Thing is, it just might be my last.
Consensus among fellow journalists, hi-fi manufacturers, distributors, and bricks & mortar owners is that it’s no longer a good fit for home audio, and attendance by companies who pursue higher fidelity had dropped significantly from previous years according to long-time attendees.Up on the 29~32 floors in the Venetian Tower there was grumbling about AARP, and Simmons Mattresses being slotted-in by CES organizers cheek-by-jowl with the likes of DeVore Fidelity, and GoldenEar Technology. This being my first date with CES I was content to look past what I considered minor flaws; it mostly looked good from where I was standing as long as you squinted a bit… and had a few beers. But there was no mistaking CES for an AXPONA or RMAF. In Las Vegas it was virtual-reality technology, ever smaller drones, and robotics that seemed to be the main event, with high fidelity more of an afterthought.
Regardless, I ended up having a fantastic time thanks to the people who make up our industry who made Vegas shine on like a crazy diamond. There wasn’t an evening that didn’t have laughter, whiskey, wine, or beer being shared with friends over amazing meals.The gear that I was able to cover had some outstanding examples with several manufacturers showing wares that I hadn’t had a chance to hear yet, and much that ended up impressing me. Whether it was the new VPI Industries-designed Mark Levinson No. 515 turntable, the TAD Electronics that Mofi was playing, or the new Moon by SimAudio 888 mono blocks, CES 2017 offered up a unique glimpse into the coming year of high-end audio.
Of note was Moon by SimAudio who had a stack of electronics feeding computer audio to the company’s flagship 888 mono blocks driving a pair of Rockport Technologies Cygnus transducers ($62,500 USD/pair). This set-up’s sound typified everything I’ve come to expect from the Canadian hi-fi manufacturer: powerful, controlled, and dynamic sound with what registered in my brain as infinite headroom at either end of the Hz spectrum.
Mark Levinson unveiled their No. 515 turntable in Vegas this year, which is the brand’s first foray into vinyl playback, and was realized with the significant contribution of VPI Industries. Built to celebrate Levinson’s 45th anniversary in the world of high-fidelity electronics, and feeding into a stack of Levinson-family amps, and pre-amps, the 515 (kitted with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze) had the big, controlled bass, juicy midrange, and easy high-frequency extension VPI acolytes worship. Like all Levinson gear, I don’t think this ‘table will be fading away in anonymity, rather, the polar opposite.
Technical Audio Devices from Japan were featured in a full system with a digital front end in the Mobile Fidelity room at CES, and it’s no coincidence that this room got so much play from a variety of writers. The sound was appallingly good through both the TAD SACD player, and the Spiral Groove Revolution turntable, with the tiny TAD Micro Evolution One loudspeakers easily pressurizing the room, and creating a most convincing 3D sound stage. KEF was showing off what is arguably one of the biggest hits of 2016/2017 both sonically, and stylistically: The KEF LS50 Wireless. This is music reproduction for those with a bent for lifestyle in their music listening, and a disdain for cabling. The originally passive-designed monitors now feature custom internal amplification, multiple DACS, a wireless streamer, and DSP circuitry making them true savants for revealing audio files which invisibly surround those who prefer wireless transmissions. I’ll be honest, they sound fantastic, and for their price will leave much of their competition scrambling to make up lost ground. The Technics 1200GR made an impression at CES despite weighing in at almost 1/2 the weight of it’s flagship brother: the 1200G. That’s not all that has lightened up with the legendary Japanese spinner; it’s price has been cut by half as well, and will have an MSRP of $2,000. Alongside the new 1200GR, Technics shone the debut lights on the SU-G700 stereo integrated amplifier. With VU meters glowing cooly, and outputting 70 watts into eight ohms, it features an MM/MC phono stage, and an onboard DAC that is 32bit/384kHz PCM, and, DSD-capable. The SB-G90 loudspeaker joins the 1200GR, and G700 with its three-way, 88dB-efficient, 7-inch aluminum bass drivers, and aluminum tweeter as a turn-key triple-play package.
Czech loudspeaker manufacturer Acoustique Quality had some visually, and sonically striking designs at CES, and are a company I’d previously not been aware of. Their stand-mounted Passion Orca ($5,995 USD) paired with KR Audio amplification (and an Arcam pre-amp, and Schitt DAC) produced a memorable listening session, and will have me on the lookout for them again at upcoming audio shows.
Please enjoy the gallery of images below from my time in las Vegas at CES 2017, if I missed anyone I spoke with, I apologize. I hope to make to make it up to you at the next show. See you all at AXPONA in Chicago April 21-23.