I always save my final day of CES to walk through the upper-floor Venetian suites and experience the high-end audio demos. Sure, there are stratospherically priced audio systems from the likes of YG Acoustics, Pass Labs, Dan D’Agostino, Wilson, and others, but there are also a lot of products that will be influencing our channel and markets in the upcoming year. Here are some items that grabbed my eyes – and ears – on the last day of the show.
Definitive Symphony 1
While not exhibiting at the Venetian, I found Definitive Technology in the South Hall and was excited to see that they had finally thrown their hat into the headphone market. I know that Definitive had been contemplating producing ’phones for years, and we finally see this coming to fruition with Symphony 1 headphones They will include Bluetooth and active noise cancellation in a very elegant and comfortable fitting package with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that should last for up to 10 hours. The Symphony 1 headphones did a great job of blocking out much of the noise of the South Hall while producing solid, deep bass. The company plans to add a luxury headphone option to Def Tech dealers when the headphones start shipping in February.
While walking down a hallway at the Venetian, another reviewer told me I needed to go and check out the new headphones from HiFiMAN. Proving the new HE-1000 headphones are truly high-end, they were sitting on a desk in the corner of the room driven by a high-resolution HiFiMAN portable player, sitting in a dock with balanced outputs connecting to a separate headphone amplifier and power supply. The sound was open and airy, like strapping a wonderfully comfortable pair of electrostat panels onto your ears.
GoldenEar's Sandy Gross poses with the Triton Five
It’s kind of cliché at this point to say that GoldenEar Technologies’ founder Sandy Gross has done it again, but things are cliché for a reason. While last year’s CES saw GoldenEar introduce a new flagship in the form of the Triton One, this year Sandy introduced the Triton Five, a speaker that will retail for under $1,000/each. While the Fives don’t include a powered subwoofer, you’d hardly know it by listening as the towers produced solid, deep bass notes you can feel resonate in your chest. Sandy claims that the dual 6-inch woofers and four 8-inch planar sub-bass radiators can plumb notes flat down to 30 Hz and listening to the pluck of notes on a standing bass I don’t doubt it. As is typical of the other speakers in GoldenEar’s line-up, the Triton Fives feature a high-velocity folded ribbon tweeter that plays airy, lifelike audio that just breathes music into the room, producing both a razor-focused center image and music that extends well beyond the confines of the speaker’s cabinet.
Andrew Jones, TAD
The last time I saw Andrew Jones, it was at CEDIA and he was introducing the new, highly-affordable Pioneer Elite Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers. While it’s amazing what Jones can do on the strict design budgets of Pioneer and Elite-branded speakers, he truly shines when designing his money-be-damned flagship models for TAD. Visiting Jones’s TAD suite is one of my guilty pleasures each year at CES and if you’ve never had the opportunity to sit and listen as Jones spins up a variety of tracks – many with a story – on some of the world’s finest loudspeakers, then you are truly missing out. This year he introduced the Compact Evolution One, a large “bookshelf” speaker that retains technology traits of the company’s Reference Series such as a beryllium tweeter and incredibly rigid cabinet design. The speakers created an immensely deep soundstage, with audio that reached far back into the room, and produced amazing fine level to the point where I felt I could visualize the felt on each piano hammer striking the strings. If you’re in the market for a $24,000 pair of bookshelf speakers, put the Compact Evolution One’s on your short list!
Martin Logan's Erin Phillips poses with the Neolith speaker and John Sciacca
At CEDIA, Martin Logan displayed a static version of its new flagship Neolith loudspeaker, so when I heard that they were going to be demonstrating this monster at CES I carved out time to take a listen. This is the largest speaker design in the company’s history, a full 35 percent larger than the company’s Statement E2, with a panel that measures 48 x 22-inches. To plumb bass depths that are low, powerful and accurate, Neolith employs a front, sealed 12-inch mid-bass driver and a rear-firing ported 15-inch high excursion woofer letting the speakers play from 23-22,000 Hz. The Neoliths weigh an immense 385 pounds and deliver a massive wall of sound that has both power and finesse. While offered in seven stock finishes – Rosso Fuoco shown – Martin Logan will custom craft the $80,000 loudspeakers in any variety of automotive paint finishes. I’m pictured with Paradigm and Martin Logan’s marketing and communications manager, Erin Phillips.
It can be easy to lose your bearings when listening to systems that cost more than many people make in a year, but the SVS Sound demo proved you can have terrific performance in an affordable package. SVS demonstrated two different surround systems from its Prime Series, the first a $2,800 retail package that included the Prime Towers, Prime Center, Prime Bookshelf, and the company’s new iconic cylindrical PC2000 subwoofer. The sub features a down-firing 12-inch driver powered by a 500-watt RMS, 1100-watt peak DSP-controlled amplifier capable of dredging bass notes down to 17 Hz. During the demo, they played Guardians of the Galaxy and the speakers delivered incredible dynamics, easily understood dialog and massive, gut-pounding bass. While not having the same amount of depth or volume, the Prime Satellite 5.1 system retailing for $999 produced some of the best home theater sound I’ve ever experienced in the sub $1,000 price point.
Chances are you have customers that have been asking you for a quality wireless audio surround solution. If the folks at WiSA (Wireless Speaker & Audio) have anything to say about it, you’ll have a lot of high-quality options to choose from. WiSA technologies transmit uncompressed 24-bit, 96 kHz signals with 2.6 millisecond latency and operate in the relatively unused 5.2 to 5.8 GHz spectrum to avoid interference. WiSA supports HD audio from 2 to 7.2-channels, and there are currently 38 member companies including the likes of Bang & Olufsen, Anthem, Sharp, Paradigm, and Monitor Audio. At CES, Enclave Audio showed the first WiSA-certified 5.1-channel system that could be considered mass-market pricing at $999 retail. The Enclave system includes four satellites, a subwoofer, and a smart center that features 3x1 HDMI switching along with an optical digital and analog audio input.
Klipsch also jumped onto the WiSA train with its newly reworked Reference Premiere Wireless Home Theater series. This system is expected to ship in the fall of 2015 and retail around $5,000. The WiSA-equipped series will consist of four models, the floor standing tower RP-440WF, the RP-140WM bookshelf monitor, the RP-440WC center channel, and the RP-110WSW subwoofer. The RRP-HUB1 will act as the source input hub for the system and will include 4x1 HDMI switching along with optical digital and analog audio inputs, and Bluetooth streaming with aptX. The system can be expanded to support 7.2 channels.
Auro 3D Auriga
While all the surround news out of CEDIA revolved around Dolby Atmos, there is another competing audio format that emphasizes realism through height channels called Auro 3D. This technology uses three distinct speaker layers – floor, height, and a voice of God channel – to create audio with incredibly lifelike ambience. In the company’s suite, I listened to the 9-channel version of Auro 3D – a 5-channel lower level system augmented with 4-height layer channels – which produced audio that had the air and realism of the real world, able to accurately convey the space and dimensionality of large concert venues or large exterior spaces. Auro demonstrated its new Auriga processor, which features 16 audio output channels, 13 of which are powered at 200-watts for an incredibly flexible and powerful surround solution. In addition to supporting Auro 3D audio signals up to 13.1, the Auriga will also decode Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master audio signals.
CAT, ATI, and Theta share a crowded demo
The most over-the-top demo of the show was put on by Theta, CAT, and ATI. These three companies combined to deliver a phenomenal demonstration of what the height enhanced effects of Auro 3D and Dolby Atmos can sound like in a full array. The demo utilized 21.4 California Audio Technology speakers driven by a combination of ATI6007 (7 x 300) and Theta Dreadnaught and Prometheus amplification and showed that a speaker install could serve both Auro 3D and Atmos. The total system cost was around $160,000. Unfortunately the room was constantly so crowded that I wasn’t ever able to get to the “sweet seat” in the front of the room, but from my position near the back the sound was incredibly lifelike with complete sonic coverage all around you.
DTS X on the show floor
While not displaying at the Venetian, I couldn’t complete a surround sound wrap without mentioning DTS: X, the company’s latest surround format and its addition to object-based audio. To say DTS was cagey about giving out any details would be generous, but they did say it will be coming in March and to expect full manufacturer support. Also, they were handing out copies of the DTS 2015 Demo Disc which includes multiple DTS: X-encoded demo tracks including Divergent, Locked Up, and Rio2. They did offer a demonstration in an odd, cylindrical shaped room that included eight in-ceiling speakers along with numerous wall height channels hidden behind acoustically transparent panels. The audio mixed specifically for the demo swirled convincingly around the room and offered lots of height ambience and detail.
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.