A lot of coverage of CES focuses on what is new, which makes sense because this is a trade show with a focus on launching new products. That's lovely, but it is easy to lose perspective.
In this post, I want to reflect on products that I think any audiophile should hear. The editors are often asked to distinguish between "big" and "small" differences in equipment, and some users offer the critique that we make small differences sound gigantic. This problem stems from that fact that "big" differences can be a) dramatic or b) subtle but important. In audio, we are often concerned with the latter, when I think many (but hardly all) users mean the former.
With that in mind, I thought about more obvious and dramatic differences as I cruised the halls of CES this year. Here are three products that sound very good, and do not sound typical -- which is to say the differences on offer here are easily noticed. I think any audiophile, and especially those just getting (back) into the sport, should hear these because they raise the questions of "why is it that three appealing sounds can be quite different?" and "what are my personal realism triggers and inhibitors?". I concentrate on speakers because that's where big differences tend to be, and because many electronics makers have only static displays.
1. TAD Reference One Loudspeakers
These speakers demonstrate two qualities that I think may be very important to some listeners.
First, they have a form of quiet resolution that is pretty rare in audio (though becoming more common). That is to say, with the TAD's one gets the sense of tremendous micro-dynamic detail without the sense of exaggerated or distorted upper frequencies (especially the leading edge of transients). Vocals do not sound unnaturally sibilant. Strings sound tonally correct.