2005 CES: Stephen Mejias Day Two

After my first full day of weaving my way around the Consumer Electronics Show, I'm happy to be back in my hotel room, ready to open the laptop and type. I've got a tote bag (everyone has a tote bag) gorged fat with press releases, CDs, magazines, directories, scribbled notes, a fortune cookie. . .. What's going on here? Am I really the newest writer for Stereophile? And what's the deal with this fortune cookie?

The day starts simply enough: 8am breakfast in the hotel lobby with Wes Phillips and Jon Iverson. As we venture into our yogurt and corn flakes, some familiar faces drop by. It's good to see Michael Fremer and Kal Rubinson; a bit of Jersey and Manhattan right here in Vegas. They're happy and excited to get going, stopping only for a second before speeding off on their way. Soon, Ultimate AV's Tom Norton joins us. "Any orange juice here?" he asks. "Yes," we direct him. He comes back with two full cups and places them on the table. "You do everything in stereo?" Jon asks. And then, almost simultaneously, Jon and Wes together: "You need three more of those, don't you?" This, oddly, cracks me up. I'm happy (and surprised) that I get the joke.

Several cups of juice and coffee later, we decide to split up. Wes is off to the Hilton to check out MartinLogan, Jon is going to make the rounds at the Alexis Park, and I'm off to meet JA at the Stereophile room where we'll be presenting the awards for our 2004 Products of the Year.

I'm excited about this: While, for the past three years, I've been the one in the office who has scheduled these informal 15-minute presentations, I'm now finally getting to see how they run. Our first meeting is with Brian Morris of Linn who has won an unprecedented four awards: Digital Source, Analog Source, Multichannel Music Product, and Overall Product. The biggest challenge is in keeping all of the plaques balanced in Brian Morris' arms for the photo shoot. It takes a little work, but Brian ends up doing a fairly decent Norah Jones impression and all goes well. He's honored, as are all of our winners. It makes me happy to see how much this means to the manufacturers—some, like Allen Burdick and Rory Rall of Benchmark, who are experiencing CES for the first time—and others, like Daniel Jacques (Audio Plus Services) and Gerard Chretien (Focal-JMlab), who have been here many, many times before.

Gerard Chretien speaks passionately about caring for the younger generation, just as a dedicated schoolteacher might. But, instead of talking about reading or writing, Chretien is concerned with "sharing the excitement of music." He feels that by embracing the younger generation's appreciation of newer music formats such as the MP3, and then by showing how uncompressed versions of music files can sound truly wonderful through even an iPod played through a high-end system, he will be doing his part to cultivate a new breed of audiophile. I get the feeling that these guys honestly care—for them, like many others here, this whole business isn't just about making money, but about sharing a love. I'm happy, again, to be a part of it.

Our presentations are done at just around 1pm, and I'm off to meet Jon for lunch with Jonathan and Kathleen Scull, and Adrian Butts, president of Ottawa-based Tetra Loudspeakers. During our conversation, we learn that, for Adrian, high-end audio has been a life-long journey that's led him from tinkering around with kits, to becoming a musician, to owning a retail shop, to, finally, designing his own speakers. In discussing his design philosophy, Adrian says: "If it sounds right, it measures right."

To myself, I wonder what JA would say at this moment, and as I wonder, Jon adds: "Only if your ears are calibrated properly." With that, we're off to the Tetra room to see just how "right" things do sound.

Let me tell you: I'm not sure what this means or why it happened, but as we listened to the two-way Tetra 405s, I found myself simply enjoying the music in a way that I hadn't up until this point. Simply enjoying the music, that is, rather than trying to listen for whatever it is I'm supposed to be hearing. I'm new to this audio game, and I'm starting to realize that my newness is exactly why Jon and the gang want me here, but at the same time, I can't help but try to not be so. . . new—f you know what I mean.

As we continue listening, more folks walk in. One gentleman declares, "I thought there was a band in here." I look up and see Adrian. He nods knowingly, smiles happily. We continue to listen, and Jon asks if anyone's got any acoustic guitar music we can listen to. "I've got some," I offer. I hand Adrian a mix CD I made especially for this trip and ask him to play track two. It's Devendra Banhart crying: "I smell my sister in the winter / And my father in the fall."

"This dude just sings and plays guitar," I tell Jon.

"What's that high-pitched noise I hear in the background?" he asks.

"Hmm, I don't know," I say. "I think he uses tape loops, but I never heard it before in this song."

I look up and see Adrian. He nods knowingly, smiles happily.

I honestly could have spent many hours in the simple, modest Tetra room, asking Adrian to play track after track—and, by the end, I did have him blasting The F***ing Champs and Death From Above 1979 (I wanted to give the guys something metal to bang their heads to)—but, to stay much longer would have been a bit selfish, and we had more exploring to do.

"Tough job, isn't it?" Jon asks.

I nod, smile.

Jon and I decide to split up. "You go off on your own," he tells me. "I don't want you thinking just like me."

I decide to stop in the Chord room and say hello to my friend Eden's fiancé, Owen Maddock, Chord sales rep. Plus, those Chord products are damn pretty. The Choral Series—including Blu CD transport, DAC64, Prima preamp, Mezzo 50 power amp, and Symphonic phono stage—light up the packed room. I listen for awhile, but I'm still pondering those Tetras.

As I leave the Chord room, I happen to run into Jon. We leave the Alexis Park together, and on our way back to the St. Tropez, notice a large Microsoft Windows Media truck. Outside, there is a welcoming committee of young, attractive women, handing out hellos and fortune cookies. Why? I have no idea, but I like young, attractive women—and fortune cookies are pretty good, too—so I don't mind stopping for a bit. Inside the truck, things have been set up to look like a hip, fun, tech-savvy apartment, complete with curvy furniture, plastic vases, and shaggy carpets, to showcase Windows Media Player, Microsoft's vehicle to dominate domestic music and video playback. "It's like Urban Outfitters in here," I say.

"Did you say 'it smells' like Urban Outfitters in here?" Jon asks.

"It looks like it, but, yeah, I guess it smells like it, too."

As we leave the Windows Media booth, the fortune cookie girls are huddled together, shivering in the cold, waiting to say goodbye. It's a happy chorus of thank yous and see you later tonights. I look at Jon and Jon looks at me, and we smile knowingly. "I think she wants to see you later tonight," Jon says. I drop my head and put the smile away.

"I wouldn't mind seeing her later tonight, either," I think to myself, "But, for some reason, I get the feeling she says that to all the guys carrying a press badge."

Back in my hotel room now, I go to open my fortune cookie. The fortune inside reads: "To compute is human; to connect is divine."

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