Bang & Olufsen's publicist sent me a "By Invitation Only & You Are Invited" email, promising to "unveil the newest innovations" and "the unveiling of a new, iconic product concept." (I pity the poor housekeeping staff at CES, having to clean up all the veils discarded by manufacturers.)
Reduced to its essentials, the "new, iconic product concept" is a division within B&O under a new brand, called "B&O Play." As I understand it, the products with the B&O Play brand will have all the traditional quality that B&O is known for, but they'll be less luxury-oriented, more "fun"and perhaps less expensive. The first product under this brand is the Beolit 12, a portable (battery-powered), AirPlay-equipped sound system.
MartinLogan is famous for speakers that use electrostatic driversfull-range or in combination with dynamic woofersbut they have more recently broadened their offerings to include non-electrostatic models. According to MartinLogan's Peter Soderberg, their aim is to produce speakers that approach the sound of their electrostatic models, but at a lower price and easier to drive. He says that this has become possible with their version of the Heil tweeter (the original Oskar Heil patent having expired). He did a comparison for me between their top-of-the-line electrostatic CLX ($25,000/pair), supplemented by the Depth 1 subwoofer ($2000), and the new Motion 40 ($1995), which uses the Folded Motion (aka Heil) tweeter, in both cases driven by Anthem's new class-D amplifier, top-of-the-line Conrad-Johnson preamp, with a laptop as source. With Patricia Barber singing "Norwegian Wood," the tonal balance of these physically very different speakers was surprisingly similar. Peter Soderberg is pictured here with the CLX and the Motion 40, after what must have been an exceptionally amusing quip on my part.
The Adam is yet another loudspeaker manufacturer that uses drivers that are descendants of the Heil AMT tweeter. Adam's Classic Mk.3 uses what they call Accelerated Ribbon Technology (X-ART) for the midrange as well as the tweeter, and 2x7.5" HexaCone midwoofers. The Classic Mk.3 is available in passive ($7000)/pair or active ($10,000/pair) form, the latter for the studio professional market. A brief demowith Cary Audio electronicssounded convincingly full-range and dynamic. I understand that Kal Rubinson is getting a pair of these for review in Stereophile.
The Genesis Advanced Technologies 7.2f claims to be the "new affordable reference for bringing true-to-life music into your home." And they have a formidable amount to technology in the speaker to support this claim. At the top, there is the latest version of the circular flat-ribbon tweeter that apparently has been steadily improved since it was first introduced in 1992 (and which, for once, owes nothing to Dr. Oskar Heil). A solid titanium-cone mid/woofer claims to deliver exceptional clarity and low distortion within its range (and the "oil-can" resonance is far outside the range where the driver is utilized), and a servo-controlled powered bass from an 8" side-firing aluminum-cone driver, is claimed to extend the response down to 22Hz. There is also a rear-firing tweeter, which can be turned off if desired. There is control over tweeter as well as woofer level. The price of all this technology is a very reasonable $9000/pair.
Audio-Lineare hails from France, and although I haven't heard of the company before, they've been making speakers since 2001. The designer is Yves Poulichot, who has been devoted to this endeavour for 25 years. The Harmonie 16 ($6500/pair) on display uses an aluminum ribbon tweeter and two bass/midrange drivers in a "2.5-way" configuration. Nice sound with Viola electronics. The charming representatives are Alix Ribeault (Marketing Director, left) and Christelle Kabeya (International Sales Assistant, right).
I had planned to attend the press conferences by Panasonic, Samsung, and Sharp, all scheduled for Press Day, but it seems that every single person with a Press badge had exactly the same idea, and the resulting crowds were at least as big as at the CES Unveiled event. In fact, about an hour before the scheduled Samsung press conference, CES staff announced that the number of people in the line-up exceeded the capacity of the hall, and not everyone could be admitted. I gave up on both Samsung and Panasonic, but was Sharp was different. They had sent emails to a selected group of journalists, including yours truly, designating them as VIPs, and special tickets to be printed out, which would allow these individuals entry to the press conference before everyone else. Even if I had not been all that interested in whatever Sharp was going to announce, being called a VIP meant that I just had to attend. And, as I walked in, who do I see but my colleagues, Kal Rubinson (left) and Tom Norton (right)? We had our choice of seats, up front. It's good to be a VIP!
After encountering booths of so many manufacturers I had never heard of, I got some comfort from seeing a familiar name from the world of audio: Velodyne. Well known for their subwoofers, Velodyne has entered the highly competitive earphone market. Their new $90 Vpulse's claim to fame isyou guessed itexceptionally powerful bass performance. Velodyne's David Short was most enthusiastic about it, and told me that although Velodyne is not about to go out of the subwoofer business, they're working on a wide range of headphones.
Everybody wants to get into the act. Pro Audio manufacturer Behringer had several iPod/iPhone audio accessories, including the nifty Soundscape Air ($129), which features wireless speakers (good for up to 8 hours of playing, up to 150 feet from the base unit) that utilize inductive (ie, wireless) charging.
The Best of Innovations winner in the Headphones category was the Sonomax eers ™ earphones, described as "the world's only custom-fitted earphones that can be fitted in 4 minutes, [offering] incomparable sound isolation, fidelity and comfort."