Consumer Electronics Show, January 7, 1999

Friday, we'll venture into the Alexis Park complex and the adjoining exhibits from T.H.E. Show, where most of the specialty audio manufacturers have set up shop. But so far, at the Las Vegas Convention Center and adjoining Hilton (which we are currently touring), live 24/96 digital audio is conspicuous by its absence.

This pattern was repeated this morning at the Meridian booth in the Hilton. A very impressive video was followed by a less-than-stellar audio demonstration---partly flawed by the high ambient noise of the convention floor. We were told about high-resolution wonders to come, but they weren't here today. Meridian America's Ken Forsythe hedged the issue with a mention that David Chesky "is working on something for us." Meridian's continuing accommodation of Ambisonics in its surround-sound decoders is a curiosity, considering that format's small number of adherents.

One observer noted that many companies make the mistake of debuting technologies at CES that are only a few hours old. A better strategy might be to present only those products that have endured the test of time. But CES is mostly about generating excitement for the year to come: new products, new alliances. One such is distributor Sonic Integrity's recent association with high-end manufacturer Primare. The impressively built Swedish audio gear has taken its place in the Sonic Integrity lineup, which includes Nordost cables, System Audio loudspeakers, Copland electronics, and Vantage Point equipment racks. Primare will have a preamp/processor, a DVD player, and a 110Wpc 5-channel amplifier out later this spring. "The three pieces should be available at about $10k," said SI's Peter Hansen.

Loudspeaker companies are moving into the custom-install business in a big way. Niles Audio, always a leader in this segment, has a huge display here at the Hilton. Canada's PSB, renowned for its high-value Stratus series loudpeakers, has four new models of versatile in-wall speakers. The $500/pair model M6x1 sounded great---an item that hints at a change in audiophile disdain for such items. "This part of the market is too big to ignore," said PSB's founder and chief engineer, Paul Barton.

Several companies scattered around CES are talking up DVD-Audio and its rival SACD, but in an interesting twist, two companies have announced multi-format players. Both Denon and Yamaha are planning to dangle the ultimate lure with players that will support both DVD-Audio and SACD within one machine---the audio equivalent of video gear equipped to decode both Dolby Digital and DTS. In the end, the high-definition audio war could turn out to be a non-starter. Accord, not acrimony, seems to be the civilized way to resolve the developing controversy.