Great Days for Audio at CES
Coming into this year’s International CES, it would have been hard to imagine a broader selection of audio products in every form, to fit every taste, than was displayed in the Venetian’s demo suites and on the floor of the newly labeled Tech East (Central and South Halls). Multi-room systems of every stripe, both small-footprint speakers and those that would need the help of wall stretchers to fit into the average home, high-end components, and all manner of headphones with clever, differentiating twists – these were everywhere in Las Vegas last month.
Here is some of what was seen and heard:
• Sony, amidst a wide-ranging group of introductions that included high-resolution home audio and multi-room music-streaming products – as well as a successor (in the HT-ST9) to its successful ST7 premium sound bar system, drew a good deal of attention for its portable audio introduction of the High-Resolution NW-ZX2 Walkman. Sony’s LDAC technology enables transmission of high-quality wireless audio via Bluetooth with one-touch ease. The ZX2 Walkman also has the S-Master HX digital amplifier, which was developed specifically for Hi-Res audio playback; it is said to reduce distortion and noise. Also on board the ZX2: DSEE HX technology, which “upscales” streaming sources that are less than Hi-Res quality. It comes with ah 128GB built-in memory and a micro SD card slot, along with a Lithium-ion battery for up to 60 hours of playback on a single charge.
• Bang & Olufsen took the wraps off what it calls the BeoSound Moment – a wireless “intelligent” music system that the company is touting as the “answer to how cloud-based music should be experienced,” said Marie Kristine Schmidt, vice president. Moment allows all music sources to be accessed with one touch via a detachable double-sided interface. One side is of touch-sensitive oak and features an embedded “ring” that controls basic music selection and volume level. On the flip side is a glass touch panel that can display a color-coded MoodWheel with concentric hot and cold colors across a color gamut spectrum. Once the system learns a listener’s preferences through a feature called PatternPlay, it aggregates content into various color categories and when the user touches various spots within the wheel, the system determines the music mood desired and plays the selection accordingly. The system connects to up to eight WiSA-certified speakers, and its $2,795 price tag when it is available later this year will include a 12-month Deezer Premium subscription. Also new from B&O PLAY is the flagship Model BeoPlay H8 – a premium active noise cancelling headphone that will play for 14 hours on a single charge and that features a unique touch interface on the outside of the earpad whose sensors respond to gestures ($499).
• Paradigm fielded a new custom installation in-wall/in-ceiling speaker line at its suite. The CI Pro replaces the AMS series and the CO Elite will usurp the SA series (spring availability). The company also showed the Shift collection’s Wireless Series multiroom system components, which will include the PF 600 bookshelf speaker ($600), the PF amplifier ($500) and the PF 800 speaker ($800). The system uses DTS’s Play-Fi technology and works with the Play-Fi app. Also on exhibit was a prototype of the Prestige 2000W 2m000-watt 15-inch subwoofer (spring availability). The sub will complement the just-shipping Prestige 95 towers ($5,000/pair).
• SVS, says company principal Gary Yacoubian, is “re-messaging its brand vision to bring world-class audio experiences to a broader audience.” At CES, it demo’ed its Prime series ($1,000/pair) and the $499/pair Prime bookshelf speakers and $270/pair satellites. It is making a 5.1-channel bundle available for $999. Also on display was the PC-2000 Pillar of Bass cylinder subwoofer.
• GoldenEar Technology held demos of its new Triton Five passive tower speaker ($999 each; March availability) – a larger version of the Triton Seven – in one Venetian tower room – and in the other room, showed off the “inertially balanced” SuperSub XXL ($1,999; summer availability), by running the subwoofer-challenging “The Art of Flight” snowboarding video while balancing a nickel on its edge atop the XXL.
• Totem’s Vince Bruzzese exhibited and demonstrated the Tribe V on-wall full-range speaker and Element series Metal speakers. The Metal features the company’s Torrent driver, which offers a panoramic non-directional distribution of sound.
• Thiel fielded its new Third Avenue Collection – labeled as such as an homage to downtown Nashville’s iconic Third Ave., Nashville now being where Thiel’s operations center is located, said senior vice president of sales and marketing Paul Fisher. The series includes the TT1 floorstanding tower ($5,800/pair), the TC1 dedicated center channel ($2,495), the TM3 rear channels ($3,500/pair) and a new prototype subwoofer (due out in Q2 at $3,000). “We’re moving Thiel from a two-channel company to being a surround sound company – evolving with the marketplace,” said Fisher. Future products in development include larger TT tower speakers and additional center channel and subwoofer models; also in the planning stage is a new series of in-wall architectural speakers.
• Panasonic is, at last, leveraging the equity of its Technics label with the re-introduction of the legendary audio brand beginning in March in the U.S.; the lines had been announced at the Fall 2014 IFA Show in Berlin. The Technics R1 reference-class system and the C700 premium-class system are targeted at the “new generation of audio enthusiasts,” said Panasonic Consumer Electronics Co. president Julie Bauer. The Reference R1 Series consists of three hi-fi audio components: the SE-R1 Stereo Power Amplifier; the SU-R1 Network Audio Control Player and the SB-R1 Speaker System (priced at around $60,000 total). The premium-class C700 Series includes four hi-fi components including a stereo integrated amplifier, network audio player, CD player and speaker system ($6,000 total). No turntable models have been announced as yet.
• Altec Lansing has expanded its successful rugged/waterproof speaker line from two to six SKUs. The iMW576 BoomJacket Bluetooth speaker, one of the new models, is IPX67-rated waterproof/dust-proof/shock-resistant, and provides up to 40 hours of battery life before needing recharging; it also serves as a power supply when needed for a smartphone. It also has a built-in mic for when it’s used as a speakerphone, and has a talking battery charge indicator ($199; April availability).
• A good deal of the action at the Sound United booth, housing both the Definitive Technology and Polk Audio brands, was around headphone demos. The Definitive Symphony 1 “executive” Bluetooth headphones ($399) – the brand’s first-ever headphones – feature active noise cancellation. They are of an over-ear seal, closed-back design, and house four dedicated noise-cancellation microphones and 50mm drivers. A built-in D/A converter, tactile on-ear controls for convenient control of all primary functions, and two built-in mics complete the package. On the Polk Audio side of the booth was shown the Hinge Bluetooth wireless line of on-ear headphones ($199.95 each) in multiple color choices. They feature NFC one-touch pairing technology and 12-hour battery life, along with Polk’s Sound Clear technology.
• The iHome brand, marketed by SDI, is one of the top four Bluetooth speaker brands in the U.S. market and is number one in Bluetooth clock radios, said the company’s Evan Stein at the private CES booth where a wide selection of new Bluetooth-connected products with unique features and form factors was on display. Among the new products is the rechargeable Sound Flask (iBT12 and iBT32; $49.99 and $99.99); it has a host of speakerphone features including built-in mic and ATI SoundClear voice echo cancellation; it comes with a leather-style case with a carabiner clip that can attach to a backpack. Also new: the Kineta series Model iKN105 Bluetooth clock radio featuring a pop-out cylindrical battery ($99.99) which doubles as a smartphone charger; the Model iBT74 decorative-candle-shaped Phaze color-changing Bluetooth speaker system ($59.99); and the Model iBT11 Split portable surround Bluetooth speaker system with charging cradle ($99.99) that can be split in two for wireless stereo sound. The company is also releasing its SmartPlug series Wi-Fi-enabled wall plugs that allow control of home electronics including lights, fans, heaters and home audio systems; they are compatible with Apple’s HomeKit and will work with Siri.
• 808 Audio fielded some new SKUs in both its headphone and wireless speaker lines. The NRG Glo wireless Bluetooth can-shaped speaker features a multi-color light that pulsates with the music playing and can be set to different modes or moods. ($59; March availability). It is powered by a 12-hour rechargeable battery. Also able to play non-stop on a 12-hour charge is the 808 Audio HEX XS pocket-size wireless Bluetooth speaker, ($59.99) with stereo sound and an enhanced bass radiator. Simplified, one-button simple operation controls all key functions such as power on/off and device pairing.
• Klipsch offered numerous product debuts at its CES outpost, conducting Dolby Atmos and WiSA technology demonstrations in a sound room equipped with two concept Reference Premiere 5.1 systems. Klipsch’s Mark Casavant said the company was planning to market Dolby Atmos system elements at mid-year that include $2,500/pair floorstanding towers and a $950 center channel; Atmos-enabled height-channel modules are also going to be available at $500/pair. Klipsch also showed off and played the 10-speaker Reference Premiere series outside the sound room; that series is now in production as the company’s flagship speaker line. The Reference series features Klipsch’s exclusive 90°x90° Hybrid Tractrix Horn technology coupled with Linear Travel Suspension (LTS) titanium tweeters. Casavant pointed out that the series is designed “with clean baffles and no fasteners.”