Ear to the Floor: Hot CES Audio Gear

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Creative X-Fi HD
Ahh, CES. Where the weak are killed and eaten. And where zillions of companies decide to debut products that should’ve been smothered at birth. But a few things actually managed to impress me so far as I stumble through CES and its constellation of surrounding events. So here they are, a handful of goodies I saw and heard that make my ears glad to be attached to my head.

At least, before Seth Porges (Popular Mechanics), Richard Blakely (Gawker), his assistant Nick, and I went to see Smashmouth at the Palms hotel. Now my ears simply hate me.

Images and first-hand accounts after the jump.

Creative X-Fi HD
Creative X-Fi HD
An iPod dock that upscales your iPod’s video to 720p or 1080i is pretty hot. It also does DTS surround sound and upgrades the audio with Creative’s X-Fi Crystallizer (sharpens up the highs very well) and CMSS 3D (an iffy virtual surround feature for those who lack a full surround speaker setup). HDMI output looked pretty fine on an HDTV at the show, though upscaling content from iTunes is no substitute for real HD. It’s also got composite and component outputs, plus digital output for audio, but the kicker is that you can pick up an X-Fi Wireless Receiver and transmit your video and audio wirelessly with a range of up to 100 feet. It comes with a wireless remote, and it charges your iPod, so you can listen to Smashmouth’s “All Star” on repeat as many times as you need to. The price seems high, though, at $399.99 (plus $99.99 for the wireless receiver). Still, it’s pretty hot if you’re an iPod user. Look at Creative and Apple, playing so nice together. Warms my heart.

B&W Liberty
B&W Liberty
Bowers & Wilkins is one of my very fave speaker companies out there. I got a chance to check out their new Liberty wireless 5.1-channel speaker system. The head unit has a large LCD touchscreen, built-in digital radio, DVD player, and wireless transmitter with dynamic frequency selection (kills interference), and it supports iPod connectivity too. It’s coupled with an orb-shaped subwoofer (PV-1), 3-way floor-standing main speakers, 2-way rear speakers, and a center channel speaker, all of which are wireless! The whole system looks absolutely awesome, but it won’t be out till the fall of 2008, and pricing isn’t set yet. I’m saving up already.

Acoustic Research FPS10
Acoustic Research FPS10 Flat Subwoofer
AR is hawking lots of wireless audio goodies this year, but the thing that caught my ear was this crazy flat subwoofer, the FPS10. It takes up a good chunk of floor space, but it’s only 4.5 inches high, so you can slide it under a couch or other furniture. Now that’s hot. The speaker cone is 10 inches and there’s a 12-inch passive radiator, putting out 225W (RMS) of beefy bass. It comes with an RF remote, so you can control the sound and volume without worrying about having a direct line of sight to the sub. The remote also has an LCD, so you can see the sub’s status. $699.95 ain’t cheap, so you’d better be adding this to an already sweet home theater setup. I can’t wait to find out if it sounds as good as it looks!

Etymotic hf2 iPhone Headset
Etymotic hf2 iPhone Headset
They’re based on what I consider the best headphones in the world, the Etymotic ER4, but now they’ve got an iPhone-compatible jack and a small inline mic. Not groundbreaking, but at least they made them look pretty cool, and damn they sound good. Best of all? The MSRP is $179, compared with $299 for the original ER4. Seriously. Same headphones, but cheaper. They were originally going to launch at Macworld, but Etymotic jumped the gun and busted them out at a ShowStoppers event here at CES.

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