Another Year, Another CES

Photograph: John Atkinson

Las Vegas? Why bother to fly across the country or around the world when you can visit New York City, Venice’s Grand Canal, and Egypt’s Great Pyramid in one easy, smoke-filled, retail therapy-rich, constantly stimulating stop? Why search out music on the net when, in Las Vegas, it constantly bombards you in elevators, from outdoor loudspeakers, and at your free lunch at T.H.E. Show?

Ah, Las Vegas. In his wrap to CES 2012, Stephen Mejias did a beautiful job of asking the simple but profound question, “Why?” Why, of all the god-forsaken places on Planet Earth, has the Consumer Electronics Association chosen this compulsion-driven, ecologically devastating, one-stop tourist and gambling destination as the site for the largest industry trade show in the US?

Be that as it may, it was an exceedingly rich year for high-performance exhibitors on floors 29, 30, 34, and 35 of the Venetian; the few who stuck to the lobby level of the connected Sands; those at the far lower-key T.H.E. Show down the block who were arrayed on two levels of the Flamingo; and other exhibitors who drew folks to the and-you-thought-Times-Square-was-bad congested madness of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Not everyone was present this year. Gershman Acoustics, Coincident Technologies, and Eficion are but three of the speaker companies that chose not to exhibit, and there were some major personnel changes, most notably the absence of the retired-from-Nordost Lars Christensen, the unquestionable King of cable comparison demo. But those that were in attendance, in general, managed to reach the distributors, dealers, and members of the press for whom their efforts were intended.

Our goal in the many hundreds of blog posts that constitute our 2013 CES/T.H.E. Show coverage, as defined by Stereophile editor John Atkinson, now in his 35th year of attending CES, was not only to discuss the new products either available now or on the horizon but to give you the feeling that you were accompanying us on our rounds. Sometimes we are able to also give you a sense of how systems sounded. But far too often, we found ourselves, faced with so many exhibits and new products to cover, passing up listening opportunities in order to get to more rooms by the end of the day.

While, at earlier and far more congested CES gatherings, I sometimes felt that music was an afterthought, to be played in the background over business deals, here it often emerged as an exhibit’s raison d’être. Yes, we in the press sometimes ended up shouting over what passed as music as we gathered information for blogs, but we also indulged in quite a few opportunities to evaluate component performance.

Given all the vagaries of hotel room acoustics, taxed power sources, and the like—the Venetian allowed each exhibitor just 10A of power!—I think it’s a near miracle that some exhibitors managed to get their systems to sound as good as they did. My hat goes off to them, and to the years of experience and expertise they put to the test each time they journey to a hotel setting or dealer showroom to strut their stuff.

Stereophile’s staff camped out in the Mirage this year, directly across from the Venetian. Although the quality of Internet service unquestionably added a few gray hairs to our collective noggins, the proximity to our target destinations, the comfort of the rooms, and the quality of food in the hotel “cafeteria” made this, for me at least, a far easier immersion in Vegas madness. And if some exhibitors ended up wishing that more of their distributors had made the trek, they discovered in compensation that lunch lines were shorter, and nervous systems a bit less strained.

Here’s to another year at CES. May the great music and equipment continue to pour forth, and, for better or worse, the dice continue to roll.

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COMMENTS
Stephen Mejias's picture

Agreed: For me, for whatever reasons, this CES was not only far more enjoyable than last year's show, but the most enjoyable CES I've ever attended.

I think it had something to do with staying at the Mirage, which offered far more comfortable working and sleeping environments and was generally better for the soul than Harrah's. And I also think it had something to do with smaller overall crowds, which made interacting with people a lot more pleasant. And, at least for me, I think my mood was bolstered by the presence of more affordable gear (especially headphones and desktop systems) than I anticipated.

I think it's also important to note again, as Michael Lavorgna emphasizes in his CES show wrap, that there were two overarching topics at this particular show: The promises of DSD -- in every room I heard it, DSD playback managed to convey an enormous sense of space and wonderful tonal color, and invariably proved intensely emotionally compelling -- and lifestyle products and technologies (specifically Bluetooth) that should appeal to wider markets, yet which have been significantly improved by audiophile engineers. The high-end audio world should embrace the "lifestyle" market and improve it. High-end audio is, after all, a lifestyle.

In any case, it was a fun and encouraging show. 

dalethorn's picture

Does Stephen have any notes on that DSD listening, as to the origins of the recordings, that would make a difference to someone shopping for downloads?

Stephen Mejias's picture

The spectacular Sony recordings were made available only for the show. DSD recordings are extremely limited right now, the main providers, as far as I know, being Channel Classics and Blue Coast Records. There was talk at the show of other providers getting on board, but, for now, it's just speculation and hope. Michael Lavorgna has written lots about the potential of DSD over at AudioStream.com.

Kal Rubinson's picture

2L also offers DSD downloads.

seank's picture

I've been following your reports through my RSS feed.  

Todays group is 29 separate messages that I have click "Read more" for each.

What a waste of time.  

Please figure out a way to consolidate things.  

I would rather have one web page daily with all the info.

kelven's picture

MA recordings.

If I'm not mistaken, Todd Garfinkle has been recording in DSD for the last 5 or 6 years.

You folks provide a noble service to the high-end community, and one that places your health at risk as you meet and greet with so many from around the world in a city so overstimulating--it may be fair to say--at the end of the day Las Vegas becomes little more than an insult to the innate sensibility of the senses.

Indeed, it appears high-end audio has emerged as a lifestyle market for those who aspire to a lifestyle--and seek to reinforce the image of a lifestyle via the ownership and display of a product so identified to best represent a lifestyle.

In many ways, the stylizing and "superficializing" of audio as fashion stands in contrast to the roots of high-end audio as a vehicle for expanding one's inner boundaries when listening to music in the privacy of one's home, and sharing music for similar purposes--all the while creating community.

When I think of "lifestyle" (maybe wrongly) I equate it with external aspects of life; that when identified with as "real" can become a mask and barrier to understanding what "wrests" beneath the external surface.  Ironically (in cadence with an "evolving" world), if the audio playback system has become a lifestyle, and less a vehicle for music to create community and open one from the inside-out, then maybe it follows (at both extremes) for those without resources (money, space) for a high-end system to, in effect, isolate behind a pair of headphones, while at the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum the high-end audio lifestyle may serve as a substitute for inner poverty.

In either case (and I could be misunderstanding what Mr. Mejias and others mean when referring to lifestyle), while I am not in a position to pass judgment on how one chooses to create a meaningful/purposeful life, nor fairly ascribe the above diatribe across the board--it is refreshing to see more affordable (ethically) priced products become available.

And I hope those privately listening to music through headphones express to their friends the transformative power of listening. 

JasonVSerinus's picture

Todd Garfinkle will be conducting a listening party for members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society at my place, probably in late March, and he wants to make sure that we have a DSD-capable DAC on hand.

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