speakers do, finding a design that optimizes the all-important midrange inevitably leads to compromise at the frequency extremes. The next most promising approach is the concentric driver, where the tweeter sits in the centre of the midrange/woofer. Concentric drivers are again very difficult and very expensive to design properly, but are almost always imaging champs. All other designs separate the tweeter physically from the other drivers, and the larger the separation and the greater the number of drivers, the harder it is to create realistic imaging. If you are sitting at a distance from the speakers in a big room, this problem is reduced and some large speakers can image very well in those conditions, but for the rest of us compact speakers usually image better. In the case of the MM de Capo i, the distance between the tweeter and the woofer could not be closer, and the front baffle is no bigger than necessary to accommodate the two drivers selected.

So smaller is better for imaging, but with a smaller internal volume and just two drivers, the maximum volume level and the bass extension must also be limited. This generally works against excellent dynamics, which give scale and presence to the music. By dynamics I mean the ability of the speaker to increase the sound pressure linearly with the input level, without noticeable peak compression. Big speakers with three or more drivers have the advantage here, an advantage that every designer of smaller speakers is trying to claw back. In this case the designers have chosen a very lightweight but stiff cone material and a big diameter (8-¼ inch) bass/midrange driver, at the same time removing any electrical impediment between amplifier and driver to get as big a kick as possible, coupled with very fast reflexes.

So much for theory. Let’s look at the details. Like all the speakers in the range, a great deal of TLC has been lavished on the MM de Capo i over the years and those who have owned or heard an earlier version might like to know what the designers have done over the years to keep it at the head of the pack. Let’s run through the changes since the introduction of the i version in 2003 before I tell you what I heard in my listening room:

• Edge-hole-treatment (unique to Reference 3A drivers): Filling in the joint where the soft surround meets the hard cone edge with a new type of epoxy to avoid cancellations
• New custom made multiple flat plate paper-in-oil capacitors
• New low resonant frequency tweeter
• Improved cabinet construction using perforated braces and a vertical spine piece

The very latest iteration (June 2009) now adds the following improvements:
• New CCSC (continuous cast, single crystal high purity OFC) internal wiring with PTFE (Teflon) dielectric
• Mechanical grounding of the drivers draining spurious vibration energy from the driver’s frame and the motor to the cabinet for a more open, detailed and dynamic sound
• Copper Shorting Ring (Faraday Ring) improves linearity in driver’s voice coil magnetic field gap to reduce dynamic compression and better tracking of signal
• New Mundorf Supreme Silver Oil capacitors used as the tweeter high-pass filter for extended, more dynamic and faster high frequencies
• Soft brass screws used to fasten drivers reduce the resonant noises generated by the driver/frame
• New, five way binding posts with gold plated tellurium copper conductors provide better conductivity than the commonly used brass types for better input signal transmission
• New CCC (Continuous Cast Copper) bi-wire jumpers
• All connectors, internal wiring, and metal driver parts are now cryogenically treated

So while not deviating from the original design principles, you can see how every aspect of the implementation has been examined and where possible, improved with the higher quality parts now available.

Sadly I don’t have a vintage MM de Capo i on hand to do an A/B comparison, but this review is not for current owners considering an upgrade. It’s for those of you in the market for very high quality stand mounted speakers that won’t break the bank. What you need to know from me is how they sound today. And that’s an easy call. Like all top flight components, they are consistent across a wide range of music, whether you love opera or rap, Count Basie or Keb Mo. Just be sure to pair them with high quality components capable of showing them at their best.

These speakers represent an easy drive for most amplifiers since they are quite efficient and have a smooth impedance curve, but they are quite sensitive to location. They have little need for reinforcement from room boundaries to produce a solid bass, so bring them well away from the walls. Ideally the listener and the two speakers form an equilateral triangle, and very little or no toe-in is required. Mount them on rigid stands with blue-tac and then make small adjustments to the toe-in to optimize the imaging in your favourite chair and you’re done. I found I could then get up and walk around and the image was stable and enjoyable over a wide range. This large sweet spot is especially important if there will be more than one listener at a time.

Imaging is in fact this speaker’s forte. Correctly set up, the performers can be easily located in space, and this contributes enormously to the impression of reality. Thanks to that big main driver, the MM de Capo i puts up very strong numbers in the dynamics category, easily impressing throughout Ivan Fischer’s superb SACD performance of Brahms First Symphony. If it can keep its head here it should have no trouble holding its own in less demanding types of music. Actually solo piano can be even more demanding than a full orchestra so I gave it a workout there too, and found a rich, deep musical range which preserves the full gamut of such complex recordings as Zimmerman’s Liszt Sonata. From here to jazz and folk gave no surprises, so let’s see how it fares with pop, rock and outstanding female vocalists like Jennifer Warnes.

The MM de Capo i produces prodigious bass – it’s flat down to 42 Hz – and this helps it sail through these tests with aplomb. Bass guitar comes through pitch perfect and without strain, giving a strong underpinning to rock. The superb integration between the drivers, a miracle given the simple tweeter network, makes Warnes’ The Well a delight, while the Beatles’ Love album is fresh, punchy and detailed. Across the board, detail and transient response are both strong, though not outstanding, while distortion is commendably low and tonality is spot on.

So is this the perfect speaker? Of course not. The first thing I would change is the name. Reference 3A MM de Capo i is just too much of a handful. It is also a relatively small speaker, and lacks the maximum output and spectacular dynamics of its own big brothers, the Episode and Grand Veena. The tweeter is excellent for a speaker in this price range but does not compare in resolution or extension to the much more expensive diamond or beryllium designs found on some exotic speakers. Bass is strong down to 42 Hz but there is some music that extends down further than that, and if you love the organ you will prefer a much bigger box. It is also out of place in a large room because its ability to move air is limited. Finally, you may love the looks or hate them – aesthetics are personal, and there are no graceful curves here like in a Wilson Benesch or Sonus Faber. You’re paying for the sound quality. The MM de Capo i is certainly worth an audition if you can pony up the asking price.

Sidebar

Reference 3A – A Family Resemblance

3A (Applied Acoustic Arts) was originally set up in France in 1959 by French designer Daniel Dehay and relocated to Switzerland in the late eighties under the name Reference 3A. The company passed into other hands before being repurchased by Mr. Dehay around 1992 and most of the features of all current models owe their heritage to his design precepts. Today the company is located in Waterloo, Ontario under the direction of Tash Goka of Divergent Technology, who has a special love for the MM de Capo i above all the others in the Reference 3A stable.
Having spent considerable time with three Reference 3A models, the MM de Capo i, The Episode and the Grand Veena, in ascending order of size and price, I am struck by how much there is in common between them in their acoustic signature. These are not speakers you buy to impress your friends. You buy them because you love music, you know what live musicians sounds like, and you want the best speakers you can get for the money. The two bigger brothers share an exotic driver above the tweeter, the Murata Exciter. This gives them a rather more open top end which I found intoxicating, and they are both floorstanding designs, meant for progressively larger spaces and greater listening distances. While lacking the Murata Exciter, the MM de Capo i is by no means shy in the high frequencies and will suit most normal size listening spaces better than either floorstander. They are all cut from a very similar cloth both audibly and cosmetically. I’m delighted to be able to recommend these Canadian components which stand up well against speakers from a variety of specialist manufacturers around the world. Canada rules OK.

Reference 3A
www.reference3a.com
519-749-1565

Reference 3A MM de Capo i
Price: $2,995 (as tested)

News about Tablets are continue to trickle out from the industry and the latest of these is from Fujitsu.  The company’s STYLISTIC Q550 is said to be an executive class slate PC designed for the high-security requirements of mobile enterprise computing.  It should be available worldwide starting in April 2011.

The Fujitsu STYLISTIC Q550 Slate PC builds in security from the ground up, so that it meets the most stringent ICT security requirements of governments and businesses. The Fujitsu STYLISTIC Q550 is developed to meet enterprise mobile computing demands and integrate seamlessly into existing ICT infrastructures.

As enterprises struggle to keep consumer smart phones and tablets off their corporate networks to avoid security breaches, Fujitsu is taking an alternative approach with the introduction of a companion device designed for maximum interoperability with business environments. Seamless integration is provided with the Microsoft Windows 7 operating system. Additional licensing and rollout costs are capped since the slate PC uses the same software already deployed in enterprise infrastructures.

Usability features also help set the Fujitsu slate PC apart from other mobile devices. The STYLISTIC Q550 is distinguished by elements such as full work day battery runtime and a brilliant anti-glare 10.1-inch screen that allows for use both indoors and outdoors. Seamless connectivity comes through the inclusion of WLAN, Bluetooth and optional mobile broadband 3G/UMTS, enabling collaboration such as the sharing of documents while on the move.

Along with excellent ergonomics, Fujitsu makes mobile data entry easier by combining a multiple touch interface with precise and pressure-sensitive pen input. The STYLISTIC Q550 automatically recognizes when users are working with a pen, allowing them to rest their hand on the screen when writing. Built-in handwriting recognition software converts input to text. When the pen is not in use, the slate PC automatically readjusts to a touch interface.

Highlights of the Fujitsu STYLISTIC Q550 include:

- The STYLISTIC Q550 runs on Microsoft Windows 7 and is compatible with Windows multi-touch capabilities. Users can control applications and input text by touching the screen simply with just a touch of their fingers or by the attached stylus.

- The STYLISTIC Q550 is equipped with a next-generation Intel Atom CPU that is energy efficient, and features superior performance. By making full use of Fujitsu’s proprietary power supply control functionality, the new series provides effortless operations using a large-capacity battery that can power the slate PC’s 10.1 inch screen while still providing full work day battery runtime. Furthermore in terms of maintenance, the battery is removable. The overall unit weighs only 680g when a standard battery is inserted.

- The STYLISTIC Q550 can connect to IEEE 802.11n/a/g-compatible wireless LANs and wireless WANs, thereby enabling high-speed network communications. This in turn, makes data communications in a cloud computing environment effortless and helps to facilitate smooth business operations.

- As the STYLISTIC Q550 runs on Microsoft Windows 7, customers can deploy the slate PC without having to make changes to existing Windows-environment security resources and operations management systems. Moreover, through its unique product design process, Fujitsu has engineered the slate PC to incorporate a variety of technologies—such as fingerprint authentication, smart card reader, embedded security chip, and encrypted SSD—that enable the development of even more robust security systems, an important feature for enterprise customers.

For more info, please visit www.fujitsu.com.

These days fashion expressions seem to be fully integrated with new products and so it goes with V-MODA’s new Crossfade Customs personalization option for its Crossfade LP headphones.  It’s fun to play dress-up! 

The V-MODA Customs Program allows customers to choose from six plate color options, four unique engraved designs with custom text on a choice of four base frames. Initial designs include a numbered jersey, crown, skull snake, and vinyl immortal angel logo.  Colors available for the metal Crossfade LP plates are Gold, Black, Gunmetal, Pink, Purple and Red. 

The Crossfade LP features 50mm dual-diaphragm drivers, noise isolation, memory foam ear-cushions, metal memory headband and signature “V-ANGLE” design.  Each pair includes an exoskeleton hard case, soft cleaning cloth, 24K gold plugs, as well as both an audio only and three-button remote Kevlar cables.

For a limited time, the Crossfade Custom Program will be included with every new Crossfade LP when purchased direct from V-MODA’s website.  The MSRP is $199 U.S.

More details at: v-moda.com

Apple is expected to launch its second generation iPad on March 2, contrary to speculation of a possible delay. The speculation over the timing of the new iPad comes from reports that this could be because of Steve Jobs’ faltering health combined with the fact that component makers had to change their manufacturing processes after Apple made some design changes to the iPad2.

However sources say that Apple will host an event on March 2, where the company is expected to take the wraps off the newest iPad model, which will go on sale very shortly thereafter.

The new model will reportedly offer cameras on the front and back of the device and will be slimmer, lighter and have a better resolution display than the first iPad.

Stay tuned to the CANADA HiFi blog for more info on the new iPad.

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