There are gobs of grounded consumer products at CES that are affordable, practical, and can incrementally improve your daily life. We’re talking about updated TVs, the latest pair of wireless speakers or headphones, or a new fridge that lets you write messages to the family on a touchscreen sunken into the door. But, while those are nice and all, they’re not all that much fun.
As such, we decided to compile the coolest, wildest, and just plain impressive gadgets from the audio realm that we discovered at this year’s Las Vegas event, so you can get a taste of the truly awesome stuff available (at the right price) to audio hounds in the near future. After all, that’s really what CES is all about, isn’t it? So check out our list of all the coolest new audio gear we saw – and heard – at CES 2018.
Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar
When Sennheiser bought high-end audio brand Neumann in the ’90s, it was assumed the partnership was mainly to leverage the company’s microphone expertise, landing classics like the ubiquitous U 87 vocal mic. What we didn’t really consider (and probably should have) was that Neumann makes killer speakers, specifically studio monitors, too.
As such, when Sennheiser showed off its new Ambeo soundbar (which is what the company is calling the system for now) loaded with Neumann drivers — a first for Sennheiser — we were caught off guard, and we weren’t the only ones. Crowds lined up outside the Sennheiser booth at CES 2018 to get a demo of the bar, and for good reason. Offering realistic 3D virtual surround sound for Dolby Atmos and other codecs from just a single array of drivers, the Ambeo soundbar is already one of our favorite entries in the burgeoning segment and more than worthy of a slot on our list.
Audio Technica ATH-ADX5000
Sitting innocently on a sleek wooden stand at Audio Technica’s Venetian suite, far away from the barking crowds and blasting bass of the Las Vegas Convention Center at CES 2018, were Audio Technica’s new headphones. The cans may not be loaded with groundbreaking tech, but these ultra-light, brilliantly comfortable headphones entered our ears with delicate waves of gorgeous sound so clear, detailed, and tactile, there’s no way these sleek open-back cans could be left off this list.
Proof that dynamic drivers are still heavyweights in the world of audiophile sound, the ADX5000 are nothing less than a flag staked in the ground to mark Audio Technica’s place among the best headphone makers in the world. Offering a grand soundstage laden with all the things we adore about great sound (detail, clarity, balance, dimension, delicacy), the ADX5000 are easy to love at first blush. But it’s their versatility — wisely emphasized by a diverse playlist serving up everything from Prince to Nirvana — that really struck us. Whether it’s whisper-soft vocals, crunchy distorted guitar, or fluttering horns and brass, the ATH-ADX5000 do it all and do it well, making their $2,000 price tag go down just a tad easier.
Bragi Ears tinnitus-reducing earbuds
Known best for its multi-featured Dash and Dash Pro true wireless earbuds, Bragi has always been on the cutting edge of earbud innovation — some might say too much so. But while it may not be as sexy as earbuds that track your head movements and play your favorite tones with no strings attached, Bragi’s latest micro-computers for your ears offer a simple solution for a very real problem for millions of Americans: tinnitus. For those who suffer from its worst form, tinnitus can be nearly incapacitating. In fact, Bragi CEO Nikolaj Hviid says it was an email from a listener who had such a problem that made him push Bragi into tackling hearing issues in a venture the company calls Project Ears.
Dubbed simply the Bragi Ears, the new earbuds don’t play music or track your heart rate. Instead, they use a specially developed algorithm to map your hearing, account for any hearing loss or tinnitus from which you may be suffering, and amplify the world around you to let you hear subtle whispers from up to 100 feet away. And the best part is, while their $1,099 price tag may seem steep, that’s a fraction of what you’ll pay for high-quality hearing aids. Now that’s innovation.
Clearaudio Innovation turntable
Sometimes at CES, it takes a little luck to dig up something truly amazing. Such was the case in our time at the Venetian on day three of the show, when we all but stumbled upon Clearaudio’s outrageous, two-armed wooden monster, the Innovation turntable. Shimmering like a beacon in the corner of the room, the Innovation’s sterling silver columns support a table worth pining for in your wildest audiophile dreams.
A belt-driven job supporting all three standard vinyl speeds (33 and 1/3 rpm, 45 rpm, and 78 rpm) regulated by an optical sensor, perhaps the craziest thing about this table is the makeup of its supporting columns, which are constructed from Panzerholz plywood, comprising multiple layers of birchwood pressed together, glued, and lacquered with a matte metallic finish. Clearaudio uses the material for sympathetic resonance, comparing the idea to the resonance of a violin. Heavy aluminum weights lock down your records to mitigate flutter, and just for good measure, the primary carbon-fiber tonearm is topped off with a $15,000 cartridge. Add the $13,500 table, the $8,000 support stand, and a few other add-ons, and you’ve got a table pushing the $45,000 line. Will that be cash or check?
While not technically a “gadget,” Sonarworks’ new equalization software, which got its start in the professional world and has already been adopted by thousands of studios, just might be the coolest new algorithm on the audio scene. Now prepped for consumers, the Sonarworks software is designed to provide studio-level audio quality and clarity from virtually any pair of headphones, whether you’ve got a pair of $20 airport clunkers or a $2,000 pair of high-fidelity cans.
We know what you’re thinking: Plenty of DSP software has littered the market, offering all sorts of unfulfilled promises, and there’s plenty more where that came from. But Sonarworks’ proof is in the pudding. We spent no more than 30 seconds going back and forth on a pair of $150 basic on-ear cans, the brand name of which we won’t mention for its own sake, and the difference between having the software disengaged and engaged was all but shocking. The cans went from a muffled, warbled mess to offering crystalline clarity and balance in a microsecond, raising a single phrase from our lips to founder Helmuts Bems: “Damn, dude.”