AUDIO SHOWS Dr. AIX's POSTS — 05 January 2017

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I drove from Los Angeles to Las Vegas yesterday afternoon to get ready for the 50th anniversary CES Show. Apparently, they don’t call it the Consumer Electronics Show anymore — it’s simply the International CES Show 2017. And they expect 175,000 people to attend according to one report on the radio. It’s the largest trade show in the world and the crowds have certainly arrived for four days of high tech, high priced hotel rooms, and expensive meals.

Unlike previous CES shows, I’m not here promoting my high-resolution audio label AIX Records. It would have been nice to have a small room to demo and sell my recordings but it’s simply not cost effective any more. When the audio show was held at the Alexis Park Hotel, small companies like mine could afford the cost of a room or table and sell enough discs to make it worthwhile. But since they decided to relocate the high-end audio exhibits to the Venetian and tell us there would be no sales, it doesn’t make sense. During the past couple of shows, I’ve participated in the high-resolution audio tech zone but even that was a waste of money and effort.

I’m here this time to help my friend Peter promote his beamforming, sound field modeling technology. Comhear, the company that has the exclusive license to the patents that he developed during his time as Director of Music Technology at UC San Diego, is showing off their ProAV array speakers and I’m downstairs demoing the technology in what will become Yarra™, their consumer product. And it’s very cool.

I’ve set up a faux stereo system consisting of two B&W 805 speakers on stands and a single 12-speaker ProAV unit between them. The stereo analog outputs from my Benchmark DAC2 HGC are connected to the line input of their hardware. I produced a custom Blu-ray disc, which is playing in one of my Oppo players. The S/P DIF coaxial digital connection is delivering the digital information to the Benchmark. There is no connection to the B&W speakers but when you sit in front of the setup you believe that the B&Ws are reproducing the sound. The Comhear technology creates a “transaural” sound field that mimics the sound you would hear out of the stereo pair — except it does it through an inexpensive sound bar. If you’re in Vegas, don’t hesitate to come by The Venetian Hotel Suite 29-228 or write a comment below (I’ll respond and we can set up a time to meet – I’m moving my demo tonight to room 28-233 for tomorrow).

I stepped out of my demo space at lunchtime and visited the Creative Labs “X-Fi: Sonic Carrier” demo. I received a promotional email and was curious how good a $6000 sound bar could be. So I signed up for the noon demo, along with about 10 other show attendees, and sat through their 20-minute presentation. The first thing I can say about the Sonic Carrier is that it is huge — much larger than the typical sound bar. They had an 80″ monitor behind it so that the speaker array was smaller than the TV. The presenter played a number of Dolby Atmos trailers to show off the 15.2 sound that the unit produces through its collection of drivers and the 600-watt “hell-shattering” wireless subwoofer (they had two of them flanking the sonic carrier.

I was particularly interested to hear their “superwide X-Fi Stereo” processed surround mode. From the brochure, “When Superwide X-Fi touches any common stereo source it transports the listener to a magical three dimensional audio utopia that transcends a traditional left-right stereo experience. This the Audio of Tomorrow…the next leap in the evolution of music listening.”

Maybe I wasn’t in the sweet spot because I wasn’t transported anywhere except to a program that was at least 6 dB louder than the contrasting stereo original. Yep, the presenter adjusted the volume of the “superwide” version. The stereo program was sent out all 15.2 speakers with various filters applied. It was louder and spewed sound all around the space but it wasn’t compelling as real 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound mix. Louder and more speakers doesn’t necessarily translate to more immersive sound.

If the price tag doesn’t scare you away (they were offering a show special at 50% off to be fair), the industrial design might. I found the X-Fi sonic carrier to be really unappealing. It looks like a prop from a sci-fi movie and definitely won’t blend into a home theater environment. I generally like the tech look but this design left me cold.

The Comhear sound field modeling technology works. So if you’re around Vegas over the next few days, please let me know and come by the experience it yourself. I’ll be in Suite 28-233 all day tomorrow. Or ping me below.

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(8) Readers Comments

  1. I notice that Tidal is adding MQA to some of their music and promising studio-sound ‘Master’ audio, whatever that means.

    • Yeah, I’ve been following the MQA progress on both the hardware and content side. It’s a non-starter for me because they original source content hasn’t changed — it is still standard resolution based on analog tape, which has a great sound but limited fidelity compared to a PCM digital file of sufficient resolution (96/24 or even 44.1/16)! MQA is not a revolutionary step forward. In fact, IMHO it’s a step backwards because a non-decoded file seems to have less resolution than the original CD. The properly decoded MQA version only gets you back to the fidelity of the original NOT more fidelity. How can any system promise to improve over the original that the label (and production team) approved? MQA is a closed system. What the industry needs is better sounding source recordings.

      • “It’s a non-starter for me because they original source content hasn’t changed — it is still standard resolution based on analog tape, which has a great sound but limited fidelity compared to a PCM digital file of sufficient resolution (96/24 or even 44.1/16)!”

        This is a completely bogus. I think you already know nothing sounds like Tape! Period! And the reason is, like real film, it has better resolution than digital. The highest digital resolution today is not even close to sub-micron particle resolution of Analog Master Tape. Run that tape at 15ips and you’ve got 80,000,000+ oriented and randomly stacked particles per track second. Get me an A/D that can do this, please!

        P.S. Tidal Masters sounds great, the future is here. EOM.

        Analogman

        • I guess I should adopt the moniker “Digitalman” for the purposes of this exchange. You devotion to analog tape is laudable and you’re certainly entitled to your opinion but the whole bit with 80,000,000 particles doesn’t actually mean anything. Perhaps counting molecules or atoms would be more convincing because you’d reach magnitudes into the trillions or more. The only thing that matters to our ears and brains is how closely any particular recording technology records and reproduces acoustic sound — and it’s abundantly clear to knowledgeable individuals that high-resolution PCM digital does this better than any other format. That’s why the major record labels ALL archive their analog masters to high-resolution PCM digital and not to other analog tapes. The “sub-micron” particles you refer to don’t get dynamics past 72 dB. How is this limitation a good thing? And the scrape flutter, distortion, crosstalk, print through, and self erasure?

          The statement you quoted from my comment is completely accurate. Recognizing the actual advantages and disadvantages of all recording and reproduction formats is important. To ignore the technical facts is bogus.

  2. Interesting. How would you compare the Comhear technology to, say, Yamaha’s Sound Projectors?

    • The technology behind the Comhear MyBeam is unique and a major step above the rest of the sound bars. Sitting in front of this tiny array couple with a subwoofer can model the sound of a much larger and more expensive surround system. I’ve heard the Yamaha and Denon sound bars and they do a reasonable job, but this IMHO is better.

  3. Be sure to get Scott Wilkinson to listen to it.
    Maaybe he’ll invite you to his HTG show to tell about it.

    • Scott has promised to come by tomorrow for a listen. As a frequent guest on his program, I’m sure the Chief Science Officer or Comhear and I will be on his HTG show. I think I’m one of his most frequent guests.

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