The 2006 CES: A Final Wrap

Jon Iverson, Stephen Mejias, and I were sitting in the Venetian's food court after the Primedia cocktail party on Saturday night with Mo-Fi's Coleman Brice and Music Direct's Bes Nievera, Jr. We'd wanted to grab some sushi, but Tsunami (what an unfortunate name) didn't have a reservation for five for another two hours and our second choice, an Italian restaurant (what else?) had just laughed when we asked. So we wound up eating pizza slices off of vinyl tables rather than sashimi off of bamboo.

I didn't mind, because the companionship was what really made the meal. Jon and Stephen are easy hangs, and Coleman and Bes are muy simpatico. We were all giddy with fatigue and trading really dumb jokes, along with some life stories, since I'd only met Bes at the cocktail party a few minutes earlier. Besides, if we hadn't been wandering the halls of the Venetian, we'd have never witnessed the surreal scene of the red carpet catwalk outside the Adult Entertainment Expo's awards ceremony, where women with rather, ummm, exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics were sashaying into the hosting nightclub. Actually, I didn't see any of those women on the catwalk, which was surrounded by catcalling men, but the whole scene was pretty bizarre. (Speaking of which, I guess I should count myself lucky for not having to write about the new products at the AVN expo, like this one. Don't click if you are offended by adolescent body-parts humor.)

As we lounged around our table, digesting our mock-Italian mock-food, Bes asked me, "So what are your impressions of the show?"

"Ummm," I stammered. "Er, that is to say...(long pause)...You know, I don't have the slightest idea. I've been so busy collecting data and blogging it as quickly as possible, I haven't had a moment to reflect on it."

"Really? That's odd."

True, though. One reason I like the writerly life is that I spend so much time by myself, over-thinking experiences—covering CES on the fly doesn't allow for that leisurely approach. Heck, even today, the third day after the end of the show, I find it hard to come up with a big-picture analysis of the show.

My big disappointment was the paucity of affordable ambitious high-end products, although that might be more indicative of the cost of doing business at CES than a lack of merchandise. I did see some extremely promising gear, such as Arcam's $1500 Solo, Amphion's $1350/pair Ion, Dissun's Original electronics, Zu's $2900/pair Druid Mk.4, and Anthony Gallo's $2995/pair Reference 3.1, so I'm hopeful that they are just the tip of the iceberg.

The word "lifestyle" was bandied about a lot, but this year it seems to actually mean "lifestyle," rather than be a codeword for pretty and sonically compromised. Manufactures like Arcam, ReQuest, Orb, and Olive are promoting products that take prevailing trends in music listening (whole-house integration and portability) and attempt to deliver them in better fidelity. Hard-core audiophiles may think this a futile attempt to create a Gucci purse out of Bossie's ear, but I don't think we can create new audiophiles by telling them everything they know is wrong—first we have to introduce them to the concept of better.

I do have one Big Picture prognostication, now that I think of it: At 140,000 attendees, 2500 exhibitors, and five ginormous locations, including the Las Vegas Hilton and the Sands Convention Center, plus numerous outbarding exhibitors, CES has grown too large for anybody to experience all of it—this may be the year the show peaks. I spent a single day at the Sands, another at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and split the last two days between the Alexis Villas and T.H.E. Show at the St. Tropez. That means I missed stuff at every single location—and never even made it to exhibitors I wanted to see, such as Audio Research and MartinLogan.

On the other hand, that may be more a problem for those of us who have to try to see it all than it is for the exhibitors or their client-visitors. Ayre's Charlie Hansen and Quartet Marketing's Stirling Trayle both told me they had a phenomenal show this year, seeing more dealers and eliciting more excitement than in any previous year. Folks at T.H.E. Show complained about sparse attendance, however, which may be indicative either that it was harder to get around to see and hear everything this year or that people were cherry-picking the best-known exhibitors there, such as Halcro and DeVore Fidelity, neither of which lacked for attendees.

Comdex, the annual computer show held in Vegas, ended up a victim of its own popularity, rapidly becoming too big to bother with. I'm betting the CEA is already working on preventing that from happening to CES.