Friday, January 12, 2007

CES 2007 Review - Day One 1/8/07

My flight left Madison at 6:00 AM, so it was an early start. I had to take a puddle jumper to Milwaukee and then I flew to Las Vegas, where my arrival was sometime around 8:50 AM with the time change. I took an airport shuttle to my motel and learned that check-in wasn't until 3:00 PM and was told they didn't have any rooms available at that time. This was a problem because I really needed to drop off my suitcase/bag before heading out and visiting the exhibits. I really didn't feel like carrying my heavy bag all day. Most hotels would let you store your bags with them in some safe place, but not the Wild Wild West. The lady at the reception desk didn't recommend storing my bag with them because, she said, "there's all sorts of people walking back there, and you never know what they might grab." This hotel is not exactly what I expected. It made the Howard Johnson's that I stayed in last year look pretty good. And, I really didn't want to stay in the HoJo's again. There were some pretty nasty bugs crawling around in the bathroom. By then it was nearly noon Madison time, so I decided to grab lunch at their Gambler's Grill. After lunch I gave it another shot at the reception desk and was able to get into a room. Thank goodness I could finally get rid of my bag.

A few days before leaving for the show, I put together an itinerary for my 4 day visit. This included all the different exhibits that I wanted to check out. First up was T.H.E. Show, where I wanted to meet with Adire Audio, April Music, Benchmark and Empirical Audio.

Adire Audio used to be a distributor for Hypex Class-D amplifier modules and their website used to include some useful power supply circuit diagrams. I don't think they deal with the amp modules anymore because they are focusing all of their efforts on their speaker drivers, which they sell to high-end speaker builders. At their booth, I met and spoke with the owner of a speaker manufacturer named Tympanik (unfortunately, I didn't write down his name). It was nice talking with him and sharing similar experiences with our audio related startup businesses. He's a little further along because they have a product ready to ship, but he's also been at it for about 3 years.

At April Music's booth I met with Simon Lee. I also met him at last year's CES and have been talking on and off with them about an engineering/manufacturing partnership. They are located in South Korea, so obviously they have much closer connections to Asian manufacturing centers. They've also produced some pretty nice products including their Stello DA220 DAC, which has received a few great reviews. Their latest product is called the Aura note (see photo at left), which they refer to as the "CD/AMP Completer" because and it combines a preamp, amp, CD transport, DACs and tuner. All you need is a good pair of matching speakers and you are good to go. It also includes a USB connection so it can be used to play audio from your PC. It's limited to 2 channel stereo and the built in decoder only supports MP3, WMA and OGG up to 192 Kbps. The built-in encoder will only let you record MP3s at 128 Kbps.

I didn't get a chance to speak with anyone from Benchmark. They were sharing a booth with a distributor named Studio Electric and no one actually from Benchmark was around. I did get a chance to speak with Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio. Steve's a really nice guy and was willing to share some of his knowledge of DAC design (they offer upgrades or modifications to Benchmark's DAC1) and the importance of reducing jitter. While visiting their booth, I also met the woman who organized both T.H.E. Show and the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. They introduced her as the latter and it wasn't until a little later that I learned about her involvement with the former. So, I probably put my foot in my mouth when I commented that the exhibitors were not getting nearly enough traffic to justify their expense because the change of venue for the CES high end audio was moved away from their location. Last year, they were right next to each other, so many people who visited the CES high end audio exhibits (next door at the Alexis Park Resort) were walking over to the St. Tropez Hotel, where T.H.E. Show was located. Anyhow, I've heard great things about the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and will try to attend it next October in Denver.

I didn't cover as much ground as I planned the first day. Transportation from venue to venue is not as quick as I'd like. Traffic in Vegas during CES, to put it mildly, sucks. I spent a lot of time on the CES shuttle bus waiting in traffic. I finally made my way to the Palazzo Ballroom at the Venetian Hotel to listen to the keynote by Disney's Robert Ager. It was a nice 1 hour Disney promo. Of course he had some nice visuals and we got to see the stars of their TV show 'Lost', which I've never watched, but quite a few people in the audience thought that was pretty exciting. Stay tuned for day 2.

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