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Headphones, robot cars, and an Alexa-powered toilet at CES 2019: Alan Cross

Tech expert Mike Agerbo lets us know about some of the biggest trends from Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The driver dropped me off at the wrong entrance to the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

“This is the Platinum lot. You were supposed to take me to the Silver lot. I have an interview with a BMW executive in five minutes!”

He just shrugged his shoulders. “You should be happy I got you this close.”

CES — which, by the way, does not stand for “Consumer Electronics Show” anymore — is huge. I’d heard stories about how big it is, but until you have to tromp from one side of the LVCC to the other at Usain Bolt speeds, it’s impossible to gauge the scope of this thing. All the massive halls of the LVCC is just part of CES. There are two other locations, one of which has an entire section dedicated to nothing but cases for smartphones and tablets. And let’s not even discuss all the special exhibition events held in giant ballrooms at hotels along The Strip. All this to serve a market estimated at US$398 billion. That’s a lot of gadgets.

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Much of what we see at CES will appear as consumer products in the months and years ahead. But because some is vaporware, hardware and software that will never make it to the marketplace, there’s a certain science fiction element to some of the displays. Take, for example, LG’s OLED (organic light emitting diode) TV that can be rolled up like a sheet of paper. Do we need such a thing? Certainly not, but it sure is cool.

While it’s impossible for a single person to see everything, I was determined to investigate as much music-related gadgetry as I could among the pet trackers (dog cams are very hot this year), smart diapers (with built-in sensors that incorporate “pattern learning algorithms, so parents can prioritize the diaper changing task”), and “emotion recognition” software (designed to help machines recognize when we freak out because we’re dealing with a machine). Here’s what I found on my wanderings — 29.7 km worth, according to my Apple Watch.

Headphones

The headphone and earbud market (valued at over US$20 billion globally) continues to grow at a healthy clip every year. But with so many companies in this space, it’s more important than ever to stand out from your competitors. Good sound is no longer enough. Sonarworks’ True-Fi mobile app promises to perfectly calibrate almost 300 models of headphones and earbuds to your specific and individual hearing abilities. The mobile app will soon go on sale for US$3.99 a month or for US$99 lifetime. Those who already subscribe to the desktop version will be upgraded for free.

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Jabra looks at things a little different. It believes consumers will appreciate headphones that automatically adapt to different types of audio. Music is one thing but wireless calls are another.

Bluetooth Speakers

Anyone wanting to ditch the headphones for a while has more choices than ever when it comes to Bluetooth speakers. Who knew that there is such a massive market for speakers that float? French manufacturer Lexon has a range of speakers you can use in the pool. They’re kinda cute, actually.

One issue with such speakers is a lack of bass reproduction because of the size of the enclosure. So why not just make it expandable?

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Cars

Over the last couple of years, CES has evolved into a car show. In addition to all the companies showing off after-market gear (judging by the number of displays the after-market auto audio segment is far from dead), there were dozens of displays featuring all manner of autonomous driving products. Big companies like Ford and BMW were also keen to show off the kinds of things they’re working on.

For example, BMW’s iNEXT concept is supposed to give us an idea of what a car interior will look like when we no longer have to worry about things like, you know, driving.

See the teal carpeting in the back? That’s a special interactive fabric that will allow passengers to draw a volume knob in the seat with their finger, which will then control the audio in the vehicle.

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Honda has other ideas. It wants you to really connect on your journey. This is way more than an old-school radio, obviously.

And if you want your drive to be quiet, then Bose, the noise-cancelling headphone people, has a solution that will filter out wind and road noise.

Audio Gear

Technics unveiled a new version of the venerable SL-1200 turntable. The new SL-1200M7 has a new, more powerful motor that also has a reverse rotation feature that they say DJs will love. Audiophiles will be interested in the SL-1500C, which is aimed more at home use.

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Meanwhile, Sony announced a brand new 3D audio format they call “360 Reality Audio.” Rather than experiencing music in just two channels (or three or five when it comes to home theatre), this new tech offers 360-degree immersion in music as the result of “object-based spatial audio technology.” The company says they’re working with other record labels to incorporate the tech in new recordings as well as several streaming music services.

What about some audio for the bathroom?

Kohler has an Alexa-enabled toilet. Not only can you bark commands and ask questions from the throne, but the toilet will also serve up your favourite playlists through its integrated high-quality speakers. And yes, it comes with flashy disco lights, too. Just US$7,000 for white or US$8,000 for black.

And finally, a little something for the man cave

Who doesn’t want their own pinball machine? Stern, one of the giants in the business, was on hand with their new Beatles pinball game. It may look old-school and very analogue from above (and it plays just like a classic machine), but the guts are very digital. Stern somehow managed to license nine Beatles songs plus a lot of video and audio for the creation of this thing. That explains why even the most basic version of the machine — the Gold version —sells for US$10,000. I’ll take two.

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Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and Q107, and a commentator for Global News.

Subscribe to Alan’s Ongoing History of New Music Podcast now on Apple Podcast or Google Play

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