Prices of components are listed at the bottom of this page in $US.
All pictures by Mike Harkins
Long ago are the days when CEDIA could be considered, among other things, a high-end audio industry show. Now it’s mostly for designers, sellers, and installers of various home and commercial electronics products that revolve around home automation—the Smart Home segment. Think automated curtains, lights, home security, and audio/video installations. As an industry trade organization, CEDIA provides its members with help in the forms of education, certification, and symposiums, such as this CEDIA Expo, which took place in downtown Dallas at the Kay Bailey Hutcheson convention center. The bright red Pegasus flying horse you see atop an oil derrick was situated right outside the venue.
CEDIA Expo happens every fall and offers, along with educational and certification opportunities, a huge number of exhibits by various suppliers to the industry. Among the diverse vendors were audio suppliers, some of which are well-known names in high-end audio.
A couple of years ago, when I mentioned, to a former audio magazine editor, my desire to go to the CEDIA Expo in Denver, he replied, “It’s not for us”. He was right. CEDIA is geared toward a 4% niche market for those who want (and can afford) to automate aspects of their homes, such as security, lights, heat, AV systems, etc… Little of this brings to mind audio quality, other than for maybe for home theatres, although I did find some high-quality audio at the show, as I’ll detail below.
This year’s event featured more than 300 exhibitors*. I wasn’t expecting to find many esoteric audio brands at the expo, and sure enough, they weren’t there. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t find a few things worth seeing and hearing.
Before most exhibits opened, I signed up to take part in several educational events presented by industry pros. There was an “Ask the Experts” conference on room acoustics I was especially curious about—room acoustics are often a weak spot in home audio. The main speakers—not loudspeakers, human speakers—at this event were Gerry Lemay of the Home Acoustics Alliance and Adam Pelz, an audio calibration expert. I won’t go into detail about what they discussed, but I will say that they’re both involved in tuning the sound of rooms for AV and home cinemas. Jerry even mentioned he was a “recovering audiophile,” whatever that is. The men’s work involves using software-based equalization to finetune a room’s acoustics. Some of the comments the men made caused me to raise an eyebrow, such as when they both agreed that the best room to treat acoustically would be rectangular with speakers placed near, but not against, one of the short walls. The reason for this, they said, was that a rectangular room with speakers in that position is easy to model, while irregularly shaped rooms are difficult to model. My take is that while their claim might apply to home cinema, I’m not sure most audiophiles would condone such practices. I think an irregularly shaped room might have better acoustics than any rectangular room to start with, and that, in itself, would probably alleviate the need to use fancy equalization to make the room sound ideal. But none of that was discussed by the experts.
I also attended the opening keynote address, sponsored by Kaleidescape, a company which produces cinema and video storage and playback devices. Many of the elite in the AV business prefer to own or rent their 4K movies outright as this provides better video and audio reproduction than streaming can offer.
The following day, I attended what was called a “Deathmatch” session on audio networking. This turned out to be something of a misnomer. I won’t go into detail about what was discussed there, but suffice to say there was neither talk of high-end audio, nor were there matches between people to the death.
I heard nothing at CEDIA that wasn’t in some form digital. The only purely analog device I saw was a turntable, which was on static display. I saw no tube equipment, and most amplifiers were class-D types, with a few (rail switching) class-Gs interspersed. These might be anathema to some audio enthusiasts, but there’s no doubt that class-D amps are better-sounding than ever, and have very low distortion and a high signal-to-noise ratio. Several listening exhibits in enclosed rooms did a reasonable job of mitigating outside noise. Nearly all included a video system to showcase some sort of Dolby Atmos or similar surround sound system. The only exception I found at the show was MBL, which had no video setup.
The show was noisy, with many exhibitors playing their subs at high volume. To be in the exhibit area was to hear a constant rumble of low frequencies on top of the constant drone of human voices. This is not a good listening environment for audiophiles. And if anyone thinks disco is dead, I heard plenty of the same rhythm evident from the days Donna Summers sang her heart out during the ‘70s.
But there were a few pearls. I was invited to a demonstration by manufacturer Perlisten, whose speakers were on static display in the main exhibit hall. Fortunately, Perlisten also had an offsite listening room which I visited.
Our hosts were Perlisten’s founders and partners, Dan Roemer and Lars Johansen. Their room featured a system with a Benchmark AHB2 amp, a pair of Perlisten S5m monitors, and a Perlisten subwoofer R212. The room was quiet and set up in a conventional manner, but a low but persistent ground loop hum interfered with quiet parts of the music. That said, I had never heard Anette Askvik’s song “Liberty” played better. The vocals were superb, and the baritone sax played with such realism, you could almost reach out and touch it.
Playing one of my favorite test tracks, Patrick Doyle’s “The Ghost” from the film score, Hamlet, demonstrated how good the speaker-sub combination was. The bass drum on that track is hard to reproduce with impact, but the sub managed to hit the fundamental without overemphasis. Solo instruments imaged in a spatially realistic manner and had perfect timbre. “Ghost” is a particularly good track for evaluating imaging. Despite the hum in the quiet parts, I felt this Perlisten combination was about as good as it gets.
I’d heard the same tracks the prior week on the new Wilson Alexia V speakers, which were superbly set up in a New York listening room. Performance-wise, I’d give them the edge over the Perlisten combination but, at 1/3rd the Wilson’s price, the Perlistens may be the better deal. The Wilsons, of course, didn’t need a sub to get down to the very deep bass that was evident in Bela Fleck’s “Flight of the Cosmic Hippo”, which I heard on both systems, albeit a week apart.
Another well-known high-end brand at CEDIA Expo was MBL, which had an all-MBL system centered around its Radialstrahler 101E Mk2 speakers. The omnidirectional nature of MBL speakers spreads the sound around the room for a more immersive listening experience. After a brief listen, I concluded that the MBLs do a fine job of providing accurate stereo imaging with a broad soundstage and plenty of ambience. MBL’s room was smaller than its room at Florida Audio Fest 2019, but the Radialstrahler still stood out as remarkably detailed and transparent. They do need adequate room to breathe, though, and these were spaced about 4 feet from the walls.
Danish speaker company DALI was also at the show, but had no listening room. The company had a one-piece static display of the new DALI KORE, its new flagship loudspeaker, which looked rather imposing at 5½ feet high and weighing 160 kg, or roughly 352 lbs. Designed with musical dynamics in mind, the KORE is built entirely in Denmark and employs a die-cast aluminum section for the midrange and tweeter assembly, proprietary composite parts, and a resin cement base. It features a curved wood cabinet made by a local Danish furniture master. Each speaker has a complement of five drivers, including twin differentially filtered 11½ inch bass drivers, a 7-inch midrange driver, and an EVO-K Hybrid tweeter comprising a 35mm soft dome tweeter and a 55mm x 10mm ribbon element. I certainly would have liked to hear this monster play, but alas, that will have to wait for another show or dealer showroom experience.
Bang & Olufsen is another well-known Danish company. It had a lovely all-B&O home theater setup, but more intriguing to me was the pair of speakers that stood just outside its room: the $115,000.00 Beolab 90. The company wasn’t shy about turning these up to intense volume, flooding the open area with a lot of beautiful noise. Such a non-listening room environment doesn’t give one a taste of an in-home experience, but it did show that B&O’s components can image very well and produce excellent overall sound reproduction.
Canadian company Totem was demonstrating their speakers in a home theater environment. The speakers were diminutive in size compared to the DALI or the B&O behemoths. Still, they produced substantial bass response when played in stereo mode even without the use of a subwoofer.
Devialet, a French brand known for its compact but gigantic-sounding powered speakers, set up an AV room in 7.0.4 sound. The “0” in the designation indicates that no subs were used. Devialet says its speakers are full-range and don’t require separate subs. Its Phantom I and Phantom II models reminded me of an elongated cyclops head, with a tweeter for the one eye, and large semi-spherical pistonic elements for ears. The ear pistons serve as bass drivers which move in and out with large excursions. This seems to be the trick to getting big bass from such a small enclosure. Long live cyclops!
There were also plenty of small active desktop-size speakers. One such speaker was the tiny BluOS-equipped PSB Alpha iQ streaming speakers, which put out a much bigger sound than their size would suggest. They’re offered in a variety of colors and can play from multiple sources. They’re also powerful; their internal class-D amps can produce 180 watts of power.
Other items of interest to audiophiles included the huge bank of McIntosh gear on display. The company still maintains its design and production facilities in Binghamton, NY, but it was recently sold to Highlander Partners of Dallas, Texas.
Classé showed off both their Delta amp, in both stereo and monoblock versions, and matching preamp. Adcom and Marantz exhibited several of their preamps / streamers, AV processors, receivers, and class-G amps, but most were not in use, and I doubt one could draw any firm conclusions about their sound quality in the highly noisy environment they were in.
CEDIA seems to have fully recovered from its COVID-induced coma of the previous two years. But overall, it’s like my former editor said—CEDIA is not a show for serious audio enthusiasts. It’s a noisy event, and there was nothing there for tube lovers, vinyl aficionados, or for those looking for more exotic audio products. There also wasn’t much in the way of high-end audio cables or accessories. Still, I was happy to see the few high-end brands that did show up and are still making fine-sounding products. Some of my experiences were first-rate. One of them was in the listening room hosted by Perlisten, a company whose speakers aren’t priced in the stratosphere, but deliver true high-end sound. Larger manufacturers like Marantz, Bowers & Wilkins, and Classé were all exhibiting audio products with high appeal to those of us who relish the best in audio reproduction. So, I say, play on, CEDIA!
- Denon DP400 Turntable
- Perlisten S5m Standmount Speaker
- Perlisten R212s Subwoofer
- Benchmark AHB2 Power Amplifier
- MBL Radialstrahler 101E MK II r
- MBL N15 Monoblock Power Amplifier
- MBL N11 Preamp
- MBL N31 CD-DAC
- DALI KORE Loudspeaker
- Bang & Olufson Beolab 90
- Totem Kin Play Tower Speakers
- Devialet Phantom I powered loudspeaker 103 dB model
- Devialet Phantom I powered loudspeaker 108 dB model
- Devialet Phantom I powered loudspeaker 108 dB “Opera de Paris” model
- Devialet Phantom II powered loudspeaker 95 dB model
- Devialet Phantom II powered loudspeaker 98 dB model
- Devialet Phantom II powered loudspeaker 98 dB “Opera de Paris” model
- PSB Alpha iQ powered loudspeaker
- Classé Delta Stereo Amp
- Classé Delta Monoblocks
- Classé Delta Stereo Preamp
- $6,495 / each without stand
- $84,500 / pair
- $53,500 / each
- $115,000 / pair
- $2,250 / pair with built-in amplification
- $2,300 / each
- $3,300 / each
- $3,900 / each
- $1,300 / each
- $1,500 / each
- $1,900 / each
- $1,499 / pair
- $25,000 / pair
ADDENDUM POSTED BY CEDIA POST-SHOW:
Alpharetta, GA (October 11, 2022) – CEDIA Expo 2022 announces 15,497 total registrants with a verified attendance of 11,946 industry professionals and 317 exhibitors participated in CEDIA Expo 2022 from September 29 to October 1, 2022, in Dallas, Texas. Over 40% of attendees were first-time attendees, demonstrating our continued commitment to connecting exhibitors with new customers.