CES 2015 Show Report By Michael Mercer
Gear and Roaming In Las Vegas
Just a backpack and headphone rigs 'n' bit o' fun!
Possibly the most fun ever this go-round...
Next thing you know somebody is tugging at the bottom of my
shirt. I thought it was Warren or one of my other friends who were there
hangin' out. So I turned around quickly as if to say f__ off! But, it wasn't
them. It was this short older woman named Janet (who totally reminded me of my
aunt Eunice). I felt bad jerking around so fast, I told her that one of my
closest friends was the CEO of Audeze, and if she had any questions I'd be
happy to get somebody for her! She was listening to Audezes' LCD-XCs
on-display on the Deckard next to me. She took a look at my press pass, and
said to me: "Michael Mercer, I want to feel like you do right now!" A
woman after my own heart. So, I immediately put my LCD-XCs on her head without
changing the music (remember, I was still playing Recondite – basically
clubby tech-house music) I wasn't sure if she was going to like the music.
Well, next thing you know she starts dancing! After letting her boogie for a
few moments, I put on Tori Amos' "Wild Way" off her latest album Unrepentant
Geraldines in 96kHz/24-bit. I wanted Janet to experience a female
vocal, some piano and other acoustic instruments through the LCD-XCs. She
looks like she was in sonic heaven. She took my headphones off, and told me
that she was "still dancing inside" that the experience "left an amazing
sensation" with her even after taking the headphones off She said she "enjoyed the emotive power of the music" through the headphones. I mean,
was Janet speaking my language or what? She said this was the first time she
ever experienced music like that on a pair of headphones. She introduced me to
her husband, and I helped them audition the LCD-2 and LCD-3 as well. By the
time we were coming to the end of our chat they told me they were buying two
pairs! One pair of LCD-XCs and an LCD-3. They also wanted to pre-order two
pairs of EL-8s for their family. I felt like asking for commission (joking
Audeze, just jokes). That experience just lit me up. What an amazing way to
kick off CES 2015! That experience validated that way I've felt about personal
audio and headphone culture since I dove straight into it in 2009: This is not
merely a young man’s game. Headphones have become an integral part of many
lives! People use them to speak on the phone, at work (when allowed) and in
all sorts of places. Janet was exploring the high end headphones section as
she and her husband were looking for an alternative to a large stereo system.
As I remember, they told me they had just purchased a condo where they like to
take vacations, and they wanted to be able to play their music loud and not
disturb anybody! My favorite thing that she said came as we were parting ways.
I encouraged her to check out other headphones in the Convention Center as
well. She said "why would I do that Michael?" "I found exactly what I
was looking for with Audeze". "We've made up our minds." Right on! Glad
I could help. Sometimes that's more fun than anything: Turning somebody new
onto something that I feel passionate about.
My next stop was to check out the HiFiMan HE1000 prototype.
Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of HiFiMan headphones. I'm not sure exactly why
– they usually sound great technically, but it's almost as if they sound
like terrific hi-fi, not music. However, the HE1000 was the first HiFiMan headphone that I really enjoyed. The full audio spectrum was alive, excitable,
and I was drawn into the music like no other HiFiMan I'd heard before.
Unfortunately the HE1000 is probably going to be priced around 3K, and I don't
think they're twice the headphone the LCD-X is, but they were a sincere
pleasure to experience anyway. I thought their styling was a bit over-the-top.
To me, they looked like Aviators on acid (lots of thin metal bars and such)
but I didn't care about that once I put 'em on. For HiFiMan fans, I'm sure
these are going to be a big hit. And even for other headphone enthusiasts like
me, who haven't been attracted to previous models of theirs, I think the
HE1000 will be a winner for them, because to my ears, they did a far better
job of capturing the sonic and emotive power of the music. Bravo HiFiMan!
Following those listening sessions it was time to head back
to The Venetian for the first High-Resolution Audio panel. I wanted to be
there to support my friends: Owen Kwon from Astell&Kern and Alex Rosson of
Audeze. Luckily Ryan Origin was there too, (Ryan works for Audeze, is a
helluva guy and also cracks me up) and we made perfect heckling partners!
Don't get me wrong we didn't disrupt the joint, but we had to say something
here and there to keep things lively. Besides, there was also a guy from Sony
on the panel, and we kept crackin' up as he used every seeming opportunity to
throw "Sony" into his responses. C'mon jack, we all know who you're with!
No need for constant plugs when you're representing the largest and oldest
company up there! After the panel I got some lunch with the Audeze crew –
including " " their on-site camera man who was capturing everything.
Unfortunately that also meant covering me sing New York New York and a couple
other Sinatra songs with our cab driver on the way back to the Convention
Center. I hope none of that gets released for public consumption. As much as I
love listening to artists sing, I'm sure the fellas wanted to shut me up
midway through the improvised performance. But they didn't stop me. Now that I
think about it – it makes for great blackmail material. And you wondered why
I enjoyed the new Audeze products so much! I kid (well, maybe). Upon our
return I dashed over to the CEntrance booth as my friends Warren Chi and
Michael Liang were there. Plus: I had to check out the progress Michael
Goodman had made with their up-coming HiFi-Skyn! I heard a prototype at Canjam
at RMAF back in October 2014 and I was very impressed. Goodman just keeps on
innovating, and I'm psyched to see CEntrance going strong. I worked for that
team for a little while, and Michael and I have remained good friends since.
He's a top-notch engineer, and I don't say that because he's my friend. Many
of us get to know each other in the personal audio/Head-Fi community. It's the
same in the high-end stereo world. Anybody who denies that for the sake of "objectivity" is just lying. We're still a niche, therefore we see each
other at all the shows and our paths cross constantly. Whether that be via the
component review process, or in the forums at Head-Fi.org. It feels like one
Anyway, the Hifi-Skyn by CEntrance is a very cool concept.
It's a shell that fits around your iPhone (the current models cover iPhones
5-6, and I hear there are Android versions coming in the future) and the "skyn" is just like those cases that used to house a battery under-neath
the phone in order to extend its battery-life. Well, the HiFi-Skyn packs a
high-quality headphone amp and DAC into the case (also at the bottom of the
iPhone) turning your iPhone into a high-performance DAP (digital audio player)
and it also extends the battery-life of the phone! Sounds like a winner to me.
And the sound? My music played through the Hifi-Skyn dazzled me at Canjam at
RMAF. I drove my Beyerdynamic T51is (east-to-drive and wearable) as well as my
Audeze LCD-XCs with the Hifi-Skyn and it handled both beautifully. I don't
think you can pigeon-hole the CEntrance "house sound" but I was pressed to
offer sonic character traits that seem to bleed from one product to the next
in their line – the most obvious word that comes to mind is "neutral".
Because Goodman and the CEntrance team have a firm footing in the pro audio
industry, and many of them are also musicians, their products often get the
hell outta their own way and place all the emphasis on the music. Talk about
transparency: Goodman's got the Midas touch when it comes to that. I mean, his
small, cigar-sized DACport headphone amp/USB DAC (a Head-Fi favorite) still
has one of the lowest jitter measurements John Atkinson has ever come across
over at Stereophile. That's damn
impressive! The Hifi-Skyn carries on that sonic tradition. My music sounded
lush and life-like. Everything from top to bottom was acutely detailed and
controlled. The spaciousness was also superb considering the diminutive size
of the headphone amp and DAC sections! I was sold after my first listen back
at Canjam, so I'm getting one of those suckers for sure. I should have one
here for review next week as well. So things are starting to get really
interesting in the personal audio hobby/industry. It's great to see all this
innovation happening. It keeps us all on our toes. By the way: CEntrance is
currently running a crowd-funding campaign for the Hifi-Skyn where you can
still grab em at half-price. If this sounds interesting for you I highly
recommend that you check it out. Mr. Tyll Hertsens of InnerFidelity also
stopped by the CEntrance booth while we were there. Tyll is truly one of (if
not the) Godfather of the personal audio movement. We may have completely
different styles when it comes to reviewing, but I like that, as I learn
something new from Tyll every-time I hang out with him. He also likes to have
fun, which is what we should all be doing. We're very fortunate to do these
things for a living. This year was no exception, we had a blast with Mr.
Hertsens. So after all those exciting demos, positive vibes, and seeing
friends on the first day, it was time to get ready for the Audeze party at
Dreis Afterhours that night. The event was co-sponsored by Subpac and Questyle.
They also booked FreQ-Nasty, one of my favorite breaks DJs, who’s' manager
happens to be good friend too). I knew we were in for a fun evening.
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