CEDIA 2011: Audio Highlights

Most audio vendors at last month’s CEDIA Expo ventured beyond their comfort zones into areas that two years ago would have been considered a stretch for them. Soundbars, wireless streaming devices and headphones—all fueled by the growth of tablets and smartphones—are now a requirement for even the highest of high-end suppliers. In other trends, on-wall, in-wall and box speakers have become stealthier than ever, with svelte design as important as sound quality.

Here’s a rundown of what was saw and heard at the booths and press conferences:

Sony introduced two limited-distribution, Internet-streaming ES A/V receivers that feature an activity-based user interface and a setup wizard. The STR-DA5700ES ($1,999) and STR-DA3700ES ($1,099) include Faroujda 1080p upscaling and networking options as well as built-in apps for iOS and Android devices (both ship in November). Sony also demonstrated its Apple AirPlay-compatible SA-NS500 Wi-Fi network speaker ($399, November), which works with wireless streams from a computer or Sony Blu-ray player.

Pioneer unveiled two AirPlay-compatible products in its Music Tap system line, under the Pioneer and Elite brands. Pioneer also presented five new Elite A/V receiver models—VSX-40 ($450), VSX-50 ($600), VSX-51 ($700), VSX-52 ($900) and VSX-53 ($1,100).

GoldenEar Technology presented the Aon 2 and Aon 3 compact bookshelf monitors. They incorporate the same High Velocity Folded Ribbon high-frequency radiator technology used in the company’s Triton towers.

KEF, celebrating its 50-year anniversary, shone a spotlight on its $30,000/pair Blade tower speaker. The company touted the Blade as the world’s first single apparent source loudspeaker. The cabinet is of glass-reinforced composite material, and the Uni-Q driver array features a “tangerine” waveguide said to widen high-frequency dispersion.

Klipsch, for its 65-year anniversary, highlighted the new 17-inch-wide AirPlay-enabled G-17 AIR speaker system, which features a mini version of the company’s signature Tractrix horn drivers. Also on view was the new 15-inch SW115 front-firing sub, which is compatible with an optional wireless kit that plugs into the back. Three new headphones also debuted, including the Mode M40, the company’s first noise-cancelling models ($349, Nov.), and the Android-compatible S4A, featuring a single-button microphone

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