CES 2018 Show Report Day 2 Coverage
I’ve enjoyed watching the story and growth of DeVORE FIDELITY over the years, but having the opportunity to actually listen to their speakers had eluded me until CES. John DeVore has been making huge waves in the worldwide audiophile community since he started his Brooklyn, NY-based company back in 2000, and everything I have ever read about his speakers has been more than positive. Superb woodwork, innovative engineering, and of course, reference-quality sound have always been the defining characters of his products.
At CES this year, he was showing his brand new gibbon Super Nine speakers for the first time (he showed the prototype at RMAF ’17, but these are the actual production speakers). The new Super Nines are a 2.5 way design incorporating the revolutionary tweeter first debuted in their gibbon X ($15,890/pair), and two long-throw paper woofers. Bandwidth is rated at 29Hz-30kHz, impedance at 8 Ohms, and sensitivity at 91dB/W/M. Driven by VTL MB-185 Series III mono block amplifiers ($20k/pair), VTL TL5.5 Series II Signature Preamplifier ($11K), and a TotalDac D1 Tube Mk II DAC ($11k), this was the best sounding system I listened to all day. It had thunderous yet articulate bass, silky smooth mids, and crystal clear highs. For a price of $9,990, I think it’s a tremendous bargain. Not only do I plan to go back today for another listen, but I want to get my hands on a pair of these for review! Very impressive…
Emotiva always has new components to present at shows, and for CES 2018, they provided us with some big hitters. First up is their RMC-1, Differential Reference Cinema Processor. It is packed with features, and offers a 16-channel, fully balanced, design with twin high-speed triple-core 64-bit Sharc digital processing engines. With this it also provides 32-bit/768k AD/DA conversion, and 4k UHD HDMI video management. The RMC-1 includes Dirac Live room correction, Dolby Atmos and DTS-X, and native multi-channel DSD support. Final pricing and availability to be released soon. Also being shown was their new XPA DR (Differential Reference) series amplifiers that can be configured in either 1, 2, or 3-channel options. The DR-1 is a single channel amplifier boasting 600 watts at 8 Ohms, and sells for $1,299. The DR-2 is a 2-channel amplifier with 550 watts/channel at 8 Ohms, or 800 watts/channel at 4 Ohms. Retail pricing is $1,599. And finally the DR-3 is a 3-channel amplifier with 450 watts/channel at 8 Ohms, or 600 watts/channel at 4 Ohms with a retail price of $1,999. The XPA DR series amplifiers start shipping in January of 2018. SECRETS writers will be receiving review samples soon, so stay tuned for our thoughts on these new products!
To say that ELAC has been very busy over the past couple of years would be a huge understatement. They are constantly bringing new, high-performance products to the market at affordable prices, and the audio press has been quite complimentary in their reviews. At CES they were showing a lot of new gear including their new Alchemy Series that gives us the DDP-2 Connected Pre-Amp DAC that will sell for $2,500, the DPA-2 Stereo/Mono Amplifier (350 watt stereo or 600 watt mono) at $1,500, and their PPA-2 Phono Pre-amplifier at $1,000. All of these new items will trickle out into the market in 2018. The other exciting new product range is their Argo Series of active speakers. Available in May / June of 2018, they will offer the F51 Powered Floor Standing Speakers at $4,000/pair.
These speakers are a 3-way powered system featuring a 150 watt BASH AB amplifier for bass drivers, a 70 watt BASH AB amplifier for the mid-range, and a 30 watt AB amplifier for the tweeter. The Argo B-51 Powered Bookshelf Speakers will retail for $2,000/pair, and offer the same powered configuration as the bigger F51. Active speakers like these offer a lot of benefits and advantages over traditional setups (great topic for another article), and in my opinion, will be a substantial growth segment in the market. And with the Argo Series, you can add the ELAC Discovery Connect wireless transmitter to your system, and they become a wireless speaker that lets you enjoy streaming content without a cable in sight. I got the opportunity to sit down and listen to some music on the smaller B51’s, and I was more than impressed. I’d really like to get a pair of these in for review! Exciting stuff from ELAC, with a lot more new products to be announced in 2018.
To start off Day 2, we visited with our friends at Bowers & Wilkins to check out their new PX headphones. Since I did reviews in 2017 on their P7 Wireless and P9 Signature headphones, I was anxious to check these out. While there are a lot of new features available on the PX that weren’t on the P7’s, the biggest in my opinion is the inclusion of adjustable noise cancellation. Through a smartphone app, you can adjust exactly how much cancellation you want (more on an airplane, less in an office for instance).
Another cool feature is the fact that when you pull them away from your ears, the music will shut off…then back on again once you put them back on. The styling is very nice, with finishes available in either Space Grey, or Soft Gold. Retail pricing is just $399. Stay tuned for an upcoming review of these, and how they compare to the P7 and P9’s. While they weren’t showing any new speakers, I did take a few photos simply for the eye-candy aspect of the B&W design!
Next up was a visit to the Pro-Ject room, where quite frankly we were blown away by the shear number of new products that they were showing. We had a fantastic visit with Buzz Goddard, Brand Director for Pro-Ject USA, who took the time to show us all of the latest and greatest. Since there were so many products, I’ll just include some highlights, and save more information for some upcoming reviews. Starting at the top, they were showing off their very limited edition 175 Vienna Philharmonic Record Player. This turntable pays homage to the 175th anniversary of the Vienna Philharmonic. There are details-galore on this stunningly beautiful machine, and only 175 examples will be made.
Each one is hand-built over a 2 month period, and on the back of it will be the serial number, and the owner’s name. I really wish this would have playing instead of a static display, but given its exclusivity, I understand why. Retail price is $8,500. Also being displayed was their entire FlexiRange of turntables, that offers a tremendous amount of features and options for very low prices. All models of Flexi Range are based on the standard version of Essential III and share the same basic features. They come with a factory aligned Ortofon OM10 cartridge, which is mounted to a one-piece aluminum tonearm. The chassis and the platter are made from acoustically neutral MDF which guarantees high class performance. There are models with switchable line or phone output, electronic speed control, or even high resolution USB LP ripping. Prices ranged from $299 to $799.
Occasionally at these shows, you get to a room that you really like, take some great shots, but never get the opportunity to speak with somebody about specifics. And that one this show was the Technics room. So given that, I’ll have some sketchy details, but since the products are so over-the-top cool looking, I had no choice but to show them anyways! Technics has really made a rebound and a total refresh of their brand over the past couple of years, and based on what I saw, I can tell that they’re still moving forward very aggressively.
Their demo system featured their stunning Reference Class SB-R1 speakers (the big ones!), the smaller SB-G90’s, and their ultra-cool SE-R1 Stereo Amplifier at 150 watts/channel. While the system sounded very good, all I could think of is how mesmerizing those moving dials were on the amplifier…want! The styling on their components are a perfect blend of modern cool and retro. These are not pieces to hide away in a cabinet; they are meant to be seen.
I had expected to see TVs and projectors at Panasonic’s booth but they had none on display. I was assured of product announcements for upcoming displays but they weren’t showing them in Las Vegas. But I was fascinated by the technology they had in their enormous booth. Obviously, there are many more applications for displays than home entertainment.
One thing which I would install in my car in a heartbeat was their dashboard rear-view system. I live in Florida and yes, the drivers there are as bad as the legends say. To have a full view of what’s behind me would be a godsend when navigating through Orlando traffic or changing lanes on highways where people always gravitate to my car’s blind spots.
I also saw slick touchscreens that one might see on a commercial flight. Many planes now have a screen for each passenger. Panasonic’s displays are interactive and connect to a system that provides in-flight Internet and non-stop entertainment.
For those who would like to attend large events but don’t want to battle crowds and pay exorbitant ticket prices, there are large venue solutions that include interactive features. You can watch an event on a life-sized wraparound screen and interact with it on your smartphone.
Panasonic is a leading battery manufacturer and on one stand, I saw a slick little scooter powered by two removable packs about the size of a thermos. The rider can pull up to a kiosk and swap them out in about 10 seconds. This would be a great way to get around a city or other urban setting.
About half their booth space was dedicated to a fascinating product history. Items from the fifties were on display next to their modern-day counterparts. How many of us are old enough to remember the top-loading VCR? Yep, I had one back in the nineties.
The presentation finished up with a look at the future where our very homes will know us better than we know ourselves. A room will adjust its climate control to comfort a sick child, while the kitchen provides recipes, makes shopping lists, orders supplies, and makes sure we eat healthy. The car, driven autonomously of course, becomes another place to spend free time. It was a neat display with a live narrator who interacted with the action taking place on a gigantic projection screen.
Optoma is the only projector manufacturer I had the pleasure of seeing here at CES. They have several new models that will be shipping in the coming months. 4K is the focus and they’re offering it at very attractive price points, well below $2000 for models running at 3840×2160 resolution with HDR10.
The UHD50 shown here ships very soon and retails for just $1499. It will be the least-expensive 4K projector available that I’m aware of. It sports 2400 lumens output with a six-segment color wheel and HDR10 support. It has good installation flexibility too with a 1.3x zoom lens and vertical shift. I’ll be reviewing it in the next few weeks. By the way, the black chassis in the picture is a prototype. The shipping unit will be white.
For an extra $200, Alexa functionality can be added to the UHD50 in the form of the UHD51A. The display features are the same but when connected, it will respond to voice commands to do things like change inputs, adjust volume from the built-in speaker, or tweak HDR options. Alexa can also do things like lower a retractable screen, dim the lights, and make changes to other parts of your home theater system. Remember when you had to drop $5000 on a professionally installed Crestron system to do the same thing with buttons? My how times have changed.
Moving up the line, Optoma will be shipping two ultra-short throw models later in 2018. They’re called UST and will come with either a UHP lamp or laser light engine. Output is 2300-3000 lumens and they create a fixed 100” image. The demo I saw was paired with Screen Innovations material and looked sensational. Expected price is around $5000 so they’re aiming for the mid-high tier with this one. With the right screen, a display like this can easily replace a large flat panel. While it won’t have the contrast of an OLED, it’s quite bright with sensational color and clarity. 4K DLP is going to be serious competition for the LCoS projectors from Sony and JVC, and it’s doing it at lower price points. Watch for my review of the Optoma UHD50 and others in the coming months.
Sandy Gross is never one to rest on his laurels. I wonder if he ever rests, period. Here at CES, he’s showing a prototype of a new wireless speaker the DigitalAktiv 3, due to ship by Q4. The model I saw wasn’t playing but he will be demoing it at CEDIA this fall in San Diego.
Now, this isn’t just another wireless speaker. It leverages technology and hardware from the Triton Reference towers and delivers serious sound quality in a bookshelf form-factor. The woofer is 6” in diameter with a cast basket and shared its design with the Triton Reference. The tweeter is the same component found in that high-end speaker. What most caught my attention is the integrated amplification. A 200-watt unit powers the woofer and a 60-watt part drives the tweeter. Both are Class AB. This direct-drive approach significantly reduces distortion. Bass is enhanced by two inertially-balanced 8” passive radiators. Rather than a traditional crossover, which nearly always affects the sound, frequency management is handled by a sophisticated 56-bit DSP module. This part also incorporates bass management because yes, the DigitalAktiv 3 includes a subwoofer output. When used as a stereo pair, the speakers are linked via WISA high-frequency radio. This technology has almost zero latency which is crucial to maintaining proper phase and imaging.
The other major attraction here is the inclusion of Google Chromecast. Once connected, the speaker integrates all the streaming capability of that service. This approach makes the DA3 very versatile. You can run single speakers, or pairs, anywhere in the home for an easy whole-house audio solution. You can make them the surround channels in a home theater. You can even stream content directly from a smartphone with Bluetooth. In fact, there’s little, it seems, they won’t do. Pricing and exact availability are TBD for now.
Rather than duplicate coverage, I’ll just highlight discussions I had with my friends at Lenbrook about future reviews. I recently received the NAD T 758 AVR which I mentioned in my Dirac post yesterday. That testing will begin shortly. I’ll also be checking out the T 777 in few weeks. Both receivers feature Dolby Atmos and Dirac Live. My theater currently has a 5.1 system installed so Lenbrook sent along two height modules to be installed on top of my main tower speakers. The theme of the review will be, “how few speakers do you need to do Dolby Atmos?” The spec supports a 5.1.2 configuration at minimum so I’ll be able to talk in depth about how that sounds.
Three years ago, I reviewed the Masters Series M17 Processor and M27 Power Amplifier. The M17 is being upgraded to support Ultra HD video passthrough and Dolby Atmos by way of hardware modules. They can be user-installed if one is comfortable, say, assembling their own PC, or changing their car’s oil. The Atmos module also brings Dirac Live into the mix, which I’m very excited about.
I’ll also be checking out an updated version of the D3020 desktop amplifier. It adds a phono stage to its list of inputs, though the USB port is no longer. It continues with AptX Bluetooth and the best part is it’s now $399 instead of $499. Score!
I had planned visits to both TCL and Samsung’s booths to check out their latest TVs. But at around noon, the power went out in the Central Hall where all the largest booths are located. That’s something one wouldn’t expect at the largest consumer electronics expo in the world. I waited it out for about an hour and the hall remained dark. They stopped letting people into the building and those inside trickled out as security managed to find them. All I can do at this point is head for the Venetian where I plan to meet with Lenbrook, which Todd Cooperider has covered in greater depth, and Goldenear where Sandy Gross has a cool new product to show me.