I returned from the 2017 CES Show on Sunday afternoon a week ago after supporting the Comhear/MyBeam demo suite in the Venetian for the three days. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many chances to escape the craziness of the Venetian. But there was plenty to see, hear, and discuss within the halls of the 29th, 30th, and 31st floors. I was tempted but didn’t visit the AudioQuest or Nordost rooms. Can I assume that most rational audiophiles have already sorted out the realities of $4000 USB cables and putting added plugs into your power strip? I’m not going there. Let’s see if we can make it through 2017 without ranting too mkuch about the nonsense behind designer cables and the insane marketing campaigns that promote them (not to mention the magazines and websites that swallow their Kool Aid).
I should note that the show was smaller, less well attended, and had significantly less exhibitors than years past. It’s unfortunate that the high-end audio market has failed to excite young people but I guess it has something to do with the high prices generally associated with good sound, the poor fidelity of the music being released these days, and the attraction for convenience over quality. It also doesn’t help that both the hardware and software sides of market continue to promote the myth that Hi-Res Audio delivers a brave new work of increased fidelity.
This year’s CES show didn’t have Neil Young pushing his Pono initiative in one of the ballrooms in the Venetian. There wasn’t a TechZone dedicated to high-resolution audio like in years past. In 2014 and 2015, AIX Records was cajoled into participating in the HRA ballroom, raised some supporting funds through this website to make it possible, and saw virtually no upside for the effort. There’s nothing real about hi-res audio, the way that it’s been foisted on the marketplace.
But this year was different. The Digital Entertainment Group in collaboration with the major labels, some hardware companies, and even AudioQuest (yes, there are high-resolution cables apparently!) assembled an ambitious gathering in the central hall of the LVCC and dubbed it the “Hi-Res Audio Pavilion”. There were sections for the supporting vendors and a mock up recording studio in the middle of the layout to convince attendees that you can really hear what the engineers in the studio hear. And MQA was there pushing their “master quality authenticated” process, which TIDAL and others have embraced as a way to deliver better masters — and charge more for streaming music.
I saw Samsung there pitching their new sound bar and their process for upconverting regular 16-bit audio to 32-bits. They call it “Ultra High Quality” Audio but it remains to be seen how increasing the number of bits on a standard resolution recording transforms the original fidelity to anything other than a very big copy of the same fidelity. The only parties that might — might — benefit from using 32-bits are my colleagues. It’s pretty clear that most musicians, engineers, record producers, the labels, and consumers don’t really care about increasing the fidelity of music. If they did, they wouldn’t plaster the walls of their pavilion with recordings from 40 years ago and think that makes them hi-res music (a different logo for the content). Obviously, we all want the best possible reproduction of our favorite tunes — but simply putting them in bigger bit buckets, slapping an ever changing array of new logos on them, and promoting them through all sorts of media isn’t going to make one bit of difference.
The seems to be a collective effort to market hi-res music without any regard to whether it makes any difference. They’re all chasing the wrong end of the music fidelity beast. Instead of putting on slick presentations in expensive booths, or assembling a panel of so-called industry experts, they should start by creating recordings that actually possess better fidelity than we’re currently getting. They’ve defined all music ever created as hi-res if it’s delivered to you in a high-resolution digital container. I was unimpressed.