CES 2018: Introduction

CES is a little weird this year. High End companies have been abandoning the Venetian Tower with...abandon. Stereophile has sent a skeleton crew. Back channel chat was that CES was dead to the high end world as companies shifted to specialty shows. High End Munich seems to be the new de facto standard for enthusiast audio companies desiring to play the "world class" game. Headphones are another story.

While Head-Fi's CanJams are setting the standard for enthusiast headphone firms, there remains enormous and growing consumer demand for audio on the move. One exhibitor said today, "Bluetooth isn't a feature anymore, it's the standard." Wireless in-ear monitors were all over the show floor today, including displays at Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, Audio-Technica, and other full-line headphone makers.

So, while Vegas may be winding down for my two-channel audiophile journalist colleagues, CES remains an important show for InnerFidelity coverage. The big headphone makers don't show up at CanJam with their whole kit and kaboodle, but they pull out all the stops in the mayhem of the Las Vegas Convention Center south and central hall.

This is the model that works for headphone makers. While my fellow journalists in the Stereophile family may soon escape the hell of the world's largest trade show in the world's largest carnaval side-show of a town, I fear I am forever sentenced to a trip to Vegas in January.

Ah well, at least I can spend a few days in the dead of winter walking around in an Hawaiian shirt without a jacket. I'd be hypothermic before I reached the corner store in Bozeman this time of year.

The good news is that the headphone makers at CES this year are mostly serious about audio reproduction. A refreshing contrast from, say, six years ago when 50 Cent was pimping headphones as neckwear you could color coordinate with your Air Jordans.


A photo of 50 Cent's SMS headphone offering in 2012. Many colors to choose from, but only one sonic tuning...abysmal.

While the number of headphone displays are down by half from the celebrity headphone era, those that are present actually seem to be "getting it." Beyerdynamic showed a recently released $99 sealed, over(ish)-ear headphone that sounded great! And MEE Audio had a very cool MMXC cabling kit that included all the adapters needed for the current crop of DAPs with balanced outputs. Sanity seems to have returned to the world of consumer headphones...thank goodness.

My following CES show reports will likely be less in quantity than previous years, but, with great relief, I'll be reporting on products that offer a higher quality listening experience than previous years. I suspect that these headphones on the head of the broad consuming public will offer a wider open door to nacent enthusiasts than ever before.

The celebrity headphone idea is dead...long live good sound for the masses!

arthur li's picture

It seems to me that the audiophile headphone (or good sounding headphone in general) market grows rapidly due to the fall of the two channels world. Nowadays, new mid-tier two channels offerings almost completely disappear. Two channels companies either focus on the ultra high-end market or the general consumer market (with crappy blue-tooth speakers). Such polarization makes many young audiophiles who care about good quality audio but cannot afford the high-end products to dive into headphones. I think the stark contrast between the two channels sector and the headphone sector in CES reflect this trend.

crenca's picture

"high fidelity", an older quest, culture, and market died. It contained the principle of "value" and so it was the equivalent of what you call "mid-tier". It died for several reasons, I think the most important being the fact that video killed the radio star. So the poleratizion occurred, and "high end" with all it's ridiculous pricing, bling, and snake oil products (such as 5 figure cables) became the only thing left. However, HP's bucked this trend, until recently. Now with TOL headphones regularly exceeding $4k, "high end" is rearing it's ugly head in a market that has so far reflected value...

arthur li's picture

Few months ago, I am worrying about that ""high end" is rearing it's ugly head in a market that has so far reflected value" as well. However, since so many sub thousand dollars headphones were released by the end of 2017 (such as the aeon flow open and lcd-2c), I become optimistic again regarding the future of headphone hi-fi.

zobel's picture

Be careful who you party with there :-)

Magoo's picture

It seems every since Tyll pulled all the top Senn's HP's off his wall, the relationship seems ..I dunno strained?

He did not even mention the HD 820's??? WTF?

Gnafu the Great's picture

I'm assuming the $100 Beyerdynamic was the DT 240 PRO. Any chance you might be getting a pair in for measurements and review? I would love to see your take on them. I like the styling, and a Beyerdynamic with a detachable cable is always nice.

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