Private Preview 2003: More Reasons to Stay Home

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We doubt if anyone makes a New Year’s resolution to watch more movies. Considering some of the gear that will be available next year, however, we would understand if you did. Linn already provides a wide line of home entertainment products, and the company plans to release a universal (audio and video) disc player next year. It will be one of just a handful in existence.

Enjoying your home theater also means having the right speakers. A number of companies are expanding their flagship lines by adding smaller models. B&W, for example, will offer a bookshelf speaker (perfect for using as rears) to match its Signature series. The newest products from Meridian, MartinLogan, and Wilson Audio also should look familiar. If your idea of the perfect personal viewing room includes automatic dimming lights and motorized drapes, Lutron’s latest innovation can handle those tasks and more in each one of your homes. With so much to look forward to, you might want to rethink your promises for 2003.

This Puppy Is No Dog

For proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks, look no further than Wilson Audio’s WATT Puppy 7. To the eye, the two-piece speaker (the Puppy below, the WATT on top) resembles the 4-year-old version 6, but to the ear, the changes are more evident. “It really is a thoroughly new system,” says company president David Wilson. “People who don’t know that might think it’s merely a cosmetic upgrade, but [the WATT Puppy 7] is all together in a different category.”

Wilson designed a special high-density enclosure for the WATT, and for the first time in the line’s more than 15 years, the Puppy has been outfitted with new woofers. Accordingly, special attention was paid to refining the two crossover points, or the places where the frequencies are separated and rendered by the appropriate driver. The new system sets the standard in group delay correction, says Wilson, which means the depth of the sound stage is much greater. For listeners, that translates to having all the signals reach their ears at the right time even though tweeters move faster than woofers.

The WATT Puppy system 7, one of the most anticipated speakers for 2003, is just over 40 inches tall, 12 inches wide, and 18 inches deep. Unlike other hounds, though, Wilson’s Puppys (and WATTs) can be finished in any color you desire, including automotive paint from companies such as Ferrari, BMW, Porsche, and now Bugatti.

Lighting the Way

Once you become accustomed to home automation features such as preset lighting scenes and remote-controlled drapes in your primary residence, there is no going back to unsightly banks of light switches and dangling cords in your other home or homes. As an alternative to retrofitting an older or secondary residence with a separate automation system, Lutron will offer an updated version of its HomeWorks Interactive whole-house control system early in 2003. The new system will allow you to enjoy the same familiar automation system wherever you are—even if one of your residences is a 12th-century castle. “The biggest complaint that clients have had is that they have not been able to use HomeWorks Interactive in all of their homes,” says Glen Kruse, a product manager and one of the engineers who developed the system. “They wanted functionality identical to the system they already have.”

The upgraded software also will enable you to control each residence remotely through voice prompts over the telephone. From a cabana on Nevis, you could turn on the heat in the cabin in Colorado or the outdoor lights at the manor in Canterbury.

Lutron is closely guarding its secret to integrating wired and wireless systems. The company also remains mum about how it achieves the functionality of new-home auto-mation in an existing home, except to say that the new system does not rely exclusively on radio frequencies. Although automation products that work on radio frequencies are available for existing homes, those systems usually aren’t suited for larger homes or homes with a variety of electrical loads. The new system from Lutron is not limited by either constraint, says Kruse. “None of the previous radio frequency products can accom-modate all of the capa-bilities people desire in 15,000- to 30,000-square-foot homes.”

Play Me

Of the nearly 75 Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD) and DVD-Audio (DVD-A) players available, only Pioneer and Marantz make machines that are able to play both formats. A handful of companies have announced plans for their own universal players, but none has in fact produced them. Linn, located in Glasgow, Scotland, is poised to put a universal player on the shelf sometime in the middle of next year. The company claims the as-yet-unnamed machine will be able to play CD, DVD-video, SACD, and DVD-Audio at the highest quality.

Most of the other high-end companies have chosen one format or the other, making Linn the highest-end company to accommodate SACD and DVD-A in one player. Ivor Tiefenbrun, the company’s founder and managing director, says that offering a universal player makes sense because Linn already provides music, home theater, and distributed audio applications. “We know that our customers would really appreciate a universal player that plays stereo CD, SACD, multichannel SACD for music, DVD audio, and cinema. That is why we are developing such a novel machine.”

Depth Perception

MartinLogan’s first subwoofer, Descent, was a great achievement, winning Robb Report’s Best of the Best audio products honor in 2002 for its ability to drive

a diverse array of loudspeakers in addition to complementing the company’s own electrostatic hybrid speakers. In the first quarter of 2003, MartinLogan will offer Depth, a more space-conscious model based on the technology of Descent.

The speaker is about two-thirds the size of the orig-inal, measuring 16.6 inches wide, 16.15 inches deep, and 16.25 inches tall. “It’s all about the living room,” says company president Gayle Sanders. “We have three guys who do nothing but industrial design, so we’re constantly looking for ways to enhance people’s living environments instead of being a necessary evil.”

In addition to making speakers smaller, the challenge when designing subwoofers, says Sanders, is determining how to create a system that performs loudly and clearly at the same time. He likens the task to car designers having to marry speed with a smooth ride. “All the technology serves the goals of clarity, power, and aesthetics.”

Two MartinLogan innovations enable the company to offer subwoofers with superior clarity and pure sound. The first is servo control, which, Sanders says, is based on guided-missile technology. Servo control reduces distortion tenfold by having the amplifier dictate to the woofer driver where it needs to be to re-create sound accurately. Because woofers make sound by moving a lot of air back and forth, it’s easy for the pressure to grow so great that the base driver becomes out of sync with the audio signal.

The new subwoofer also features BalancedForce, a configuration in which the drivers face away from each other to prevent the cabinet from vibrating. Listeners hear the pure energy of the music, not the bouncing, or noise, from the cabinet.

Signature Here, Please

The Signature 800 series, the top-of-the-line speakers from B&W, feature two of high-end audio’s most distinct design elements: yellow Kevlar cones and the ultraglossy Tigers Eye finish. The newest speaker to the lineup, the bookshelf-size 805, is a solid ad-dition. The 805 doesn’t merely look as if it belongs in the series; it also delivers sound that cements its membership credentials. The 805 delivers far more power and fullness than you would expect from such a small cabinet because the company has adapted and incorporated technologies orig-inally developed for large, floor-standing speakers.

To minimize vibration, the Signature 805 employs B&W’s Matrix bracing system of interlocking interior braces. (Outside the speaker cabinet, the bracing system could be mistaken for a wine rack.) Flowport, another proprietary innovation, works similarly to the way a golf ball’s dimples reduce turbulence around the ball and allow it to fly smoothly through the air. The dimples on the speaker’s curved surface allow air to oscillate in and out of the cabinet with a minimum of noise.

The speaker should be available in early spring of 2003 with a choice of Red Birds Eye or Gray Tigers Eye wood veneers. Also new for next year: B&W recently decided to honor the company’s founder, John Bowers, and rechristen the company Bowers & Wilkins, after the name of Bowers’ first hi-fi store.

Speaking of Home Theater

The only problem with Meridian Audio’s DSP8000 flagship loudspeakers, according to Colin Aldridge, is that they are too tall to be used as a center channel with a home theater projection screen.

One solution is to purchase a perforated screen and place the speaker behind it, but that is not an ideal configuration. So Aldridge, the company’s deputy chairman and president of the North American division, decided Meridian needed to offer a shorter complement to the original. “The smaller footprint of the DSP7000 makes this reference-level speaker very versatile,” he says. “The discerning customer should not have to sacrifice perfor-mance for room aesthetics or vice versa.”

In addition to being just more than 40 inches tall—13 inches shorter than the 8K, as the DSP8000 speaker is known—the new speaker differs in appearance from its predecessor in two other ways. The 8K features three pairs of 8-inch drivers that fire, or are aimed, to the sides, while the 7K has two 10-inch bass drivers that fire forward. Also, the newer model is a one-piece design, and the older version has a separate head that sits atop the main cabinet.

The 7K should be available in the first part of 2003, and the high-gloss, curved metal and wood cabinet will be available in the same black, silver, red, yellow, green, blue, and burgundy finishes as the 8K.

B&W, www.bwspeakers.com

Linn, www.linn.co.uk

Lutron, www.lutron.com

MartinLogan, www.martinlogan.com

Meridian, www.meridian-audio.com

Wilson Audio, www.wilsonaudio.com

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