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One-Speaker Stereo, and Other Wonders

THIS could be the year to buy that facsimile machine or cellular telephone. And if you're thinking of buying new stereo speakers, a single speaker may do the job. That's the word from the 1989 Consumer Electronics Show, the industry's semi-annual extravaganza put on here last week for some 100,000 manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.

Based on early signals from the show, prices in the glutted fax and cellular phone markets should fall by midyear, while sales of camcorders and such youth-oriented products as boom boxes and car audio systems will zoom.

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The fax wars could get really hot in 1989 as low-cost products from Korea and Taiwan begin pouring into the United States market to compete with dominant Japanese models, industry observers say.

Manufacturers are hearing the popular call of cellular phones as well. Nearly 2 million subscribers were on line last year, and as many as a million more are expected to be dialing on the go in 1989. Prices of mobile phones range from about $300 to $900. In 10 to 15 years, industry sources say, a cellular phone will be a standard option on all new cars.

On the home audio front, look for good values in lower-priced compact disc players and receivers from such Japanese manufacturers as Sony, Denon, Yamaha, and Onkyo. The battle to offset the dollar's weakness against the yen already has claimed two corporate victims: both Kyocera and Akai announced they would pull out of the United States market.

And almost nobody at the show was willing to raise the issue of digital audio tape (DAT). American recording interests continue their successful resistance to this high-definition technology, and the Japanese seem content to watch and wait.

In reality, however, reports of DAT's demise may be exaggerated. Thomas A. Harvey, president of Sony's American Consumer Products Division, says his company has committed too much to research and development to abandon the fight for the lucrative US market. He says Sony is willing to be patient until an understanding can be reached with the US recording industry to head off similar confrontations over future digital technology.

If DAT arrived a bit ahead of its time, an American enterprise called Finial Technology showed up a light-year late with its laser LP turntable.

Designed to play standard vinyl records without the destructive contact of a conventional needle, Finial's laser turntable went briefly into production late in 1988, and about 20 units were brought to market. But investors decided the remarkable machine was simply going to cost too much, that even a selling price of $8,000 to $10,000 a table would not cover manufacturing costs.

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Another radical design, however, came charged with life and promise: a single-source stereo loudspeaker from the venerable Swiss firm Revox.

Dubbed the Duetto, this magical box - not a pair of speakers, but a single triangular structure extending about 20 inches on a side and sloping up about 20 inches to a peak, created a vivid stereo stage that remained stable from any listening position in the room.

The $800 Duetto, which was demonstrated with a small $400 subwoofer to achieve deep bass, will be available in black or white lacquer.

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