CES 2013: That's a Wrap!
Overall I'd say the headphone offerings were a bit on the weak side this year. Not that there weren't some good cans to be heard, it's just that it didn't seem like there was quite so much excitement about new headphones as last year. It's just a feeling, but I'm beginning to think the reality of the marketplace is beginning to hit some of these new entrants in the field. Two years ago it felt like there was no end in sight to increasing headphone sales, and everybody was itching to jump on the band wagon. Fast forward to this year, and I think many makers are disappointed they haven't made more of a dent in Beats 70% share in the over $100 headphone market. I don't know how it's all going to shake out, I certainly don't see Beats going away any time soon, but I'll bet you four years from now we'll see quite a few people dropped out of the headphone business, and back focussing on building speakers...like they should be.
Things I Missed
After spending Tuesday and Wednesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center I had to turn my focus to the Venetian and T.H.E. Show exhibits. Unfortunately, at Friday morning's breakfast I heard the DTS Headphone X demonstration at the Convention Center was a big hit. I'm really skeptical about these sorts of things, but the word I heard was so good that I think I'm gonna have to do some looking into this.
I didn't miss the Tylt booth, but I didn't have the presence of mind to figure out it would have been cool to show off their Energi Backpack with on of my reports. So here's a link for those of you looking for a way to tote your devices and have them charge while underway.
Things I Wish I Had Missed
The friggen break dancers at the Monster booth. Ergh! Look, all I want to do is go to a booth and get information on your latest products. I DO NOT want to have to fight my way through 300 people taking pictures of your stinking break dancers with music blaring at 100dBspl. Are you trying to sell stuff, or just make a spectacle of yourself? Oh wait, Monster...nevermind.
A Weird Observation
First, on average, I thought the headphones at the show sounded generally better than the average sound quality I've experienced previously. Skullcandy and Zounds have hired acoustics engineers in the past two years, the folks at Logic3 did quite a bit of acoustics homework on their Ferrari cans, I can only assume this trend is larger than my random observation and people are finally getting the idea that headphones are primarily audio reproduction devices and should be designed for the job.
I also noted upon visiting numerous OEM makers (typically the Chinese factories that make headphones for most of the new and smaller headphone brands) that their headphones were somewhat better sounding than the overall average. I didn't do any reports on their booths because most of them want to be known only to their customers and don't allow pictures of their booth or products. But I can tell you that the headphones in their booths were quite good.
Now if you think about those two paragraphs above for a minute, the conclusion you come to is that the OEM makers know how to make good sounding headphones, but when the name brands come in to get a headphone made, they end up screwing up the sound quality the OEM is capable of delivering. That thought kind of bummed me out.
I visited a lot more headphone makers than I had time to report on, but I did take the time to get good contacts and begin the review sample request process. With any luck, headphones from Martin-Logan, NuForce, Sony, Harman/Kardon, Pro-Ject, Zounds, and others will be into the lab for measurement and evaluation soon. Amps from CEntrance, Musical Surroundings, and Woo Audio are also likely to make an appearance.
Okay, thanks for coming along for the ride. I hope you enjoyed the show. And I'll get back to measuring and writing about some headphones now. Woooot!