Rich Warren: Hearty endorsement of Desmond speakers

Sometimes sight and sound converge.

A couple of months ago, I mentioned Champaign craftsman Bruce Pea's Ars Harmonia Desmond speakers. Pea crafts these visually sublime speakers from solid wood, not pressboard or other wood substitutes.

He offers a choice of three-quarter-inch thick oak or cherry/maple, hand rubbed with linseed oil. The 31/2-inch hand-assembled full-range driver is imported, but the enclosure, packing materials and everything else involved are all sourced and purchased within the United States. He personally builds each speaker from start to finish.

Pea bevels the bass port in the rear and assembles the cabinet without fasteners, extra steps that improve appearance and acoustical properties.

You don't buy speakers to stare at or touch. A pretty face is only a means to an end: accurate, natural sound reproduction. Pea loaned me a pair of Desmonds for a month.

I listen at fairly close range. The Desmonds sound best when you're at least 6 feet away. At first, their brightness startled me. Once I grew accustomed to the Desmonds, the brightness became an attribute rather than a flaw.

They worked well for editing the live concerts recorded for one of my radio shows. Since I hear the voices live in the studio I know what they should sound like when reproduced. The Desmonds admirably bring those concerts back to life.

Using a single driver, designed to Pea's specifications, gives the sound coherence with a realistic stereo image. The Desmonds recreate the recording environment with clarity. Many speakers lack this essential dimension, or dimensions.

The Desmonds will fit almost anywhere, since they are only 7 inches wide by 7-1/4 inches deep by 12 inches high. However, there is a trade-off for their compact size. If you appreciate bass, you will need to add a subwoofer. The Desmonds don't do justice to acoustic bass and bass guitar, kick drums and tympani. Their range ends just below a bass voice.

The Desmond costs $1,495 a pair. You can find speakers with comparable or superior sound in that price range, but none that combine sound with exquisite beauty and craftsmanship. Not to mention they are made in Champaign.

Only because I already own a pair of less-attractive B&W CM1 speakers that cost me $1,200 five years ago am I returning the Desmonds rather than handing Mr. Pea a check. You can find the Desmond at arsharmonia.com. Glenn Poor's Audio-Video in Old Farms Shops displays, demonstrates and sells them.

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Panasonic announced this month it will cease manufacturing plasma TVs. It bet the farm on plasma technology a decade ago — but now fully jumps into the LCD fray.

Panasonic even hired many of Pioneer's engineers who were plasma experts when Pioneer left the TV business a few years ago. Samsung and LG still manufacture a limited number of plasma displays, but the technology's days are numbered.

The best plasma display still looks slightly better than the best LCD-LED technology, but plasma also has a couple of major drawbacks. One is that you can heat your viewing room with a plasma TV, which will never receive an Energy Star rating.

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Speaking of arresting TV pictures, after reading my accolades of the LG 4K Ultra-High Definition set at Glenn Poor's Audio-Video, Garrett Oostdyk invited me over to his store, Picture Perfect Sound at Duncan and Springfield, to view the new Sony 4K Ultra-High Definition projection TV system.

"Spiderman" leapt and spun across the jumbo screen and definitely snared me in his web. The picture looked as good, if not better, than any commercial screen I've seen in town, and the sound exceeded cineplex installations.

Of course, the Sony costs $15,000. That's a lot of popcorn. But to put it in perspective, in 2001 a 60-inch plasma display with a far inferior picture cost about the same. You can be sure in a year or so that Sony projector will cost a mere $10,000.

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

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