2012 International CES Musings – Day 2
Another day of not a lot of audio sightings, but for sure, headphones are big this year, very big, perhaps rivaling the number of iPod docks and cases. There are just SO many headphones and earphones (buds and in-ears) on display. Sennheiser was there, of course, with a couple of new top end models and lots and lots of listening stations in a semi-enclosed room, so they get props for at least providing an environment where you might be able to tell something about what you’re hearing. Many exhibitors had racks of the same headphone differing only in case and headband color and decoration. I suppose we have artists like Dr. Dre (whose branded line of headphones and in-ear phones are actually pretty decent) to thank for showing us that it’s not geeky to be seen walking around with headphones on, so they might as well be fashionable.
Wood and wood finished cases are more popular than I had realized. Some of the manufacturers are making claims that a headphone in a wodden case sounds warmer and more musical than one in a metal or plastic case. Others are just using it for the look. Another trend I’m seeing, and this is either a marketing gimmick or an indication that some people just don’t know how to design a headphone, is that there seems to be a trend, at least in consumer headphones, for specific models or makers tailoring their products listening to certain genres of pop music, or even as specific as vocals. Given the line from House of Marley (Reggae artist Bob Marley’s family) I’d expect them to be optimized for reggae, with emphsis on deep bass response and vocal clarity, and indeed their demo music sounded pretty good. I have to admit that I preferred the music they were playing in their booth to what I heard in the Monster or Skullcandy booth.
ZMote was showing off a technology looking for application developers that I think might have a use in live sound production.
What they have is a universal Bluetooth module that can be used for electrical control. Their first product, primarily built to demomstrate the concept, is a reomtely controlled power cord, a short AC power extension cord (rated for 1200 watts) that has the Bluetooth module in the middle. The idea is that you can remotely switch power from a smart phone. All that’s required is an app that will run on the phone’s OS that transmits the command over Bluetooth to toggle the power switch. What makes it universal is that it’s (according to the developer) simple to develop the app for any smart phone or even a web browser in a Bluetooth-enabled computer.
What I’m thinking here is a tool for remotely switching power amplifiers located on stage from the front of house mixing position. Since you usually want to turn on the power amplifiers after the mixer is powered up, and power down the amplifiers before switching off the mixer, it can save a trip. There’s a question of operating range, of course. Bluetooth is specified for a 30 foot range, which isn’t terribly useful, but he was switching it reliably at a distance of about 100 feet.
I’m constantly disappointed with the dozens and dozens of exhibitors that have accessory speakers for computers, phones, and portable music players that claim high high quality audio and just sound awful – limited frequency response and high distortion. But there are also some consumer-level audio upgrades at CES (not counting the high end audiophile gear that I’ll get to on Thursday) and this year was no exception. Audioengine was showing two new D/A converters, one with analog RCA outputs, the other with a WiFi output connecting wireless to a companion remote receiver with RCA outputs. Both D/A converters have both S/PDIF optical and USB inputs, include a front panel volume control, power through the USB port (whether or not you’re using that for the audio), and 24-bit resoluton up to 96 kHz sample rate. The company also has a line of powered speakers and a subwoofer, both wired and wireless, that sounded pretty decent.
Among the plethora of iGizmos that do nothing more than protect or support iDevices, it’s refreshing to find one that actually does something. The iShower isn’t actually an iAnything, it’s a water resistant Bluetooth enabled loudspeaker with a time display, media player controls (play, forwarard, rewind) and up to five preset “channels” you can listen to news or music from your iPhone while in the shower. What will they think of next?
Well, next (and last for today) is the Emperor workstation from Modern Work Environment Lab – workstation in this context meaning an integrated chair, desk, and monitor stand that envelopes you in your computer work environment, or even entertainment environment. It’s like watching something out of a 1950s science fiction movie to see the monitors move down and the desk move into their working positions after you’re seated comfortably in the chair. Of course it has integrated LED lighting, an audio control panel, and stereo (surround is optional in a customized version) speakers plus an under-seat subwoofer.
Tomorrow – Some fabulous designs, some crackpot ideas, but always beautiful high end audio products.