Invitation-Only Audio History
Since returning from CES 2023, I feel there are some experiences and impressions that are worth leaving here for posterity. After nearly three years with no major trade shows contributing much in terms of surprises and excitement, the annual Las Vegas, NV, event was clearly a great way to kick start the new year. It wasn't a big event for new products launches, nor did it signal the introduction of new technologies of which we weren't aware.
Plenty of new products were already launched in 2022, simply because many companies were forced to postpone their planed introductions for nearly two years due to the global pandemic. And most of the technologies we got to see at CES 2023 were in fact things we have been reporting for some time. So, why the excitement? Well, it comes from actually being at a show and meeting the people and the companies behind the products and technologies and discussing their plans for the forthcoming months and years. In that regard, CES was a great moment to confirm what is real, what are mainly concepts, and what's smoke and mirrors — and that's precisely what makes trade shows so great.
CES 2023 also confirmed that global business is about to make a comeback, with major differences regarding managing supply chains and sales channels. As I reported in my articles in The Audio Voice newsletter—the most important trend at CES is how business is increasingly conducted in private suites and invitation-only presentations, all over Las Vegas, and outside of the regular visitor's eyes. Brands, manufacturers, product managers, design and engineering houses are meeting with technology, parts, and OEM/ODM services suppliers in audio, as in video, IT, accessories, health and wellness products, and now even in automotive. That business returned to CES 2023 even stronger this year, and B2B actually invaded even the large exhibition halls, where multiple industries that have never been involved with CES now go to do business and to benefit from the global media boost.
This makes CES a major show for all consumer industries, including audio, even though the “demonstrations” are less of finished products, and almost always of working concepts and prototypes. For thousands of startups active in every product segment this creates a vibrant environment to showcase innovation. I was particularly glad to see companies showcasing speakers, audio amplifiers, headphones, hearables, and automotive sound, enjoying success and gaining business. Some of those companies were in small standard booths at the Eureka Park—the startup arena. Some startups I had seen in 2020 were already in private suites with manufacturers lining up for meetings.
This is also a problem for the organizers of CES, the Consumer Technology Association, North America's largest technology trade association, which needs to readjust CES and its layout to accommodate this new B2B-oriented model.
For our readers, curious about what we've seen there, the most exciting innovations are not all necessarily audio. Among those are energy solutions from the Swedish company Exeger, the inventor and maker of Powerfoyle, a solar cell flexible material that converts all forms of light into clean, endless energy. Matched with thin and flexible batteries that can withstand more charging cycles than other Lithiumion batteries (e.g., NGK EnerCera), we will see more and more headphones and even portable speakers that will rarely need to charge from the grid, and low-power devices, such as remote controls that will not use discardable batteries. And I should mention the interesting USB technology updates, including (finally!) an upcoming update to the USB Audio specification, or the many interesting proposals to improve wireless audio transmission, including some progress on Wi-Fi-based implementations (DTS Play-Fi, and LG WOWCAST), new exciting codecs for high-resolution audio, and interesting demonstrations over Ultra Wideband (UWB).
And totally audio-related, the Audioscenic technology that truly delivers personal 3D sound through speaker arrays, using head-tracking, and DSP with AI capabilities. The experience, which adapts in realtime to the listeners position, creates best in class immersive sound. That, together with all the demos of adaptive room correction, from a single omnidirectional smart speaker to multichannel home theater systems, and the exciting active acoustics demonstrations in the automotive environment, are a great indicator of the many fantastic things to come in audio.
And my final recommendation would be to listen to the latest 1000W reference design from GaN Systems and Axign. I believe that you will feel the ground you're standing starting to move. And no, none of that was showing at the CES show floor, but they are now part of the show's history.