CES 2018 Show Report Summary
Well, CES is finally over, and despite Managing Editor Cynthia Johnson-St Denis’ insistence that we regularly use hand sanitizer at the show, I still ended up coming home with a bad head cold. But based on what we saw in terms of attendance both at the exhibitor and industry level within the Venetian, I don’t think I’ll have to worry about that next year! Don’t get me wrong, CES as a show is stronger than ever, with ridiculous crowds and long waits for taxis, but not in the high end audio market. Many exhibitors we spoke with doubted that they would be returning, and instead they would focus their efforts at the Munich show in May. What was once a thriving audio show with 5 floors of exhibitors at the Venetian alone, has now come down to just a single floor with very small crowds. One of the photos below shows the hallways on Day 1, and there were only 2 people to be seen. The other photo with lots of people was the line for a taxi leaving the airport, and there must have been 500 people waiting. So combine huge crowds and waits everywhere, with high expenses for attendees and exhibitors alike, with a drastic drop in the high end audio segment, and you get a poor outlook for this being a viable show moving forward.
But on the positive side, the market itself looks to be very strong despite the waning interest of CES. There were a lot of new products being shown within the Venetian, and companies were very upbeat about their 2017 sales results and their forecasts for 2018.
Looking back at the week, I had a few thoughts and observations that stood out.
For one, there’s definitely a lot of interest and movement with active speakers, and I only see it getting stronger. As a younger generation of audiophiles enter the market, they are looking for simplicity and ease of use. Active speakers provide a lot of connectivity options, and cut down the need for a lot of separate components. KEF really kicked things off in this segment in late 2016 with their LS50W speakers, and many other companies have followed suit. ELAC was showing off their new Argo series of active speakers that look to be very attractive to buyers (and sounded great, too). Sandy Gross of GoldenEar Technology was also showing a static display of his new DigitalAktiv 3 powered monitors that will be released later in the year. Based on his presentation, and his track record, these should be big hitters.
Secondly, I noticed a lot more movement in MQA availability, with many manufacturers embracing what it has to offer. When I wrote an editorial on MQA in the spring of 2017, I felt strongly that it would grow in popularity. And in a short time later, it’s looking like I was correct in that prediction.
There were also quite a few products and companies that really stood out as well for a variety of reasons:
ELAC. These guys have been on fire the past 18 months or so, and they’re not slowing down. They’re introducing a huge amount of new products for 2018, and all of them are bringing a high level of value.
Pro-Ject. There were so many new products in their room that I almost got lost in it all. Great features, affordable prices, and high value.
JBL. The retro monitors that they are introducing are incredibly cool, and I think they will appeal to both veterans and newcomers alike.
Anthem. Their new line of STR amplifier and pre-amplifier look to be hits, and their front panel graphic displays with moving power meters are extremely cool.
Emotiva. Always progressing and innovating, this team just gets it. Their new RMC-1 processor, high-powered XPA-DR amplifiers, and custom configurable XPA modular amplifiers should all be huge hits.
DeVORE FIDELITY. While I got to hear some great music at CES, my favorite of the bunch was the DeVORE room where they were debuting their new gibbon Super Nine speakers at $9,990/pair. I liked them so much in fact, that I ended up visiting John DeVore 3 different times for demos during the show. Just high quality build and sound, without any unnecessary marketing hype.
Thank you for following our adventures at this year’s CES show, and we look forward to reviewing some of the great products we saw this year!
On our first night at CES, we were invited to a special event being put on by the Harman Group (Revel, JBL, Mark Levinson, Arcam, Lexicon). We had a large variety of products to see and listen to, but there were definitely a few standouts.
The JBL line has been an area of focus for them over the past few years, with a lot of great products being developed. And as a nod to their heritage, they were introducing their new L100 Classic, which pays homage to the original L100 from the seventies. In keeping with the retro theme, they also make the foam grills available in orange, in addition to the blue and charcoal grey colors. I sat down for a listen, and they definitely had a sound reminiscent of that classic JBL pedigree, albeit with much more modern components. They will retail for $4,000/pair, and should be available in a few more months.
In the Revel lineup, their big news is with the custom color options that will be offered in the Salons, Studios, and the new F228B’s. The Salons are some of my most favorite speakers of all time, and it’s great to see them breathing some new life into them with the new colors.
There are also a handful of new items coming from Arcam and Lexicon, so stay tuned to SECRETS for more details!
Another great meeting I had was with the folks at Audio Plus Services, who are high end audio importers and distributors from product lines such as Focal, Vicoustic, Musical Fidelity, Crystal Cable, and Naim to name a few. As I sat down with John Bevier (National Accounts Manager) in their series of suites at The Mirage, it was quickly apparent that they have been working very closely with their brands to bring a lot of new products to the market. Vicoustic, based out of Portugal, designs and manufactures some of the most innovative and beautiful acoustic solutions in the audio business. And on display was their new Flat Panel VMT line of acoustic panels. These panels are printed in 40 different styles / patterns ranging from brick, to marble, to 3D, and many more. Prices start at $350 for a box of 8 pieces of their 24″ x 24″ sizes. Stay tuned in the coming months for a build project / review of their line of diffusers, absorbers, and bass traps.
Within the Focal range, the buzz right now is with their new Kanta No. 2 speakers that were just introduced at RMAF 2017. Selling for $10k/pair, the Kanta No. 2 are a 3-way design, and feature a Beryllium tweeter, and Flax cone drivers. They come in a variety of colors, and are drop-dead gorgeous. Unfortunately they were just on static display, but hopefully we can get our hands on a set for review in the near future. Focal was also showing off a totally new line of ceiling speakers that I personally hope to get my hands on someday. If my memory serves me correctly, they will have a price range from roughly $300/pair up to $3,000/pair. More details to come…
Another exciting product that I got to see was their new headphones named Clear. The open backed, full-range headphones sell for $1,500, and like other products within the Focal lineup, the design factor is stunning. Carlo Lo Raso and I might be arm wrestling to see who gets to review these beauties!
Yet another exciting product on display was the Nu-Vista Vinyl tube Phono Stage from Musical Fidelity. It features 5 different inputs that can be configured for either MM or MC, both single-ended and balanced outputs, with all adjustments easily made on the front panel (no dip switches hiding in the back!). Priced at $2,995, it packs an awful lot of features…and looks amazing.
And finally, we stopped at the suite featuring Crystal Cable where we met with Gabi Rijnveld. Actually, we were so early in our visit that she was still having breakfast, and gladly stopped to show me around (thanks, Gabi!). Their Minissimo Diamond speakers have received rave reviews as some of the top of the line monitors available ($20k/pair), and she was showing off their new metallic gold color. These little beauties look as good as they sound! She was also showing off some new cable offerings from headphones to interconnects and speaker cables…top shelf indeed.
Attending CES has always been high on my bucket list but I hadn’t had the opportunity to go until now. After several years attending CEDIA Expo, comparisons are inevitable. CEDIA is strictly AV and home automation but CES is everything. Literally, anything with a computer chip, that plays music, talks, thinks, makes coffee, you name it, it’s overwhelming. My biggest challenge was simply filtering through a vast array of tech, most of it completely unrelated to home theater or hi-fi audio.
Focusing on displays, I found no new ground-breaking technologies to speak of. Ultra HD has already settled into a good rhythm with usable HDR, extended color, and decent video processing present in most products. I’m looking forward to reviewing televisions from RCA, Hisense, and TCL in the coming months. Hisense especially impressed me with its 1000-zone backlight/2000-nit panel. It is literally the best non-OLED TV demo I’ve seen.
Thanks to the power outage on Wednesday, I was not able to keep my appointments with TCL and Samsung. I’ll have to settle for press kits to see what new displays they will be shipping this year. Now that I’ve added a JVC DLA-RS640 Ultra HD projector and OPPO UDP-203 UHD Blu-ray player to my reference system, 4K will be a major part of all upcoming flat-panel reviews.
Rather than fancy new video features, manufacturers are focusing on connected devices. Many TVs now include Amazon Alexa and/or Google Assistant. LG takes that a step further by integrating all their products, to include appliances, into the smart home landscape. Even Optoma has added Alexa to one of its soon-to-ship projectors. We can already control lighting by voice, why not the display too?
I spent very little time at the Venetian so I’ll defer to my colleague, Todd Cooperider, for his thoughts on what’s to come in audio. My own review schedule will include the new NAD AVRs, T 758 and T 777, with Dolby Atmos and Dirac Live room correction. I’ll also be looking at the Masters Series surround processor, the M17, which is receiving those same upgrades.
My overall impression is that regardless of what technology we decide to interact with, the day is here when that device will be connected. Bringing disparate parts together means we can tailor our experience in a multitude of different ways. Perhaps Panasonic’s vision of the smart home that knows us better than we know ourselves will be here sooner than we think. Far-fetched? I don’t think so.
So rather than experiencing a lot of new technology, I saw CES as finding new ways to use what we already have.