Some of the Internet-Direct (ID) companies have some serious talent behind their
products. When Klipsch dismantled Mirage, Andrew Welker who co-designed the
Omnipolar series with Ian Paisley and invented the Omniguide for the next
generation of speakers, went to Axiom and has come out with a target=_blank href=http://www.axiomaudio.com/omnidirectional-
speaker#>flagship omnidirectional design
. It uses DSP to adjust the timing
of the rearward signal so you (reportedly) get pinpoint imaging and room-filling
sound. Although they're ID, they make the speakers in Canada and offer several
custom options including custom paint jobs.
SVS hired Mike Mason as designer and head of production. He comes from 12
years working in those capacities at PSB. SVS recently came out with their Ultra
series, whose series/ultra-tower#.UkyawBY9Xdk>Tower
looks to be a serious contender
at $2K. Tekton's founder used to work at Axiom.
As for the notion that these companies go ID because they can't compete side-
by-side, what about Bose? They do retail marketing, but do it in such a way that
it's hard to compare with mainstream speakers. They set up exclusive demo
areas and install in places like Costco and Sam's Club where there is no speaker
competition at all. They also used their advertising budget to shake down
magazines for favorable reviews and to spike negative ones according to target=_blank href=http://www.analogplanet.com/content/dr-amar-bose-
Most of the ID speaker companies ship free and some even pay for return
shipping. So you can compare in your own setup. Also, it seems that most of the
professional reviewers are pretty frank as to whether they like or don't like
various ID products. Mostly, however, they're value leaders because the ID model
cuts the retail price by around 40%. I think they value the advantage of offering a
$5K speaker for $3K more than whether people can compare them at a store.
The ID companies always have links to the professional reviews.
And some ID mfrs are boutique, such as Salk, Tyler, and Ascend. You get
meticulously crafted products handmade in the USA at affordable prices. Do you
honestly think that Ascend, Tekton, Tyler, and Salk can't compete with the mass
market products in the stores?
Oh, and to answer the OP's question, I bought a UMC-200 about 6 wks ago to
replace a 2006 Pre/Pro that doorstopper. Here was a $599 unit replacing a $2K
unit. For the money I'm very pleased. Out of the box it sounded a bit sterile, but
after a week of burn-in and then running the speaker setup software, it turned
into a nice unit with a lot of clarity and a low noise floor. One way they save
money is that the HDMI video is simply a pass-through. It doesn't offer video
correction or enhancement. However, I rewired my HT with Redmere technology
HDMI cables, which are active, and that made a noticeable improvement in the
picture. The sound is clearer than the old unit was, and it has excellent
dynamics. The only downside is that switching HDMI inputs results in a few
seconds of screen flashes until it settles in on the new source. Other than that,
it's very solid, reliable unit with good sound and decoding.
BTW, it's not so simple to move up from the $599 Emotiva to the $1095 Nuforce
unless you are all digital. The Nuforce saves a bunch of cost by strictly limiting
the inputs to digital--HDMI, S/PDIF, Toslink, and USB. The Emotiva also accepts
analog 7.1 direct (like if you want to take advantage of Oppo's internal decoder)
and four analog stereo pairs. So you can't move up to Nuforce unless you have
no legacy analog to deal with.