Although CES is a lot more than just an audio show, every year there are plenty of speakers and Hi-Fi electronics to see and audio demos to hear. From soundbars to super speakers, there was plenty to listen to in Las Vegas.
Some manufacturers had a presence on the CES show floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Moreover, there were hundreds of vendors at The Venetian Hotel and Casino, which hosts a lot of the audio demos at the show including most of the high-end two-channel gear.
The quality of the audio I heard in Vegas left me feeling optimistic; this is a list of demos I consider highlights. However, it is by no means a thorough accounting of what you can see and hear at CES, where there’s more audio on display than one person could hope to sample over the four days of the show. You can click on each title to see the original post.
The SL-1 speaker system I heard at CES was the most technologically impressive at the show, it’s the only speaker system that fully bridges the gap between lifestyle audio and the world of high-end two-channel audiophile sound.
The Lexicon SL-1 speaker looks like alien technology. It can project sound 360 degrees.
Its main trick—using beamforming to create a sweet spot that in the size and location you ask for—is impressive precisely because these are extremely capable speakers. When you bring the sweet spot to you using the system’s custom app, it’s shocking how effectively it mimics sitting perfectly centered between a pair of super high-end speakers.
I had a great experience at a demo of a pair of Revel F208Be towers running off a Mark Levinson stereo system featuring new electronics such as the No. 534 dual-mono amp ($20,000) and No. 515 turntable ($15,000) that was made in conjunction with VPI Industries.
From Miles Davis to Count Basie to Marcus Miller to Pink Floyd, the beryllium tweeters delivered incredible, precise highs that made the music sound very dynamic but was never fatiguing. The star of the show here is the Revel Performa3 F208Be tower speakers but the Mark Levinson gear deserves credit for completely getting out of the way of the music.
Among the audio demos I attended, this was the happiest room at The Venetian. That’s because Andrew Jones rocked the house with his $2500/pair Adante speakers. It didn’t really matter what he played, what came out of the speakers sounded so good it just made you want more and more. Anecdotes about how these speakers challenge what much more expensive alternatives offer abounded.
What a treat. Klipsch provided a fantastic demo of a fantastic speaker design—the Forte 3-way—that’s making a comeback as a Klipsch Heritage model, the Forte Mark III. Powered by a Cary Audio SLI-80 integrated tube amp, these large and powerful speakers effortlessly reproduced live jazz club dynamic. Furthermore, the system clearly had plenty of headroom beyond that output level. These are powerhouse speakers that can do also do subtle when called upon.
This Klipsch Forte system is a reminder that big speakers deliver big sound.
This is lifestyle audio done right. KEF’s passive LS50 is already a fine speaker system, but in its wireless form it is a connected powerhouse that can stylishly deliver audiophile performance with minimal fuss. The demos I heard at the show were punchy, dynamic, and the speakers offered very detailed imaging that’s atypical for a lifestyle system.
6. SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer with Prime Elevation Speakers
SVS showed a comparatively affordable system that took a subwoofer-centric approach many AVS Forum members can relate to. It used Prime speakers in a 5.1 configuration—a pair each of Towers and Satellites plus a Center. The immensely capable SB16-Ultra subwoofer gave the system wings, allowing an unassisted Marantz SR 7011 AVR to push the system to entertaining volume levels. Nirvana with the volume set to 11? You bet!
GoldenEar’s already great Triton line of speakers now has a new flagship, the Triton Reference. These are huge speakers that are packed with powerful subwoofer technology and designed to perform at a very high level. Based on what I heard, they deliver on the promise of flat response down to 20 Hz. On one demo track—Rutter’s Pie Jesu— the system hit multiple organ notes that the vast majority of speaker systems miss.
Emotiva’s Airmotiv speakers are crazily aggressively priced speakers. The stark industrial look of the baffles may be polarizing, but the sound quality is something anybody who hears them can agree is great. These new passive Airmotiv models from Emotiva are physically large and sport impressive specs. Check out the C2 center channel, I don’t know anywhere else where you can get that high performance a design at that low a price.
Millionaire toys that deliver on their promise of an elevated level of performance are probably the most entertaining aspect of high-end audio shows. In this instance, MBL absolutely blew me away during an extended demo that turned out to be the last of the show. By the time it wrapped up with a rendition of “Thriller” playing at unity gain, I had the goose bumps to justify calling it the best audio demo.
What’s a soundbar demo doing in this list? In this case, Sony’s Atmos-enabled HT-ST5000 stood above other 3D immersive audio soundbar offerings I heard at the show. The soundfield it delivered from a single slender chassis plus a wireless sub was more expansive and encompassing than I thought possible.
Sony’s soundbar shows that theatrical sound can be had in a super-simple yet stylish form factor that nevertheless delivers the goods when it comes to creating an immersive 7.1.2 soundfield that includes sound effects from overhead and even behind the listener. Thanks to models like the HT-ST5000, today’s soundbars are delivering fidelity that until recently would have seemed impossible.