Top 10 Products from CEDIA 2013

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Top 10 New Stereo Products from CEDIA 2013

montage of audio images from CEDIA 2013
Brent Butterworth

I just got back from the CEDIA (Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association) Expo in Denver, where I saw dozens and dozens of new stereo products. The Expo began in the 1990s as a showcase for custom home theater and home automation products. But as the market's shifted to things like soundbars, smartphones and Sonos, we're seeing more manufacturers use the Expo to showcase home and portable stereo gear.

In this photo essay, I've rounded up my 10 favorite new stereo products from the show. A couple of quick notes:

ONE: I'm the Stereos Guide, so I cover stereos. If you're looking for the latest announcements in surround-sound gear, TVs, projectors and media servers from the CEDIA Expo, Robert Silva, About.com's Home Theater Guide, has all that for you on his page.

TWO: This is a totally subjective, highly personal list -- a grouping of the products I liked and that I think the readers of the Stereos page will be interested in. I'm sure many readers (and, of course, audio company presidents) will disagree with some of my picks.

THREE: I didn't include any of the products I reported over the last week because I wanted to show you new stuff. Check out the blog on my Home Page to read about those.

OK, let's go!

02
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#10: Bass Egg Verb Bluetooth Speaker

Brent Butterworth

The $99 Bass Egg Verb isn't like those other products that turn a box or tabletop into a speaker. The difference? It sounds good! That's because it's bigger and heavier, so it more effectively conveys its vibrations to the surface below. In the demo I heard at the CEDIA Expo, the Verb sounded an order of magnitude better than similar products I've heard. And when I say an order of magnitude, I mean it precisely. I measured 92 dB max output when the Verb was playing pop music, which is at least 10 dB (an order of magnitude!) more than I've measured from similar products.

03
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#9: Lyngdorf TDAI 2170 Digital Amp

Brent Butterworth

Peter Lyngdorf -- best known now as the founder of Steinway Lyngdorf -- is the man who pretty much put high-end digital/switching/Class D amplifiers on the map about 15 years ago when he introduced the TacT Audio digital integrated amplifier. Consider the TDAI 2170 a modernized version of the TacT. According to the company, it consumes less than half a watt at standby, but puts out 170 watts per channel. It's a fully digital amp: It takes digital signals from USB, Toslink optical and RCA coax connections, and doesn't convert them to analog until they hit the amp's output. Analog inputs are also provided. It also has Lyngdorf's RoomPerfect room acoustics compensation technology. The modular design costs $3,990, or $4,990 with all the options.

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#8: GoldenEar Technology In-Ceiling Speaker

Brent Butterworth

The GoldenEar Technology Invisa Series HTR 7000 in-ceiling speaker isn't new, but this kind of design is new to most people, and GoldenEar's booth at the CEDIA Expo marks the first time this speaker has been publicly demonstrated. (It's not easy to do an in-ceiling speaker demo in the temporary sound rooms typically used for trade shows.) The idea is that you mount the speakers in the ceiling, yet the angled positioning of the woofer and tweeter directs the sound at you so you don't so much notice it's coming from the ceiling. Listening to GoldenEar's demo, it took me maybe 10 seconds to forget I was hearing ceiling speakers. This $499/each speaker is a great option for people who want great sound but don't want to make space for conventional speakers.

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#7: Monoprice Wireless Audio System

Brent Butterworth

I don't think this Monoprice Wireless Audio System is quite new -- it's already on the company's website -- but it's new to me, and a lot of readers have asked me about wireless audio, and this thing's just $88.11! The receiver has a built-in 30-watt-per-channel stereo amp and a volume control. So you can use it to connect rear speakers for surround sound, or to pipe sound from your office computer into the living room, or whatever you want. A 3.5mm analog audio input on the receiver lets you connect your phone or tablet or computer directly.

06
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#6: Sonance AS38 & AS68 In-Ceiling Speakers

Brent Butterworth

The Sonance AS38 (seen in the inset at upper left) and AS68 in-ceiling speaker systems give full-range sound while staying nearly invisible. The subwoofer (the big black boxes seen at right) hides entirely in the ceiling and vents through a flexible pipe and a flange that looks like a lighting fixture. When the AS38's grille is attached, it too looks like a lighting fixture. Systems of this sort have been around for about a decade, but they've always been pretty low-end; these use the same carbon fiber/Rohacell woofer cones and ceramic dome tweeters found in Sonance's high-end VP series speakers.

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#5: AudioXperts Eva Blu Bluetooth Speaker

Brent Butterworth

In terms of sheer looks, no portable sound system at the CEDIA Expo came close to the AudioXperts Eva Blu Bluetooth speaker. It's made from solid bamboo, which I guess makes it eco but which would definitely make it much less resonant -- and thus much cleaner-sounding -- than a typical plastic Bluetooth speaker. Expensive at $399, but with two tweeters, two woofers and a passive radiator to reinforce the bass, it should pack more sonic punch than most compact Bluetooth speakers (most of which have a couple of full-range drivers with a passive radiator). Besides Bluetooth, it has a Toslink digital input and a 3.5mm analog input. A rechargeable battery provides power, and a carrying handle is flush-mounted into the back.

08
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#4: Monitor Audio Silver Series Speakers

Monitor Audio Silver 6 speaker
Brent Butterworth

The new Silver Series is the fifth generation of a line that launched in 1998. It still has Monitor Audio's trademark look -- slim shapes, metal drivers, pretty finishes -- but it's more refined than past models. The higher-end models now have 4-inch midrange drivers instead of the 6.5-inch midranges used previously; the smaller midranges allow broader dispersion of sound and much more natural voice reproduction. What most impressed me were the reasonable prices: $1,500/pair for the Silver 6 you see here, $2,000/pair for the Silver 8 and $2,500/pair for the top-of-the-line Silver 10. Bookshelf, center-channel and subwoofer models are also available.

09
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#3: Artison Nano 1 Subwoofer

Artison Nano 1 subwoofer
Brent Butterworth

The audio world has always longed for a way to get powerful bass from something the size of a shoebox. Maybe the Artison Nano 1 will at long last achieve this laudable goal. The $799 Nano 1 is just 7.5 by 8 by 9 inches, but it packs two long-excursion 6.5-inch woofers driven by a 500-watt amp. The MaxxBass digital algorithm helps make the Nano 1 sound bigger than it is. Buttons on the front let you select movie or music mode, and even adjust the slope (i.e., decibels per octave) of the subwoofer crossover. It's available this January in black or white. Larger Nano 2 and Nano 3 versions are on the way.

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#2: Definitive Technology Cube Bluetooth Speaker

Definitive Technology Cube Bluetooth Speaker
Brent Butterworth

"We know you're not going to get real stereo from a product like this, so we basically spray a lot of sound around." So said Paul DiComo, Definitive Technology's veteran PR guy, describing the $399 Cube Bluetooth speaker. It's a "tripolar" design, with five 1.5-inch drivers and an upward-firing 5.25-inch bass driver. There are left and right 1.5-inch drivers on opposite sides, plus left and right drivers in the center, plus a 1.5-inch driver for both channels pointing straight up. It sure sounded huge to me in the quick demo I got. While the unit is designed primarily to be powered by AC, it also has an internal battery that lets it run for about an hour on its own.

Incidentally, my favorite new speaker at the show was Definitive Technology's Mythos ST-L, a revised version of its Mythos ST tower speaker with all-new, DefTech-designed drivers and a bass section powered by a 1,200-watt internal amp. I was amazed by how much deep bass the ST-L delivered, by the fidelity of voices it reproduced and the huge soundstage it conjured. But at $4,998/pair, it's a little outside the range of what I normally cover here.

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#1: Cambridge Audio Minx M5 Desktop Audio System

Cambridge Audio Minx M5 desktop audio system
Cambridge Audio

Here's my totally subjective, highly personal pick for #1 new stereo product at the CEDIA Expo: the Cambridge Audio Minx M5 desktop audio system. Look what you get for $229: two great-sounding little satellite speakers, a small subwoofer, plus a wired controller with an elegant volume knob, USB digital and 3.5mm analog audio inputs, and a 3.5mm headphone output jack. It's everything you need for desktop sound -- just add laptop! And I bet it sounds better than most people's living room stereos.