My Tour of High-Performance Audio at CES

One of my days at CES 2011 was spent at the Venetian, where audio manufacturers take over several floors and outfit their suites with sweet demonstrations. Here’s a tour through the setups I saw.


At the Consumer Electronics Show, the Venetian is the equivalent of audiophile nirvana.

Divided into just a few floors are hundreds of rooms that contain electronics, loudspeakers and cables that are worth millions of dollars, and most of the rooms sound like a million bucks, too. Heck, some of the products in individual suites probably neared six figures on their own!

I will preface this by saying I did stay away from super high-end rooms you may have read about in dedicated audio magazines, so the most expensive speakers I saw, for example, were probably about $30K per pair (if you want to judge by price tags). But that didn’t stop me and my ears from hearing the sweet sounds of some phenomenal setups—everything from small bookshelf speakers to big floorstanders, from solid-state electronics to tubes, from high-resolution audio files to old-school vinyl.

Photos: My Tour Through High-Performance Audio at CES

Of course, your next question is obviously: So what room sounded the best?

Many factors can play into that one, and I’m still kicking myself for not putting together a demo disc—or these days, a demo USB thumb drive. So I endured mostly audiophile-type tunes like classical, female jazz vocalist, layered percussion and other tracks of which I did not have much of a frame of reference.

Three rooms continue to stick out in my mind with their stunning music reproduction, much like how Mr. Mozart stuck out in Andy Dufresne’s mind when he was in solitary. Two of them featured those roughly $30K aforementioned speakers, which would be the Focal Scala Utopias, and I’m not giving them the nod just because they were the most expensive systems I heard—in one room paired with Cary Audio electronics, in another paired with Devialet.

The third room featured Bryston‘s new high-res disc-less player mated with Thiel‘s floorstanding version of its SCS4 bookshelf speakers, the $3,690/pair SCS4T that really ups the value ante for floorstanding loudspeakers.

But for someone who enjoys music as much as I do, every room had something good for my ears, no matter what size the speakers—and there were many smaller products that delivered big sound!

So while those rooms probably would get my gold, silver and bronze medals among those that I set foot into, I can’t say that any rooms disappointed, and several were pleasant surprises. My only disappointment was not having enough time to visit more rooms that featured vinyl-based setups. Oh well, maybe next year.

Here’s a tour through the audio rooms that I visited in Las Vegas. If you attended, what rooms caught your attention the most?

About the Author

Arlen Schweiger:

Arlen Schweiger is executive editor of CE Pro and former managing editor of sister publications Commercial Integrator and Security Sales & Integration. Arlen contributes installation features, business profiles, manufacturer news and product reviews.