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CES Day One: Audio Demos Impress Across Price Ranges

I know most of you probably aren’t video gamers, but I play this particularly addictive computer game called Sid Meier’s Civilization V. In the game, you play as various world leaders from throughout history, and compete against other civilizations for world dominance in the arenas of culture, religion, scientific advancement, and/or diplomacy.

I know most of you probably aren’t video gamers, but I play this particularly addictive computer game called Sid Meier’s Civilization V. In the game, you play as various world leaders from throughout history, and compete against other civilizations for world dominance in the arenas of culture, religion, scientific advancement, and/or diplomacy.

The first thing I’m going to do when I get home from CES on Friday is fire up the game, start a match against Washington, pour all of my resources into scientific progress until I’ve completed the Manhattan Project, and then wipe Las Vegas off the map.

I know that’s a bit grumpier than I tend to lean, but today was my one day at the Venetian—my chance to explore the high-end audio suites, dig deep into the stuff I really dig—so I left Bally’s a full hour before my first appointment, with TDG Audio’s Alex Chiou (whom you may remember from his days with SpeakerCraft. And despite that, I still arrived for our appointment a good fifteen minutes late, thanks to the inaccessibility of the monorail that time of morning, and the complete dearth of available cabs.

TDG Audio’s Alex Chiou.

Chiou was gracious, though, and gave me a good overview of what he and co-founder Daniel Kippycash intend to do with the company, which they just dreamed up in November, and with products scheduled to ship in Q2. The main products on display were flangeless in-ceiling speakers, with the standard three-model, good, better, best lineup. What’s really neat about the company isn’t the products themselves, though (although they do look groovy); what I dig is the business model—dealers will all own a piece of the company, with full profit sharing, and if the company should ever sell down the road to a larger conglomerate, dealers will all get a cut. Furthermore, the company’s main goal is to protect dealers. There won’t be direct sales. There’s no distribution network. You’ll never see any of these products showing up on the internet. Flanged speaker models and a full line of electronics will follow down the road, and I’m really interested in hearing how they sound. If performance is up to snuff, this could end up being a really cool deal for dealers.

Luckily, from there my day got even better (which I attribute to the fact that, never having to leave The Venetian, I was able to lose myself in a world of audio and gadgetry and forget that I was in Vegas). I popped down to the Harman/Revel/JBL Synthesis suite for a look at Revel’s new architectural speakers, JBL’s new yummy sounding flagship Project Everest DD67000 (which, at $75,000/pair, ought to sound amazing, but seriously—they didn’t disappoint), as well as Revel’s amazing new $10,000, 2000-watt, 18-inch Rhythm2 subwoofer. The neat thing about this one (aside from the obvious gargantuan-ness of it) is the built in DSP Room EQ, which is set up via PC or Mac, and offers oodles of neat tweaky features that integrators are sure to do. The really neat thing, though, is that the DSP isn’t just for the sub. It also takes into account the bass output of the main speakers in the system before applying curve correction. I listened to a few choice cuts, and was kind of blown away by how well the bass integrated.

Revel’s $10,000, 2000-watt, 18-inch Rhythm2 subwoofer.

One other neat tidbit is that it doesn’t have phase controls, but rather true delay, per subwoofer, for integrating with stereo speakers.

The next stop on my tour of audio bliss was my old friends at Wisdom Audio, whom I haven’t had a chance to chat with in a while. The main speakers on display were the same LS4 Line Source Speaker that I reviewed for Residential Systems back in 2011. The differences from demos I’ve heard before were that Wisdom is now showing them off with Dan D’Agostino’s new amps, as well as the fact that the room was an absolute acoustical nightmare. It should have been, anyway. There’s a gigantic mirror hanging on the wall right at the point that I would peg as the first reflection. The room isn’t treated. At all. I sort of made a face when pointing that out to Wisdom’s Mark Glazier, who merely smiled and said, “Just listen.” Jon Herron chimed in: “We’re really setting out to prove that you can have great audio without turning your room into a recording studio.”

I shouldn’t have been shocked by the performance of the LS4, having spent a whole day to myself locked in a room with a pair barely a year and a half ago. But the demo just floored me. Chalk it up to the amazing room correction capabilities of Wisdom’s SC-1 System Controller.

Speaking of the SC-1, I also got to hear Wisdom’s much less expensive ($1000) Insight Series P6i for the first time. They were using the SC-1 in the demo, but Herron told me the design is such that you can use the Insight Series with any receiver or preamp, using its own internal room correction. The trick to making the Insight Series sound great no matter which room EQ you use is that it features its own built-in correction curve. Flip a switch to Flat, run your room correction of choice, and it will EQ it as such. Once you’re done, flip the switch to engage Wisdom’s own preferred curve, and it really makes the speaker sparkle. Even having just heard the $40,000 LS4s in full force, the P6i sounded really nice, and Herron and I had a good long talk about setting up a review of the speaker as soon as we can work out the logistics.

From there, I couldn’t resist popping back down to GoldenEar for one more taste of the new Triton Seven, which I heard with John Sciacca on Sunday night, but which I remember Sandy Gross saying should sound much better once the electronics had a chance to break in. And he was right. It sounded simply spectacular. There’s something entirely amusing about the fact that my two favorite audio demos at the show thus far were from a $40,000 speaker, and one costing just $699.

It wasn’t all speakers all the time, though. I also popped down to the show floor at the Venetian to check out SimpliciKey’s wireless door locks. I have Yale’s Real Living locks at home now, integrated with Control4, so I’m familiar with the concept. Wireless door locks are, in my opinion, the coolest thing happening in home automation right now. Unfortunately, SimpliciKey’s solution isn’t compatible with Control4 or any other home automation system just yet, but apparently the new models rely on an IP connected router of sorts, and according to company reps, integration shouldn’t be that hard down the road, if they can make the right contacts.

On their own, though, I really dug the control app for SimpliciKey. It lets you manage a lot of the key features—like setting up custom entry codes, monitoring history, setting alerts, and triggering other events—all within the app. And the key fobs are a seriously nice addition for when you want to unlock quickly without launching the app.

Day One (proper) of the show is winding down for me now. Tomorrow: my first taste of the Las Vegas Convention Center show floor! I’m equal parts excited and dreading it, but if I survive the transit, I’ll have a full report once the day winds down.

Dennis Burger has been reviewing and writing about consumer electronics since 1999. He and his wife live in Montgomery, Alabama.