Rich Warren: Checking out the latest in sight and sound

Rich Warren: Checking out the latest in sight and sound

A couple of times a year, Geoff Poor zaps an enthusiastic email into my inbox suggesting I visit his shop, Glenn Poor's Audio-Video, in the Old Farm Shops at Kirby and Mattis avenues in Champaign. For Poor, his business is as much a passion as a profession. I accepted Poor's invitation a couple of weeks ago.

He immediately seated me in front of the new LG 55-inch 4K OLED TV. Organic light emitting diodes (or OLED) may be the future of home video displays. OLED solves several problems inherent in conventional LED-illuminated LCD displays, but until now have been prohibitively expensive. OLED displays reproduce true black, similar to discontinued plasma technology. OLED reproduces a wider range of colors than standard LCD displays, although depending upon program source, this may be overkill.

My demonstration of the LG OLED set suffered from a lack of true 4K source material, so I viewed very high quality Blu-ray discs. The new LG certainly impressed me with the depth of its color and deep blacks. Last year at this time, Poor displayed one of the first LG 4K LCD for about $5,000. This new OLED model costs about $5,499.

Not to steal the thunder, but on the wall a few feet away was an LG 49-inch LED illuminated LCD TV priced at $1,299. Actually, Poor said it was specially priced but preferred I not print that price. Even at $1,299, it's a good bargain. I spent $3,000 on my Sony 46-inch LCD TV a few years ago.

More and more people listen to music from their computer, especially laptops, with terrible speakers. Poor demonstrated a near audiophile desktop audio system using an NAD 3020 integrated amplifier with a built-in, high-quality, digital-to-audio converter (better than found in most computers) for $499 connected to a pair of Magnepan Mini desktop speakers along with a ribbon bass panel (commonly, if inaccurately, called a subwoofer) for $1,490. The Magnepan Minis are about an inch deep and smaller in size than a sheet of letter paper. Forgive the hyperbole, but this little system reproduced phenomenal sound quality for its size. Magnepan, based in Minnesota, makes some of the best speakers on the planet. This combined system turns a laptop into a semiprivate concert hall without the constraints of headphones.

For those who still enjoy a two-channel stereo system, Poor demonstrated two pairs of speakers that offer great sound for people without a great income. The Cambridge Audio Aero 2 compact speakers sell for $499 a pair. They're about the size of the standard iPad, but several inches deeper. They sound far better than most of the "cheap" speakers lining the shelves of the big-box stores. The next step up are the Focal 706 speakers at $750 a pair offering slightly more depth and modestly wider frequency response. Both the Cambridge Audio and Focal reproduce a very realistic stereo image. You can upsize the Focal speakers for more bass if your budget permits.

Power these speakers with the $379 NAD C316 BEE integrated amp, which again is better than many of the better known names. NAD has been around for 40 years, so it's not a transient company. NAD also offers the matching C516 BEE CD player for $299, for those still playing CDs.

Glenn Poor's Audio-Video excels in turntables. With the resurgence of vinyl, the store shows a wide array of quality turntables including phono cartridge from $400 and up. It baffles me why people treasure LPs only to play them on inferior equipment.

Poor showed me the impressive, bright red Thorens TD 203 turntable with nearly frictionless uni-pivot arm and cartridge for $999. This pure audiophile turntable extracts superb sound from LPs for a reasonable price. Thorens, a Swiss company, has been building turntables since you had to wind them up.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

-