CES used to be a playground for hi-fi back in the day, with audio enthusiasts from all over the globe converging to check out the latest and greatest speakers, turntables, vacuum tube amplifiers and other forms of high-end exotica. Over the past decade, however, the show has shifted to more of a showcase for the best TVs, along with robotics, wellness, gadgets, and EVs, just to name a few of the categories that dominated CES 2024.
While roaming the Las Vegas Convention Center and surrounding hotels at this year’s show, I was encouraged to find a number of speaker brands showing off new products. Does that mean hi-fi has returned to CES as a vital, show-defining category? I wouldn’t go that far. You’re still much more likely to see the best Bluetooth speakers, best soundbars, and best headphones at the show, though hi-fi does appear to be making a slow and steady comeback.
Here are the best stereo speakers that I saw at this year’s CES, along with some intriguing speaker offshoots from brands better known for making big-screen TVs.
Sonus faber Suprema
The Suprema is the new flagship offering from Italian speaker maker Sonus faber. It’s been three years in development, and it features a range of key technology developments that will trickle down to the company’s other speaker ranges going forward.
Among those developments are a dual-drive motor for the speaker’s midrange that uses two separate voice coils in a push-pull configuration; driver damping material made from recycled cork combined with resin; and a cabinet design combining wood, carbon fiber, and rubber.
You’ll pay an eye-watering $750,000 per pair for the privilege of owning the new Sonus faber flagship, which consists of a main tower speaker and separate subwoofer for each channel with an outboard electronic crossover handling frequency filtering. For that money, you’ll be hosted at the company’s factory in Vicenza, Italy to customize the look and finish of your new speakers (Sonus faber is famous for its handcrafted wood cabinets), and the company will personally install your system.
You are probably wondering at this point how good $750,000 speakers sound. I had the chance to listen to the Suprema system driven by a pair of the new McIntosh 75th anniversary 2,000 watt monoblock amplifiers. Playing tracks from Billie Eilish and Sara Bareilles, the sound had striking physicality and detail, along with effortless dynamics. It was really something, as it should be for a system at this price.
JBL L100 Classic
First released in 1970, the L100 became JBL’s best selling speaker, taking up residence in many a smoke-filled university dorm room or campus-area flophouse. In 2023, the company brought the L100 back to life in the form of the JBL L100 Classic ($2,400 each, around £1,880 / AU$3,590), a faithful retro re-creation informed by modern acoustic engineering.
The LS100 Classic sports the same Satin Walnut wood veneer as the original and features a similar 12-inch (300mm) white pure-pulp cone woofer, 5.25-inch (125mm) polymer-coated pure pulp cone midrange, and 1-inch (25mm) titanium dome tweeter configuration. Most important, it has Black, Burnt Orange, and Dark Blue vintage Quadrex foam grille options, along with low-slung accessory JS-12 speaker stands (shown in photo).
Focal Aria Evo X
The Aria has been French speaker maker Focal’s most popular series since the company launched it in 2013. At CES, the company was showing the Focal Evo X, an update of the line that introduces two technical refinements.
Specifically, the new Aria Evo X features the company’s latest generation M-shaped inverted dome tweeter, offering improved detail and horizontal dispersion. It also has a midrange driver with the company’s TMD (Tuned Mass Damper) tech, which uses circular beads placed in the mass of the surround to boost dynamics and midrange clarity.
The 3-way Aria Evo X No.2 I listened to at CES ($4,798/pair, around £3,765 / AU$7,175) looked as good as it sounded, with a new Moss Green high gloss finish that reflected the surrounding light in a way that made it continually change color. There are other Aria Evo X size and finish options, including Prime Walnut and Black High Gloss, with prices ranging from $2,398 to $5,398.
SVS Ultra Evolution
American speaker maker SVS took a front-and-center position at CES, setting up shop in the crowded Las Vegas Convention Center’s Central Hall amidst the TVs and myriad other gadgets. This prime location gave them a chance to boost the visibility of its new Ultra Evolution series, and to rattle the hall with sound in the process.
The new Ultra Evolution Titan (shown, $4,000 pair, around £3,140 / AU$5,980) represents a design departure for the company, with a gently curved baffle used for its acoustically centered time-alignment architecture. A 1-inch diamond coated tweeter forms the center of the speaker’s five-driver array, which also includes dual 4.5-inch glass fiber composite midrange drivers and four 6.5-inch active woofers in a forced-balanced configuration.
The rest of the Ultra Evolution family consists of the Ultra Evolution Pinnacle ($5,000/pair), Ultra Evolution Tower ($3,000/pair), Ultra Evolution Bookshelf ($1,299/pair), and Ultra Evolution Nano ($899/pair). All speakers are available in Piano Gloss Black, Piano Gloss White, and Black Oak Veneer finishes.
Hisense Sonic Screen
The Hisense Sonic Screen was one of many interesting projector demos that the company had on display in its sprawling CES booth. And while the demo was labeled as an ‘8K Sonic Screen Laser TV’ the real innovation was the screen itself, which is basically a giant speaker.
Similar to the Acoustic Surface Audio+ tech used by TVs like the Sony A95K OLED, Hisense’s Sonic Screen positions actuators behind the screen’s surface, with the screen itself acting as a giant diaphragm. With a 100-plus-inch screen such as the one Hisense had on display, you might expect the sound to be fairly loud, and loud it was, even with the incessant tradeshow chatter swirling around it. I could see the Sonic Screen easily serving as a better-sounding and more elegant alternative to the built-in speakers in the best ultra short throw projectors, which typically provide workman-like sound at best.
Samsung Music Frame
The Music Frame speaker that Samsung showed at CES is an undoubtedly cool and clever design. It can serve as a standalone Wi-Fi speaker that sits flush to the wall while displaying art or photos, or a pair of them can be positioned on the wall behind your couch for use as wireless rear Dolby Atmos speakers paired with a compatible Samsung TV or soundbar.
I didn’t get a chance to listen to the Music Frame at CES, and we’re torn about the prospect of a wall-mounted picture frame speaker actually delivering good sound. Nonetheless, Samsung’s flat speaker fits in nicely with its design-friendly The Frame TV, and it could be music to the ears of those who cringe at the prospect of large, freestanding speakers taking up space in their living room.
Check out our CES news page for all the latest news from the show as it happens. We’ll be covering everything from 8K TVs and foldable displays to new phones, laptops, smart home gadgets, and the latest in AI, so stick with us for the big stories.
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