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Contributed by Jason Zidle of Totem Acoustic.  Above: Totem Kin In-wall Speaker

A Guide to Choosing In-wall and On-wall Speakers

The combination of technological advancements and the burgeoning home renovation market has made custom installed speakers both a good acoustic and cosmetically attractive option. They fall into two main categories, in-wall and on wall, and there are advantages to both.

Both come in a variety of sizes and performance levels to cover every budget and application, from simple ambient music in small areas to powerful theater systems in large zones. Both unclutter your home, free up floor or furniture space, and blend into the decor. However, choosing specifically which works best for you requires understanding the intricacies beyond their basic cosmetic differences.

In-wall and in-ceiling speakers are installed directly into the drywall and fit flush, leaving only a practically invisible perforated grille to signify the speaker’s physical presence. This is both their strongest pro and greatest con because some people cringe at merely putting a nail in the wall, let alone cutting a shoebox sized hole into it, but it is the stealthier of the two approaches.

Totem Acoustic IC82 in-wall speaker

Totem’s new Kin Architectural series of five in-ceiling speakers and accessories can satisfy any requirement or designer choice. The IC62ST single piece stereo speaker is perfect for smaller zones, while a pair of the larger flagship IC82 8-inch speakers are virtually as stealthy but can dynamically energize even the largest room with sound. All Kin models come with round grilles but square grilles are available as an option to match fixtures, HVAC accessories, and suit personal tastes.

Totem Tribe In-Ceiling speaker

In-wall and in-ceiling speakers are generally open back designs, meaning there is no physical enclosure, which is a costly and acoustically vital component of a traditional speaker. Normally the cabinet tunes and perfects a speaker’s bass performance but an in-wall speaker uses the wall cavity where it is installed as its enclosure and final tuning element. Because the materials and available space in walls and ceilings are never consistent, there will be acoustic differences in rooms using the same speakers.

The open back design also means sound can bleed through to neighboring rooms, and materials in the walls and ceilings can also potentially come into contact with the speaker and degrade performance. Adding Totem’s Acoustic Back Cans can reduce sound from penetrating adjacent rooms by 24dB so you can enjoy music in one room while someone sleeps peacefully in another. They also protect the components from materials, dirt, and dust that can cause damage.

The highest end custom installation (CI) speakers have enclosures to protect the components, ensure consistent performance, and limit sound transference to overcome the main shortcomings of CI speakers. The Totem Tribe In-Wall and Kin In-Wall series feature the absolute best components, and drivers designed specifically for their enclosures to generate heavyweight bass, lifelike clarity and a holographic soundstage. But, they all require that you cut into your walls or ceiling.

Totem_on-wall-speakers

On-wall speakers provide a measure of compromise and offer some clear advantages over in-walls. While perhaps not as inconspicuous as in-walls, they are about as slim and shallow as a wall mounted flat screen and come in a variety of finishes that will cosmetically match any décor. The wall incision need only be large enough to accommodate the speaker wire required to connect the amplifier, a far less painful or invasive procedure and one that is easily remedied by even a beginner DIY’er with some plaster and a putty knife. Most include brackets that require no more wall surgery than a few drywall screws and anchors, and are easily installed in minutes.

On-wall speakers have their own cabinets so performance is always consistent and not variably affected as with in-walls. They will excel just about anywhere you want to place them and in the case of premium models, sound every bit as good as traditional speakers.

Totem Tribe V on-wall speakers Fire_1

The Totem Tribe series includes four on-wall speakers and a subwoofer that all measure less than 4” deep, are available in a variety of beautiful finishes, and are technologically armed to rival the performance of large tower speakers. Artisanal cabinet construction featuring lock mitered joints, revolutionary Torrent woofers that require no crossover and have magnet strength capable of lifting a small car, and proprietary Totem formulas to synergize all characteristics make Tribe the unrivalled on-wall speaker option. Unlike in-walls where the grille is almost always installed, most Tribe owners actually leave the grilles off because they appreciate the unique marriage of convenience, style, and technology.

When comparing stealth alone, in-ceilings are better chameleons and will disappear more thoroughly while still providing wonderful sound. The counterpoint is, the overall design of on-walls will generally provide superior convenience and performance. Perhaps the main point to ponder here is the perceived permanence of the installation.

Changing in-walls requires substantial plaster work to accommodate new cutout dimensions, therefore upgrading is unlikely so consider them a permanent fixture of your house. If the goal is installing a system once and appreciating it as long as possible then in-walls are the right choice, but opt for the absolute best you can afford. Consider that these speakers can last well over 25 years so amortizing them over that period means there’s a tiny cost difference between good and great speakers. And if this is part of a full custom renovation with home automation, security, lighting, etc, the audio portion only represents a small percentage of the overall cost.

Just remember that your beloved speakers would have to be forsaken should you ever move because leaving gaping holes would not be an acceptable situation for a new buyer. Be warned that the guilt of abandoning them is crushing.

On-wall speakers allow you to easily bring them should you move, and require little labor involved in concealing their previous existence. They also have a much stronger appeal to the audio enthusiast, who appreciate both the superior performance and the simplicity involved
in upgrading them. They can be replaced or repositioned virtually as easily as changing a picture on a wall.

The good news is that stealthy, sensational sound is easily achievable through either approach. The slightest edge to overall performance and versatility goes to on-wall speakers. In-wall and ceiling options are far less apparent so they have greater appeal to those who think speakers should be heard rather than seen, and prefer to install something once and enjoy it for the lifetime of their home. Choose Totem and you’ll love either option.

Created in 1987, Totem Acoustic is proudly celebrating 30 years of crafting artisanal speakers in Montreal, Canada. Totem’s mission is to develop loudspeakers capable of reproducing a truly musical and involving performance, provide designs that are affordable, convenient solutions, and are real ‘soul movers’ for the music, movie, and gaming enthusiast. Discover yours today.

For more info, jump to www.totemacoustic.com

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Cardas Clear Beyond Power XL

Cardas Audio has just introduced the new Clear Beyond XL power cord.  This power cord is the company’s highest capacity power cord and features Cardas’ most advanced noise filtering technology to suit today’s most demanding electronics.

The Clear Beyond XL comes standard with Cardas E-5 power connectors, featuring copper blades and clips plated with rhodium over silver for ultimate electrical conductivity. All standard international wall plugs are also available as well as 20 amp IEC connectors.

In Canada, the new power cord is available from Canadian distributor Tri-Cell Enterprises www.tricellenterprises.com.

To find a distributor in all other countries, visit www.cardas.com.

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McIntosh MC611 Quad Balanced Power Amplifier 01 (Custom)

McIntosh has just released a brand new MC611 quad balanced monoblock power amplifier, a follow up to the MC601 model.  This amp is capable of delivering a staggering 600 watts to the loudspeaker regardless of whether the loudspeaker is rated at 2, 4 or 8 Ohms – this is possible thanks to the company’s Autoformer technology.

The MC611 offers multiple enhancements over its predecessor.  Its filter capacity has been doubled which produces a dramatic 55% increase in dynamic headroom from 1.8dB to 2.8dB, which also helps improve the amp’s low end bass frequency performance.

The front panel is outfitted with new direct LED backlighting, offering an enhanced appearance and color accuracy. On top, the audio Autoformer and power transformer are housed in new glass topped enclosures. Behind them are 2 of Monogrammed Heatsinks which connect to advanced high current output transistors that help eliminate thermal equilibrium lag time.

Other enhancements include heavier gauge internal wiring, upgraded circuit components and the addition of an eco-friendly power management system.

Available now for $7,500 US.

McIntosh MC611 Quad Balanced Power Amplifier rear 01 (Custom)

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Nordost Review Backdrop 02

Following the Ideal Path to Upgrading Cables.  Part 1 of 3: Power Cords

Let me tell you a little secret about building a high-end music system: Cables play a much more important role in your hi-fi system than you might realize. Cables are the “fabric” that connect each of your components to the power grid. Cables also connect all of your components and loudspeakers together. If you think about it, there are more cables in your system than hi-fi components actually. Welcome to part 1 of a 3-part series in which I’ll suggest on how to improve the performance of your music system by upgrading the cables in an order that will offer you the best bang for your buck.

As hi-fi manufacturers continue to push the limits of performance of electronics and loudspeakers, we are presented with gear that sounds more transparent and increasingly more musical. However if you’d like to extract the full performance of your hi-fi gear, using low quality cables just won’t get the job done. You wouldn’t install economy, no-name tires on a Porsche 911, would you? Of course you could still cruise in your sports car, but you’d never be able to push it to its full potential. Well, the same applies to hi-fi systems and cables. Phil Gold wrote an insightful article on this topic entitled “Why Do We Need Better Cables? Continued Innovation In Audio Equipment Drives the Need For Higher Quality Cables”. I invite you to give it a read.

If you decide to upgrade the cables in your hi-fi system, you might ask yourself, where do I start? How much money do I spend on cables? Most experts suggest following the flow of the power / signal path – from the power outlet to your components and then to your speakers. This means you would start by upgrading the power cords, then the interconnect cables and finish with the speaker cables. In terms of budget, audiophiles usually devote somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the total system budget to cabling.

But let’s face it, not everyone has money oozing out of their wallet, and therefore the option to upgrade all the cables in your system at once may not be on the table. So does it makes sense to upgrade cables incrementally? The answer is ‘yes, absolutely’, in fact that’s how most consumers achieve their dream of building a high-end music system.

In this article, I will take you on a journey of upgrading cables and share my experience as to how each incremental upgrade in the audio chain influences the sound of the music system. I have selected Nordost’s Leif series of cables, Blue Heaven, for the purpose of this article because this series is easily attainable by every music lover and offers excellent value for the money. This journey also takes me back down a road I first travelled some 12 years ago, when I tried Nordost cables in my own system for the first time. The Leif series may be considered “entry-level” but don’t be fooled, the Scandinavian name Leif means “descendant” and is perfectly suited for these cables since they offer much of the technology found in the Nordost’s higher-end cables. Fun fact: each Nordost cable series sports a funky name inspired by Norse Mythology.

Nordost Review Backdrop 03

For technically inclined readers, the Blue Heaven power cords sport cutting-edge technology that includes proprietary Fluorinated Ethylene Propylene (FEP) insulation combined with a high-speed, low-loss Micro Mono-Filament construction, designed to achieve a high level of performance out of your system. Inside the cable jacket, you’ll find three, 16 AWG cores (99.9999% OFC), each comprised of 65 strands. If you’d like to learn about the materials and construction of these cables, check out www.nordost.com – you’ll find a remarkable amount of information there. Rather than repeating all of this information here, I’ll focus on what really matters – the music.

Following the upgrade path suggested above, I started by swapping the OEM power cords feeding power to my components with the Nordost’s Blue Heaven power cord ($313.99 US/2m). Clean power in an audio system is critical because AC power is what an audio system “shapes” into the sonic frequencies that we hear as music. If you’re upgrading multiple power cords, I suggest doing so in the following order: power distribution bar, amp, preamp, DAC and source. My music selection jumped around with the oomph of a teenager after chugging an energy drink, ranging from rock to alternative, acoustic recordings, hip hop and top 40. The grownup side of me also spun up some classical recordings for good measure. My test gear included: a ModWright Instruments LS 100 preamp and KWA 100 amp; Jeff Rowland Continuum S2 integrated amp; Raidho C 1.1 speakers; Sonos system; Bryston BDA-1 DAC; and Gold Note Giglio turntable.

With the Nordost Blue Heaven power cord connected to the amplifier, I was immediately rewarded with a lower noise floor and an improved sonic experience. The track “La Femme D’Argent” from Air’s “Moon Safari” album played with crisper, more extended high frequencies, which were also slightly more pronounced. The picked guitar strings at the beginning of “The Grand Optimist” from City and Colour’s “Little Hell” album sounded sharper and more delineated, without sounding over-etched or harsh. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there was less bloom around the bass notes, making them sound tighter and better articulated. Florence + the Machine’s “MTV Unplugged” album sounded remarkably musical and filled with emotion. This album took me back couple of summers when I saw Florence Welch live at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto. With the upgraded power cords in place, her voice sang with an improved presence, revealing finer subtleties. The soundstage also expanded a little in both width and depth. This painted a sonic landscape where the instruments and vocals were further apart from each other, closer to how you would hear them in real life.

Did I get 314 bucks worth of improvement? Abso-freaking-lutely. There’s no question that as far as cables go, power cables play a fundamental role in the performance of an audio system. Even an affordable cable like the Nordost Blue Heaven power cord can make a significant contribution to improving your music listening experience. Join me for part 2 of this article as I continue my upgrade journey by integrating interconnect cables (both analog and digital) into my system in the next issue of NOVO. Until then, enjoy your music my friends!

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Bryston SP4 Surround Processor

Home theater fans rejoice!  Bryston has just announced a brand new SP4 Surround Processor, which will be developed in collaboration with French company StormAudio.  As part of the collaboration, StormAudio will also leverage Bryston’s Cubed Series amplifier technology in a number of upcoming 2-channel and 4-channel amplifiers.  This is not the first time that Bryston has partnered up with other manufacturers – some of the past relationships included companies such as Gold Note, Harman, PMC and Axiom Audio.

The Bryston SP4 will be a 16.2-channel processor and allow customers to add four additional channels. It will support all the latest immersive surround formats, such as Dolby Atmos, Auro-3D and DTS:X as well as legacy formats. The SP4 will also feature Dirac Live room correction, giving home theater enthusiasts access to the latest technologies within a Bryston home theater. Most critically, the SP4 will be built on a 3U modular platform, enabling Bryston engineers to integrate advanced technologies and make upgrades available to consumers, extending the life of the product. The SP4 will also be compatible with popular control system platforms, including Savant, RTI, Control4 and Crestron. Expect to see the Bryston SP4 for sale in the second quarter of 2018.

For more info, hit up www.bryston.com

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Monitor Audio Super Slim In Wall Speakers

Monitor Audio has just announced the Super Slim In Wall (WSS) speaker range that will become available this February.  The range will consists of three new models, each featuring a three-driver layout that helps keep the frontal profile slender, yet provides a similar surface area and performance to a typical 6-1/2″ driver. At just 2″ (50 mm) deep, it opens up a raft of installation scenarios and provides huge flexibility when it comes to placement for the most technically demanding applications.

Here are some highlights of each model:

WSS130 – $349 each
The entry-point WSS130 features 3″ MMP II cone drivers, augmented by a 1″ (25 mm) Gold Dome tweeter and is likely to excel in many general home theater and music applications. This MPP cone technology allows for a simple crossover design and smooth overall sound character.

WSS230 – $449 each
The mid-point WSS230 features Monitor Audio’s renowned C-CAM metal cone drivers and is ideal for set-ups where even more critical music reproduction is required. It offers a step-up in performance in increased precision and detailed sonic characteristics, when compared to the WSS130.

WSS430 – $649 each
The WSS430 offers supreme audio performance, drawing on design principles and materials from Monitor Audio’s flagship Platinum speakers. Employing dished C-CAM cones, the WSS430 design ensures ultimate diaphragm rigidity and control when driven hard. High strength Neo magnets and larger voice coils provide incredible driving force and a slim profile.

The MPD high frequency transducer technology, also from Monitor Audio’s flagship Platinum designs, ensures incredibly low distortion, delivering natural, clear high frequencies to over 50 kHz.
All WSS speakers feature Tri-Grip fixing technology and paintable, trimless grilles.

For more info, check out www.monitoraudio.ca

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nad_m22_v2_masters_front

NAD Electronics recently announced two new amplifiers: the NAD Master Series M22 V2 Amplifier and the NAD D 3020 V2 Integrated Amplifier.

The new M22 V2 offers a 20% increase in power to 300 watts per channel, over its predecessor, and features a bridging switch that transforms it into a 900-watt mono behemoth. The substantial increase in power is a result of a major redesign of the power supply. NAD’s exclusive PowerDrive circuit has been recalibrated to take advantage of the increased capability of the power supply section. In addition, the M22 V2 now has a 3-position input sensitivity switch that controls the auto turn-on sensitivity, allowing for better matching to each individual system.  The M22 V2 utilizes the latest nCore amplifier technology licensed from Hypex to provide a nearly ideal amplifier with distortion below measurement, ultra-high damping factor, and unconditional stability with any speaker.

The M22 V2 is available this month for $2,999 US.

NAD D 3020 V2

The D 3020 V2 stereo integrated amplifer is a replacement for NAD’s popular D 3020 integrated amplifier.  This new model adds a moving magnet phono stage as well as stereo pre-outs, which join stereo RCA analogue inputs alongside optical and coxial digital sockets. Wireless connectivity is achievable via aptX Bluetooth, and all digital inputs lead to a 24bit/192kHz DAC.

For more info check out www.nadelectronics.com

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Magico_A3

Have you ever dreamed of brining a pair of Magico speakers home? Well, you’re not alone.  Many music fans would love to own Magico speakers but these speakers have been prohibitively expensive for most… until now.

What makes Magico speakers so special?  Magico says it is an “uncompromised, unapologetic pursuit of performance excellence”.  The company has been long developing new, exotic and costly technologies to achieve the legendary sound performance.  But such things come at a cost, allowing only a fortunate few to own their products.

Now the company has finally achieved an affordable design that is worthy of its “M” badge.

The Magico A3 is the first model in the company’s new A series.  It features a fully braced and anodized aluminum enclosure, beryllium tweeter, carbon Nanographene cones, neodymium based motor systems and the company’s renowned elliptical crossover — the A3 is the impossible made possible.

The A3 will be available in the first quarter of 2018 at $9,800 US / pair.

Here are some details from the recent press release:

High Frequency driver
Extended high frequencies are provided by a newly designed Magico pure beryllium-diaphragm tweeter with an optimized 28-mm dome surface based on the fundamental design platform and geometry of the M-Project tweeter. The customized neodymium motor system is encased in an improved back chamber with our latest generation damping materials that facilitate ultra-low distortion, higher power handling, massive dynamic capabilities and extended linear voice coil movement.

Midrange Frequency driver
The newly developed 6-inch midrange employs a Multi-Wall carbon fiber cone with a layer of XG Nanographene, providing optimal stiffness to weight ratios and an ideal damping factor. Overhung neodymium based motor systems incorporate extra-large magnets to ensure a stabilized magnetic field in the 75-mm pure titanium voice coils of both the midrange and bass drivers.

Low Frequency driver
Dual 7-inch woofers incorporate a version of the new Gen 8 Magico Nano-Tec cone. The same properties and materials that allow for the proper combination of stiffness, mass and damping are carried through to the lowest frequencies. The chassis has also been simulated and tested for the optimal combination of stiffness and damping. Minimum acoustical impact is achieved through reducing vibration modes while maximizing air flow. A new overhung neodymium (N48) based motor system anchors the low frequency reproducers to accomplish a super stabilized magnetic field. A pure Titanium, 75mm voice coils are consistent with the technology utilized through the midrange.

The A3 Midrange and Low frequency drivers were optimized for minimal music related distortions in its band pass, in both the frequency and time domains using latest state of the art FEA simulation of acoustical, mechanical, electromagnetic and thermal behavior. All of this is now being done on a single platform, allowing Magico to take the next step in performance optimization.

Crossover
All four drivers in the A3 are acoustically integrated using Magico’s proprietary Elliptical Symmetry Crossover topology that utilizes state-of-the-art components from Mundorf of Germany. The 3-way network features a 24db per octave Linkwitz-Riley filter that maximizes frequency bandwidth while preserving phase linearity and minimizing intermodulation distortion.

Enclosure
The A3’s massive sealed-enclosure is, like all Magicos, a tour-de-force of engineering. The enclosure is made entirely from 6061 T6 aircraft grade aluminum, identical materially to the enclosure developed for the Q Series. This braced, complex internal structure is finished externally with an elegant brushed anodized “skin”.

The A3 enclosure is best considered as a simplified Q Series design, with the same materials, the same craftsmanship, and the same attention to design and build detail.

More info at magico.net

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Sharp_8K_Display_HDR

Sharp OLED TVs have been rumoured for a little while and now it looks like this reality is closer than ever.  According to a news article on What Hi-Fi, Universal Display, recently announced that it will expand its partnership with Sharp and provide the company with “OLED materials and technology to Sharp Corporation for use in the Company’s OLED displays”.  Sharp was once a considered one of the leaders in the TV market, producing some highly regarded TVs, but it’s been several years since the company has made a TV that we could get excited about.  This path will undoubtedly put Sharp in direction completion with LG, who currently has a monopoly on OLED TVs.  Sony also makes OLED TVs, but it relies on panels from LG.

Last summer, a report in Japan Times revealed that Sharp had invested roughly £370m to build OLED production lines at one of its factories, which the company expected to be operational by mid-2018.

We certainly welcome another player in the OLED business – competition is good for everyone :-)

News via What Hi-Fi