CES 2016 Part 2: I Can Hear You Now, Better Than Ever!

(photo album of CES 2016 here)

One of the major trends at CES this year, was the advent of high quality audio and a throwback to old listening habits, as in vinyl. Yes, records, with all of the pops and surface noise you knew before. Unless you kept them pristine and had a solid needle and cartridge combo.

The word on the floor was that turntables were the most popular gift of the holiday 2015 season. Really? Did any of you get one? Or did you go to the garage and see if you still had your old one?
Anyway, the new units do have some features that your old ones didn’t have: The easy ability to connect to your computer either via USB or Bluetooth.
I listened to Adele 25 at the Audio Technica booth and the old snaps,crackles, and pops, were there, although not sure if I needed that.

Sony premiered their latest entry, the PS-HX500, and the crowd went wild!
There is vinyl out there, and these new turntables could reverse the MP3 trend. Or probably just a niche for the 30 year old market.

The other audio trend seemed to be high end headphones and amplifiers. Yes, amplifiers that go between your headphones and the media player. Something you need? Have a read here and get some background on the category.
Sony showed off a system that with a cost of over $2600 including player/headphones/amplifier, will give the listener and unparalleled music experience. Of course you do need to have the content that is perhaps lossless, or FLAC file.

General MP3’s don’t have near the depth you need to take advantage of what the artist intended.
And that is what one of the driving forces is in this space: the artists want to differentiate themselves, and have their fans hear all of what they put into the recordings.
Back in the day, companies like Sheffield Labs produced master recording vinyl that were the audiophiles dream. And they still do. I’ll never forget buying a Harry James disc, not because I was such a massive fan, but the recording quality made his trumpet sound incredible and was miles any other recording format I had heard.

Remember, not every piece of music out there is available in the Hi-Res Audio formatting, or FLAC or Lossless. Many of the most current singers have produced content where you can tell the difference, like Lorde, or Adele, or the latest David Bowie.
A personal favorite is Miles Davis, Kinda Blue Now THIS is HI-Res Audio!

Companies like Shure, Audio-Technica, and Sony were showing off their headphone amplifiers, which could set you back up to $1000.!
these are not really new to their product catalogs, but the renewed interest begged them to show them off for the crowds


New companies like MQA, spoke about their new algorithm that folds music files into manageable sizes that fully unfold when played through their units, starting at only $300. You do have to follow the trail on the music that they have worked with.

It’s not the cheap seats to be sure. The experience of high quality audio though, will bring you an appreciation of the artistry of your favorite musicians as you may never have had before.

There is also a company called Phaz, that puts the amplifier right into the headphones!
Smart idea and the sound is awesome! Plus you can charge your phone while playing tunes using the built in battery. New Bluetooth versions coming in March.

Speaking of Bluetooth, a term that seems like a throwback, was all over the place in the headphone world. What we’re really talking about is no more wires. It does mean that you also have to be charged, to use that feature. Manufacturers have been smart and actually adding the option of a plug in cable, incase you lose power.
By the way, bluetooth technology with headphones has a latency factor which simply means that there is a delay or lag from what is playing to when it hits your ears. Remember that Bluetooth has a limited range: currently about 100 ft on tracking devices like a Tile or Trackr, and is now being touted as up to 328 ft, making it a more viable system

With general music listening, it’s not a big deal, but if you think you can use the same headphones in your video shooting, like I wish I could, you’ll need to add the cable back in for real time monitoring.Most of the Bluetooth versions have that option.

Another very cool product was the BoomStick. This simple, perfect sized, unit, goes between your headset and the player (smartphone, or whatever).
This is an audio processor, that can add more bass for when you need to drop the beat, or my favorite part, it will bring out and define instrumentation in tracks that you think you already know.
I tried this on my iPhone Music app, and the difference was dramatic as I heard chimes that had been lost in the sauce on tracks in previous listening, in the middle of a mobbed trade show press event. this one pre-order now, for about $100. Love it.

Yes, there were bluetooth portable speakers, and some affordable bluetooth headsets. Wires are looking like a bygone era in 2016.
There seemed to be a move towards high end audio however, and it remains to be seen if there is a large enough market to support it.

Getting the high end music is the key. Players like the Pono player, which house an iRiver player, can store and play the music, and offer you an online store for you to purchase the high res content. Sites like HD-Track is also a great place to start.

You’ve seen the Hi-Res Audio sticker on some of the photos above. What it really means it that the company is part of a global collective that wants to make a line in the sand about large essentially lossless music files. So don’t confuse it with something like a Dolby sticker. It’s an indication, not a specific claim.

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