CES 2017: Day One

Not going to beat around the bush, I hate Vegas. 'Course, I really don't like cities, period. Too many people; I live in Montana for a reason. But Vegas with its skin-deep garish bling is particularly bile inducing. For example:

I tend to wake early, and was at the casino bar by 5AM for my morning cup of coffee and a little web surfing. It's a long island bar with about 20 seats on each side. One side was populated by about six "working girls", so I went around to the other side and had a seat. The guy two bar stools over was angrily talking to the bartender.

Evidently, he had won a jackpot, received his winnings, and toodled off to the bathroom. One of the girls had followed him into the mens room and confronted him. She reached her hand into her purse and said, "Hey, you don't know what I have in my purse...give me your winnings or you're a dead man." He yelled at her to get out of the men's room, at which point she punched him in the mouth and ran out.

As I'm listening to his story, all of a sudden a fight breaks out on the other side of the bar. All six hookers are yelling and pulling hair and throwing drinks at each other. Tits and purses are flying. In moments about 8 security people enter the fray and start dragging them apart. Chaos ensues...girls are drug out still flailing in the grasp of the red-coated security dudes.

By the time I retell the story to a buddy of mine on Facebook messenger, I look up and about four of the girls are back sitting on the other side of the bar. WTF? I ask the bartender what's up. He tells me most casinos now charge for parking, but Treasure Island is still free. So, the ladies of the night park there for their evening of work, and then tend to gather in the morning for one last John before heading home. I s'pose it's good for business as they can usually drum up some rube for a few drinks at a minimum.

Want another even weirder story? Here's my report from a few years ago when I got roofied and ripped off. Ah Vegas, you always deliver.

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Day One: Las Vegas Convention Center
I always start my CES adventure at the Las Vegas Convention Center, South Hall. My Stereophile brethren can stick to the high-end exhibits at the Venetian for the most part, but headphone makers tend to cluster in the South and Central Halls of the LVCC. First up, as always, is Sennheiser.

Sennheiser
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No new high-end stuff from Sennheiser this year, but they've been busy none the less. A couple of years ago I had a nice chat with Stefanie Reichert, Director Trade Marketing Consumer Electronics, Sennheiser Americas, about future directions. I didn't quite "get it" at the time, but she was convinced that the future would hold a new category of headphone customers as "consumer content creators." She's convinced that people will be slowly but surely be switching from content consumers to folks creating content of their own, and Sennheiser would be developing products to help people produce their own media.

This year they previewed a new product aimed directly at this audience. No official name, or price, or firm release date, but the new Ambeo Smart Surround headphone will allow consumers to produce binaural audio for videos taken on their smartphone. The little gadget has mics in the earpieces and connect to your iPhone with a Lightning connector. They've partnered with Apogee who is designing the cable mounted module.

The "hear through" function was quite natural, and the demo video comparing normal smartphone audio to the Ambeo surround recording was quite impressive. Full report next week.

Audeze
I got to experience a very interesting immersive experience with the iSine in-ear planar magnetic cans and some VR goggles at the Audeze booth. They had produced an object oriented audio demo of a futuristic robot battle, a simulation of what future gaming might be like. I was a robot on a floating battle station under attack. It was designed so that when I looked at another robot it would respond. It was very weird to look down at my bionic legs and see one of the mechanical limbs being blown off. Report coming soon.

Beyerdynamic
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Beyerdynamic introduced a new premium home headphone called the Amiron ($599). This open, full-sized headphone was light and comfortable. Sound quality seemed okay, though possibly a little "V" shaped. It's so hard to tell in the trade show noise. In fact, you should never trust my sonic judgements at shows...I sure don't. All I can really tell is whether it's worth a further listen or not. In this case it seemed so. I'll be posting a blurb next week.

Blue Microphones
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New from Blue, the Ella planar magnetic ($699) and Sadie ($399) self powered headphones.

I approached the Blue booth with some apprehension. I've twice previously had samples sent to me, and twice reported back that the sound was good, but the fit made me crazy. The previous models were too heavy and applied too much clamping force on my head. Makers don't particularly like brutal honesty.

Well, good news, they've taken in customer feedback and the new models are lighter and much more comfortable. Both models have built in amps that can be bypassed when used with an external high-quality amplifier, and it's very cool to see them produce a double sided planar magnetic. Full report next week, and samples for future audition and measurement on the way!

House of Marley
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Had a nice chat with one of the headphone engineers from House of Marley. This guy's got good ears and their line of low-cost headphones are quite good sounding. Interestingly, House of Marley belongs to parent company HoMedics which also owns Jams and last year purchased headphone maker SOL Republic.

I asked him if he would have the chance to work on the SOL brand headphones. He said maybe, they're still being tuned by Kevin Lee...why? Because, I said, the SOL headphones sound like ass and they could use someone with a good pair of ears. He turned my attention to some of their new boomboxes.

Kevin, are you listening? Please get someone else to tune your cans.

Sony
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Sony had a pretty cool display of their new MDR-Z1R ($2299) headphones in exploded form. An interesting, and expensive, build. Of particular interest was a representative detailing how the outer capsule cover is constructed.

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Sandwiched between the outside stainless steel mesh and interior plastic former is a layer of paper pulp lovingly hand-applied by workers using an unusual brushed-on technique. I'll have a video next week where the rep describes the process.

Last, and definitely least..
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People sometimes ask what king of stuff do you see at CES. I say speakers, headphones, TVs, drones, etc. What I want to mention is the weird stuff...but I can never remember examples. So I made a point of trying to seek out some weird things.

Here's one: an LED lamp that fakes a TV on in your home while away on vacation. It randomly flashes various colors to imitate the glow of a TV flickering behind your curtains. Don't know if it would work for me...I don't even have a TV.

Lots more to come from the LVCC next week as I do the full reports. Off to the Venetian high-end exhibits for day two. I wonder what day will bring.

COMMENTS
tony's picture

Wow, they got that right. YouTube is rapidly becoming an International phenomenon, everyday folks with a story to tell, some photography editing skills ( cheap software ), instructional feedback from YouTube and fellow creators, on using a Phone Camera, a Canon 5D with a couple of lenses ( or less ), a GoPro and a Mavic drone are doing superb work which looks "Authentic" and therefore desirable. Quality of content varies just like the difference between Tyll's Insightful Videos and Jude's animated, bobble head, push up the glasses Promotional videos of what ever ( nearly dreadful ).

Sennheiser providing useful tools for he Consumer Content Creators is probably more significant than MQA ( in the long run ). Sennheiser is, after all, a Pro Audio Outfit.

Tony in Michigan

Jazz Casual's picture

Gotta get me one of those. It'll be a welcome change from watching the test pattern. A video of the Sony MDR-Z1R paper mache thang would be quite interesting I'm sure, but I'd rather see a review and measurements posted here.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Working on it. One of the things I did in the Sony booth was to try to get a more reliable PR contact.
artiew's picture

Tyll, your comment re SOL Republic got me laughing, but is House of Marley any better ? I like to think I have a reasonably open mind, having owned cans from the likes of JVC, Panasonic and others (including the Solo2 on your recommendation), but I'd lump SOL and HoM in with Skullcandy - style over substance. Unless you discover a HoM headphone that seriously shatters that image, I'm afraid that's unlikely to change for me. I love the effort Philips are putting into affordable cans but some manufacturers just seem more interested in getting 'the look' for their target demographic and to hell with anyone interested in good sound - happy to hear that I've misjudged the aforementioned.

I also had a chuckle re the hookers, but having lived in what may well be the single largest red-light district in Asia without incident, I suspect that Vegas hookers are a breed of their own. Transsexual hookers in Thailand have been known to assault/drug and rob unwary tourists in their hotel rooms, but for a woman to follow a man into the toilet and threaten him like that is unheard of IME, even given the spike in amphetamine addiction over the last decade. I usually enjoy a floor show, but not at 5am ;)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Having talked with the HoM engineer for two years now and heard their headphones I do have to place them in a different category than SOL. Skullcandy as well. Though both companies are lifestyle oriented, both do make a serious effort to produce cans that sound decent.

SOL, on the other hand, doesn't seem to truly make a well-reasoned effort to produce quality sound from what I can tell.