Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Does Meridian Even Have Competition Anymore?

I'm speaking specifically of vendors who are in the domain that is high-end digital audio and home theater. Seriously? Is there anyone left besides Meridian who has a comprehensive lineup, and who is committed to pushing digital audio as far as it will go?

As far as I know Meridian is the only company that is in the high-end Home Theater market place who isn't pandering exclusively to the custom installation market. Everyone else has gone *POOF!* or has become available exclusively to the home audio installers.

Even the Onkyo Integra line has disappeared from consumer audio stores and seems to be available only through installers, and I shudder to think of what getting their time to sell me a surround processor would be like. "Are you buying a new home or adding to a new one?" "Excuse me?" "How many rooms do you want touch sensitive remotes in?" "Huh?" "What home automation do you currently have?" "You mean like a garage door opener?" No, no thank you. I'd rather buy used just to save myself the experience.

OK, there ARE others selling home theater gear in the crossover domain, but they have limited products in this domain or they haven't released anything in years. So many wannabe's have come and gone. Halcro, Fostex, Sunfire, Carver. Where are they now? Lexicon is still around, but besides an Oppo based BluRay player have they released anything else? Do they even have an HDMI processor?

Like it or not it seems that most of the R&D money in high-end digital home theater has been sucked out of the market. What we need now is an open-source solution. We need innovation from enthusiasts who aren't willing to settle for what gets packaged up and sold to contractors and the masses as the best we can do. People who aren't threatened by patents or technology and who know that it's worth building something incredible together.

Before I go, there does seem to be one other company who has a shot, Cary Audio, but they aren't quite in the same place as Meridian. They are broader based, selling tubes and analog gear as well as A/V processors at a price range that is closer to what most non-bankers can afford. I will have to think about this. Maybe this is all perception in my head, but now that I get to the bottom of my own blog I'm not sure I agree with my thesis anymore. Suggestions?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Brands I miss and Brands I am Grateful For

Brands I miss:

* Tandberg - Not only a great FM Tuner, but amplifiers that really could control any speaker better than anything. And let's not forget their luscious reel to reel and cassette players.
* Nakamichi
* Threshold
* Kyocera as an audio brand.
* Snell while Peter Snell was alive.

Brands I am grateful are still with us:
* Conrad Johnson
* Audio Research
* JBL (love / hate relationship. How do you design an $11,000 speaker with $1000 worth of parts and still have to make it in Mexico to turn a profit? On the other hand, they sound soooo good....)
* Focal - Best performing, widest range of top value speakers in the business and terribly under appreciated in the US.
* Monitor Audio, though I liked them better as an undervalued bargain brand than as a high end manufacturer they are trying to become with the new Platinum line.
* dCS - Can't afford any of them, but I still wonder if anyone has bested their Ring DAC for sheer ingenuity of DAC technology.
* Meridian - For pushing the Digital envelope, sounding great and being such a bargain on Audiogon
* Analysis Plus
* Kimber Cable
* Cardas

The Audio Undead

I remember a long time ago on TV, perhaps the Twilight Zone, there was an episode where in a country home Grandpa had died but he was too stubborn to accept it so he kept showing up for meals, each time looking more and more disgusting. Only after he is surprised with a bag of black pepper and he sneezes his nose off does he finally accept the truth and die.

I've been thinking a lot about the fact that many of us have cherished brands from our past who passed away without any sort of ceremony or sometimes even notice. These days it seems that instead of the brand actually laying down and dying gracefully the web allows them go hang on long after they should have been acknowledged to be beyond hope. Which brings me to a few brands I've been looking at lately whom I wonder if they aren't doing just that.

As you may know, I am a huge fan of Theta Digital, though I believe that they have passed beyond this world and into the world of the past. Because of that I've been doing some online snooping of them. One thing I found that is new to me is that Morris Kessler, the person at the head of Amplifier Technologies, Inc. (ATI not to be confused with the graphics card manufacturer) also had started SAE a long time ago and that has ties to a company which we know know is dead but I really liked, Sumo.

Anyway, onto the undead. I took a look at the web presence of ATI and Theta Digital whom ATI acquired in November, 2007. If I look only at the web side of things it looks like ATI is done for. No new products in years, and all Theta has to show recently is a modified Oppo player becoming the flagship disk player. In the past I have rung the death bell for Theta Alone but now I must wonder if we should have been ringing it for ATI as well. Time will tell.

Along the same themes of death and resurrection is Miller and Kreisel, or MK Sound. As many may remember, they went belly up quite suddenly a while ago, but the original web address www.mksound.com now takes you to Ken Kreisel Professional Sound. Ken may have the web address, but not the brand, as MK Sound is now apparently under the management of the Dolphin group, with both Ken and Dolphin trying to claim the legacy of the professional movie monitoring business MK Sound had established. Good luck to both of them.

Also receiving honorable mention for not quite giving up is the reborn Threshold brand. I really had high hopes for them.

I shouldn't be so melancholy I suppose, it's just that I save my money for years and when I finally can afford what I want, they go under.