In my travels through the hallways of The Venetian Hotel at the 2015 International CES Show, I was lucky enough to get a number of demos of the hottest new audio products. Historically these demos represent the cutting edge of audio performance with price tags that are for Gulfstream-flying one-percenters, but this year in many ways was refreshingly different--especially in the world of speakers. Now don't get me wrong, there were demos of uber-high-end gear, but even Constellation Audio (known for $100,000-plus components) showed an amp/preamp combo for $19,000 playing on $34,500/pair Wilson Sasha W/P 2s using Wireworld cable that sounded, well, as great as it should for the money.
The stuff that really jumped out at me, though, was the speakers priced in the more attainable range. I heard the new $2,495/pair RBH SV-6500 tower speakers that were beautifully built and come with fantastic finishes and a very narrow footprint, yet they sounded big, bold, and dynamic. You didn't used to get this type of performance from a $2,500 pair of speakers. Hell, you didn't get this kind of sound from $5,000/pair speakers only a few years ago.
Sandy Gross of GoldenEar Technology demoed his new $1,998/pair Triton Five loudspeakers, and they sounded obscenely good. The flagship Triton Ones for $5,000 (which earned a spot on our Best of 2014 list) compete with speakers costing three times the price, but these $2,000 speakers were show-stoppers in their own right. Yes, he uses sick Pass Labs electronics to demo them, but even with a solid receiver, these GoldenEars can simply crush it for the price.
Off site at the Hard Rock Hotel, Harman was showing off the new Revel Concerta2 speakers, priced at $1,000/pair for bookshelf speakers and $1,500-$2,000/pair for tower speakers. These are prices normally reserved for Infinity speakers that sell in catalogs and big-box stores. Now you can get well-dressed Revels for that price, and guess what: they sounded off-the-charts good.
Bowers and Wilkins has a new line of more affordable speakers that sounded tasty on Classe electronics. Like the Revels and newer Paradigms, this new class of more affordable speakers has a look that is sans-screws and hardware, which makes the speakers look so much cleaner. I also got a brief demo of some Monitor Audio speakers that fell in the same class. They had the speakers lit up like a supermodel at a Herb Ritz shoot, and both the looks and sound quality were excellent.
One might make the argument that SVS started this speaker arms war. The company was at CES with its full range of Ultra and Prime speakers, offering killer sound at a price that the others have to compete with. SVS, in recent years, took the value proposition to the people directly via the Internet and got a ground swell of consumer demand, to the point where mainstream brands and all-important chains like Magnolia had to take note. By no means did SVS invent the Internet-direct or high-value speaker game, but the company's rise to success and its effect on the industry--inspiring everyone else to make great product for less--is a welcomed trend.
On the electronics front, Classe has a new $5,000 AV preamp that is lust-worthy. ATI amps sounded amazing in one of the few Atmos demos using a Theta processor (not an affordable product, but pretty cool nonetheless). Krell's $6,500 Foundation preamp now supports 4K. Both the Krell and the Classe will be upgradable to Atmos in the fall. Cary Audio had some new, more affordable offerings including a cool new DAC. Mark Levinson products aren't as expensive as they've been in past years, and even JBL Synthesis showed off an SDP-25 preamp/SDA-7200 amplifier pairing for $6,000.
High-performance, high-value products are key to the future of this hobby of audiophilia and home theater. The numbers are with buyers in their 20s and 30s, not with the traditional buyer who's getting into his 50s and 60s. These new buyers can't afford products that double in price every few years. They are looking for the new NAD 3020 to start their AV journey. They also want to converge their mobile devices and servers with audio/video gear that both looks great and sounds beautiful.
The really good news is that so many companies (many more than I mentioned above) are stepping up to the challenge of making gorgeous, high-performance and high-value gear. Who is the winner? You, the consumer. You simply do not have to spend as much money to get going with a great audio system as you did in the past? Is there room for upgrades in the future? You bet there is, but right now more people can get into the game, and that's a very encouraging trend.
What are some of the high value products you've heard recently? Have you bought any of them? Comment below.
• Check out our CES 2015 Show Report and Photo Slideshow for more CES product information.
• Five AV Categories That Are Much Cheaper (and Better) Than They Were Five Years Ago at HomeTheaterReview.com.