CES 2017: Day 2 & 3

The big convention center thankfully behind me, I headed over to the Venetian high-end exhibits on Friday. There was a lot of grumbling after CES last year about the diminishing presence of traditional audiophile companies last year, and this year seemed to continue the trend.

Oddly, the aging demographic of audiophile attendees has begun to draw some new exhibitor blood: This year AARP and Serta (of Perfect Sleeper fame) were to be found in the hallways. I found it pretty hysterical...and informative. I picked up the AARP brochure.

ESS Labs

I heard a prototype of this Heil Air Motion Transformer based headphone last year and was pretty disappointed. Sounds like quite a bit of work was done since then as this preproduction unit sounded much better. Full report coming.


I like Questyle's current mode electronics that reduce transient intermodulation distortion, and I doubly like the fact that their upcoming CMA 400i DAC/headphone amp is expected to have a price tag between $700-$800 when it becomes available in a few months. Lots of features in this new amp, including a 2.5mm balanced jack for IEMs. More with the full report later this week.


Paul Barton has definitely got the headphone itch. The upcoming M4U 8 wireless noise canceling headphones have a sexy stealth look and feel. Paul says to expect more wireless goodness from PSB...and maybe a few surprises in future.


HiFiMAN is about to introduce a new flagship planar magnetic headphone dubbed the Edition 6 that will go for a cool $6000. I really don't like the ever escalating prices of flagship cans and have been wondering where it will stop. Seems like $6000 might be the tipping point if these Head-Fi and SBAF threads are any indication. The SBAF guys are regularly ornery, but it's rare to see that much negativity in a Head-Fi thread. Details later this week.


Dirac is well known for their room correction software and more recently among headphone enthusiasts for their HD Sound headphone compensation software that EQs headphones based on measurements. Now their working on VR audio for headphones and were demoing it with a pair of HD 650s with a head tracker. They've done some pretty interesting research to develop their own HRTF datasets, and it sounded pretty good on quick listen. I'll spill the beans later in the week.


I was pretty skeptical about the Ossic VR headphone when it went up on Kickstarter last year, but the huge $2.7 milion response sure got my attention. Turns out these guys do know a thing or two about headphone design; in fact, I unknowingly met one of the engineers at the AES headphone conference in Denmark last year. At any rate...wow! Their 3D object oriented VR audio demo was wildly immersive. Details this week.

That's it for now, full reports with video will start rolling in on Tuesday. Back to the cold, clear, sparsely inhabited, nature filled place I live. Ahhh Montana, I'm coming home.

artiew's picture

Steers and Mel Gibson :D

OK, Mad Mel only has a holiday home up there, but its good to hear that you're escaping a town you clearly loathe. I look forward to those more in-depth reports but on the surface of this and other audiophile reports from CES, it would seem that those who elected to stay home might have been onto something.

tony's picture

Good Catch, did you get one of the Meals on Wheels lunch platters?, of course not!, you arn't a member, yet, are you?

Get yours next year (after you register), be early because most of the Attendees will be in the Lobby Cueing-up for theirs. It's a good time to play "catch-up" on all the High-End scuttlebutt like the $100 spent on the Leather Mojo case purchase being useless, now that the Poly is introduced ( another $500, oh dear ), many of us old folks are spitting-mad over it.

Tony in Michigan

artiew's picture

And to think we all got into this hobby because headphones were seen as a 'sane' alternative to high-end excess ;)

We've only got ourselves to blame and I'm about to post those very sentiments over at Head-Fi. I knew I was in trouble when a perfectly good pair of LCD2.2's sat idle next to a pair of HD800s while I enjoyed my music with the first iteration of the Fidelio X and occasionally slid under my LCD-X just to see what all the fuss was about. Kids in a candy store.

Artie in Darwin

artiew's picture

Not normally a fan of class wars, but surely the community has a right to voice its displeasure when they see prices going up by ~2K with each new flagship offering. Tyll made it clear in his LCD-4 review that clever engineering doesnt always translate to best-in-class sound, but even if that IS the case with the new HiFiMan, isnt it time we asked ourselves how many have the capacity to pay up to 10K for a headphone ? HiFiMan can charge what they want - its the willingness of certain reviewers to slide that sort of pricetag in the way Stereophile do when they're talking mega rigs. Call me cheap, but that isnt the hobby I threw myself into ~10 years ago, particularly as speaker manufacturers seem to be going the other way and delivering more performance at a given price point, keenly aware that they're in a very competitive market. End of sermon :D

AllanMarcus's picture

The only AMT driven headphone I'm aware of is the O'Bravo. There was some confusion a few years ago about the ESS headphone ps. Many assumed they had an AMT, but they didn't. Did ESS announce or show a new headphone that has an AMT?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Yup. The old ones were dynamic drivers, but the new one is AMT.
Bennyboy's picture

I reckon its that 'ageing demographic' - with all that lovely disposable income the rest of us can only dream of - who are buying these insanely priced headphones and pushing prices ever skywards.

Koyote's picture

AARP's main policy goal is to get as much as possible for senior citizens, regardless of the impact on younger generations -- hence their targeting of politicians who suggest even modest reductions in the rate of increase of Social Security benefits.

By the way, "Greedy Geezers" is how one of AARP's own staff economists described the organization when we were once on the same conference panel.

GNagus's picture

with what sort of internet download speed?

Rthomas's picture

Hi Tyll,

Understandably a lot of people are in disbelief at Hifiman's pricing strategies.

I think the best way to handle this is not to complain about it. The best thing to do is simply review the $6000 dollar headphone and see how it compares to the other flagships.

If it does sound better than everything below it congrats to Hifiman although I'll still dislike the company for its horrible build quality and business practices.

If it sounds worse than headphones half the price then the market will speak and that price is going to take a tumble.

All you have to do is make certain to review.


I sure hope PSB have are working on a sub $2000 open Flagship. It would be refreshing to have a new entrant in the category.



artiew's picture

Thomas, I completely get the 'if its a great headphone, tell the world' message. BUT I think its premature of Fang to try to position his company in the 'cost no object' realm of 'statement' (as opposed to flagship) gear. Look at the speaker companies who roll out megabuck statement toys for the seriously wealthy consumer, then ask yourself if HiFiMan is ready to play in that stratosphere on the basis of its quality control and customer service reputation ? Focal, KEF, Dynaudio and others might manufacture their entry-level gear in China, but they INSIST on a level of quality commensurate with their brand - how long did it take HiFiMan to release a midrange planar that didnt elicit howls of protest re build quality ? Pick up a pair of Beyer DT660/770/880 and hold them next to a pair of HE500s : plastics aside, the Beyers are built like tanks and the HE500 isnt.

I'll sum it up by saying that if Fang is serious about that sticker price, his headphone not only needs to whomp other headphones sonically, but I believe it needs to compare favorably with speakers in that price range : I wish him every success with that. If it IS his 'Bugatti Veyron' for rich businessman bored with their current toys, he needs to make that clear to the audiophile community. I completely get that China boasts a large number of very rich, very designer-conscious consumers : I just dont see that headphone being something you'd boast to your friends about in a Beijing club but perhaps I need to get out more often ;)

Artie in Darwin

ktmracer's picture

I think there is two motivations behind the Edition 6.

1. It's a Halo model. Its the reason Dodge made Vipers. Not for money, but to sell minivans. Many companies do it. Hifiman doesn't need to sell any, they just want to be seen as the most premium headphone manufacturer. Sennheiser did the exact thing with Orpheus. Hifiman also did it with Shangri-La. Before this week the planar world ended at the Abyss. There is a reason Edition 6 costs just a tad more. (Also it's a shot at LCD-4, another very low volume halo model.)

2. It makes lesser models seem reasonably priced. When I started this hobby it pretty much ended at LCD3's. I thought $2k for headphones was insane! Now I find myself cross-shopping Elears, HD800S', and HE-X's because they seem reasonably priced. Why? Because they are not the top-of-the-line models? TBH, even $1k is a lot to pay for headphones that will be marginally (if at all) better than $200 HD6XX's.

artiew's picture

I completely get the Halo model concept - hence my reference to the Veyron. VW could sell as many as they could build, as insane as that sounds, but they lost money on every car - it was designed to show the world what their engineers could achieve. Prior to the emissions scandal, VW had a good reputation for quality control : I would argue that HiFiMan needs to work on that before they go anywhere near 'Halo' territory. And FWIW I view the HD800's (I've never heard the 'S' but I owned the earlier model) soundstage as worth the price of admission over the HD6XX (Massdropped or otherwise), but that's jut me. What I found harder to justify was the price of my LCD-X, particularly when it meant that a perfectly serviceable pair of LCD2.2's were left on the shelf. Take those numbers, triple them and ask yourself how many flagship headphones you could conceivably use on a regular basis .....

Beagle's picture

In an interview with Head-Fi's Jude Mansilla about 3 years ago, Paul Barton spoke of a $1K flagship in the works. Whatever happened to it?

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