CES 2016: That's a Wrap!

Personally, I hate CES. Professionally—and I don't enjoy admitting this to myself—it's pretty awesome. On the personal side, it hangs over your holiday season like a beast in a bib at your dining table waiting patiently to suck the blood of your festive mood through the long, spiraling, garish colored, plastic straw of a $24 carry-out Long Island Ice Tea from the Golden Nugget.

And then, right after you recover from your New Years celebratory hangover, along with 170,000 other consumer electronics professionals, you spend 25% of six days straight standing in Airline ticket counter lines, plane boarding lines, baggage claim areas, taxi lines, hotel registration lines, badge pick-up lines, shuttle bus lines, Starbucks lines, lines for show demos, lines at the restaurant for breakfast, and then more of the same getting out of Vegas and back home.

Lastly, after returning home and having one day of rest while it incubates, some germ from some snot nosed child of an Indonesian T.V. store owner manages to multiply into an all out raging assault on every mucous membrane in your head. Ah yes, four days of typing up reports though a blur of weepy vision with the waste bin at your side filling up as you burn through three rolls of toiletpaper emptying your head of the CES crud. Good times...not. I really do hate Vegas.

On the other hand, it is the place to load up on fresh product review ideas for the coming year. This coming week will be spent getting back in contact with folks I met at CES, pointing out my coverage, and requesting review samples. Here's a partial list in no particular order of product I'm interested in acquiring for review:

  • Sennheiser HD 800S and HD 630VB
  • Marshall Major II, Urbanears ADV Platten Wireless, and the Coloud No.16 low-cost cans
  • Blue Microphone's Lola
  • Audeze Sine
  • Beyerdynamic T 51 i, DTX 350 m, and new T1
  • Stax SR-L700 and SR-L500
  • Audio Technica ATH-ANC50iS
  • Engineering sample tips kit from Comply
  • Jaybird Freedom and X3 fitness earphones
  • Bragi Dash biometric sensing headphones
  • MEE Pinnacle P1 Audiophile IEMs
  • The entire Klipsch X-Series line-up
  • House of Marley Rebel low-cost passive and bluetooth headphones
  • Definitive Tech Symphony 1 headphone
  • Sony h.ear $199 over-ear
  • Sonus Faber Pryma fashion cans
  • Master & Dynamic MW60
  • High-end dual-driver Technics EAH-T700
  • HiFiMAN Shangri-La electrostatic headphones
  • Etymotic surprise introduction
  • Mitchell & Johnson line-up
  • NAD VISO HP30 on-ear and PSB M4U 4 in-ear
  • Pass Labs HPA1
  • The Manley Headphone Amplifier
  • Bedphones...why not?
  • Meze 99 Classic

CES also provides a pretty good snapshot of where headphones are and where they're going. It may be confirmation bias talking here (because I kind of expected this) but I thought the headphones I heard were generally a little better sounding this year than in years past. I'd like to think my headphone measurement program and that of hobbyists is putting some objective critical pressure on manufacturers, but I don't think that's really the case.

I think the reason headphones are sounding better is because there's been enough time for companies who are serious about headphones to have sorted through assembling decent development teams, and products from those teams are just now starting to show up. I see this also from a bit of an odd perspective: Most sales and marketing people manning the booth at consumer headphone makers like Zounds, Marley, SMS, and the like, don't have any idea who I am. They might read C|NET, but they certainly don't read the geeky stuff written on a small enthusiast publications like InnerFidelity. It seems the headphone engineers do, however—they almost all know of the headphone measurement database. For the last few years I've regularly been tapped on the shoulder at trade show booths by the acoustic engineers that design headphones for these companies. And it's been happening often enough that I've begun to get a sense of where these engineers fit in their company, and what and how their roll is and changes over time. Bottom line: The engineers are showing up at shows more and more because their companies want them to have direct connections and feedback with customers. I think the companies are developing an ever increasing appreciation for how directly the engineer's job is connected to the success of the headphones in this day of internet user and forum reviews.

Anyhow, I'm back and now recovered from the CES crud. I've got a lot of headphone measurements to catch up with, and you can expect an InnerFidelity Update with new measurements soon, and equipment reviews to follow. I hope you enjoyed the coverage!

353 days until we do it all over again. No problem...I can wait.

TomNC's picture

Highly interested in your review of the Manley amp later this year. If it sounds like a $3000 amp, it will be a winner given its rich features. Those knobs for impedance match and frequency band-specific adjustments should work well with HD800 and other phones calling for these handy controls. A promising amp!

johnjen's picture


"…multiply into an all out raging assault on every mucous membrane in your head. Ah yes, four days of typing up reports though a blur of weepy vision with the waste bin at your side filling up as you burn through three rolls of toiletpaper emptying your head of the CES crud."

Pure poetry!
And oh so true…


TMoney's picture

Glad to hear you are recovering, Tyll.

Are you going to be able to get an Audeze LCD-4 in for review as well?

tony's picture

I've had to do the CES Shows ( both Winter and Summer in Chicago), Auto Shows across the Globe, Print Shows ( I own a Print Business) plus a few misc. Food Shows.
Our Show teams develop a rhythm, have favorite hotels (the Tuscany in Vegas for me) and keep to the pre-set schedule.
We prearrange all the important meetings and dinners, we keep a hospitality suite with loaner Swim Trunks, large hot-tubs, swimming pools and buffet tables nicely stocked-up.
But still, it's grueling & exhausting and quite expensive.
It shouldn't be worth it as Internet outfits are capturing all the new business.
We always looked for opening new accounts from Show Visitors, now I think it's more about maintaining old accounts.
I think you did a nice CES 2016 piece of journalism, anyone spending over $50 for personal Audio should read Innerfidelty!
Thanks for doing this, seeing thru your eyes saves me at least $3,000 in travel.

Tony in Michigan

zobel's picture

We all appreciate your efforts out there in the jungle in keeping us informed. Glad you have our good old MT home to come back to. Welcome back. It always felt real good to be back here after business trips and home shows. Looking forward to your take on those new items!

AllanMarcus's picture

You're close enough to Stereophile that it's not a lie.

Please add the new beryerdynamic T5p (gen 2) to your list of reviews.

Thanks for the great coverage.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I've tried that before...they don't know of Stereophile either, for the most part.
zobel's picture

I would almost take it for granted that people in marketing and sales of headphones would know about the industry's leading journals, yours included Tyll. Don't Harmon (AKG) Audio Technica, Sennheiser, and the other major players know you? I could understand how some mass market players like House of Marley, Skullcandy, Monster Beats, Bose, Polk, and the Walmart types might not consider the audio enthusiast community a significant portion of their market, but tell me its not true that the guy in the huge advertising poster being quoted in Innerfidelity doesn't carry some weight in the industry in marketing for his reviews, and not simply for a data base for engineering departments. If they haven't at least heard of Stereophile, they are in the wrong business, and might as well be selling apples, oranges, or ipods. I'm very skeptical about Apple ever getting it together enough to advance the art of audio. I am almost certain that other companies like Sennheiser or AKG (Harmon) will need to lead here. Sorry Koss, sorry Grado, sorry Denon, sorry Beats, sorry Apple, sorry Marley, Sorry Skullcandy, and sorry all the "sexy", teenie bopper, and glamour can companies, you may be striving to serve the trends in the market, but because of your marketing focus I think the important technology involved in advancing the art and science of audio for headphones will be beyond you.

Ignoring the pioneers and supporters of this hobby will give the small start-ups a leg up. Innovation will continue, and new technology will be developed by those with the passion and respect for the entire audio reproduction chain, and that is a good thing, and as it should be. Some of the best headphone makers are the best microphone makers. Knowledge base in advanced transducer design and manufacturing at both ends of the chain is invaluable. I don't think the "big market" guys will eat the little guys in this endeavor. I'm not talking about market share or profits. I'm talking about innovation, and true advancement of audio. I'm also talking about respecting those who have a mission, and spend their life passionately serving the advancement of the art and science of reproduced music for the benefit of music lovers, like Tyll, and John Grandberg, and Bob Katz, to name just a few.

xp9433's picture

I am sure there would be a lot of interest from subscribers

Tyll Hertsens's picture
...it just didn't come up at CES.
ar's picture

Yeah, LCD-4 was released AND shipped for sale a while ago. CES is more about new stuff. Measuring customer interest. Getting early feedback. Floor space isn't cheap.

Seth195208's picture

...I'm starting to come to the realization that Fang Bian is a prolific effing genius, I can't believe all the amazing stuff He's been coming out with! Sheesh!

MGbert's picture

I'm surprised that, with all the HiFiMan cans you've tested/reviewed, you haven't kept up with the evolution of the HE-400 except in the lower-cost HE-400S. The higher priced HE-400i cans are not only generating quite the buzz (enough for me to buy a pair, cough cough) but have gone through at least 2 design iterations - AND periodically get discounted to the list price of the HE-400S which are Wall of Famers. I'd think at least a pair for measurement of the updated design (back plate was apparently removed), if not for full review, would be appropriate. I for one would love to hear your take...


meringo's picture

Prioritize the Blue Lola's. I bought them on a whim and am really blown away. The NAD HP50 finally have an equally priced competitor.