I POPPED ALONG to the launch of Samsung’s new range of smart TVs on Auckland’s North Shore yesterday, accompanied by Gary Steel. The new TVs are actually astonishingly cool (more on this to follow) but given that I a) don’t own a TV, b) don’t watch TV and c) am basically totally obsessed about audio, it was the audio and AV products that caught my eye.
Cue the mind-boggling for the evening – Samsung’s new flagship 7.1 Channel Blu-ray 3D Home Entertainment System (or home theatre in a box/HTIB) has to be one of the strangest sights I’ve seen in all my days of staring into the AV game.
Sure on the surface the $1499 HT-E6750W looks much like your typical top tier Blu-ray HTIB with its ultra narrow black tower speakers, wireless rears and compact subwoofer. It’s got built-in WiFi which gives access to web-connected viewing and entertainment including full keyboard supported web browsing, access to web services from Samsung’s Smart Hub and hundreds of apps including BBC News, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and so forth. It also supports Bluetooth and has an iPhone/iPod dock. So all in all, a pretty comprehensive spec sheet but the strangeness is only really evident when you peer into the round glass window on the top surface of the receiver unit, where two vacuum tubes are proudly on display.
So….we’ve got a unit here which offers the very height of modern integrated AV technology featuring convenience, connectivity and Full HD Blu-ray playback, but there are valves in there? Steel and I looked at this thing and then at each other with bewildered stares. Not that there’s anything wrong with valves, it’s just the juxtaposition is hard to get to grips with, especially when the valves live alongside Samsung’s 3D Sound Plus and Crystal Amp Plus technology (DSP and Class D power amplification – the valves are used in a pre-amplification capacity).
Strange it may be but dare I say it – this system looks more than a little sexy with the valves merrily glowing away. They’re there to add some warmth to the sound as much as they are for looks, marketing cachet and to give Samsung a USP or Unique Selling Proposition.
Which is where the new $899 DA-E750 Audio Dock with Vacuum Tube Amplifier (Samsung’s terminology, not mine) comes in. This dock is aimed at “the premium audiophile” according to Samsung and it’s the Korean company’s first shot at what is becoming one of the hottest categories in audio – the premium iPod speaker system, a category pioneered by B&W’s Zeppelin.
Forgoing the curvaceous styling of the Zeppelin, NAD VISO 1, Monitor Audio i-Deck et al, the DA-E750 is based on a simple but still elegant and slightly retro rectangular shape with a high gloss mahogany finish. What’s clearly visible under the raised glass window on the top panel? You guessed it. A brace of valves. Again combined with “digital” power amplification (100W) to drive two midrange drivers, a pair of tweeters and a downward firing bass driver (which still isn’t a subwoofer despite the marketing department’s insistence).
The DA-E750 is a dual dock design which supports a range of Samsung’s GALAXY mobile devices along with Apple’s phones and pods – there’s no back support for docked devices from what I can tell, which is a bad sign because the docks will likely end up broken at some stage. The DA-E750 also offers wireless audio playback via AllShare for Samsung GALAXY devices and Airplay for Apple devices as well as dealing with Bluetooth enabled devices with v3.0 and apt-X codec support. It also has a 3.5mm analog input, a USB port and I’m told, an optical input. We’ll be getting one in for a review soon to see if those valves are all show and no go. Watch this space.