LAS VEGAS -- Believe it or not, there's still a thriving high-end audio business presence at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show.I say believe it or not because everything on the planet is being geared toward computer-based music systems. This year approximately 100 hospitality suites in the Venetian Hotel tower are showing off some very expensive and great-sounding hi-fi gear. I was privileged to hear some amazing-sounding loudspeakers, small and large, from DeVore Fidelity, Quad and Siltech. Just so you know, we're talking about products selling for $2,000 (DeVore Gibbon 3s) to $130,000 (Siltech Pantheons) per pair. I also got to listen to a few great amplifiers, CD players, digital-to-analog converters and some very expensive turntables and phono cartridges as well as a line of brand-new Dual turntables. In case you didn't know it, playing vinyl LPs is making a big comeback with today's youngsters. They think records sound better than MP3 files. At least someone is actually listening. If you like the way your music sounds after being squeezed, compressed and manhandled by the current crop of computer programs like Apple's ( AAPL) iTunes, Microsoft's ( MSFT) Windows Media Player or AOL's Nullsoft Winamp, then you can stop reading now. But, if you prefer your music files sounding like real music -- and think MP3, AAC and WMA files aren't all that good -- help may be on the way.
Las Vegas resident Vince Sanders owns a company named VRS Audio Systems. Vince is best known in the audio industry for creating one of the first great-sounding, hard drive-based, audiophile-quality, digital music servers. You ripped your music on your computer then stored and played it back on your hi-fi. But, Vincent wasn't completely happy with the final results. He quickly realized that the major problem was ripping your music using iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. He decided he'd make it better. Vincent has been working on his own computer program to rip music files correctly as part of his VRS Revelation Digital Audio Workstation -- a three-component solution for better-sounding music files. I've had the pleasure of hearing some of the very early results. All I can say is: WOW. His computer program rips music as uncompressed WAV files and makes them sound much better than you've ever heard before. Yes, WAV files take up more computer space than compressed MP3/AAC/WMA files. But, with hard drives getting larger -- and with the introduction of home information servers, like Hewlett-Packard's ( HPQ) reasonably-priced one-, two- and four-terabyte desktop models -- large amounts of much cheaper storage are on the horizon. We can't wait to test the VRS system and let you know just how good it sounds. Aside from the above items, and a very clever, wireless, W1 music distribution adapter system ($150) from the geniuses at Audioengine USA (makers of the superb, $200 Audioengine 2 speaker system; click
here for my recent review), most of what I heard in the high-end audio display rooms could barely be termed high-end. I think there were a lot of companies showing some very mediocre equipment. The same thing can be said of the entire 2008 Consumer Electronics Show. Aside from one or two terrific products -- like Sony's ( SNE) amazing OLED TV or the monster, 150-inch plasma TV from Matsushita Electric's ( MC) Panasonic -- I think CES was a big bust. Not much new, innovative or even barely interesting was displayed at this huge industry show. I'm walking away from this year's show thinking that the entire personal-electronics industry is capable of little more than hundreds of cheap, Asian knockoffs of super-popular products like iPods, iPod speakers, iPod cases and other iPod accessories. Add to that the insulting price-gouging that nearly everyone in Las Vegas perpetrates on hundreds of thousands of showgoers, and you begin to wonder whether this show is worth attending or even covering. I'm hoping the next major industry show, 3GSM in Barcelona next month, will be a whole lot better.