Road-trippin’ to CES 2016


ces2016Where are my manners? Happy new year and welcome to 2016. I’m sat in the restaurant of a hotel-cum-casino in Ely, Nevada, with eggs over easy, toast and black coffee and I’m on my way to Las Vegas to cover CES 2016. This gargantuan cluster-fuck of an event is the sharpest reminder on the show calendar that audio occupies but a narrow niche in the broader world of consumer electronics.

CES kicks off on Wednesday and runs through Saturday. Coverage will commence soon thereafter with the majority spilling once I’m tucked up safe back in Oz.

See – I’ve been on the road for the best part of four weeks. A trip to Tokyo to cover e-earphone’s Portable Audio Festival almost rear-ended a flight to the USA on Christmas Eve. A mere 36 hours were taken in Sydney between trips; just enough time to unpack and then re-pack. Christmas Day was spent in Las Vegas before firing north into Utah.

Scan the graphics that surrounds these words: hopefully you see banner ads; hopefully you click ’em; hopefully you support these companies with your hard earned cash. Advertisers provide the financial fuel that keep DAR running. For that I’m exceptionally gratefully. Without ’em, DAR would be a very different beast. Luck has nothing very little to do with it – five years of hard work has brought me to a point where I now travel the world in pursuit of better sound and report on new gear, as well as review hardware during downtime down under.

Bryce Canyon, Utah.

Moreover, this site’s advertisers aren’t just a random collection of suits wanting to throw cash in my direction. In 2015 I began turning would-be suitors when either a) their modus operandi or b) their product/s didn’t fit with DAR’s laser-guided focus on the future of audio where hardware looks as good as it sounds, minimises listening space intrusion and (occasionally) builds a bridge to the man in the street. The ideal future position for DAR would be exclusive funding by brands who move in lock-step with this mission statement.

If you’re of the opinion that advertising dollars corrupts commentary here then this isn’t the site for you. (You’d be better off here).

Banner ads also double as a statement of financial interests. Readers need to know where those interests lay. But to what degree should they be declared? Here, DAR disclosure extends to non-financial interests. A dinner paid for by a manufacturer falling beneath the $100 marker might not spell trouble in and of itself but what if that dinner is the byproduct of a friendship? Are reviewers not more likely to positively praise the work of their mates more so than companies showering them with advertising dollars? After all, advertisers are interchangeable, they come and go with ease. Friends less so, especially the good ones.

Clayton Shaw at Spatial Audio’s HQ in Kaysville, Utah.

This commentator’s road trip through Utah was partly engineered to see Bryce Canyon and Arches National Park, partly to visit Spatial Audio’s Clayton Shaw in Kaysville but predominantly to spend time with Sean and Stefanie Casey – the Zu Audio guys. We’ve become friends and the Caseys welcomed me into their home in North Ogden over the New Year period. It’s where I cheers-d in 2016. How’s that for disclosure specificity?

For those that follow this site, this isn’t new news – I called out this friendship in DAR’s fifth birthday post – at which point I closed the shutters on Zu Audio reviews. How can one possibly remain objective when the loudspeaker manufacturer under consideration is a pal? Or maybe I just value friendship more than I do money?

I shot video of Spatial Audio and Zu Audio’s Utah headquarters. On the latter, I reckon reader/ocular interest might outweigh any self-imposed editorial restriction. You wanna see inside Zu’s workshop, right? You wanna know about their forthcoming digital S/PDIF interconnect, specifically tailored to the Chord Electronics’ Mojo…right?

Sean Casey at Zu Audio’s Ogden workshop.

Winter in Utah is bright n’ white with snow n’ ice. That makes sunglasses mandatory even on a cloudy day. Temperatures go from crisp to cold to bitter to downright bleak and back again in the space of fifty miles: -22C in Bryce Canyon, warmer elsewhere but almost always below zero degrees (Celcius). Brrrrr.

It’s a similar deal at time of writing in Ely; reportedly -22C the night before last; -5C this morning. That’s a big deal for someone from inner-city Sydney, a city which only sees snow every twenty years and for which the average winter’s day tops out at around 17C. (How very British of me to talk weather for so long).

Headed back south, the majority of miles are behind me now. And it’s been a trip. Carrying the car across mountainous terrain and flat lands have been albums from LCD Soundsystem, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, AFX, Proem, Gaiser, Talking Heads, Low, (lots of) The Doors, Savages, The Hold Steady, Queen and Daft Punk. The sound system in my rented Jeep Compass is weaker than piss and ugly in the bass so I dialled the sound to the rear speakers and filmed ten second snatches, compiled into a 5 minute video edit here:

For proper audiophile-grade listening whilst on the road (but stationary), a Chord Mojo paired with JH Audio Layla IEMs provided the driving force behind Richie Hawtin’s From My Mind To Yours, Etcher’s Corrosive Day EP and the entire Thin White Rope discography, arguably the USA’s most underrated 1980s band. In A Spanish Cave and The Ruby Sea get more airplay now than when they first blew me away just before the band split in the early 90s. Thin White Rope hailed from Davis, California but their music provides a perfectly desolate soundtrack to the mercilessly bleak surrounds of central East Nevada.

Next stop Las Vegas. Next stop CES. For up to the minute coverage follow DAR on Instagram here.

Further information: CES













Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


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  1. Nice post John. I valued your candor regarding site sponsors (advertisers) and I am happy for your site’s continued growth. I’ve only been reading your site for a little over a year now but you cover a lot of what is important to me–audio for mortals with a working class budget. I don’t get to listen at home as much as I used to so I’ve been building up my near-field environment at the office. My music “server” is my daughter’s old netbook. DAC duties are handled by an HRT MicroStreamer. Primary listening is through a pair of Kanto’s I picked up on Black Friday, supported by a Yamaha sub I picked up on Craigslist. Not quite audiophile-ready but much better than a laptop soundcard run through typical PC speakers. Occasionally I want to listen critically or block out ambient noise and I’ll listen through my Sony MDR-V6 cans.

    I enjoyed seeing pics of your drive through Utah. I’ve never heard of Thin White Rope before but now I have to give them a listen. My wife, kids and I spent Thanksgiving week in and around Zion National Park and I recently drove our new van from Salt Lake City, Utah back home to Las Vegas. We haven’t made it to Bryce or Arches yet but they’re on our list of spots to visit for a camping trip this year.

    When are you getting into Vegas? It’d be nice to buy you a beer before you get really busy with CES 2016

  2. Sounds like a great week! Enjoy the show.
    BTW, this might be my favorite audio website for news and info.
    Keep up the good work, and Happy New Year!

  3. I’ve been Rickrolled by one of my favourite columns! HNY to you too, look forward to many more insightful reviews.

  4. Glad to see you describe CES as a Clusterf+++. Having just returned from there I have to say the Audio portion is so completely separate from the rest of CES you wonder why they hold it in Vegas. I did find the audio portion fabulous in regards to new product info / product releases and access to product designers. The rest of CES was a physical gridlock of fluff announcements , product duplication and mad scramble for brand presence. Perhaps of most interest was the actual display booths themselves, at least from a marketing perspective. I’m convinced everyone goes to CES because everyone goes to CES. Once there its too crowded to dance.

    • Indeed. I spent 4 days to-ing and fro-ing from the Venetian and never once made it to the Zoo (Convention Centre) or the barnyard (Sands). And yes, lots of new stuff gets announced at CES, which is why I now attend.