All the CES 2021 Innovation Awards in Audio

January 9 2021, 00:55
As an annual tradition, celebrating outstanding design and engineering in technology, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) announced the CES 2021 Innovation Awards honorees,  including those products recognized as Best of Innovation. audioXpress looks at all the audio products and accessories that are included among the multiple categories, from personal audio to high-performance home audio, audio components, and smart home.

The CES Innovation Awards is an annual competition honoring outstanding design and engineering in consumer technology products across 28 product categories. The honorees of this highly anticipated competition receive global recognition from industry leaders and media who use the CES Innovation Awards to identify outstanding products, upcoming trends and how companies are using technology to change lives for the better.

A panel of industry expert judges, including members of the media, designers, engineers and more, reviewed submissions based on innovation, engineering and functionality, aesthetic and design. Honorees recognized as Best of Innovation are given to those rated highest across the product categories. 

Ahead of the first-ever, all-digital CES 2021, the world’s most influential technology event, happening Jan. 11-14, 2021, it's important to highlight the products that are honored and awarded the Best of Innovation title. The CES 2021 Innovation Awards received more than 1200 submissions. The final full list of Best of Innovation and all honorees will be revealed during CES 2021, on Jan. 11, 2021.

Among the interesting products already confirmed with the title Best of Innovation we can find E2IP Technologies, which developed its EES (Electromagnetic Engineered Surfaces) in conjunction with the Communications Research Centre Canada. These are thin, semi-transparent plastic sheets that reflect, redirect or block specific radiofrequency waves and can be deployed on outdoor or indoor structural surfaces (buildings, signage, etc) to augment, direct or inhibit specific 5G telecom services.

Other Best of Innovation entries are from Brunswick Corporation with a marine safety & security system; AMD with its Ryzen 5000 Series desktop processors; the BioButton medical grade device and data services by BioIntelliSense, a continuous health monitoring wearable solution; and the Epsy health & wellness mobile app.

Already on the audio categories and awarded Best of Innovation, we can find a few more commercially oriented choices, such as Samsung with the Galaxy Buds+ BTS Edition true wireless earbuds in the Headphones & Personal Audio, and ROLI with the LUMI Keys 1 keyboard, on the Computer Peripherals & Accessories category. LUMI is an integrated hardware, software and content platform for music learning, making piano learning fun and easy.
The ROLI LUMI Keys 1 keyboard is the most cnsumer-oriented product ever for the British brand
Next we look at the CES 2021 Innovation Honorees in the different categories, no particular order.

The most notable and deserved award goes to the Wireless Speaker and Audio Association (WiSA), with its first ever product, the SoundSend, an adaptor that we were glad to see launched in 2020. The WiSA SoundSend (pictured above) is a universal wireless multichannel home cinema audio transmitter designed to enable wireless audio working in minutes from any smart TV. SoundSend works with all smart TVs with HDMI ARC/eARC or optical connections to transmit up to eight channels of high fidelity audio to WiSA Certified speakers from global brands like Klipsch, Harman, Savant, Dynaudio, B&O, Enclave Audio and more. iOS and Android mobile applications provide advanced features and tuning capabilities.
The Hydropower Shower Speaker by Ampere
Next, is the intriguing Hydropower Shower Speaker by Ampere, which audioXpress mentioned when the Kickstarter campaign was launched. The CES awards jury recognized the engineering effort required to design a Bluetooth speaker that not only works in the shower, but is actually powered by the water running. Leveraging a hydroelectric generator, it generates 100% of its power from water. Included in the Home Audio or Video Components & Accessories category, the Ampere Hydropower is said to be made from recycled ocean plastic and includes an internal battery of 2,500 mAh, which is able to offer more than 20 hours of power. So, the idea is, we bring the speaker to the shower to actually charge the speaker, so we can listen to music after the shower stops. Now that makes much more sense.

On the Headphones & Personal Audio category, we find the familiar name of Audeze, this time awarded for a product playing in a less-familiar segment for the brand. The Penrose Wireless Planar Magnetic Gaming Headset is a consumer-oriented edition of Audeze's high-end LCD-GX and the Mobius 3D Surround Sound PC gaming-oriented headphones, using planar magnetic drivers - which is something new for gaming. The Audeze Penrose headphones are designed with Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Sony’s PlayStation 5 in mind - there are in fact different versions for console and PC/Mac gamers. The new thing in the Penrose is the low-latency dual wireless implementation, designed specifically with the needs of next generation console gamers in mind. This is certainly a big achievement for Audeze, making a grand-entry in a very high-volume market.

Also in the category, we find two Chinese manufacturers competing to establish benchmark products, even if they still don't have any proper branding or marketing strategies. From Grandsun Electronic we have the 233621 Marathon, an headphone that actually looks a lot like the Audeze, and seems to be intended as a promotional item to display the company's abilities as an OEM/ODM supplier for Bluetooth wireless solutions. It seems an oddity that companies who actually take manufacturing orders from brands (and that is their core business) might want to show original, own-branded designs, but that's something happening these days.

The other three entries are from 1MORE, a company which is betting heavily on promoting itself at CES. This year the company brings 3 true wireless designs that look very similar to previous existing products from the brand and many others. The ComfoBuds Pro TWS have an upgraded Bluetooth chip, ANC and a gaming mode, the ColorBuds are a lifestyle oriented version, and finally there's the 1MORE ANC, which seems to be the company's flagship design with proprietary QuietMax ANC platform. Why these Chinese companies continue to launch new product SKUs every time there's a new feature, ending up with an unsustainable matrix of references/features/form-factors, is beyond comprehension.

But 1OTHER is not the company with the most entries in the 2021 CES Innovation Awards. That title belongs once again to Harman, which is also a market leading brand in volume sales for most of the categories. This year Harman is featured with a record-breaking 20 CES 2021 Innovation Awards, with products from JBL, Harman Kardon, Mark Levinson and Infinity brands, in consumer, automotive and luxury audio. 
The Harman Kardon Radiance 2400 Wireless Speaker System
One of the Harman highlights is the latest Harman Kardon Radiance 2400 speaker system, which won a “Best of Innovation Award”. The system features two ultra-slim floor-standing speakers that use a Constant Beamwidth Technology (CBT) topology, with 24 vertically aligned and precisely calibrated transducers per speaker, reinforced with a powerful separate subwoofer. A compact digital hub connects the system to a TV and other AV devices, while Wi-Fi allows easy access to high-resolution music streaming services. This solution also leverages the Axign audio amplifier technology that was used in the Citation Amp.

In addition, the JBL BassPro Go all-in-one subwoofer and portable speaker was recognized in two different product categories, the Portable Media Players & Accessories category and the In-Vehicle Entertainment & Safety category. The JBL BassPro Go is an interesting concept of a powered in-vehicle subwoofer which converts to become a portable boombox Bluetooth speaker using a quick disconnect base.

Other Innovation Award Honorees for Harman include an impressive lineup of 5 JBL true wireless headphones with the JBL Tour Pro+, JBL Club Pro+, Live Pro+, Live Free NC+ and Reflect Mini NC. Like the products from 1PLUS, these all explore different form-factors with different features at different price levels. We certainly hope to see other advanced and innovative true wireless designs being recognized this year.

There's also the JBL Arena X Speakers, a flagship automotive loudspeaker design, the JBL DSP Amplifier, a self-contained automotive audio system, the JBL PartyBox 310, a portable "party speaker" with ugly LED lights, and also the Harman Kardon Soundsticks IV, which is a reedition of the original 2.1 audio transparent speakers that were once popular with the original Apple iMac, now using updated technology and LED lighting "to enhance the listening experience." 
Mark Levinson No 5105 Premium High-Performance Turntable
On the luxury audio category, Harman is featured with the Mark Levinson N° 5105 high-performance turntable, and the Mark Levinson N° 5206 precision preamplifier with a fully discrete, dual-monaural unified class A unified line stage, class A headphone output, and a hybrid gain topology MM/MC phono stage. The 5105 turntable is machined from solid aluminum, and features an ultralight carbon-fiber tonearm and dual-axis gimbal. The platter is suspended on a hardened steel axle rotating on precision ball bearings. The 5206 also features a 32-bit/384kHz and DSD DAC, MQA full decode and Bluetooth with aptX-HD.

In audio products, Harman was also recognized with the Infinity Kappa Series Speakers, a series of powerful car audio multi-element speakers with three-way upgradeability and a wide range of sizes, and the JBL Synthesis SCL-8 In-Ceiling Loudspeaker, using a patented offset horn-loaded compression driver and matched woofer.

Entering the more unusual products and designs, the CES 2021 Innovation Awards also include the MaonoCaster All-In-One Home Podcast Studio by Shenzhen Maono Technology. The company says this is exactly what is needed for podcasting, doing radio shows or Twitch streams in one easy and intuitive solution. Anyone familiar with the popular RødeCaster Pro Podcast Production Studio will find the MaonoCaster extremely familiar, with the difference that this one is just two-channels, it has a sort of DJ jog wheel on the center - and it costs one-third of the price. I'm certain that if CES was happening physically this year we would see countless similar designs.

Another notable Honoree is the Milo by Loose Cannon Systems, in the Wearable Technologies category. Again, this is another product that previously made the headlines with a crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign. Milo is pitched as "the Action Communicator." A sort of p2p wireless intercom concept for groups that do outdoor activities in areas without Wi-Fi or cellular coverage and allowing groups to stay in touch all the time. Milo enables uninterrupted conversation across a proprietary mesh network, is supposedly simple to use, and the devices are waterproof.

CES 2021 takes place Jan. 11-14, 2021. The digital venue and on-demand content is available through Feb. 15, 2021. CES returns to Las Vegas Jan. 5-8, 2022.
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