January / February 2023
Editor's Lead In
Like every year (bar the past couple, of course), I spent the first days of January 2023 attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas (of all places!) to see first-hand some of the most exciting audio products on the near horizon, as well as the biggest innovations that could materialize beyond that. The hi-fi industry is hardly the headliner of the world's biggest annual technology show, with its ever-shrinking physical presence somewhat overshadowed by Big Tech, automotive tech, biotech....
This CES, eyes goggled (and I swear I saw some drooling) over Sony's prototype Afeela electric car (created in collaboration with Honda and pegged for a 2025 release), which has an interior clad in screens and features an actual display on the front bumper that the owner can use to deliver information to passing cars and pedestrians. And if that's not futuristic enough for you, then how about Aska's A5 flying car, now on pre-order for $789,000 USD?
Acer was shouting from the rooftops (not literally, though you never know in Vegas...) about its bizarre bike-desk, which uses kinetic energy generated from pedaling the bike to charge the laptop, phone and whatever else you might have sitting on the desk part. And Withings represented the ever-present toilet-related CES launch with the announcement of its Wi-Fi-powered, pebble-shaped urinalysis device, U-Scan.
Then there was the LG M3 OLED, which is essentially a 'wireless' TV that, via Zero Connect technology, receives all sources wirelessly, in up to 4K/120Hz, from an accompanying box you can put anywhere in the room.
But among the flying this and health-monitoring that, hi-fi did enjoy its own headlines at the show, with the likes of Naim, Focal and JBL flying the flag for the two-channel greatness that is coming our way this year. And it's a big year for Naim, which turns 50 in 2023 (alongside Rega and Linn actually, so in hindsight 1973 was quite the year for hi-fi). It kicked off celebrations in style by launching a trio of components in an all-new Classic Series, including the latest iteration of the NAP 250 power amplifier that has been part of the company's catalogue since two years after Naim was founded. I have to say, it sounded wonderful paired with the Focal Sopra No.2 — even in a hotel room with ceiling-to-floor windows. (You can read more about the new Naim Classics on page 8.)
Milestone birthday or not, Focal wasn't about to let its sister brand bask exclusively in the limelight, and so too announced something — five somethings, in fact, that sit in its new Vestia range. The five speakers live between the company's entry-level Chora range and pricier Aria series, and in a brief demo sounded familiarly articulate and sophisticated when partnered with the Naim Uniti Star.
JBL was even more prolific at the show than usual, continuing to dial into the trending modern-retro design theme by expanding its successful Classic range to include a new CD player, integrated amp, music streamer and, most noteworthy, its first-ever turntable, the direct-drive TT350. The American brand also pulled the curtain off its latest KEF LS50 Wireless II rivals; the 4329P streaming studio monitors (larger, pricier versions of last year's 4305P). And it even tried to spice up the true wireless earbuds market by giving its new Tour Pro 2 a touchscreen-toting charging case.
Really, hi-fi in 2023 couldn't have got off to a stronger start. I wrote recently on What Hi-Fi? that I thought better-sounding things from smaller packages would be a theme of this year, as KEF will no doubt continue to utilize Uni-Core technology, the quality of Class D amplification will likely continue upwards, and discreet designs will surely become more prevalent.
I'm also looking forward to seeing how far powered speaker performance can progress, where the current modern-retro fad will go, and whether, by the end of the year, we will be blessed with a burgeoning ecosystem of wireless hi-res audio on the go. I could go on... but I think all that's left for me to really say is happy New Year, and enjoy the first Australian Hi-Fi of 2023. It's a corker!
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