Las Vegas –I left International CES on a red-eye with a boatload of USB press kits, a bad head cold, disappointment in the decline of the Westgate Hotel’s $25 all-you-can-eat buffet, and a 6-inch ZTE smartphone with Cricket service for review.
The smartphone is flashy, and some of the press kits are actually useful. But here’s a list of the top things that I would have loved to take home with me, in no particular order:
DTS:X 7.1.4 sound system: DTS privately demonstrated DTS:X object-based surround using Focal CM565 studio monitors, an undisclosed A/V receiver, and a Blu-ray player playing samples of DTS:X-encoded Blu-ray surround tracks. I swatted a bee as it flew toward me.
Technics: After a 13-year absence from the U.S. home audio market, the Technics brand is returning as a high-performance, high-resolution audio brand with audio components that top out at a $52,999 for a stereo system consisting of a network player/preamp, floorstanding speaker pair, and power amplifier. I’ll take two. The belt-drive Technics turntable in my attic was looking for company.
Klipsch: The Voxx brand plans third-quarter availability of its Reference Premiere Wireless Home Theater speakers with built-in WiSA wireless technology. The price for a 5.1 system will be around $5,000. Now I can get great sound without running speaker cables past my front door or in front of the archway between the living room and dining room.
Bang & Olufsen: Who has time to master all the new gadgets in the house? Who is the industry trying to fool? That’s where B&O’s $2,700 BeoSound Moment “intelligent” music systems comes in. The networked tabletop device learns a household’s listening patterns to deliver one-touch playback of the type of music that a household prefers at different times of the day and week. The flat wood-panel touch interface is also cool. The oak-wood side lacks display but features an engraved circle that, when touched, turns on the system. The circle also lets users adjust volume and skip backward and forward.
House of Marley: The company’s first wireless multiroom-audio speaker, which incorporates Qualcomm’s AllPlay technology, is furniture-grade and great to look at. The new $999-suggested One Foundation features built-in Wi-Fi, custom-glazed oak baffle with magnetic breakaway speaker grilles, 5.25-inch woofers, and 1-inch tweeters. It also comes with Bluetooth. Now, has anyone thought of a white under-cabinet Wi-Fi speaker for the kitchen? Maybe toss in a color display, streaming stick or cable-company TV-anywhere Android app to view all my local cable channels?
Kenwood: This one’s for the ’57 Chevy Bel Air that I will park some day in my garage. In its marine/power-sports series, Kenwood added the $300 KAC-M1824BT, the company’s first Bluetooth-equipped amp. I can keep the Chevy’s stock radio and play 21st Century streaming services through the mid-20th Century sound system. Bluetooth is embedded in the IPX-rated wired remote to provide better Bluetooth range and prevent Bluetooth from injecting noise into the amp.
Audison: Here’s a discreet way to get high-resolution audio playback into any vehicle’s sound system, maybe even that ’57 Chevy that I lust for. Audison’s hide-away $649-suggested bit Play HD and $749 Play HD SSD store and play FLAC audio files up to 24-bit/96KHz, 16-bit/44.1 files (CD quality), and compressed-music files. The bit Play HD SSD comes with internal solid-state 240GB hard drive built to withstand vibration and shaking. The bit Play HD lacks hard drive, so I’d have to supply my own.
Consumers can use an iOS or Android app to control the devices via Wi-Fi. For head units equipped with a composite video or HDMI input, the devices can be connected to display their user interface in the dash and control the devices via a supplied remote control.
An optical output is available to send 96/24 digital music to a processor or Audison amplifier with digital input
Sony: Speaking of high-res audio, the $1,199 NW-ZX2 high-resolution Walkman does it all, except include headphones in the price. The Walkman features Bluetooth and LDAC, a new wireless audio technology and codec that delivers “near high-resolution wireless audio” over Bluetooth. The player decodes high-resolution FLAC, PCM, AIFF, Apple Lossless, and WAV files up to 192/24. It also decodes DSD files, uses Wi-Fi to stream high-res files over a home network, and downloads apps from the Google Play store, turning it into a high-res version of the iPod Touch.
Pioneer: The $1,400-suggested AVIX-8100 offers almost every in-car entertainment option available. And most every type of smartphone-connectivity option there is. It comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to display a driver-friendly touchscreen UI to control key apps on USB-connected Android and Apple smartphones. Apps include a phone’s music library, navigation apps, and select music-streaming apps. For a higher level of app control, AppRadio Mode enables the touchscreens to display the GUI and video of HDMI-connected iPhones and Android phones. That gives me head-unit control of a greater selection of smartphone apps.
Add in HD Radio, SiriusXM control, dual-zone audio/video playback and stereo Bluetooth, and what’s left? iDataLink Maestro technology that retains OEM infotainment system functions in select Ford, Chrysler and GM vehicles when I pull out the factory radio.
Kicker: The company came up with an easy way to change DSP settings on DSP amps – via Bluetooth from a smartphone or tablet app. The $599 Bluetooth-equipped IQI black box connects to new IQ series DSP amps priced from a suggested $699 to $1,199. The amps connect to all factory and aftermarket head units. IQI also lets me stream music via Bluetooth from a smartphone or tablet into an aftermarket or OEM sound system.
I can also connect the IQI to a PC to adjust settings or use the physical controls on the amps’ end panels.
Alpine: I’m not a pickup man. But if I were, I’d look for one of Alpine’s new vehicle-specific Alpine Restyle kits, which are bundled with a 9-inch car-navigation/multimedia receiver to replace smaller factory displays in specific full-size trucks and some SUVs.
The X009 nav system and kits are bundled with wiring to plug into the factory wiring harness, antenna adapter when necessary, and an iDataLink Maestro module that connects to the factory databus to retain factory infotainment-system features. In many cases, the module also adds features that the factory infotainment systems don’t offer.
The dash kits match the color, texture and shape of the factory dash to maintain a stock look. They also replace factory dash buttons with hard keys whose backlighting matches the lighting of the factory instrument cluster.
The nav system is also compatible with Alpine’s TuneIt smartphone app to tailor sound-system response to a specific vehicle’s interior acoustics.
Five new vehicle-specific Alpine Restyle dash systems raise the total number of such systems to seven, which fit into 90 percent of the truck trim levels available. The latest systems range in price from $3,000 to around $3,400 and ship at various times between January and the end of March.