Sony's onto something this year. Its TVs are incredibly bright, but that's not what caught my attention. It's the company's persistence in pushing Hi-Res Audio, and its range of high-quality headphones and speakers, both wired and wireless, that is finally paying off.
At its booth at CES in Las Vegas, Sony isn't really trying to be flashy, or to pretend that its gadgets are trying to change the world. Oh, well, there's the Lifespace UX, its suite of home-transforming gadgets like an ultra-short-throw 4K projector and speakers integrated into light bulbs — but apart from that, it's just a sensible display of sensible, well thought out devices. And nowhere is that more obvious than in its home and personal audio line-up.
On the lead photo — re-releasing an analog vinyl turntable in 2015 may seem a bit weird. And it is. But vinyl is on a tear right now, and more importantly, the Sony PS-HX500 can capture and convert your old and new vinyl from its analog format into the company's proprietary DSD Hi-Res Audio format, letting you play it in ridiculously high quality on other Hi-Res Audio compatible devices. The tech company turntable is actually in vogue at CES — Technics has one recreating its iconic 1200 series, and Audio-Technica even has a turntable with Bluetooth (yep, you get those vinyl pops and clicks wirelessly now).
I've always been a big fan of Sony's noise cancelling headphones, and now they're Hi-Res compatible, too, in the new $499.95 h.ear on Wireless NC — model number MDR-100ABN, natch — and are also available in a range of genuinely attractive colours. Despite the colourways, they're really not pretentious or obnoxious in person, and they sound just about as good as any pair of Bluetooth plus active noise cancelling headphones that I've come across. Until Bose welds together its QuietComfort and SoundLink product lines, Sony is your go-to here.
It's speakers — proper stereo speaker systems with standalone hi-fi components — that someone at Sony keeps saying "yep, we'll build it, they'll eventually understand why we are" to. And I finally understand. The Sony CAS-1 isn't brand new, but it's beautiful, and it sounds beautiful at the same time. The system is wireless — after you plug it into power, obviously — and only requires a compatible Hi-Res Audio player to connect over LDAC Bluetooth. It's proper walnut, too — which other big tech manufacturer does that these days?
And then we come to the gadgets that people will actually buy. The bright, colourful, significantly more simplified Extra Bass line. I still like them. I like that they come from a company that can still make beautiful classic speakers and classy headphones. $249 and $169 SRS-XB3 and SRS-XB2 portable wireless speakers, out in April, and $279.95 XB-650BT headphones out at the same time. You look at those alongside that turntable, and you can tell that Sony cares about the audio you're listening to, even if it sometimes paints it fluoro orange and lime.