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7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

#4 Surround Sound System

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

When it comes to listening to audio, like real estate, its all about location. Where do you want to be? Right in the middle of it. To accomplish that, every audiophile needs a truly versatile surround sound system. Whether you want to lose yourself in a concert-like experience, or watch movies that sound like you are live on set, the critical selection of your equipment can make the difference between a system that sounds good, or one that blows your mind.

There are a number of packaged systems that are sold at big box stores as a unit that are supposed to be “good enough” to do the job. However, the problem is, a surround sound system has several critical elements - and as it turns out, the recommended solution for each of these elements do not emirate from the same source.

The critical elements of a surround sound system are divided into 2 sections. Section one includes the AV Receiver, the Surround Processor, and the Power Amp. Section two includes all the speakers, including Front Left and Right speaker, Center Channel Speaker, Surround Speakers, the Subwoofer, Back Surround Speakers, and Front Height and Width speakers.

Each of these sections has a pair of leading contenders that are each very capable of doing the job at state of the art levels.

For section one, the co-kings-of-the-hill are the Marantz SR8012 and the Concert AVR-9.

Marantz SR8012
The Marantz SR8012 is a whopping 11.2 channel AV amp with 8 HDMI inputs with support for HEOS wireless multi-room and network streaming. The video is processed with a true 4k and HDR passthrough and can feed up to 3 simultaneous video outputs. But lets talk about audio. To start with, not a lot of receivers can deliver 11 channels of sound. But when each of those channels boasts a power output of up to 205 watts, thats an entirely new level of performance. Let that sink in for a minute. Thats 2.25 kW of audio power you can pump into your home theater via your chosen speakers. That would move enough air to create a perceptible breeze in your viewing room!

The audio playback formats supported are wide, and dynamic firmware allows for upgrades to new formats with the same hardware in the future. Currently, they include FLAC, WAV, and ALAC formats are supported over the network or via USB source. The system is also pre-configured to accept Apple Airplay and Bluetooth.

The SR8012 offers Immersive 3D sound with effects from overhead – Dolby Atmos (up to 7.1.4 or 9.1.2), DTS:X™, and Auro-3D built-in. But in addition to fantastic clarity and sound quality, the SR8012 also gives you a great deal of control over the properties of your sound. Audyssey MultEQ XT32, LFC, Sub EQ HT, Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ are all at your fingertips making you the “audio director” of everything you feed through your system.

Audio Control AVR-9
This AV beast is a 7-channel 200 watt per channel AV receiver with 4 Dolby Atmos preamp outputs. It can be used with its built in amplification, or combined with the Audio Control 2-channel Bijou 600 or Ralto 600 standalone amps. The AVR-9 has 7 HDMI 2.0a inputs, 4 COAX SPDIF and 2 Toslink digital audio inputs, 6 stereo analog inputs, USB input, and an Ethernet connection.

It is compatible with leading control systems such as Control4, Crestron, RTI, and Savant. In addition, the AVR-9 comes with the new ‘Dirac Live for AudioControl’ room correction system - one of the most effective and flexible room calibration systems on the market today. The surround modes include Dolby Atmos; Dolby True HD; Dolby Digital Plus; Dolby Digital EX; Dolby Digital 5.1; Dolby Pro Logic IIx; DTS-HD Master Audio and the system is DTS:X™ ready.

If you choose to use an external amplifier (like the Bijou 600), you can seamlessly split and control a single 200 watt channel into 2 x 200 watt channels (at 4 ohms), or stack it to a 400 watt mono block to power an even larger individual speaker.

Which one of these solutions is best? Well, that depends. If you need 11 channels, its a no brainer, you go with the one that has 11 channels! On the other hand, the Dirac Live room correction system is really impressive, and the way it is integrated into the Audio Control AVR-9, is pretty seamless. If you are working with a HEOS multi-room audio distribution system, then the Marantz is likely going to be your selection due to its built-in Heos networking. The point is, both systems are top of the line and have their advantages over the other, but in reality, its the AV equivalent of picking between a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. There aren’t too many complaints about either one.

The Speaker Sets
Now, for the output section - KEF or TOTEM. Once again, we are in a situation that is an embarrassment of riches. We won’t attempt to go over every potential combination of surround sound speaker sets from these two giants of the industry. Even if we did, the speaker selection is really dependent on the room they are to be installed in. Suffice it to say that these two contenders each have several full lines of state of the art delivery systems for the carefully crafted sound you are now feeding them.

TOTEM offers a complete line of elegant surround sound speakers for rooms of all sizes, including Bookshelf, Floor Standing, On-Wall, Architectural, along with the appropriate Center Channels and Subwoofers for each. Regardless of the mounting preference, each comes with the unique TOTEM realistic 3D sonic experience and Industry unique Borosilicate dampening.

Likewise KEF provides a stunning variety of speaker designs that could be confused for modern art exhibits. Whether you are looking for tall, floor-standing speakers like the Muon or Blade / Blade 2 series, or the compact LS50, or the retro-industrial style Reference and R Series, KEF consistently delivers new, patentable technologies to your listening experience. The Uni-Q point source driver array, the “tangerine” segmented waveguide, the brilliant Z-Flex surround…the list goes on.

The options are in fact so numerous that it is best to consult a professional audio design engineer to custom prepare the speaker selection for your target room. If you live in the Huntsville / Madison / Decatur Alabama area, AV Enthusiast can consult with you and present the ideal setup to match your specific listening room and AV priorities.

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

#5: Doorbird Video Doorbell

doorbird Logo RGB tmdIf you live in Huntsville Alabama or Madison Alabama, you may be under the impression that security is not the biggest deal. After all, we are in the deep south where people look out for each other and there is still a sense of community, so our homes are relatively safe, right? Well, the truth is that according to neighborhoodscout.com the crime rate in Huntsville is 54.87 crimes per 1000 people. While this is better than Birmingham, of course (82.96 crimes per 1000 people), it is nearly twice the crime rate per capita of New York City (19.22 crimes per 1000 people). In fact, Huntsville is considered by this crime-stat-watching site to be safer than only 5% of the cities in the entire country. Who knew?

What does this mean for you? Lock your doors and windows at night, and get someone to watch your house when you are away. Of course, that’s a tall order, right? Who do you know that you would trust to watch your home while you are away? Well, how about YOU!? That’s exactly what the Doorbird Video Doorbell system allows you to do.

d21ikh on wallThe Doorbird can be set to alert you when someone approaches your door, and allows you to interact with the approaching person(s) through both video and audio to let them know they're being watched - all from your smartphone or tablet from anywhere in the world where you have internet access. In addition, the Doorbird can allow you to open and close your garage door remotely to allow package delivery services, dog walkers, housekeepers, or other expected visitors access remotely. To take it to the next level, the Doorbird also can be interfaced with a compatible SmartLock system to control access through the main doorways of the home as well.

face recoginitionStill not enough control for you? No problem, the DoorBird can be integrated seamlessly with a compatible whole house surveillance systems as a standard surveillance channel. With its IP based communication system - the DoorBird Video doorbell system allows you to keep close watch on your most valuable asset no matter where you are, without fear of it being disabled by a more sophisticated criminal.

Even the most sophisticated burglars who might use an illegal (but yet available) cell-phone system jammer to disable many cell-phone based alarm systems will be useless against the DoorBird. Because the DoorBird is connected to your cell phone via internet, rather than cell network, such a countermeasure would be a complete waste of time. In short, the DoorBird Video Doorbell is, in our opinion, an essential part of a well rounded whole house surveillance system.

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

#6: Heos Speakers!

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

For multi-room audio, its lonely at the top. There are only a select few brands that stand out above the rest in ease of use and wireless interconnectivity. While it may change in the near future, for now you are essentially looking at Sonos and Heos. In our humble opinion, the new line of Heos multiform speakers is currently holding a slight advantage, though the competition is quite close. The real choice to make though, is which speaker to place for each room you are targeting.

The entire HS2 line can be controlled through your smartphone or tablet, and whether you are looking for different audio streams for each room, or a nice balanced stream to flood the entire house with, the digital interface is easy to control. Here is a rundown of the properties of each, so you can match them to the needs of your target rooms.

Heos 1. The Biggest Little Speaker in Your Home

Heos Line 02
The Heos 1 looks a lot like a well fashioned computer speaker. Its angular face gives it an aesthetically futuristic appearance with a sort of understated air of sophistication. The sound produced features advanced DSP and custom EQ, providing a natural smooth tone with no hard edges, which is unusual for a speaker of its size.

The design excellence however does not stop at the sound quality, or even at the aesthetics. Its available Go Pack allows for rechargeable battery operation. As you know, here in Huntsville or Guntersville, Alabama we all like to host outdoor parties by the pool in the summer. With the Heos Go Pack, you can carry your Heos 1 speakers out to the patio for your poolside party, and then return them to their permanent place of residence in your office, bedroom, or bathroom. In fact, the designers even took into account the potential issue with humidity that is often overlooked in an indoor-outdoor speaker.

For those who cannot be convinced that wireless audio does not compromise latency (we’ve seen no evidence that it does in this case), there is a 20th century style ethernet port available for hard-wiring to your network LAN. In fact, if you want to go really old-school, there is a 3.5mm minijack for connection to a computer or other auxiliary audio source.

All in all, this “Little Speaker That Could” is a fantastic option for any enclosed space or office application.

Heos 3. The Speaker You Want To Feature
Designed for vertical or horizontal orientation, the Heos 3 takes its aesthetics really seriously. Rather than hiding it behind flowers or other furniture, you might display it on its own pedestal-table to be appreciated by guests. Like the entire HS2 line, the interface is remarkably easy to manage from your tablet or smart phone. It links seamlessly with the rest of the HS2 speakers in the home through the free IOS or Android app.

It creates an ambient sound that is far bigger than its footprint. To accomplish this, the Heos 3 combines a dual channel class D amplifier with a pair of full range drivers. If course, to feed the sound to the speaker, you can use WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, auxiliary input, or ethernet connections. This small area speaker is perfect for mid-sized rooms and high resolution sound as well as any speaker in its class.

Heos 5. Where Elegance Meets Performance

Heos Line 01
This is really the flagship of the Heos line. Its a mid-sized speaker with an enormous high quality sound. Its iconic wedge shape gives it quite the “conversation piece” status, and its soft blue power light combines with its futuristic design to conjure memories of what 80s movies thought the 21st century would look like.

We won’t bore you going over all the same inputs and control systems that we have mentioned before with the other Heos products, but it goes without saying, they are all there with the Heos 5 as well. The main advantage of this more powerful system is the 5 driver system. It uses 2 precision tweeters and 2 mid-woofers along with a passive radiator.

The ideal target for this speaker system includes medium to large dining rooms or bedrooms, and large offices and living rooms. This speaker is so good, even on the lower register, I would be tempted to use it for rooms too small.

Heos 7. Have Speaker - Will Party
There are, of course, many rooms that are too big for this speaker. They call those rooms football stadiums. But as long as you aren’t trying to replace the sound system on the runways of Huntsville Airport, or in Madison Stadium, This stylish but powerful speaker moves enough air to fill even the largest rooms with high resolution sound. The drive units include 2 tweeters, 2 mid-woofers, and 1 woofer.

Essentially, the Heos 7 is a larger, more powerful Heos 5, and yes one on one it is a better single speaker option for a very large room. However, in our opinion, the superior choice would be to pair 2 Heos 5 speakers together to tackle that same target space. The pair of Heos 5s would only cost a total of $200 more, and would give you so many more options for panning and true stereophonic presentation of your audio. Not to mention, the pair of 5s will produce more total decibels of sound than will the single Heos 7.

In any case, if you are dead set on a single speaker per room, the Heos 7 will certainly get the job done in anything short of a full-size ballroom.

Putting It All Together
So now you have all the speakers placed in all the rooms of your house, and its time to put it all together. For that, the Heos Drive is in a word, freaking amazing. This 4 Zone Whole Home Audio Distribution System has a Class D 8-channel amplifier and features Dolby Digital with stereo downmixing.

Each of the 4 zones in this multi-room amplifier has a pre-amp outputs. The integrated switching system has optical, coax digital, and analog inputs - a total of 8 in all. Any of these input channels can be routed to any zone, and each zone contains a port for connection to an external drive.

This thing is rack-mountable, and it has a super-quiet cooling fan to maintain long term reliability. The Heos Drive can handle any mix of speaker configurations, and of course, can be switched on the fly from one to another. Its rated at 60 watts per channel, and can be bridged for single channel high-power output at 130 watts.

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017

#7: Headphones!

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017

Christmas is right around the corner, and now its time for everyone’s favorite brain teaser…What to put under the tree this year? Of course you can go to the old standbys, but why not make this year different - something you will be able to enjoy over and over again for years to come? To this end, here are some suggestions (in no particular order) that might make this Christmas season stand out among the memories you and your family are building together.

#7 Headphones!
In a world where everyone’s iPhone ear-buds are hanging out of their back pocket, its easy to forget that there was a time when manufacturers strove to make headphones that provided a serene audio experience you could lose yourself it, and ALSO comfortable to wear. Well, KEF- Porsche Design Labs still holds to those values and makes a complete line of such high quality headphones, and we have taken a look at some of them for your benefit.

KEF - Porsche Design Labs Motion One Earbuds
Today, we want to bring our music with us everywhere. On a quick trip to the store, jogging through the neighborhood, on the daily commute, even on long distance family vacations. But just because we are on the go, doesn’t mean that we want to sacrifice high fidelity sound. The KEF Motion One Earbuds offer all of this in a tiny, comfortable to wear, high-style package that you will be proud to wear.

To achieve this masterpiece of miniaturization, KEF combines precision engineering with high-grade materials. The stylish silicone neckband allows for delivery of exactly the audio balance you are looking for, whether its rich base, precision treble, or wide open midtones. The high-powered embedded antenna ensures accurate transmission of every digital sound.

You can broadcast from your smartphone, tablet, or computer to these headphones via Bluetooth Qualcom aptX, or connect directly with the included high-quality wired connection. Afraid of getting caught in the rain while jogging? No problem. The KEF Motion One earbuds are certified water resistant. We aren’t saying to go swimming in them, but getting rained on or splashed with water won’t cause any problems.

The advantages of these beauties over other earbuds on the market are substantial and complete - going all the way down to storage and ergonomics. They have a pivoting earpiece that helps you comfortably move with the earbuds in, and the backs of the buds are magnetized so they will stick together when not in use for easy storage. The shells are ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in the ears so that the wearer may actually forget they are wearing them after a while. This is due to the ultra-soft tipped silicone covers embedded on the tips of each piece.

These headphones are powered, so they will need to recharge, but they can offer up to 10 hours of play time between charges. Charging can be performed through any USB port, and can be performed while in operation if you wish.

These handy items can work as a wrapped gift or a stocking stuffer, depending on your mode of operation. They may be the last set of headphones you every need. They have set the standard for premium in-ear headphones in 2017, winning the RedDot Design Award, and earning the moniker of “Flawless” from BBC Music Magazine.

 

KEF - Porsche Design Labs Space One Headphones
First of all, lets get past the initial impressions. These Headphones just look cool. Sort of like the kind of headphones you would expect a Bond villain to wear. But despite their appearance, the Space One headphones are no movie prop. They really work. KEF uses a specially tuned Active Noice Cancellation process that eliminates external noise without compromising the quality or detail of the audio being delivered.

The crispness and vibrance of the sound that comes through is truly amazing delivering solid, spacious, and full sound in every register. If you close your eyes, you might think you are listening to live music - if it weren’t for the lack of mistakes being made by the band. The actual ear cups are remarkably comfortable using a soft, semi-porous memory foam that somehow doesn’t have the usual “gradual heating” effect that is usually associated with memory foam.

The key to the success of these spot-on headphones is the engineering. Each sports a 20mm neodymium magnet, a 40mm precision tuned driver, and a light weight CCAW voice coil for optimum performance. What does all that mean to you when you sit back on the couch to listen? It means you are going to get the full range of sound that was recorded when you plug in!

Unlike other active noise cancelling headphones, the Space One allows the user to switch off that function in the event that you might need to actually hear things going on around you. Of course, to achieve all of this, the phones need to be powered, and this is accomplished in the Space One with one triple A battery. All in all, this is a first class set of powered headphones that would be at home in any music studio in the world.

M100 View 7 smallKEF - Porsche Design Labs M100 Earphones
So, we led off with the Motion One earbuds, but what if you want that kind of high fidelity sound without spending quite as much money? What if you don’t need a neckband, you are just looking to replace the buds that came with your smartphone or laptop? In this case, you might want to look at KEF’s M100 Hi-Fi Earphones.

These earphones are designed with all the same attention to detail and precision audio technology as the Motion One, but without some of the extra features. The M100 gives a full range of high resolution sound, with a fuller, crisper, and accurate response that is expected to come from the live performance.

From a style standpoint, they are sleek and elegant, and come in a variety of colors (blue, orange, black, and white-with-champagne-highlights). The cord is plenty long enough to get the job done (1.3m) and of course, these earphones are unpowered for maximum portability.

Ergonomically speaking these are a great deal more comfortable than the standard iPhone headphones, and while they are lacking some of the Motion One’s features (no pivoting earpiece for instance), at the price, there might not be a better set of headphones on the market.

So in short, our first recommendation for a great 2017 Christmas Present, is a nice set of KEF Headphones.

Overall Rating / 55 Total Testimonials

4.8 Out of
5 Stars

A V Enthusiast, LLC

5.0 out of 5 stars
- February 9, 2018

Great!

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5.0 out of 5 stars
- February 6, 2018

Mike and Chris did a great job setting things up for us

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Steven D. responded - February 6, 2018

Thank you for the kind words sir!
4.5 out of 5 stars
- January 11, 2018

Professional. A bit tardy w correspondence but the guys do good work

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5.0 out of 5 stars
- January 10, 2018

amazing response and service Very good comany

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5.0 out of 5 stars
- December 28, 2017

Very helpful from start to finish

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