What’s Hot in Consumer Electronics

Expectations always run high at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in Las Vegas in January, where the industry unveils its latest and greatest products and innovations. The higher-end manufacturers didn’t disappoint. Among the most exciting trends was the introduction of several new wireless music systems—from manufacturers best known for audiophile-grade music systems—equipped with Apple’s AirPlay and other similar technologies allowing users to wirelessly play music from personal devices such as smart phones, MP3 players, and tablet computers. And the result comes closer to hi-fi than wireless ever has before.

My favorite wireless music systems:

  • One of the show’s biggest announcements on the wireless front came from Dynaudio (www.dynaudio.com), which unveiled its Xeo line of active (i.e., internally amplified) wireless speakers. Now, most audiophiles will tell you that it is impossible to faithfully reproduce audio without using wires, which may be true, but the Xeo speakers—the Xeo 3 bookshelf model ($2,300 per pair) and Xeo 5 floor-standing model ($4,500 per pair)—come about as close as you can get. Delivery is scheduled for February in stores.
  • Danish company Bang & Olufsen (www.bang-olufsen.com) focused its new sub-brand B&O Play on portable audio systems, with the release of the $800 Beolit 12. The cube-shaped music system, which hits stores in late January, weighs a mere six pounds, comes equipped with a leather handle for easy travel, and offers playback of AirPlay-enabled or wireless network–connected devices and computers, as well as devices wired via standard USB, line-in, or Ethernet cables.
  • Klipsch (www.klipsch.com) showed a new version of its Stadium two-way bookshelf music system, which takes advantage of Apple’s AirPlay, and will be available this fall for about $1,500. Klipsch also wowed with a demo unit of a sizable floor-standing console (aptly dubbed the Console), which also uses AirPlay and offers a serious level of decibel output. The Klipsch Console will sell for between $6,000 and $8,000, but will not be available until 2013.
  • Swiss manufacturer Goldmund (www.goldmund.com) showed a $10,000 wireless system called the Talisman, composed of a pair of bookshelf speakers along with a separate tabletop power amplifier. This beauty is scheduled to hit hi-fi dealerships around the world in June.

My favorite loudspeaker models:

  • Sonus Faber (www.sonusfaber.com) stole the show with its mind-blowing $120,000-per-pair Aida, which is the baby brother to Robb Report’s 2011 Best of the Best winner in the audio category.
  • Wilson Audio (www.wilsonaudio.com) showed its $195,000 Alexandria XLF loudspeaker, which enters the already venerable Wilson lineup as the Utah-based company’s new flagship. The XLF definitely has the potential to be the year’s most exciting release.
  • Meridian (www.meridian-audio.com) showed off its brand-new M6 speakers, which will sell for $9,000 per pair when they begin shipping in February. Meridian also displayed its 40th-anniversary system, which comprises special versions of its DSP8000 active loudspeakers and its 808 Signature Reference CD player.
  • McIntosh Labs (www.mcintoshlabs.com), the longtime authority on all things hi-fi, rocked its new $4,000 XR50 bookshelf speakers; $10,000 XR100 floor-standing speakers; and a versatile left-right-center speaker, the $2,500 LCR80. McIntosh also displayed a hoard of new components, including the 50th-anniversary edition of its MC275 tube amp.

My favorite componentry:

  • One of the most exciting releases came from legendary audio designer Dan D’Agostino (www.dagostinoinc.com). His new Momentum preamplifier, which will start shipping in April for $28,000, perfectly complements his already-released Momentum monoblock amplifier and Momentum stereo amplifier.
  • The Southern California audio engineering dream team of Constellation Audio (www.constellationaudio.com) presented components from its new Performance line, which is the more modestly priced follow-up range to its extremely well-received Reference line (see Robb Report, July 2011).
  • Avantgarde Acoustic (www.avantgarde-acoustic.com) created a new XA line of amplifiers ($13,500 XA-Pre and $12,800 XA-Power), which will ship in February, specifically for use with the company’s horn speakers. Avantgarde paired the amps with its Duo Grosso G2 speakers for what was an absolutely jaw-dropping demo in terms of precision and clarity of the audio reproduction.
  • One of the most notable releases came from German audio expert Burmester (www.burmester.de). Its 111 Music Server is a first for the company. In a single unit, the 111 Music Server contains an 069 Reference CD player, an 077 preamplifier, and a digital jukebox able to play 24-bit/192 kHz music files. When this $50,000 beauty hits the U.S. in April, it is sure to cause a serious stir in the hi-fi world.

The wow factor—The ultimate home theater demo assembled by several companies to showcase their capabilities:

Digital Projection (www.digitalprojection.com) provided a stunning picture, courtesy of one of its TITAN projectors, which looked even more amazing on a 2.40:1 CineCurve screen from Stewart Filmscreen (www.stewartfilmscreen.com); the Blu-ray storage and playback system came from Kaleidescape (www.kaleidescape.com); the soul-shaking audio was from Canadian manufacturer Totem Acoustic (totemacoustic.com); and, of course, the fun motion seats, which actually shake, rattle, and roll in sync with the movie, were from D-Box Technologies (www.d-box.com).

And, look for more news on my top selections from this year’s CES in upcoming issues of Robb Report.

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