The annual tech extravaganza that is CES 2023 has come and gone, but we’re still sifting through all that we saw — from the best TVs on the show floor to everything else we loved, which you can read about in our roundup of the Top Tech of CES 2023 Awards.
But what’s gotten us in the AV section buzzing (besides the TVs, of course) is all the cool audio gear that was announced at the show. Here’s a roundup of some of our favorites.
The popularity of vinyl records and turntables continues to grow. But some may be deterred by the analog format’s need for various — and often expensive — components such as integrated amplifiers and passive speakers to bring it all together. This stings all the more when you already have a perfectly good Sonos system in your home. Longtime audio maker Victrola aims to change all that with the Victrola Stream Onyx, a “Works with Sonos”-certified streaming turntable that connects directly to your Sonos system over Wi-Fi and integrates with the Sonos app so you can send sweet vinyl sounds throughout your multi-room system.
Victrola first brought this breed of vinyl-over-Sonos turntables to market last year with the Stream Carbon, an $800 deck with a carbon fiber tonearm and a high-quality Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. With the Onyx, Victrola’s looking to make it more accessible with an aluminum tonearm and a more reasonably priced Audio Technica VM95E cartridge, which brings the price down a couple hundred bucks to $600. Preorders open on February 7, 2023 via Victrola’s website and on Amazon, as well as Best Buy, Crutchfield, and other retailers.
James B. Lansing’s iconic namesake company was dropping gear fast and furiously at CES 2023, announcing everything from turntables to speakers to soundbars. But sometimes it’s the small and mighty that garner the most attention. In the case of the new JBL Tour Pro 2 wireless earbuds, it seems like all it took was adding a nifty, and actually helpful, touchscreen to its charging case.
JBL’s flagship Tour Pro 2 earbuds also raised eyebrows because of some key improvements made over their excellent predecessor (the JBL Tour Pro+, which our reviewer Simon Cohen loved). The Tour Pro 2s now sport a stem design, JBL has added its version of spatial audio to the buds, Bluetooth multipoint connectivity (the ability to connect to two Bluetooth devices simultaneously) is now available, and they’ve gotten a bump up to the latest wireless audio standard, Bluetooth LE.
But let’s talk about that “smart” case! It seems so obvious to add a functional screen to a charging case, but few have ever done it. The Tour Pro 2’s 1.45-inch color LED touchscreen lets you keep your phone in your pocket with control over key functions of the JBL One app, including playback and call control, EQ presets, active noise cancellation (ANC) mode, and notifications. It also allows you to glance at the battery power for each bud (which JBL says will deliver up to 8 hours with ANC, and up to 10 without) and the charging case. The JBL Tour Pro 2 will be available in the spring and will cost $250.
Digital Trends editor-at-large Caleb Denison isn’t easily impressed, so you know something’s gonna be good when he won’t shut up about it (wink). And, boy, did we get an earful about the insane Nakamichi Dragon, which Denison describes in his video as “a no-holds-barred, unapologetically over-the-top, wireless sound bar surround system” from the legendary audio maker. Simply put, the demo blew him away (literally and figuratively), and that probably has a lot to do with the 11.4.6-channel system’s 31 drivers and more than 3,000 watts (you read that right) of power.
There are 17 drivers in the soundbar alone, 10 across the two surround speakers, and a total of four subwoofers housed in two cabinets. Six up-firing speakers support all that amazing Dolby Atmos and DTS:XPro surround sound, plus this beast supports Dolby Vision and Bluetooth aptX HD. Denison says that the main soundbar is made from a solid piece of steel sourced from an auto supplier, and the whole system (soundbar, two surround speakers, and dual subs) weighs in at a total of 76.5 pounds. And guess what? It’s not a prototype or anything — this thing will be available in spring 2023.
But it’ll cost you. $3,500. For that kind of money, it better breathe fire, too.
Livestreamers and content creators got a nice little surprise from Audio-Technica at CES 2023, with the company launching StreamSet, a pair of headsets based on its industry-leading and iconic M50x studio monitor headphones: the $299 digital/USB-based ATH-M50xSTS-USB and the $199 analog version, the ATH-M50xSTS. Both “streaming headsets,” as Audio-Technica is calling them, feature the M50x’s renowned 45mm large-aperture drivers and come with two sets of swappable earcups, one for comfort and one with a focus on sound isolation.
A-T has outfitted the StreamSets with a cardioid condenser microphone (based on its own 20 Series mics) at the end of a bendable boom for great sound quality. Both headsets are available for preorder now.
CES 2023 is the first show since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the go ahead for over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids to be sold by general retailers to those with mild-to-moderate hearing issues, without a prescription. Big-name players like Sony, Bose, and Jabra already have jumped into what is sure to be an exciting new market, but this year’s CES brought a few more products worth noting.
Sennheiser launched its Conversation Clear Plus wireless earbuds, and while they’re not technically OTC hearing aids, their main focus is what the company is calling “advanced speech enhancement technology.” Developed by the world’s biggest hearing aid maker, Sonova, the Clear Plus uses a combination of active noise cancellation and “Automatic Scene Detection” to analyze the sound and noise of any given environment and adjust the volume of what’s being said so it can be heard clearly. There are presets for various situations, too, all accessed via a companion app, and because it’s Sennheiser, it’s likely that these Bluetooth-connected earbuds sound pretty great, too. While cheaper than full-on hearing aids, their $850 price tag might repel some. If not, you can preorder them from Sennheiser now.
Leaning more toward the actual OTC hearing aid realm is the self-fitting Eargo 7, launched by the hearing health company at CES 2023. You won’t find any Bluetooth connectivity in the Eargo 7s, but that means that these hearing aids are focused on helping you hear. And they’re virtually invisible while doing it, thanks to a tiny profile that fits snugly in your ear canal, like traditional hearing aids but without the bulky piece around the ear. Eargo says that the Sound Adjust+ feature analyzes the sound around you and “automatically chooses whether to emphasize speech or reduce noise for comfort.” They’re also IPX7 water-resistant (submergible up to a meter for up to 30 minutes), which is a big deal for hearing air wearers, who can sometimes forget to take theirs out before jumping in the pool. Similarly priced yo last year’s Eargo 6, the Eargo 7 will set you back $2,950, but for that, you’re getting legit hearing aids and Eargo’s “premium” tech support. There’s no word yet on availability.
Other hearables announced at CES 2023 include the Nuheara-HP Hearing Pro self-fitting OTC hearing aids, a combination wireless earbud/hearing aid, and the Jabra Enhance Plus, a $719 pair of “3-in-1 earbuds for hearing advancement.”
It’s hard to find a pair of affordable desktop speakers that sound great, especially if you’re into music production or sound mixing. Nearfield speakers are a great choice for this as they are designed to be listened to at a desk-appropriate 2-to-3 feet from the listener, and that’s where these audiophile-level monitors from Drop shine.
Configurable either vertically or horizontally to maximize desk space, the $129 Drop BMR1 Nearfield Monitors connect via Bluetooth 5.0 and 3.5mm AUX and have a 3.5mm subwoofer output to add extra bass to what Drop says is a balanced, distortion-free, and natural sound, as the artist intended. They’re available for preorder on Drop.com starting January 31.
We already talked about JBL’s new Tour Pro 2 wireless earbuds above, but we couldn’t wrap this roundup, er, up, without mentioning another area that JBL excels in: speakers.
In this case, the Harman-owned company revealed it’s latest flagship soundbar, the 15-channel, 1,170-watt Dolby Atmos beast that is the JBL Bar 1300X. The $1,700, 11.1.4-channel unit consists of a main soundbar with two wireless detachable surrounds that are rechargeable and can be placed anywhere (even wall-mounted) as surrounds. They can also be joined back to the main soundbar to expand its sound while charging. The 12-inch wireless subwoofer is the largest in JBL’s Bar range, and provides all the low-end rumble you’ll need.
The new JBL One app delivers all kinds of custom EQ settings and more, including the ability to stream music over Wi-Fi from various streaming services. It’s also got Bluetooth, is AirPlay 2 compatible, has Chromecast built-in, and is compatible with Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri voice assistants.