The CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is put on by the Consumer Electronics Association in January every year in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is where the manufactures of consumer electronic show their upcoming products for the next year and prototypes for the future on display. This year it had over 2500 manufacturers showing their products. It happens in the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Alexis Park Hotel. At the Convention Center manufacturers of audio and video equipment, cell phones, games, cameras, computers and computer software and other electronic devices show their products. The Alexis Park is reserved for High Performance Audio. T.H.E. Show is a competing show put on at the same time at the San Tropez Hotel nearby, by The Home Entertainment Association. Both are only open to manufacturers, buyers and the press. If you wanted to see everything at these shows you would need at least a week. The shows only last for four days however. Since this magazines and my interests are in audio and video, that is where I spent my time.
Video is where the most evolution was made from last years products. Last year video monitors with 720P capacity were introduced. This year the sets with 1080P capacity were introduced. There are however no 720P or 1080P recorded formats at this time. The only way to use this these capacities is to use a video processor to upsample the signal. There were LCD rear projection sets up to 102 inches. There were plasma sets up to 87 inches. The battle between LCD, DLP and plasma seemed to be in full swing. The Samsung showed a comparison between their 720P and 1080P capable sets. There were comparisons between LCD and DLP rear projection pictures. There were still a lot of front projectors being shown.
Numerous Blue Laser players were shown, but no one was able to give a release date in the USA or a price on the players. There were a few HD-DVD players shown. They seem to be a little behind Blue Laser in development. I talked to a Samsung representative about which gave a better picture, the LCD or DLP rear projectors. Samsung produces both. He said that there are three grades of LCD sets and the top grade was a slightly better picture than the DLP sets. He added that they were also twice the price of a comparable sized DLP set. The new sets looked great. I predict that the large CRT rear projection sets have only a short time to remain in production. Already in stores, almost all the sets are plasma, DLP or LCD. With the larger rear projection sets coming out, the front projectors, with their inherent problems, may start to show a decline in sales.
The audio sound at the Convention Center was very mid-fi and not worth discussing. The only slightly interesting area was in wireless connection. The Alexis Park was much more interesting for sound. There were loads of rooms with audio equipment. Less than 10% of them had static displays. If one were to carefully listen to each room you would need three or four days to do it. It became necessary to eliminate some of the not so good-sounding rooms quickly. I got so I could eliminate some of the rooms by sticking my head in the door and listening for thirty seconds or so. The show should not be used to evaluate how a system or component really sounds. The rooms are often too small for the systems and only a day or two is given to set up a system. Most rooms were not acoustically treated. I used it to find equipment that may be worth further investigation. If something sounds good in these less than perfect conditions, then it will probably sound good in most conditions. I found nothing that was revolutionary in its sound. Most rooms were another system ya-da, ya-da, ya-da.
There were also some disappointments in the sound. One SACD player that is supposed to be state of the art, was used in a number of rooms and yet never sounded impressive. Some established and newer high-end manufacturers that I thought should sound good, were also unimpressive. One European speaker manufacture, that a friend of mine thought was the best-sounding speaker in existence, produced some of the worst sound of the show. It was very over-heavy in the bass and played way too loud. There were many really nice looking designs in electronics being shown at the Alexis Park. Some were almost like pieces of art. There were also very weird designs, especially in speakers shown. I am not too much into the looks of equipment, so I will discuss some of the better sounding systems at CES.
First I should say what is it I look for in the sound of a system? First of all I look for speed in the sound. Natural sound has a sense of speed to it. Voices and instruments have attack to their sound in most causes. I want to hear the strings of string instruments. The reeds of reed instruments. I want to hear the tonal quality of each instrument. When the music is big in scope, I want to hear its power. When things are light and airy, I also want to hear that too. I also want to hear a sense of presence from an instrument, like it is really being played in front of me. I want the music to be properly balanced, with no exaggerations of certain frequencies. I particularly do not like it when instruments get overly large in size when the sound levels go up. Many systems can play either light and airy or big and powerful, but not both. My use of the Thorough Bass Inc. subwoofers has made me very critical of bass extension and tonality.
I would say that the Luminance Room had the best sound at CES. There was Luminance electronics, Virtual Dynamics cabling and Ascendo Series E speakers. It produced music with detail, quickness and solidity; I could have listened to music for hours on this system.
The runner up system was in the Electrocompaniet room. Using the Talon Firehawk speakers. It had by far the best bass I have heard on a non-subwoofer system and better than 98% of the subwoofer systems. Yet it still played regular frequency ranges with very good sound and clarity.
For more affordable sound the $1300 a pair Triangle Zereus 202 sounded very good in one room. Triangle seems to keep making great sounding affordable speakers.
The most unusual good sounding speakers were the Solid Acoustics speakers. They have a dodecahedron enclosure with a speaker on each face. It contains 12-four inch full range drivers. It sounded very open. It would be an interesting speaker to see what it could do.
Other good sounding rooms were the Audes Speaker room, and the Nola Speaker rooms - especially the Nola Pegasus speaker.
T.H.E. Show was the home of the less mainstream audio manufactures. It was at the San Tropez Hotel. The highlight of this show for me was a live concert put on by Classic Records after their Press Conference. Grey De Lisle, a singer-songwriter from Sugar Hill Records gave a short concert. After the concert, attendees were given her new album The Graceful Ghost, some new Classic records LPs and a new Classic records first Dual-Disc release: Hugh Masakela Almost Like Being In Jazz. After listening to her album, I feel it is a must have album for anybody that enjoys great modern folk music. I would consider it in the top five albums of 2004. The album was a great find for me and it has audiophile quality sound that is among the best I have heard. The music is also top quality.
In one large room Thiel Speakers were featured in a $500,000 surround AV set up. The video was from a large front projection system that was compromised by having a fair amount of light in the room, which is highly detrimental to video quality. The video surround was one of the better ones that I have heard. Unfortunately, the sound quality did not come up to audiophile quality for music. For a half million, I would want audiophile sound.
By far the best sound at T.H.E. Show was from the Edge Electronics Suite. It consisted of Edge Electronics, Shunyata cables and power conditioning and the owners personal custom made speakers. This system simply played music that very closely approximated live music sound. It was a great reprieve from either being bored to death or assaulted by the sound of most of the systems. It did almost everything I want a stereo system to do. Edge Electronics stock went up even further up in my mind, when it was also used in one of the other best sounding systems at T.H.E. Show - the Green Mountain Audio Room.