Experiencing AWE Expo

Following a complete refurbishment of both cinemas and some big brand upgrades, AWE Europe opened the doors of its show apartment to integrators for three days of AWE Expo. Amy Wallington paid a visit.

While company visits have been limited over the last year or so, smart home technology distributor, AWE Europe has spent some of that downtime upgrading its showroom, including two newly refurbished cinema rooms, to include the latest products and solutions from its portfolio of brands to suit a range of budgets.

Based at AWE’s UK headquarters in Epsom, the showroom has always been a great space for integrators and their customers to visit and experience different home technology solutions in real-life situations.

Expo

At the end of March, I was lucky enough to be invited for a preview of the first AWE Expo to be held in two years. Having visited AWE Europe many times before the pandemic, I was keen to see the various upgrades made throughout the apartment, and in particular, the refurbished performance cinema and reference cinema. Could they really be a step up from what was already an outstanding performance before?

I was taken through to the main part of the show apartment to get a real grip on the solutions available. Starting in the study, I was given a demo of two clips of music played through a pair of Bowers & Wilkins floorstanding speakers which were connected to the new Michi by Rotel Amplifier and a Marantz CD player. It was a really comfortable listening experience, with clean but detailed sound. While the demo was played at a satisfying level, it was obvious that the system could be pushed to play the music louder if it needed to but would still maintain the high level of sound quality with no distortion.

Two extremely large TVs were on display in the TV gallery. Featuring an 85” 8K mini LED screen from Sony and the 100” Sony Pro BRAVIA Display, the images created were stunning. Both displays delivered extremely bright and colourful images while playing demo content.

AWE's TV gallery

Moving over to the living room area, I was given a demo of a film clip in a 5.1 media room configuration. Designed to show what can be done with a normal living room space, the room was set-up with a comfy sofa, surround speakers and a Sony 65” QD-OLED TV. Even with the laid back set up, the jump in performance from your average TV and soundbar combo was very noticeable. It certainly felt more like a home cinema experience having the surround channels to immerse you into the content on screen.  

AWE's living room with 5.1 configuration

To reflect the recent growth in the home gaming market, AWE has added a games room using effective Philips Hue lighting, Bowers & Wilkins in-ceiling speakers, and a 77” LG OLED display. The main feature in this room is the BPS Blade Sim, a custom-built professional-grade race simulator, which is always a hit with visitors. The Precision Sim GPX Steering Wheel and professional steering motor delivers a very realistic simulation.

AWE's games room

Part of experiencing speakers is seeing how they can be integrated into walls and ceilings for a seamless finish. I thought it was a really nice touch that AWE has created a dedicated product gallery to show Bowers & Wilkins’ portfolio ranging from in-wall to floorstanding speakers from mid-range to high-end. An AWE representative spoke about the different models on display and, using the clear plastic panels they were installed into, demonstrated how easy they are to clip into a ceiling or wall. Another nice feature here was the posters showing Bowers & Wilkins products in use at Abbey Road Studios.

Bowers & Wilkins product hall

Following the Bowers & Wilkins dedicated product gallery, I was taken to another product gallery that had a mix of TVs, speakers, Rotel amplifiers and processors, Ring X Line products, Kinetik speakers, and accessories from Sanus. A quick demo was given here of Rotel’s new C8 and C8+ amplifiers played through some Bowers & Wilkins speakers. A cover of Billy Joel’s ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’ was played, demonstrating its capabilities at producing a smooth and controlled audio experience.

One of my favourite parts is the Den. It is a truly cosy room with a different media experience featuring a 104” Euroscreen in-ceiling projection screen and an Epson EH-TW7100 4K PRO-UHD projector. Showing a demo of a David Attenborough documentary, the projector produced a bright and clear image on the screen with bold colours. There was also an option to switch to the ultra-short-throw 4K PRO-UHD laser projector which also created a stunning image.

Performance cinema

AWE's new performance cinema

One of the highlights of my visit was experiencing the refurbished performance cinema. Although this was not the main attraction of the apartment (we’ll come to that in a minute), I was rather blown away with the results this room produced. Not only did it look high-end with the feature lighting in the walls and lush carpet and sofas, but I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience in this room.

Using a combination of Bowers & Wilkins 700 Series architectural loudspeakers and in-wall subwoofers, driven by a single 11-channel Denon AV amplifier and dedicated sub amps, the sound quality was really impressive. Complementing the audio, the Epson EH-LS12000B projector delivered crystal clear images that made the whole experience even more enthralling.

I was given a demo of a couple of movie clips showing the quality of the projection and audio together to create an immersive experience. I also really enjoyed being given an audio demo in this room. Turning the screen to a music player and just having the feature lighting on around the room gave a really calming listening room feel.

Reference cinema

While the performance cinema was extremely impressive, the real show is saved for the new reference cinema which is a huge step up in performance, leaving no expense spared. For a start, the room is very spacious and features two rows of comfortable sofas.

A number of clips were shown in this room, from Dolby demo content to a range of movie clips, and each one left me more and more amazed. Delivering a truly immersive experience through the 7.4.6 audio configuration using Bowers & Wilkins CI 800 Series Diamond speakers and Custom Theatre subwoofers, it was easy to lose yourself in the content on screen. In addition to the 3D audio, two Sony projectors were demonstrated, both displaying vivid and bright images but at two very different price points.

The first demo used Sony’s VPL-VW790 laser projector featuring Sony’s SXRD chips, meaning there are three chips: one for red, one for green and one for blue. Projecting onto a 4m-wide Euroscreen projector screen, the projector provided a stunning 4K image, displaying 8.8 million pixels all the time to give the definition needed to engross yourself into a movie. Being a laser projector, I was also shown how it can achieve complete blackout but immediately switch back on to full brightness.

As if that wasn’t enough, AWE then switched over to the Sony VPL-GTZ380 which was an even bigger step up in performance. Using three lasers and delivering 10,000 lumens of brightness, the image on screen was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The detail from corner to corner and colour scale really brought the content to life.

One of the demos given was the race scene in Ready Player One where the coins are scattered. The 3D audio layout made it feel very realistic and the change from speaker to speaker was seamless as the coins travelled around the room.

Another demo AWE showed was the Band-Aid concert scene at the end of the film Bohemian Rhapsody. This is a demo I’ve had thousands of times in various home cinema setups, but this one gave me goosebumps. The extraordinary sound and picture quality added even more immersivity and gave a real sense of being there on stage as Freddie’s voice boomed out across the audience.

Behind the cinema’s extraordinary performance is a comms room full of equipment. Explaining some of the audio power, the company showed me three Rotel RB-1590 stereo amplifiers which are used to biamp the front speakers, running 700W per channel through the speakers in order to achieve, and exceed, full reference level. Complementing that, two Rotel RMB-1585 power amplifiers are running the surround and height channels. The booming bass from the four subwoofers is powered by two Bowers & Wilkins SA1000 subwoofer amplifiers.

After my pre-Expo experience of the newly upgraded apartment and cinemas, did it meet my expectations? No, it exceeded them. The reference cinema in particular was a huge step up in performance and truly demonstrates the ultimate in-home cinema performance.

Watch a video walkthrough of the new reference cinema and book to visit the show apartment here.

Main image: AWE's refurbished reference cinema