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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

CES 09 Overview - Part 3

Let's look at what's new in the audio consumer world, but cover your eyes and ears as this might hurt.
  • First of all, I can't believe how absolutely crappy everything sounded. It seems that most CE manufacturers could care less about how anything actually sounds. Instead they prefer any one of 3 criteria:
Make it look sleek and modern with crappy audio
Make it as small as possible with crappy audio
Make it as loud and bassy as possible, with crappy, distorted, wacked-out audio, of course.
Every booth had a design uglier and more acoustically deprived than the last (the picture below doesn't count. It may be ugly but it's a pretty good - and expensive - speaker system).

B&W Nautlis
Weird design but actually a very high-end speaker.

  • There was some Pro Audio at the show in the form of Ederol/Roland. They had this cute little $400 digital mixer on display.

Ederol Digital Mixer
Not bad for 400 bucks
  • Hello slotMusic, eh, goodbye already?! I can't believe that anyone at the various companies behind these things ever thought this product had the slightest chance. slotMusic is a new format for music delivery. It's a 1 gig micro-SD card that you can slip right into your phone or MP3 player. Are you kidding me? I'm gonna pull my phone apart so I can use this thing? And it's so small that you can loose it in a flash if dropped in, say, a shag rug. Of course, all the major labels are supporting this new delivery format. They must think it's cool, but what does that say about the music industry?

slotMusic - Micro-SD Card Filled With Music
  • And there's more on the slotMusic front. SanDisk (the company behind this rediculous idea) introduced slotRadio, a $99 MP3 player based around the format pre-loaded with 1000 songs from Billboard's charts. Sounds great on the surface until you discover that you can't add, delete, fast-forward, rewind, or even select tracks. They just play back to back as if you're listening to the radio. This is the digital age, guys. The ability to play what we want, when we want is why we like digital music!
  • 7.1 audio wasn't on display as much as I anticipated. It appears that the manufacturers have their wits about them on at least this one item. While on a professional level I endorse 7.1 audio and the addition of the 2 side speakers because it's a more enveloping sound, this is another format with no chance for wide-spread acceptance. If 5.1 never caught on, why do they think that 7.1 will?
  • And speaking of 5.1 surround systems, I had to laugh while walking around the show looking at the home theater displays. The rear surround speakers were usually placed anywhere but in the right direction. I saw speakers facing out towards the walls, facing the back of the room, and one was even placed with the speaker facing towards the stand. That's sure gonna get your dealers want to buy more.
  • Home theater "soundbars" were everywhere. This is a compact stereo speaker (usually) designed to sit directly below the television monitor. Good idea and practical too. Hard to tell what any of them actually sounded like in the din of the show.
  • iPod sound systems were everywhere, just like last year. This year they were a little more sophisticated, with some additional thought given to acoustics. A couple even sounded pretty good from what I could tell.
  • I didn't get too much of a chance to spend any time at the high-end audio exhibits in the hotel rooms over at the Venetian, but the one thing I did notice was that few manufacturers even bothered to acoustically treat their rooms this year. Most of the time the audiphiles care so much about their audio presentation that they temporarily treat as much of the room as they can. This year, no. Prohibitive cost, perhaps? In fact, I didn't see many manufacturers of acoustic treatment at the show at all. This is a prime market for their wares, why'd they stay home?
  • There was an upsurge in table and clock radios this year, with most of them internet connected. A novelty the last few years, this is now a trend that has firmly caught on.

Table Radios Make A Comeback
  • Of course Blu-Ray disc players are all the rage, but rather than stand-alone disc players, there were just as many full on audio systems, complete with speakers. I think this sorta defeats the purpose of hi-def, guys.
  • And the standard evolution of the A/V receiver now comes complete with HDMI inputs and built-in decoding of hi-def codecs like Dolby True-HD and DTS-HD Master Audio (which is another subject for the future).
That's it. Next post comes the fun stuff, from robots to comfy theater chairs.

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