Luxury Technology Show Offers Glimpse of High End Gear

2 way 3D HDMI Switch

I love New York City and take every opportunity to visit, which is why I was thrilled when I received an invitation to the Luxury Technology Show. It was a one-night event aimed at the press as well as well-heeled early adopters, held in the heart of Manhattan on March 4, 2014. The exhibitors included a number of well-known A/V brands, and thanks to the intimate venue it was easy to converse with company reps. The event started with a press-only segment early in the day, followed by an evening session that was open to the public and featured free libations.

One of the reasons I wanted to attend the show was to get another look at the latest TVs from Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, and LG. The most impressive TVs I saw at CES 2014 in Las Vegas cost as much as a new car. I wanted to spend some more time with those impressive displays, and I figured the Luxury Technology Show could provide the first such opportunity.

Unfortunately, most of LG’s and Samsung’s newest TVs were not present—Samsung brought an 84-inch S9, but there’s nothing new about that TV, even if it continues to produce one of the best-looking UHD pictures—better than just about any other TV I’ve seen.

I wanted to see UHD OLED TVs, or at least a 21:9 ultra-wide LCD. I figured perhaps I’d catch a glimpse of Samsung’s transforming TV—the one that goes from flat to curved at the push of a button. What I found was quite a letdown: LG, Panasonic, and Samsung each had one TV at the show, all of which were placed together in a single booth dedicated to educating people about the benefits of 4K. That booth was not the show’s highlight.

Panasonic showed a 65-inch AX800 UHDTV, the reps wanted to talk about the TV’s smart features

I did have an interesting conversation with Panasonic’s reps. The company had a TC-65AX800U on display, which is a decent TV. Even so, it’s not a proper replacement for the reference-quality but discontinued ZT60 plasma. I asked about a prototype LED-lit LCD I saw at CES, which Panasonic touted for its plasma-like picture quality, and the company assured me that TV would appear as a real product this year. I also asked if Panasonic was working on lowering input lag on its TVs to appeal to gamers, and I was surprised to hear that the company is working with Nvidia to help make DisplayPort—which is included as an input on Panasonic’s UHD models—into the lowest-latency input possible.

When it came to bringing the goods to the show, Sony did a bit better than the other TV makers—the company demonstrated its 85-inch XBR-85X950B UHDTV, which features full-array backlighting that boosts perceived dynamic range. I asked if the TV would support a real HDR (high dynamic range) format such as Dolby Vision—unfortunately, the answer was no. Nevertheless, the X950B is a gorgeous TV that impressed me with how well it retained image quality when viewed from the side.
Sony also showed off its newest UHD projector, the VPL-VW600ES. However, there was too much ambient light in the space to appreciate its capabilities. I look forward to a proper demo in a light-controlled environment. (Scott Wilkinson got to see the VW600ES in a better environment; see his writeup of that examination here.)
Krell made my day by actually announcing new products at the show—a pair of preamps called the Illusion and Illusion 2. Unfortunately, there were no speakers connected to the new gear, so I’ll have to write about how it sounds some other time—I’m planning a trip to Krell’s headquarters this spring. The Illusion, featuring a separate external power supply, retails for $15,000. The Illusion 2, which adds digital inputs but eschews the external power supply, sells for $7000. One cool feature that’s new (for Krell) on a preamp is a headphone jack. That’s right, you can drive your favorite cans directly with a Krell preamp.
One of the things I looked forward to at the show was a chance to audition headphones made by Audeze. I kept reading about how wonderful the company’s planar-magnetic headphones sound and I wanted to experience them for myself. At the Audeze booth, Chief Marketing Officer Mark Harper hooked me up with an Alo Audio Studio Six amp ($5000) powering both a pair of Audeze LCD XC ($1800) and LCD X ($1700) headphones. Although I thought the music selection was bit limited, I figured I could work with The Beatles “Come Together” and Pink Floyd’s “Money.” I also listened to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis “Can’t Hold Us.”

I expected more from this fanciful and pricey Audeze/Alo Audio rig

I would love to say that listening to a $6800 headphone rig transported me to an exalted higher realm of audio nirvana. Instead, I heard well reproduced, full-range music. Frequency response was flat, the sound itself was accurate, there was nothing to criticize in terms of presentation. I suppose achieving flat and transparent sound is the whole point of true reference-quality headphones, but it just wasn’t as awesome a listening experience as I expected it to be—that goes for both the closed-black LCD XC and the open LCD X.

The problem is that my current headphones, Sony’s closed-back MDR-1R ($300) and Pioneer’s open-back SE-A1000 ($100), also do an outstanding job at playing music in a flat and transparent manner—even when driven by nothing more than a Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 running the Neutron Music Player app. I had my rig with me and was able to check out the same tracks on my Sony cans minutes after auditioning the Audeze. Despite this first impression, I’m willing to try a pair of Audeze again with a better playlist and a quieter environment—I’m just not going to put them on my wish list. My impression is that Audeze are the tricked-out Humvees of the headphone world; I prefer a nice open-top Jeep (Sony) or a dune buggy (Pioneer).

Velodyne is famous for its subwoofers, but it also makes a complete line of headphones. I checked out Velodyne’s latest flagship model, the vTrue. I loved them—they weighed much less than the Audeze cans, yet sounded full, detailed, and accurate. Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” came through loud, clear, and with the perfect amount of punch. While $400 is still a lot of money for headphones, at least with the vTrue you get headphones that are extremely comfortable and sound fantastic.
Kaleidescape was at the show demonstrating its relatively affordable media-management system, the Cinema One ($4000). The rep told me that the company is ready to move to UHD/4K as soon as there is an established industry format to work with, be it disc-based or a download. For now, Kaleidescape is the only company that offers downloads of the full Blu-ray version of movies, but there was no real news to be had.

Ultimately, I was glad I went to the 2014 Luxury Technology Show. It was small and intimate, which made it easy to chat with other attendees. I ran into a number of A/V industry stars such as home-theater designer Theo Kalomirakis, speaker designer Sandy Gross, and CNET’s David Katzmaier and Steve Guttenberg. Drinks and snacks were free, and I saw a few non A/V items that piqued my interest, such as an immersive computer workstation chair that is almost certainly designed for stock traders and evil masterminds. It provided the best photo-op of the evening—a picture of yours truly.