This spring, residential custom install distributor AWE Europe opened its showroom to the trade for its first Expo since 2019.
The four day event provided AV professionals with a unique opportunity to catch-up with the latest in audio visual technology, network with peers over a hog roast, and take a deep dive with product sessions from Sony, Rotel, LG TV, and Bowers & Wilkins.
Regular Expo visitors would have been quick to note that AWE’s audio offering has pivoted from KEF to Bowers & Wilkins. Swapping out the former for the latter has led to wholesale changes, both on the showroom floor and in the brand’s two custom install theatres.
“The Sound United take-over of Bowers & Wilkins freed them to do what they’re great,” said AWE managing director Stuart Tickle, “and it also created an opportunity for us, as we were already distributing Denon and Marantz, two other Sound United brands. It was clear there was a lot of potential for synergy.”
The addition of Bowers & Wilkins to the AWE roster triggered a total refit of AWE’s showroom apartment. “We had to rebuild our cinema rooms from scratch,” he chuckles.
“With Bowers & Wilkins, we have speakers that can go to a very high price point, and with Rotel we can offer integrators the electronics that match at the mid-to high end. That’s a real opportunity for us, and custom installers.”
Demos in the AWE Reference Cinema proved an Expo highlight. The theatre space is now equipped with Bowers & Wilkins CI 800 Series Diamond speakers, and custom CTSW15 subwoofers with 15-inch drivers, arranged in a 7.4.6 Dolby Atmos configuration. Providing amplification was a five-strong tower of Rotel power amps.
The effortless control and power of this sonic combo was astonishing. Providing appropriate imagery was a Sony VPL-GTZ380 native 4k laser projector capable of 10,000 lumens output and 100 per cent DCI-P3 colour gamut, with a Sony VPL-VW790 4k laser projector held in reserve. They throw to a huge 4m Euroscreen screen.
Demos sequences included Jumanji The Next Level and Bohemian Rhapsody. The total cost of the audio in play is quoted by AWE at £65k, while the cost of video hardware totals £88k. To put this in context, I’ve been to commercial screening rooms which would struggle to match this level of performance.
We’re told the conversion rate, from installers who bring clients to experience the setup, is close to 100 per cent.
However the bulk of installer interest appeared focussed on AWE’s more cost effective Performance Cinema solution. Reflecting the reality of volume residential theatre installations, it combines a modest physical space with requisite AV wow factor, at an attractive price point.
For this compact cinema, AWE has employed Bowers & Wilkins 700 series architectural speakers and in-wall subs, driven by a single Marantz AVR; handling imaging duties was an Epson EH-LS12000 projector. The entire hardware bill is just under £20,000, seen as a sweet spot for this calibre of install.
There’s no obvious compromise when it comes to performance though , as a bone-rattling run through of Le Mans ‘66 (aka Ford Vs Ferrari) proves.
One key exclusive for this AWE Expo was the first trade showing of Sony’s eagerly awaiting QD-OLED (Quantum Dot OLED) screen, the 65-inch Bravia Master Series A95K. Utilising an all new panel design from Samsung Display, the Sony flagship delivers a brighter average picture level, and wider colour gamut than we’ve seen from Sony OLED before, and makes the technology a stronger option when it comes to daytime viewing in media rooms, with high ambient light.
AWE partnered the QD-OLED Sony screen with Bowers & Wilkins 7-series 702 S2 floorstanders, matching centre and a pair of 600 Series in-ceiling speakers (for a classic 5.1 layout). Providing amplification was a Marantz SR5015 receiver, which remains an AWE exclusive.
Tickle reported that the trade’s reaction to AWE’s first post pandemic Expo was overwhelmingly enthusiastic, with integrators keen to get hands on with high profile new AV launches. “With the lack of a proper CES, for many this was an early opportunity to see new panel technology, like QD-OLED and Mini LED 8k,” Tickle told us. “QD OLED hasn’t been seen outside of special events, so huge credit to Sony for providing us with these screens.”
The AWE Expo was the first trade showing in Europe off Sony’s 8k Mini LED panel, and Tickle was thrilled to have it on site: “We’ve not even had a chance to calibrated the screen, it’s basically pre-production, but you can immediately see the inherent difference in colour, brightness and HDR Mini LED offers.”
System control may be a business prerequisite, but it was the big screens that attendees gravitated toward. When it comes to screen sizes, Tickle says 77- and 85-inch models have become the default for media rooms.
“For many residential installers, a media room is now pretty much a living room equipped with good visuals and sound, properly installed. For most people, put this on the wall (he indicates the Mini LED panel) with a decent sound system and you’ve got something that just a few years ago would have cost a ridiculous amount.”
While the Sony QD OLED attracted admiring glances, installers still had plenty of time for Sony’s new Mini LED 8k Z9K screen. Combining high brightness with precise HDR handling, it holds obvious media room appeal.
Confirming a crossover with Sony’s professional display division, the distributor also reported strong sales for the Sony BRAVIA FW-100BZ40J 4K HDR professional display.
Positioned somewhere between full projection and Laser TV Ultra Short Throw, the FW-100BZ40J is typically purchased for large, bright spaces where gaming and sports are the content of choice.
For integrators looking to specify a premium consumer flatscreen, AWE offers LG’s 77-inch Z2, an 8k OLED model released under LG’s Signature brand. Alternatively, for an altogether more bijou viewing experience, AWE also lists a 42-inch LG C2 OLED, the smallest OLED panel from LG yet. Interestingly, it was partnered with a two-channel Michi (Rotel’s high-end brand) X3 stereo amp (a £4,700 retail value), Bowers & Wilkins Signature towers, and high-end Marantz CD player, all of which sounded suitably audiophile.
The AWE Expo also provided an opportunity to show just how far the URC control brand has evolved, with a wide range of control options proffered, from a traditional button-strewn remote control with built-in microphone, to on-wall keypads and table touchscreens.
Rotel also used the AWE Expo to show off its new custom installation amplifiers, the C8 and C8+. These slimline, cool-running amplifiers deliver eight channels of high-performance multi-zone audio (70 watts and 150 watts of power per channel, respectively), and a wide array of control options.
Finally, one area where AWE has carved a unique niche, is racing sims. On the apartment showfloor was a BPS Blade racing simulator, a pro-grade driving rig that mirrors the style of high-end simulators used to train racing drivers. I resisted the allure of the gravel traps, but many fellow attendees didn’t.