Some high-class audio is reverberating in the high desert of Las Vegas.
Good times or bad, we audiophiles make it an annual ritual to trek out en masse to Vegas each January to see and hear the latest in better video and sound. Branded as the High-Performance Audio and Home Theater portion of the larger 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show, this audiophile Woodstock, minus the bad acid and long lines, packed dozens of the best audio companies into what I counted as five floors of the Venetian Resort, Hotel and Casino.
As elsewhere in the consumer electronics landscape, there was an embarrassment of riches at the event that went mostly ignored. Some of my favorite companies were on display here:
, to name a few. But there was palpably less foot traffic and way less buzz, even though the market for $1,000 speakers and $4,000 turntables is supposed to be immune to the sort of downturn we are suffering from. Whatever.
Still, there was real news here. UK-based
, the New York-based audio-networking company. Meridian is one of the class acts in traditional component audio. For these folks to go out and purchase a start-up that aims at doing away with separate components in favor of a digital connected audio system, which costs about $15,000 per room, shows that even the high end is feeling the pressure to adapt to the digital world.
I was also impressed with what Baltimore-based
did with its Mythos 9 speaker ($800 each). This better maker has made a solid, high-quality wall-mountable unit. I usually don't like wall-mounters since they are shallow and often poorly made and installed. But the Mythos 9 seems a good solution for that sure-to-sound-awful flat panel, wall-mounted TV hanging in your house.
I was also struck by Korea-based
. Its Rhea line of speakers, which are almost entirely made of -- gasp! -- metal, were worth a listen. Metal is mostly verboten in speakers because metal sounds, well, metallic, even if you
playing Metallica. But Metal Sound Design is creating a solid following on these shores, if for design alone.
The fat lady sings:
But for sheer eye-popping excess, there is no topping the new speaker from Elmont, New York-based
: The Fat Lady. These Israeli-built, carbon-fiber, floor-standing beauties will run you $10,000. Each! But if you are lucky enough to move in the money-is-no-object set, be assured you are getting some real value for your pile of cash.
First of all, mere wood is ignored by this Fat Lady. The units are made of carbon fiber over fiberglass, which gives them absurd rigidity, strength and lightness. The units are a reasonable 97 pounds. Similar floor-mount systems run at least double that. And at 50 inches high, the Fat Ladies are actually sort of subdued for higher end, pull-out-all-the-stops models. And there is no denying the power. They are rated at a peak rating of
, which is basically what you get in a good-sized disco.
The neat part is, Morel makes no attempt to dampen or otherwise control the sound. Most speaker designers use wood, baffles and many sorts of materials to control or smooth out the sound as it comes from the component speakers. Not Morel. The designers here view their cabinets as a cello maker views the body of his instrument: as the curved casing meant to vibrate with, and augment, the sound that streams from the three built-in speakers.
Now, it is too early to call these speakers good or bad based on buzz on a trade-show floor. A full review in a properly setup room over time is clearly in order. But, still, Morel gets points for creating an impressive, innovative unit in a crowded speaker market. And I get the feeling I will be seeing more of these sculpted units from other makers.
Bottom line: It won't be over when this Fat Lady sings.
Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.