CES 2017: That's a Wrap!
With fewer high-end audio exhibitors and sparse traffic in the Venetian at the weekend, the 2017 CES was a shadow of what it used to be. John Atkinson
Unless CES rethinks how it presents us, I'm thinking Rocky Mountain (for US show-goers) now provides a better place for everyone and seems a better fit to represent both ends of our obsession. Can we leave Vegas behind? I wouldn't miss it. Jon Iverson
The reduction in high-end participation and the dispersion of the exhibits has been ongoing. The Hi-Rez group has moved to the LVCC, separating it from its natural associates, and non-audio rooms have been inserted among the high-end rooms at the Venetian. Soon, it will look like Alice's Cheshire Cat: only a smile in the darkness.Kal Rubinson
So yeah, CES is dead to the high-end.
Unfortunately (because I'd rather not go to Vegas every year), CES is not dead to the world of headphones. Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, Audio-Technica, Sony, Audeze, HiFiMAN, and many others had a large presence at the show. Unlike traditional high-end firms, the serious headphone players exhibit in the Las Vegas Convention Center South and Central Halls. This place is just as bustling as ever. And the fact that headphones as a category can fair well in this hot-bed of high-rent CES floor space is evidence that headphones are alive and well at CES.
I will be returning again next year...ugh.
The good news is I expect to see a lot of very cool stuff. That'll be fun. I saw cool stuff this year too, but it felt as if there was a lull going on in the world of headphones.
For starters, the whole rabid mania that was celebrity headphone brands thinking they were going to take down Dr. Dre is over. Sure some of these companies remain, but for the most part they're just trying to maintain and grow from whatever size they find themselves. The rabid mania is gone.
What's left is mostly viable companies trying to compete on styling, comfort, build quality, and sound qualityprobably in that order, but in roughly equal measure. They've made it through the Dre craze, now they're tightening up their product lines and business model to be competitive. As a consequence, most new product this year seemed to be about refreshing and/or extending existant successful product lines. (And probably discontinuing clunkers...but they don't talk about that at CSE.)
Falling right in line with that, but worthy of separate note because it was everywhere, is that a lot of introductions were Bluetooth wireless versions of existing models, many with active noise canceling added.
I think it's really good they are making these moves, and I look forward to auditioning the headphones as I've also sensed that sound quality is continuing to improve generally, but in the end it makes for a bit of a boring show.
On the other hand, I found myself intrigued and tantalized by the virtual audio experiences I had. Personal smartphone videos will be cooler and more fun to experience with the upcoming Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Surround binaural mic/earphone. My VR experience with the Audeze iSine VR was a total trip! And the Dirac VR and OSSIC both exceeded my expectations of what can be done today. VR on headphones is here to stay...and it will be growing like rabbits. 3D audio will be the mania next year.
Which begs the question, dear InnerFidelity reader, do you care about VR on headphones? InnerFidelity was born out of a headphone hobby enthusiastically focussed on sound quality for two-channel audio. Should InnerFidelity be covering headphones for 3D audio reproduction?
Let me go a step further: Bose recently introduced a product called the Hearphone. It's an "assisted listening" device that has smart noise canceling to suppress background noise and amplify the sound of nearby voicesit allows you to listen to dinner conversation at a noisy restaurant more easily. but they can also be used to listen to music with noise canceling on an airplane. Should I review them?
Ten years ago, when there was a mic/remote on the cable, it was called a headset. Now, when it's ubiquitous, we no longer make the distinction. In 3-5 years every $300-$500 headphone out there will be wireless; digital; noise canceling; listening assist; 3D rendering; and will monitor your pulse, perspiration, and position. Should InnerFidelity review them?
It's a tough question. I think it boils down to: 1) Is there an enthusiast/hobbyist following? and 2) Does sound quality matter to them? I think in many cases the answer to both will be yes. Sure, there's a whole gaming headphone category that InnerFidelity doesn't cover, but I'll counter that a lot of future music and movie content will be created for VR rendering. I must admit to being somewhat perplexed at how to draw this line, but I also have to admit I'm fascinated by the possibilities. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
'Til then, thanks for reading along this year, hope you enjoyed the ride!