CES 2013: It’s Alive! It’s Alive!

The future of audio. That is a significant statement – the fact that audio actually has a future. There has been much handwringing by people (including me) wondering whether the awesomeness of screens big and small has forever eclipsed the coolness of audio. We feared that much like the tiny speakers in flat-screen TVs, audio would become something trivial. After walking the CES floor and taking to people, I can confidently state that rumors of audio’s demise are greatly exaggerated, and in fact they are not true.

Audio is cool again. Moreover, it is blingy, edgy, and most of all – young. Case in point: the show floor is overflowing with over-the-ear headphones. That’s right. The old-school, classic symbol of audio – over-the-ear headphones. Not so long ago, you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing headphones. Total fail. If you were an audiophile, and you liked to listen to headphones, you sat alone at home, blinds drawn, in a closet, lights off. Heaven forbid the neighbors might see you wearing headphones. Catching a glimpse of you getting frisky with the college-age babysitter – not so bad. Seeing you wearing headphones – very bad.

It’s different now. The show floor is crowded with fashion models wearing headphones. And, lots of the cooler show-goers have them wrapped around their necks. Last night on the strip I lost count of the kids wearing headphones and busting moves on the sidewalk. Don’t get me wrong – these aren’t your grandpa’s Koss Pro 4As. These ‘phones are stylish and outrageous, and come in a variety of designer colors and feature equal parts fashion and sound quality.

If you are a get-off-my-lawn audiophile curmudgeon, the idea of fashion and audio probably deeply disturbs you. I say this to you: get over it. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest that fashion and style and color are driving renewed interest in audio technology. I wouldn’t care if cow manure was driving it. The point is that audio is being driven. It is cool and hip again. Kids are appreciating that good headphones can sound really good, and are vastly superior to the garbage earbuds that came bundled with their device. These headphones are unlocking the instinct for high fidelity that millions of kids have had suppressed.

This is the new generation. They see audio as a trend-setting pastime. They want to be a part of it. They might graduate to good home systems, and learn to differentiate between an excellent tweeter and a merely good one. For now, it’s all about headphones and the fashion they engender. But imagine if a company like Beats launched high-end home gear. That could bring about a true renaissance of audio, and firmly root the next generation of listeners.

Audio technology. Are you cool enough for it?