Behind the Scenes (April, 1978)

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During the 1977 Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, on one balmy evening when the wind chill factor was a mere 80 degrees below zero, thousands of benumbed, blue-faced conventioneers fervently swore ... "never again!" Thus was born the noble experiment of relocating the 1978 Winter Consumer Electronics Show (hereinafter known as the WCES) from the arctic wastes of Chicago to the more salubrious climes of Las Vegas ....

There were many people opposed to such a move, feeling that the tinsel and glitter, the flesh pots, and gambling hells of Las Vegas would subvert the conventioneers, appealing to their baser instincts, and there would be more dollars for dollies than dollars for decibels! Well, the 1978 WCES has come and gone, and from all reports it was a highly successful show, with the attendees surviving Las Vegas with a minimum of financial trauma. Oh, there doubtless are some high rollers within the industry who tried to "beat the house," and they will be eating beans the rest of the year. The 42,676 people who attended the show represent a new record for this event, and the most general comment was that this was an "order-writing" show, a very nice state of affairs, even if the orders were basically generated by the decline of the dollar abroad. I was laid low by the flu and could not attend the WCES personally, so this report on audio developments at the WCES is through the courtesy of surrogate eyes and ears of friends who were there, and whose observations and comments are completely reliable.

If the last several shows seemed to indicate increased emphasis on separates ... preamps and amplifiers ... then at this WCES the pendulum has started to swing back to receivers.

There were new models galore, and the horsepower race continued. Pioneer became the new wattage champion for the moment with their 270-watt-per Audiophile Group Formed With the move to Vegas from Chicago, we wondered how many of the little companies that had previously taken rooms in the Bismark would make the trek west. Well, we found them, finally, on the afternoon of the next to the last day of the show in the Westward Ho Motel. And, interestingly, they are in the process of organizing themselves, but let Bert Cohen of Great White Whale tell their objectives:

"The Audiophile Group was formed to present a convenient means for high-end audio dealers and the interested public to see and hear the less well publicized and advertised products that our companies represent." The coordinators of this enterprise are Bert Cohen, Great White Whale, 348 E. 84th St., New York City 10028, 212/628-1470; Bob Waterstripe, DCM Corp., 2275 So. State Rd., Ann Arbor, Mich. 48104, 313/994-8481, and Bob Coyle, Hervic Electronics, 14225 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, Calif. 91423, 213/990-2777. Discussions with Cohen and Coyle indicate that these firms do not have the financial wherewithal or personnel to attend and staff booths or rooms at very many consumer or trade shows. By banding together, they hope to get past some of these hurdles.

While there are still firms joining the group, the following had shown their interest by press time:

American Audioport, Anglo-American Audio, Audio Analyst, Audio General, Audire, Burhoe, Cizek, Cross point, DB Systems, Delphi, Electro Research, Fidelity Research, Fulton, Great American Sound, Harold Beveridge, H&H, Innotech, Janis, Magnepan, Mobile Fidelity Sound, Oasis, Petroff Labs, Polk, Professional Systems Eng., PS Audio, Qysonic, Ram Audio, Rappaport, RH Labs, Sindell, Snell, Sumiko, Threshold, Van Alstine, Verion, and Win Labs. E.P. channel SX-1980 receiver supplanting the 250-watt-per-channel Marantz 2500. Pioneer introduced a total of four new receivers and make much of the fact that all of them have direct coupled amplifiers with low values of TIM. Needless to say, the "brute force" SX-1980 is replete with all manner of "whistle and bell" features in its FM and phono preamp sections, and we will survey them in due time in an Audio profile. The Marantz 2500 continues as top dog in that firm's line, which now includes several new lower powered units. Sansui has entered the lists with a 220-watt-per-channel receiver, the G22,000 which has a clever and unique feature in that the amplifier section is a separate module which can be physically removed from the main chassis. Aside from offering flexibility in installation, it is easy to envision Sansui making higher-powered modules available for the customer who wants to upgrade his unit. The Nikko people introduced a 175-watt per-channel receiver, while Kenwood eschewed the power race and concentrated on refinements in several new receivers. Hitachi introduced a $400.00 Class-G receiver, the SR-804, a 50-watt per-channel unit, which brings the firm's line-up of receivers in this class to three. Most of the other receiver manufacturers introduced units at various fairly hefty power ratings. One is bound to say that with the current profusion of high wattage receivers their prospective owners had better be careful in choosing the power-handling capacity of their speaker systems and pay strict attention to the fuse protection available for their speakers. It is odd too that higher and higher powered receivers continue to proliferate at a time when there is a trend toward higher efficiency vented speaker systems! Finally in respect to these superpower receivers, there is going to have to be a re-evaluation of their "bookshelf" mounting. It is a rare bookshelf that can handle a unit 20 inches deep and nearly 80 pounds in weight!

Preamps and Amps

Whatever the situation with receivers, new preamps and amplifiers continue to appear, and the WCES had a gaggle of new units. Cerwin-Vega were showing their new A-4000 power amplifier, rated at 350 watts per channel with less than 0.02 per cent THD. Price is expected to be $1200.00, with delivery anticipated in late January.

Phase Linear was on hand with technically updated and cosmetically restyled versions of their current line plus the Model 3000, a new preamp and control center, and a blockbuster amplifier, the Dual 500 which puts out 505 watts per channel at 8 ohms! The unit has an LED output metering system and an automatic high/low impedance operating mode, which is said to easily handle loads down to 2 ohms.

In spite of the massive output, THD is claimed to be only 0.09 per cent. Price is slated at $1395.00. Phase Linear was also showing the Model 6000, their entry into the delay line races, which offers initial delays of 15 and 60 mS adjustable to 20 and 90 mS via clock controls, five discrete delay paths, and reverberation delay adjustable from 200 mS to 4 seconds. Price is $599.95.

Nikko finally was showing its intriguing Alpha 5 Class-A power amplifier.

Rated at 100 watts per channel, like most of its Class-A brethren it is expensive, at an anticipated $3000.00 per copy. Hitachi was understandably making much of two new amplifiers which employ metal oxide silicon field effect transistors (MOS FETs) in place of conventional bipolar transistors.

The first of their kind in the U.S., the units feature ultra-low distortion. The HMA7500 puts out 75 watts per channel, while the HMA9500 is a 100-watt per-channel unit with THD of 0.005 per cent. Price on this unit is tagged at $1350.00. Mitsubishi was showing what they term a "dual monaural" power amplifier, the DA-A15DC, of 150 watts per channel, with THD of 0.01 per cent at rated power. An uncommonly handsome and beautifully finished unit, it has the unique facility of "docking" or mating with companion preamp, preamp/tuner, or power level meter.

Controls on these units then regulate the combined devices. Price of the amplifier is $630.00. A newcomer to the audio scene was Professional Systems Engineering, Inc. of St. Paul, Minnesota. They were showing their Studio One preamp, which uses all discrete Class-A circuitry and claims a phono S/N ratio of 90 dB below 10 mV, and the companion Studio Two power amp, an 80-watt-per-channel unit, all discrete direct-coupled, which features a slew rate of 100 volts per microsecond, making it one of the fastest amplifiers on the market. They claim TIM is virtually non-existent with a slew rate this fast. The BGW company is well known for its amplifiers, and their new Model 410 is particularly designed for the audiophile, rather than the professional market the firm has usually catered to up to now. The unit has an output of 200 watts per channel, with a claimed rise time of less than 3 microseconds and a slew rate of 40 volts per microsecond. As a consequence, TIM is said to be less than 0.02 per cent from 250 milliwatts to 200 watts. Output monitoring is provided via LED readouts. Winding up news of amplifiers is the most unusual Soundcraftsmen Amp-Qualizer Model EA5003. This is a combination of the Class-H, 250-watt-per-channel "variportional" amplifier introduced last year and a 20-band octave equalizer.

When one desires to use the unit as a straight amplifier, there is an equalizer defeat switch. Price is $849.00.

Tape Decks

In the area of tape machines, we have recently had new open-reel units from Revox and Pioneer, and now they are joined by the new Teac A6600, a 1-track, 2-channel, four-head machine featuring automatic reverse play and automatic repeat play. The A6600 has a two-capstan, servo-motor system, 3 3/4 and 7 3/4-ips speeds, front panel bias and EQ adjust, and mike/line mixing. Price is $1300.00. As I'm sure you know, for many years now Superscope has been handling Sony tape machines. As a result of a new arrangement, Sony is marketing the cassette machines, and to celebrate the event they have introduced three new front loading cassette machines, the top of the line TC-K72 at $500.00, the TC-K4 at $280.00, and the TC-K3 at $220.00. All feature Dolby noise reduction, and the deluxe TC-K72 has such niceties as a direct-coupled amplifier and full logic solenoid controls. While nothing much seems to be happening with the Elcaset format, Sony also introduced their new EL-4 and EL-7 Elcaset machines, both sporting three motors and three heads. Now that Sony is going to produce Elcaset tape blanks in their Alabama plant, we may see some action with the Elcaset format. The Sony PCM attachment for their Betamax was demonstrated again, but still no hard information as to availability. Hitachi introduced its latest three-head, front-loading stereo cassette machine, the D900. Using a phase-controlled servo motor, the wow and flutter is rated at 0.05 W rms, the unit features full-logic solenoid controls and double Dolby noise reduction to use with the three-head monitoring. Really interesting news is that the Mitsubishi PCM cassette deck would be available in late 1978 at a price tag of less than $2000.00. The Sharp RT3388 cassette deck with its versatile microprocessor can automatically locate up to 19 selections, has a direct memory function and electronic tape counting, and for all I know it will even clean your windshield! With all this one would expect it to cost more than $349.95. Lastly in the tape department, I have few details at press time but Discwasher was showing the Denon DR750 cassette deck among many new turntables, tonearms, amps, tuners' and moving-coil cartridges, transformers, and pre-preamps from that estimable Japanese firm. While this front-load, vertically oriented deck uses only two heads, the record/play head has a Sendust tip on a ferrite core. Frequency response for the DR750 using chrome tape is specified as 35 Hz to 18 kHz ±3 dB, while the preliminary price of $1565.00 makes it one of the most expensive decks presently on the market.

Speakers

As usual at any audio show, WCES included, there is no dearth of new loudspeakers. Thankfully, among all the numbing conformity of endless arrays of walnut boxes, there is usually something to titillate the jaded ear.

From all the reports I've had, Infinity Systems' new Quantum Reference Standard speaker system was far and away the best sound at the WCES. At $6500.00 per pair (gasp), they should be! For that kind of money, they should be physically imposing, and at 6 feet, 8 inches high by 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep, they are. Each speaker has three electromagnetic induction ribbon midrange units, which cover the range from 100 Hz to 4 kHz. These are aluminum ribbons bonded to ultra lightweight plastic membranes, suspended in an intense planar magnetic field. From 4 kHz up, electromagnetic induction tweeters, of similar design to the midrange units, but with samarium cobalt magnets are used. Some 13 of the tweeters are used facing forward in a vertical array, and seven of the tweeters face rearwards to balance the dipole radiation of the midrange drivers. Bass below 100 Hz is handled by a 15-inch, Watkins dual-voice-coil woofer, which must be driven by a separate 150-watt-minimum amplifier.

To tie all these elements together is an electronic crossover and equalization unit. To drive the system above 100 Hz, another 100-watt-minimum amplifier is required. In Las Vegas, a new Infinity amplifier, a tube/solid state hybrid, was used to drive all elements.

The frequency response claimed for the speaker system is plus or minus 2 dB from 18 Hz to 32 kHz. That should cover the frequency spectrum of any known program source and then some! I look forward to auditioning these unique speakers.

Another pleasing speaker was the new AR9 from Acoustic Research. This is a four-way system, using five drivers, and is designed to be floor standing, and its there where many speaker builders are placing tweeters on the rear and sides of their enclosures to increase high-frequency ambience, the AR folks have put their two woofers on the sides, which they say, reduces Doppler distortion. The other drivers are placed normally on the front of the enclosure, but are in a vertical line, and this helps give a more accurate stereo imaging. It's a pretty big speaker, better than 52 inches tall, but it's their new top of the line. The price is about $650.00.

A really far-out speaker was shown by Plasmatronics, Inc. of Albuquerque, New Mexico. You may remember the Ionivac "ozone" tweeter, and this system appears to work on a variant of that principle. Helium gas is used here and ionized with a built-in Class-A tube amplifier. The significant difference with this "plasma" driver is that it operates from as low as 500 Hz; a conventional bass driver is used for frequencies below 500 Hz. This surely is an exotic bird, and I'd like to hear it some day. ESS finally has their full range Heil "Transar" speaker in production at a reported price of $3250.00 per pair. What I've heard of the units thus far have not been under ideal conditions, and I'd have to live with them a while before I venture an honest opinion. Interesting -- they most certainly are! Reports are that this system sounded pretty good, though again this is a large economy size unit.

Space precludes mention of many other items, but I am intrigued with Analog and Digital Systems ADS 10 Acoustic Dimension Synthesizer. This combines a digital time delay unit, with built-in 100-watt-per-channel amplifier and two specially configured speakers for ambience or full amplitude rear channel generation. Price is said to be less than $1000.00.

(Source: Audio magazine, April 1978, Bert Whyte )

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