High-End Audio Lives On

Now hear this: Not everything at CES is about compressed music.
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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





. 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


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



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Windows Media Player or


'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



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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



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amazing OLED TV or the monster, 150-inch plasma TV from

Matsushita Electric


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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.

With 34 years experience as a journalist -- the last 27 with NBC -- Gary Krakow has seen all the best and worst technology that's come along. Gary joined MSNBC.com before it actually went online in July 1996. He produced and anchored the first live Webcast of a presidential election in November 1996. With a background as a gadget freak, audiophile and ham radio operator, Krakow started writing reviews for both Audio and Stereophile Magazines in the 80s. Once at MSNBC.com, Krakow started writing a column to help feed his personal passion for playing with gadgets of all types, shapes and sizes. Within a short time, that column became a major force in many electronics industries -- audio, video, photography, GPS and cell phones. Readership soared, and manufacturers told him they had actual proof that a positive review in his column sold thousands of their products. Many electronics manufacturers have used quotes from his reviews in their sales literature as well as on their Web sites. There have also been a few awards too, including Emmys in the 70s, 80s and 90s.