Cabasse Artis Baltic Evolution Speaker System and Pioneer Elite VSX-94TXH A/V Receiver Page 2

Cabasse eliminated the speaker terminals for aesthetic reasons; in the wall-mount version, the cable goes through the bracket straight into the wall. The supplied cable (while of decent quality) is intended for temporary testing by a custom installer. When making the final installation, he or she would replace the cable with something more appropriate.

Hailing from the Altura line, the Largo sub under review has a 12-inch Duocell-coned front-facing driver with ports firing downward into the gap between the enclosure and its base. The extremely attractive, tinted-cherry-veneer enclosure—called santos, after the original (but endangered) santos mahogany—is rounded at the sides and back. Its minimal depth produces a fairly modest footprint; big it is, ugly or ungainly it is not.

Pragmatic Second in Command
Pioneer’s VSX-94TXH is second from the top in the brand’s higher-end Elite line and sells for $1,600. There’s quite a gap between this and the top-line SC-09TX that sells for $7,000. I guess Pioneer wants the Elite line to remain competitive at relatively real-world price points while still providing high per-

formance and the most desirable features. The manufacturer also maintains a separate budget line with models ranging from $199 to $499. The VSX-94TXH is THX Select2 certified, meaning that it can achieve reference-level volumes (which to me is earsplitting) when connected to THX Select–certified speakers in a room of 2,000 cubic feet or less.

There are a few new (to me) refinements in MCACC. That’s the Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System, Pioneer’s auto-setup engine. (A macaque is a charming breed of monkey.) As usual, newbies can simply hook up the supplied mike to the front panel, let the program run, and start having fun. But there’s also an Expert mode that allows six different selectable setups for different listening positions or preferences. For instance, you might not want to play movies and games from exactly the same seat or with the same settings. MCACC can measure from three points and analyze them for standing waves, compensating as needed. If you wish to go further, as always, you can tweak the settings manually.

One Elite feature you won’t find in Pioneer’s less expensive receiver line—or even in junior Elite models—is the Home Media Gallery. It can pull music out of Windows PCs via a wired router, conjure up Internet radio stations, and (this was a new one for me) play audio files from a USB drive. More on that later.

No present-day receiver is complete without an iPod dock—in this case, the IDK-80, a $99 accessory. The receiver came with a note saying the cable that connects the dock had been “delayed in transit” (call customer service to get it). This model is also XM and Sirius satellite radio ready when you add the appropriate antennas.

While Pioneer has seemingly thought of almost everything, the back panel could use a second HDMI output. The target buyer for such a sophisticated receiver might well want to feed two HDMI-compatible video displays. Also, the plain monochrome menu graphics are crude compared with what manufacturers like Sony and Denon are doing. And although the remote (with its small LCD window) is reasonably functional, the navigation keys are a bit small. A second-from-top model really should come with a more substantial remote.

In addition to the Pioneer receiver, associated gear included a Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player, whose familiar amber display and decorative horizontal blue LED harmonized with the receiver in a common spirit of Pioneerishness. My trusty Integra DPS-10.5 served DVD and SACD duty.

Premonitions and Flying Cars
The Blu-ray release of Premonition took a ridiculous length of time to load, but the results were worth it. Sandra Bullock plays a woman haunted by premonitions of shocking events, her loss of control signified by a seamlessly hallucinatory melding of orchestration and effects. This beautifully executed surround material could be both unnerving and moving. I was glad I didn’t have to hear it through a less well-focused set of speakers—the triaxial array proved its worth. In a movie full of quiet moments, the Baltics also exhibited superb low-level resolution, the soundfield holding together even at almost subliminal volume levels. The high-quality soundtrack (in this case, uncompressed PCM) surely helped.

Meet the Robinsons, in Dolby Digital 5.1, gave the subwoofer plenty of opportunities to deliver loud midbass effects—enough, in fact, to make me turn it down. Most of them were connected with flying cars and surreal fight scenes involving a T-Rex. Here, the receiver’s power reserves were essential to keep the aggressive effects from collapsing raised voices and other small denizens of the busy soundfield. Vocal clarity was so good, I could visualize the flesh-and-blood actors standing on the dubbing stage. The real treat was the musical soundtrack, featuring several achingly lovely songs by Rufus Wainwright.