CES 2017: Sun setting on Vegas for high fidelity?

The new Technics 1200GR at a suggested MSRP of $2,000 USD  is a more affordable version of the 1200G announced last year.
This CES was my first.

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.

Virtual audiophiles experience music in the future.
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.

One of the best-sounding rooms at CES paired John DeVore’s O/96 loudspeakers with Sugden electronics courtesy of Tone Imports.
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.

The Moon 888 mono blocks by SimAudio 888 watts into eight Ohms ($118,888 USD).

Moon by SimAudio 780D DAC, 850P (two-box) pre-amplifier, and 820S dedicated power supply.

CES 2017 coverage brought to you by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab.
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.

The Mark Levinson No. 515 turntable debuted at CES this year.

Aluminum, and MDF-sandwich plinth on the No. 515.
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.

Mobile Fidelity mastering guru Rob LoVerde discusses UD1-S with the TAD set-up.
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.

KEF LS50 Wireless ($2,199 USD).
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.

The Technics 1200GR; me thinks DJs doth protest too much.

Technics G700 stereo amplifier with DAC, and phono stage.

A unique tweeter arrangement (mounted in the throat of the midrange driver) gives the G90 a frequency response of 27 Hz to 100 kHz.
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.

Passion Orca by Acoustique Quality.

KR Audio 300BXLS tube power amplifier.
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.

–Rafe Arnott









The future of high-fidelity listening chairs…

About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream


  1. It is great to see companies that I recognize, like dynaudio,kef,technics,thorens and Mark Levinson still in the mix of great sound!!

  2. Why can’t we just say “loudspeaker” or “speaker”? A pox on the pretentious whomever who started using “transducer”…😠

  3. Two trends that GEN X, GEN Y, and Millennials are responding to.

    The bigger trend is the industrialization of everything. Artisanal audio entertainment (aside from conspicuous consumption) has been a dwindling market as Baby Boomers retire and die out. Just like artisanal instruments- particularly acoustic instruments, artisinal musicians, artisanal concert halls/venues… 90dB with 10dB of dynamic range is..’.industrial’. Not the world of artisans.

    The next trend is in the entertainment industry further accelerating the demise by manipulation for unrealistic returns with little-to-no added value. Starting with 8 and 12 bit digital recordings and expecting they would get a wholly refreshed franchise. Waited too long to get to 16, 24, and 32 bit digital recordings. Copyrights and performance rights lifetimes doubling. Electronic protections and file formats churn. The market moved on while music execs thought they could milk the cow (reference to product model with 4 classifications) for greater margins. Discretionary spending got dearer. Can’t amortize an investment long enough for ROI/ROAE.

    Who even has the attention span for anything as long a 5 bars any more?

    • When they’re so outrageously priced, they can’t be something as pedestrian as a “speaker” anymore.

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