Best home audio products from CES 2017

Audio

by Ty Pendlebury January 8, 2017 5:29 PM PST @typendlebury

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Though there are dozens of gadget shows around the world each year, there are probably only three that are worth following for audio-visual tech: IFA, CEDIA and CES. CES is the biggest.

At the close of the last day of 2017, we look back on the last week and pick out some of our personal highlights: From Atmos sound bars to Alexa clones, to the latest creations of one of our favorite audio companies.

Wireless speakers, or "Alexa is the new Bluetooth"

There were a whole host of Alexa-style speakers on view at CES, from outright Amazon Echo clones to outdoor boom boxes.

One intriguing option was the Onkyo VC-FLX1, which was like a Nest Cam and an Echo had had babies. We couldn't really test its audio capabilities as it was a preproduction unit, but one would hope Onkyo's hi-fi heritage helps it sound better than its mediocre competitors.

While this trend of "Alexa in everything" in is in a nascent stage, we are likely to see these products mature in the next year or so as more manufacturers build on and improve the Echo format, especially in terms of audio quality.

Sound bars

When it comes to soundbars, we saw a host of new products which had the other flavour of the month, Atmos, on board. We were particularly impressed with two that we saw: the Onkyo SBT-A500 and the Sony HT-ST5000.

We heard Sony's Atmos sound bar at its booth in the North Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The demo was in a small room at the end of the expansive booth and it was running loops of a Dolby Atmos test disc. Though it was a canned demo, it was nonetheless impressive: It was the first time we've heard surround effects from a soundbar which actually lacked surrounds. We even turned around to check there wasn't a pair in the room, but there wasn't.

Though we didn't hear a demo of the Onkyo SBT-A500 (though the virtually identical Pioneer Elite FS-EB70 was playing in the booth), its distinctive three-piece design helps it stand out from the pack. The third piece apart from the bar and the subwoofer is a dedicated receiver. Making the receiver a separate unit means there's more room for additional HDMI inputs and other features including Chromecast and Play-Fi.

Speakers

We were mighty impressed by the Elac Uni-Fi UB5 at last year's CES, and the speakers turned out to be our favorite of 2016. So designer Andrew Jones' newest speaker had a lot to live up to. What he delivered was the excellent and audiophile-worthy $2,500 Adante stand mount. It looked great, it sounded great and it should be able to soundly defeat any competitor under $3,000 in terms of sound quality.

As impressive as the Adante is though, it's not quite the "stop the presses!" product its predecessor was. Yes, its better in every conceivable way, but what holds it back is that it's also five times the price. That said, if you want a high-end speaker we would urge you to start here first.

Conclusion

You could argue that, apart from the proliferation of Alexa speakers, there was a lack of any real innovation this year, but the highlight of the show for us was the demo by Elac's Andrew Jones. This speaker sounded great, it looked like a high-end component and it cost a lot less than an audiophile would rightly expect.

So too with the "affordable" Atmos sound bars we saw, they are capable of performance for the money that was unheard of at last year's show. Based on these and the other products we saw, it seems 2017 is going to be another bumper year for home audio products.

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