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AWE showcases live demos and product debuts

Installation reports from a special press preview ahead of this year's AWE Expo event for smart home professionals, which took place over two days at the AWE Show Apartment, in Epsom, Surrey, UK

A media briefing, a day prior to AWE Expo on May 14-15, presented three inspirational rooms showcasing AV set-ups at different price points. For well-heeled individuals, the upgraded full home cinema kit in the Reference Cinema space could be in budget at £75,000, but most customers are said to lean towards the slightly more affordable upgraded set-ups in the Performance Cinema room, where the complete display would be around £45,000. Also on show was AWE’s brand new Music Room, showcasing solutions ranging from a few hundred pounds, to £50,000. In this room, various products from Bowers & Wilkins, Sony, and Classé, can be integrated into any Denon HEOS wireless multi-room audio system, providing the flexibility a lot of clients now desire.

“We’re always upgrading the building as it’s in the nature of our industry that everything is always changing,” says managing director Stuart Tickle, whose great-grandfather founded the company nearly 90 years ago. “It makes it harder for the integrators, or retailers, to keep pace. Even when the product doesn’t change, the software does. The goal of AWE Expo is to show what our capability is and to demonstrate to integrators what they can do for their clients.”

For the customers, getting the chance to see the set-ups in action is invaluable, he says. “When you’re talking about spending a few thousand pounds you can probably buy online. But as soon as you talk about spending £5,000, £10,000, £50,000, £100,000 … a quarter of a million, you really want to sit in it and drive it first.”

The slightly more modest of the two cinema rooms, the Performance Cinema, featured the latest Bowers & Wilkins ISW-8 12in, in-wall subwoofers, powered by new CDA-2HD amplifiers. The Marantz Cinema 50 provided upgraded processing and Dirac Live calibration, with power from the Marantz AMP 10 amplifier. The set-up was completed with a 3.34m-wide Adeo fixed FramePro RE screen with VisionAcoustik acoustically transparent fabric, combined with Epson’s EH-LS12000B true 4K laser projector.

“This is the entry level set-up and it’s by far our most popular home cinema solution,” says Danny Cavie, AWE technical director. “It costs around £45,000, but it’s very flexible. Clients can scale up, or down. We’ve installed £20,000 of bass, with £5,000 worth in each corner, but most customers won’t go for that level and will cut the costs of the bass by, say, £10,000.”

When the full combination of sub-woofers is installed, the bass sound actually outperforms the higher-spec Reference Cinema room, Cavie says. Hearing the crashes and growls of the cars in the rain-soaked Batmobile Car Chase sequence, from the 2022 film The Batman, as The Penguin tries to escape, was a pretty visceral experience for Installation, it has to be said! “There’s a lot of bass in those sequences and it’s very exciting with this system. Technically of the two rooms, the Performance Cinema is even better for low frequencies,” adds Cavie.

The AWE team has also installed Dirac in the Performance Cinema, but opted not to add it to its more high-spec counterpart. “We’ve not included that in our Reference Cinema room. When we did the tests of the two rooms, we found that that room still sounded better without Dirac as it was built so well. If you try to artificially correct something, you actually end up making it worse,” Cavie says.

In the Reference Cinema space, the showcase included a 4m-wide Adeo MovieMask LR screen with Reference White fabric and side masking. Driving the audio was the high-end AV amp and processor, the Marantz AMP 10 & AV 10, which powered 15 channels. Four Bowers & Wilkins CDA-2HD amplifiers were powering CT-SW15 15in subwoofers and CI800 Diamond Series speakers. Also on display were the complete range of Sony home cinema projectors, including the powerful GTZ-380, which provides 10,000 lumens of brightness with a 100% DCI-P3 colour gamut. 

“Bowers & Wilkins speakers are the reference for cinema,” explains James Drummie, AWE product manager. “Most big budget movie scores will be mixed and mastered at either Skywalker Sound, or Abbey Road. And if that’s the case, they’re going to be using B&W speakers. The great film composer John Williams, even when he’s not at Abbey Road, will take his own B&W speakers with him.” 

AWE has toned down the performance of the GTZ-380 from 10,000 lumens to 8,000 lumens. But it’s still a mightily impressive set up, both aurally and visually during sequences of Lady Gaga singing in A Star Is Born and Tom Cruise blasting off in his fighter jet in Tom Gun: Maverick. “What’s different compared to any other home projector is the way they create DCI-P3 colour,” Drummie adds.”There are a few projector manufacturers that can hit DCI-P3, but all of the other ones get to that level using colour filters.” 

When choosing between the two rooms, budget and space are naturally enough the primary factors, Drummie explains. A client’s location may be a clue to what the installers go for. “They’re more likely to go for the Reference Room if they’re from the south east than other parts of the country. If someone has that much space to fill, it’s likely the Reference Cinema is absolutely within budget,” he says. “We get a few footballers and the like, but the bread and butter customers for home cinema are semi-retired business people whose kids have left home and they have spare cash to spend.”

Budget may still be a factor, however, and AWE helps the installers decide what are the most important factors for their clients. This involves asking a lot of questions to determine priorities, Drummie explains. “It could be as simple as ‘what do you watch the most often?’, in order to work out the shape of the screen. Clearly if they say ‘all sport’, you’re not gonna put a CinemaScope screen in. If it’s a dedicated cinema room, and you want the absolute best, you’re going to want a masking screen and to match the aspect ratio.”

He adds: “What’s more important? The picture, or the sound? If it’s the sound, is it the spatial factor? How many speakers are needed to make it real and create impactful, immersive dynamics? Or is timbre the key factor. We’re using a fantastically musical speaker. But you can steer around and play with the budget. You don’t always need six speakers in the ceiling and nine around. You could drop the latter to seven and put two in the ceiling.”

Flexibility was key, too, in the Music Room, which featured a range of wireless set-ups driven by HEOS, as well as wired solutions. Three different displays were on show to journalists. The first half of the showcase included the Denon Home 350 multiroom audio speaker and a 603S2 Hi-Fi demonstration.In the second half, there was a demo of a 600 series 5.1 system, a pair of 703S3 B&W speakers paired with a previously unseen Marantz amplifier. Finally, there was an experience with the Bowers & Wilkins 803D4 Diamond series, featuring the Classé Delta preamp, two Bowers & Wilkins CDA-2HDs, a DB1D subwoofer, and a Denon DP3000 turntable. 

“We take the customers on a journey in the Music Room from £600 speakers to £46,000 displays playing the same track on the same app,” explains Paul Mott, director, AWE. “The goal of the room is to deliver multi-room audio with a variety of products for different types of users. Some may want high-end audio, or a simple solution for their kitchen.”

The products on show in the Music Room used to be scattered in various places around the AWE Show Apartment, but this year, for the first time, the team decided to create a dedicated space for audio. “For most of the clients, it’s a luxury thing. Whether it’s a study, or a library, people have rooms dedicated to audio,” comments Mott.

Increasingly, however, there is a tendency for clients to want more flexible set-ups and spaces. They may not want to separate audio and home cinema rooms, but use modern wireless technology to create more integrated ‘Entertainment Spaces’.

“Before, clients would use Denon’s wireless HEOS system on its own. Now it’s become part of other products,” adds Mott. “You have all the simplicity of use with that device, but now you can plug it into a Blu-ray player and listen to jazz. Or watch Sky TV through it. So it’s no longer separate. Marantz, Denon and Classé are using that platform for their products, whether they’re high-end hifi, or good-value home cinema amplifiers, you’re still benefiting from simplicity and ease of use. They’re become driven by amps and ease of control. And that’s a family-friendly development.”

Announced at the press day was a new distribution deal for AWE with Stealth Acoustics, which is synonymous with flat radiating invisible, or hidden, architectural speaker solutions. Its first model was released in 2003 and at AWE Expo, visitors were able to get a first look at the new eighth generation of LineaRadiance invisible speakers. “Invisible and discrete speaker solutions is a growing marketplace, and one in which AWE has been keen to offer a class-leading solution for,” says Tickle. “To be frank, our no-compromise approach meant that we have had to wait patiently for the right partner and product, and Stealth Acoustics’ new Gen 8 models with a 17-year warranty offers just that for our customers.”

Aside from the three showrooms, there were several special displays in the Main Apartment at AWE Expo: the Denon, Marantz and Bowers & Wilkins Area; the LG Area; BPS Area, featuring the Phoenix Blade Pre-Built Bespoke Race Simulator; and the Living Room, including the Hisense 120L9 Laser TV, boasting a 120in ambient light rejecting screen. Other spaces included the Boardroom; the Gallery with invisible audio technology, featuring the pre-launch preview of Stealth Acoustics products; and the Comms Room, displaying the “brains and power behind the show apartment”.