There's no one-size-fits-all for audio. From different listening habits to different uses to different room sizes, listeners' differences have made plenty of room for strange speaker shapes and brilliant audio solutions to find their place at CES and on the market. We're looking across some of the most interesting equipment out on the floor this week to see just how varied these products come.
One of the biggest new focuses in audio is sound stands, which bundle a group of speakers into a slim platter for your TV to stand on. They're a lot like sound bars — compact, multi-speaker solutions for rooms with limited space — they just put the speakers into a different shape.
Sound stands are stylish, but your options are limited for now
Samsung, LG, and Vizio all unveiled sound stands of their own this week, and they're all just little bit different. Vizio's stand is the simplest, with only a 2.1 channel setup. LG and Samsung went for more — 4.1 and 4.2 channels, respectively — with none trying for a more typical 5.1 system. They all look just as different, despite them all being slender platforms meant to sit beneath a TV.
Vizio's Sound Stand is a sharp, all-black pentagon with perforated holes running along its front. LG's Sound Plate has the most conservative design, a simple, silver rectangle with less-noticeable lines perforated into its front and sides. The design of Samsung's Sound Stand is particularly stylish, appearing as little more than a platform and sloping down in the front where it hides speaker holes against its very bottom edge.
Unfortunately, these companies haven't detailed what type of performance you'll get out of these stands or what you'll have to pay for them. Samsung, LG, and Vizio are all familiar with sound bars though — and LG has even made a sound stand before — so the question is how capable they decided to make them, rather than whether they're capable of making one that's any good.
Sound bars aren't the only space LG and Samsung are duking it out in. Both are working their way into the wireless speaker market in an attempt to stand up to Sonos, the category's leader.
Samsung debuted a wireless speaker, the M7, and a sound bar and wireless sub this week. Together with its prior offering of a single speaker and a wireless hub, Samsung has quickly built a robust line of speakers for anyone looking to fill their home. LG also made a tentative step into the space, debuting a single wireless speaker with two tweeters that can sync music playback across a home.
Specs on Bem's Speaker Band are available separately.
But CES wasn't all about sensible home audio solutions. Other products ranged from surprising to ridiculous, though it's hard to argue they weren't all cool. Samsung unveiled the Giga MX-HS8500, a massive speaker with wheels on the bottom so that it can be rolled around. With 2500W of power and a 15-inch subwoofer, you can imagine how much of a punch it packs.
A tablet built into a speaker, and a speaker strapped to your wrist
Vizio announced one of the more unlikely setups, a pair of portable speakers with fully functional Android tablets built in. It seems like a strange pairing at first, but Vizio makes an interesting argument for its Smart Audio speakers, suggesting their tablets be used to stream Pandora, Spotify, or any other of your favorite music services directly on the speaker.
Bem unveiled a speaker that can help you out in case you need audio even more portable than that. Its Speaker Band is a bracelet with a chunky square on top containing a speaker inside. Audio can be streamed to it over Bluetooth, and it can even inform you who incoming calls are from — though, presumably, it'll do that by speaking it aloud.
The headphones of CES are just as varied as the audio equipment everywhere else. Many of them differentiate by trying to appeal to specific listeners, be it gamers, audiophiles, or just runners.
Sol Republic is actually trying to cater to a number of different use types at once, advertising its new in-ear Relays as headphones that will serve you well whether you're at work, working out, or out on the town. They have a fun, but understated style, and Sol Republic says the headphones' earpiece design should prevent them from falling out of your ears while running around.
Sennheiser is getting a bit more specific with its in-ear headphones, designing a pair that it says are meant to match Samsung's Galaxy phones and tablets — though the design influence isn't overwhelming. SMS Audio is focusing on design too for 50 Cent's Street headphones. It isn't changing their feature set at all, but it plans to release four Star Wars themed versions for a limited time around this spring. The sets will be themed around Boba Fett, Darth Vader, the Rebel Alliance, and Stormtroopers.
Monster is moving in on Beats' territory
Other headphones are all about the features though. Rather than a big focus on design, Monster is trying to take back a market it once had a big hand in. Now that it no longer manufactures Beats headphones, it's trying to compete with them using its own high-end pairs. Its newly announced DNA Pro Wireless headphones are fairly expensive at $449.95, but they include the type of smart features you'd expect to find analogs to on a pair of Beats, from "touch-sensing" controls to noise cancellation.
That's barely even scratching the surface of audio at CES 2014, but it's many of the highlights in an eclectic and busy mix of products. Sound stands are simplifying the sound bar, Samsung and LG want a piece of Sonos' field, and headphone and speaker manufacturers are continuing to differentiate more and more. There may not be any one killer headphone or speaker for everyone, but there could easily be the perfect set out there for any one of us.