CES 2005 Day One: First Impressions

Editor's Note: Stephen Mejias has never attended CES before, and does not claim to be an audiophile. But he's distinquished himself enough around the Stereophile office that it seemed a good idea to register his first-time impressions of audio's greatest show on earth.

Latarria Hardy, our online accounts executive, taps me on the shoulder. "Are those mountains?" she asks. I lift the visor that's covering the window at seat 19A and look out, letting in a blast of sunlight from off of the plane's silver wing. "Too much light," I say. "I can't tell."

Locking in our trays, returning our seats to their upright positions, we're preparing for the landing. We get closer, the sun falls a bit, and then it's clear: "Yes, I think they are! They are mountains."

It's our first time in Vegas, and we've never seen land like this. It's our first time in Vegas, and we're here for the Consumer Electronics Show. All the talk aboard the plane during the long six-hour flight has been about the show. Are we ready? I have no idea. Everyone else seems to be.

For the past four years, I've wanted to experience this, and, now, here I am. Mostly, what I've heard is that it's hell. "It's good to do it once," they say. "But, you'll never want to do it again." By the end of Day 4, I'll let you know if I agree with that. For now, I'm happy to be getting off the plane. My butt hurts, I'm tired, not feeling well. "I can't get sick now," I tell myself. Finally, we're descending, and all I see is brown, brown dirt. ("Sand," Jon Iverson will later correct me.)

The softest landing I've ever experienced brings into vision an infinite row of tall, thin palm trees. "Palm trees!" I try to see how far they go, when the plane takes a turn into the docking gate. As the palm trees leave my view, in comes this silly, sudden, candy-coated skyline. Vegas is all pink and purple and made of Lego building blocks. (Group publisher, Tom Rousseau, will later echo this sentiment as we march into the Hard Rock Café for a quick lunch before the 2:45 sales meeting: "Vegas is like Disney World for adults." [And, I'll smile, and agree.])

I leave the sales team, check into the St. Tropez, and try to find my guys. A few phone calls, and I learn: John Atkinson is busy in the Press Room at the Convention Center; Jon Iverson is still about four hours away, making his way by car along highway 15; Wes Phillips is already at work, visiting with Jim Thiel and Kathy Gornik in the Alexis Park's Athena Ballroom. I tell him I'll meet him there. "Where is that?" I ask. He tries to explain, but I'm clueless and my eyes are everywhere. "I'll find it," I say.

When I arrive, I'm greeted warmly by Micah Sheveloff, Thiel's PR contact. "I'm looking for Wes Phillips," I tell him. "I'm with Stereophile." He lets me into the Athena Ballroom, where workers are busy trying to piece together a demo system, and asks me to wait. I walk around in small circles, not knowing where to focus my attention. Micah walks into a back room, comes out moments later, and waves me in: "How's that for service?" he asks. "Great. Thank you very much," I tell him.

Inside, I'm happy to see a friend. "Wes! Good to see you." He makes the introductions: "This is Jim Thiel and Kathy Gornik, some of the good guys in the business." Jim and Kathy are people I've only exchanged brief e-mails with. This is the first time we've met. Right away, I feel comfortable.

I take a seat. "So, Wes tells us this is your first time at CES?" Kathy asks.
"Yes. This is my first time in Vegas," I explain.
"Oh, well, you must be really excited."
"I'm ready to be overwhelmed."

Kathy, Jim, and Wes continue their conversation. I listen quietly, not knowing exactly what I should say or do, when the topic turns to Thiel's new CS 3.7 design.

And, now, Jim Thiel is vibrating—literally vibrating—with excitement over his "top priority." Perhaps like a speaker that has just reached some magical 100-hour break-in point, Jim Thiel is now singing. He's not just talking anymore—he's no longer doodling onto a paper napkin to occupy his mind—he is dancing with his words. His hands slice and chop at the air in front of him as he paints pictures for us.

The technical details escape me—I'm not an audiophile (not yet, at least)—but I can sense his passion, and it's gorgeous. One time, in Paris, I attended a poetry reading. Though I couldn't understand a word that was said, it was some of the most beautiful poetry I'd ever heard. That's what listening to Jim Thiel was like.

"The 3 has been in production for 12 years," he said, finally. "We've learned some things in 12 years."

I can't wait to find out what it is that they've learned. Judging by Jim Thiel's enthusiasm, it's something really special.

Soon, Jon Iverson walks in. Though we've worked together for four years, we've never met. He looks nothing like I imagined. But how could he? I imagined him to look just like his initials: JI.

Kathy and Jim lead Wes, Jon, and I into the listening room where we get a special, early introduction to a system of Thiel CS7.2 speakers mated to Theta amplification. Though Jim warns us that the technicians aren't done setting up ("They'll probably never be done," he adds), I'm very impressed. But what do I know? (Not much. Not yet, anyhow.)

As we listen, Jon nudges me, points to a few gentleman who are having a conversation behind us, and says: "You'll get used to listening in noisy conditions."

Funny thing: I hadn't even noticed they were there.