Years ago, the Consumer Electronics Show was a showcase for the best consumer electronics products of the day — televisions, radios and hi-fi equipment.
Plenty has changed in the past twenty years. Now CES is a huge trade show whose main focus is on computers, computer-related products and services and of course television and radio — only now that’s high-definition TV and satellite radio.
Hi-fi is still around but is now more of a show within a show. The huge companies still show off their products at the Las Vegas Convention Center with all the other industries. But now, manufacturers show off their high-end audio — great sounding, expensive equipment — in small hotel rooms, often times miles away from everything else. That’s where some of the most interesting sounds can be heard in all of Las Vegas.
Everywhere you look at CES there are items of all shapes and sizes that attach in some way to an iPod. I won’t be talking about any of them.
On the other hand, there are plenty of items being displayed which stress the highest quality sound reproduction available.
One name famous for sound reproduction for nearly 60 years is Klipsch. These days they make all sorts of products — including their own nifty looking items that deal with iPods. They also remember their roots.
Klipsch was founded after World War II by Paul W. Klipsch who decided it was necessary to create the perfect loudspeaker. The large speaker he designed in 1946, named the Klipschorn, is still in production. So are some of the other high-efficiency (you don’t need much power to make lots of music) loudspeakers he designed over the years.
I had a chance to see the totally revamped Heritage line of speakers: A great sounding La Scala II, the newly refined Heresy III and the return after 15 years of the Cornwall — now dubbed the Cornwall III.
These speakers are big, heavy and sound pretty great. Expect prices to be on the heavy side too. I’m hoping to make a pilgrimage to Klipsch this spring to hear these legendary speakers and report back to you on how they sound.
I heard some absolutely amazing sounds out of a speaker from Japanese manufacturer Murata. The company specializes in super-tweeters which are drivers that recreate sounds that can't really be heard but can add realistic-sounding ambience back into the sound reproduction chain.
But, I was most impressed with their ES301 speaker system which consists of a ceramic tweeter/midrange driver and 3 woofers. The speakers have a unique isolation system which allows the entire wooden enclosure to balance on an interior metal pole.
The ES301s produced some of the best sound I heard in Las Vegas. The Muratas are priced at $10,000 for the pair.
The folks from Polk Audio were demonstrating an interesting speaker but of a totally different design. Their 42-inch long SurroundBar mounts beneath your TV. As you’re sitting and watching, the system simulates a 5-channel surround sound environment from a single speaker.
I promise not to bore you with how it’s done. Let's just say the system sounded pretty convincing despite the super noisy environment on the convention floor.
Polk also displayed their upcoming I-Sonic entertainment system — with AM, FM, HD (digital AM and FM radio), CD and an optional XM radio plug-in module.
The little I was able to hear sounded pretty darned good. I-Sonic will be available soon with a retail price of $599.
HD radio is also a part of the very high-end radio tuner that many radio stations are using to monitor their signal. Day Sequerra’s modular, professional tuners are capable of some of the best sounding AM, FM, HD and satellite reception on the planet.
The demonstration of HD I heard at the show was simply amazing. It was one of the few times broadcast radio sounded as good as a CD — free of noise and distortion.
Like I said, Day Sequerra is made for professionals. And radio stations. They are priced accordingly — $2,995 and up — depending on modules and features.
Newly released LPs (remember them?) and CDs were being displayed nearly everywhere at this section of Alexis Park.
I particularly liked seeing Mobile Fidelity's display of high-quality recordings. I couldn't resist walking away with the new UltraDisk CD of the Mothers of Invention's “We're Only In It For The Money," their SACD of Edgar Winter's "They Only Come Out at Night" and a brand new 45-rpm vinyl EP release from Richard Thompson called "Some Enchanted Evenings."
Shure used to be called Shure Brothers. They used to make some of the best phonograph cartridges on the planet. But most people don’t play records much any more. (That’s too bad — old-fashioned LPs can and do sound amazing if done correctly.)
Today, Shure focuses on other items including some of the best earphones on the market. They make an entire line that improves the sound quality of any iPod/portable music device much better than a cheap pair of earphones.
The good new here is that Shure is upgrading their top-of-the-line earphones. The new E500 model has three drivers (tweeter, midrange and bass woofer) inside that little enclosure. The current top-of-the-line is the e5 with two drivers per ear (tweeter and woofer).
The e5 and the E500 will both sell for $499. I hope to be first in line to get a pair of the e500s and tell you if they match or surpass the sound of their older brothers.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you this interesting design for the reproduction of very low frequency bass notes — or woofer.
Eminent Technology was proudly showing off their TRW 17 Infrasonic Woofer — a rotary design that is said to be so powerful that it can move an open door back and forth about half-an-inch at incredibly low frequencies. We’re talking stuff that you feel rather than actually hear.
I’m sorry to say that I did not get a chance to actually hear this device in action and after this review I’m not sure that they are going to be sending me one to test anytime in the near future.
The TRW 17 retails for $12,900 and comes with a 3-year warranty.