CES 2013: Personal audio

As much as CES 2013 was a headphone show, it was also a Bluetooth show. So many companies displayed new Bluetooth speakers that I started doing triage on the first day, ignoring the lookalikes, the animal-shaped speakers, and (most of) the cheap plasticky junk to focus on personal audio products that would have a fighting chance of giving you good sound.

What CES 2013 wasn't was an AirPlay show. I thought Apple's technology might be ready to explode on the scene after its relatively soft launch over the last couple of years, but no-I saw it on only a handful of rather high-end products. And CES 2013 certainly wasn't a dock show; I saw only a couple of products with docks designed to handle the new Lightning connector found on the latest iPhones and iPads. Perhaps the audio industry's gotten a little sick of Apple's shenanigans (not to mention its expensive and, I'm told, cumbersome licensing process)?

For those who aren't hip to wireless speakers, a brief explanation of the tech. Bluetooth lets you stream audio from a smartphone or laptop computer to a single speaker (or headphone), with a max range of about 30 feet (on a good day-a really good day). It's a direct, device-to-device wireless connection so it works anywhere. AirPlay lets you stream audio from an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or any computer running iTunes to multiple speakers. It requires a WiFi network, so it pretty much works only in or around your home, with the exception of a few new products like the Libratone Zipp that can make a direct connection to an AirPlay source device.

So why so much attention to Bluetooth speakers? Apparently because of the success of the Jawbone Jambox and Big Jambox. All around the show, I saw products that were "influenced" (to put it as charitably as I can) by the Jambox and Big Jambox. Should Jawbone be scared? I dunno. Audio companies are still slavishly copying the Bose QC15 noise-cancelling headphone, years after its introduction, but haven't taken a piece out of it yet.

Here are a couple of photo galleries of the most interesting personal audio products I saw at CES. Other CES 2013 blogs have covered new personal audio products from Belkin, BOOM, Eton, HMDX, House of Marley, iLuv, Ion Audio, JBL, Marshall, Matrix Audio, Monster, NYNE Multimedia, Pure, Soul Electronics, and Stellé Audio Couture.

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