Rich Warren: Checking out the latest stuff always eye-opening
When the mediocre sound of MP3s overwhelms me and poor quality Web videos tire me, I head over to Glenn Poor's Audio-Video in the Old Farms Shops in Champaign to recalibrate. That usually means a semiannual visit.
Proprietor Geoff Poor always infectiously waxes ecstatic about new products during my visits, such as the one at the end of August.
Poor might convince me to eat my words printed here early this year. I proclaimed the overkill of the new 4K ultra-high-definition TVs, with their resolution four times better than existing HDTV. The best current HDTVs look so good and are so affordable we don't need anything better, unless you are viewing a giant screen 60 inches or larger.
Last winter, Poor demonstrated the LG 80-inch 4K TV using conventional Blue-ray HD DVDs. It was impressive but frightfully expensive at about $15,000. Recently, Poor demonstrated the new 55-inch LG55A9700 4K TV. Once again, he displayed it with a Blu-ray HD disk.
This new 55-inch set is not three-dimensional, but the picture showed incredible depth. I felt like I could reach in and grab objects behind the screen. The reproduction of the movie "Braveheart" truly stunned me.
4K allows sitting very close to the screen. Poor seated me about 3 feet away, which is closer than ideal for conventional HDTV. The smooth, deep, fluid picture caused no eye-strain or other close viewing artifacts.
Compared to the $15,000 80-inch LG 4K TV, encouragingly, this set lists for $7,000, but Poor offers it for $6,000. That's still twice the price of the best HDTV 55-inch sets but affordable compared with the 80-inch 4K TVs.
Lack of real 4K movies and videos detract from the true potential and appreciation of 4K sets. Six months after their introduction, no standard exists for 4K disks, which can be encoded on Blu-ray. Sony offers a hard drive with 4K movies for its customers, but that hard drive only works with Sony TVs and limits the movies to those from Sony Pictures. These new 4K TVs splendidly up-convert existing Blu-ray HD disks, but it's not the same as viewing genuine 4K material.
Then Poor walked me over to an unassuming display area of his store, not his ultimate audio room, to hear a pair of new, small speakers. Poor, having been in the audio business about as long as I've been writing about it, which is decades, admitted his skepticism about "homemade" speakers. I share his view.
Then he pointed to a pair of exquisitely crafted speakers made in Champaign, just a bit larger than the height and width of an iPad. The Ars Harmonia Desmond, crafted from real oak or cherry/maple timber, looks like the ornate handcrafted boxes found in artisan craft shops. The front baffle contains a single custom designed and manufactured 31/2-inch full-range coated paper speaker driver.
In today's world of exotic speaker materials and multiple drivers in every possible configuration, this looked a bit anemic. Until Poor started playing music through them. They created cognitive dissonance in mind, but not my ears. Considering their size and simplicity, they sounded amazing. They lacked deep bass, but the rest of the spectrum was a natural delight.
Admittedly, Poor powered them from high-quality, expensive amplifiers and an audiophile CD player. The stereo image was the audio equivalent of that 4K TV picture. Most sound experts consider a "point source" as an ideal radiator in a loudspeaker. These speakers come close to matching the ideal.
There's no grille over the speaker to interfere with its sound. It needs no cover considering the beauty of the natural oiled and waxed wood finish.
Building each pair of Desmonds requires 11 days, so you won't find them on display anywhere except at Glenn Poor's Audio-Video. You'll have to wait to buy these $1,500-a-pair speakers. Ars Harmonia offers a loan evaluation program. You can learn more at http://www.arsharmonia.com.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at email@example.com.