The CES Innovation Awards are owned and produced by the CTA and are an annual competition honoring outstanding design and engineering in consumer technology products across 28 product categories. An elite panel of industry expert judges, including members of the media, designers, engineers and more, reviewed submissions based on engineering qualities, aesthetic and design, functionality and consumer appeal. To start with, the CTA reveals the CES 2020 Innovation Awards Honorees - a product that scores above the threshold set for a specific category - and selected Best of Innovation awards, given only to the highest-rated product in each category, or to multiple, in the event of a tie. A Best of Innovation is not guaranteed in each product category.
Just for reference, within the extensive list of 28 product categories, audioXpress chooses to highlight awarded products in Embedded Technologies, Headphones & Personal Audio, High-Performance Home Audio/Video, Home Audio/Video Components & Accessories, In-Vehicle Entertainment & Safety, Portable Media Players & Accessories, Smart Home, Virtual & Augmented Reality, and Wearable Technologies. Occasionally audioXpress will also highlight products awarded in the Tech for a Better World or other categories, when products might also be relevant to the audio industry.
For the CES 2020 awards, products must be available for sale to the public, for the first time, in U.S. retail outlets or online between April 1, 2019, and April 1, 2020. The reason why some Awards are only revealed closer or during the show has to do with the fact that those products have not yet been publicly unveiled. The full list of Best of Innovation and Honorees will be revealed on January 5, 2020, and many honorees will showcase their winning products in the Innovation Awards Showcase at CES 2020.
Headphones & Personal Audio
So far, the CTA announced a number of CES 2020 Innovation Honorees and Best of Innovation Honorees which include a few established audio brands, together with a somewhat surprising list of startups and completely new companies. There are a record number of 20 awards so far in the Headphones & Personal Audio category, none of which made it to the Best of Innovation.
Among those 20 products are the Norm Glasses, from Human Capable Inc. These are AR smart glasses that appear indistinguishable from normal sunglasses, featuring an Android based OS, voice user interface, dual speakers, camera, and a head-up display that can show digital content in user's field of view. More importantly, the Norm Glasses support all common lenses on the market, including prescription lenses.
Another product we noticed is the Rand McNally ClearDryve 180, noise-cancelling, 2-in-1 Headphones/Headset. For the second year in a row, an headphone from this company has been named a CES Innovation Awards Honoree. Built for professional drivers, ClearDryve devices are wireless, premium, 2-in-1 noise-cancelling headphones that convert into mono headsets. The ClearDryve 180 will hit retail shelves and e-commerce sites in August 2020.
Another name we recognized was that of Hong Kong company HELM Audio, which has been trying to gain recognition since the brand's launch at CES 2019. HELM Audio now received four CES Innovation Honoree Awards, establishing a clear stand-out in this year's nominee pool, and reflecting HELM's commitment to personal audio. HELM's winning products are world firsts and include the HELM DB12 AAAMP Mobile Headphone Amplifier powered by THX Achromatic Audio Amplifier (THX AAA) technology ($199.99), the HELM Triple Driver True Wireless earbuds with ANC ($149.99), the compact HELM MQA Adapter ($99.99) and the HELM Electrostatic Hybrid True Wireless earbuds ($149.99). HELM's True Wireless 5.0 are already available on Amazon and HELM's website with the new products being available in Q1 of next year.
The HELM MQA Mobile DAC is a true audiophile-grade digital audio convertor and one of the smallest, most convenient MQA adapters available on the market. The HELM Audio Electrostatic True Wireless earphones feature a Dual Driver hybrid configuration that combines the advanced sound reproduction of an electrostatic design, combined with improved bass response. The Electrostatic True Wireless earphones also feature advanced beamforming mics with ANC technology, auto charging, auto-pairing, low latency Qualcomm aptX Audio and AAC Bluetooth codecs to match the latest smartphones capabilities.
Another award we've noticed among the may headphone products was that of the Una Bluetooth Speaker from POW Audio, a portable, floatable, splash-proof speaker that delivers a new level of sound quality for an ultra-portable device, thanks to the company's patented WaveBloom technology. As already highlighted by audioXpress, POW Audio's WaveBloom technology uses an expandable, air-filled chamber that results in demonstrably better audio resonance and unrivaled volume for compact, portable speakers. The technology allows Una to collapse for portability, and the speaker comes with a Lily Float accessory that attaches to the unit, allowing it to float while stabilized on water. The Una charges via a USB-C charging cord and delivers 14 hours of runtime on a full two-hour charge.
On the busy true wireless category, within multiple products in different designs and form factors, we can find the Liberate Air, the first sustainably designed truly wireless earbuds from House of Marley. These deserve an award, first for being a sustainably designed solution using a clever combination of materials like bamboo, natural wood fiber (sawdust) composite, and an RPET fabric wrap composed of recycled plastic bottles, but also for the advanced set of specifications, which includes IPX4 sweat-proof rating, Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C charging, 9-hour on-board battery life (among the longest on the market) and support for Siri/Google Assistant voice control.
Other Innovation Honorees include two products that use haptics and bone conduction technologies, something we will see increasingly being used to complement standard audio transducers in entertainment and even professional applications. One of such products is the BassMe by Studio Duroy, a wearable subwoofer that rests on the user's shoulder, with the audio-element sitting against his rib-cage. Designed to be worn with headphones or even with a VR kit, BassMe helps feel the audio, rather than just listen to it, using state-of-the-art sound-wave and vibration technology to better convey low-end frequencies to the body. Most importantly, the BassMe design results in kids and many more bass-enthusiast users to lower the volume on their headsets.
The second product comes from a familiar brand, Aftershokz, and is the Xtrainerz (pronounced cross trainers), a bone-conduction "headphone", designed to withstand all elements, and ideal for athletes to swim, run, bike and train harder with no wires and no extra devices since it also features a built-in player.
Surprisingly, the High-Performance Home Audio or Video category only includes four awarded products so far. The first one is the Crescent smart speaker by Cleer, a company which already deserves more recognition for its products. The Crescent deviates from traditional black rectangular and square boxes with conventional fabric speaker nets, combining eight 40mm full-range drivers and two subwoofers in a compact speaker designed for flexible placement. The speakers' audio modes, Wide Stereo, 360 and Immersive, help the listening experience, and the speaker is equipped with the latest in smart device technology, a Voice Assistant, streaming services and Hi-Res digital audio format support.
The second product in the High-Performance Home Audio or Video category is the well-deserving Polk Audio Legend Series L800 Tower Speaker, which we heard at Rocky Mountain recently. The flagship L800 tower speaker delivers powerful sound with a true-to-life representation of music, movie soundtracks or entertainment content, thanks to Polk’s iconic SDA technology (Stereo Dimensional Array), first unveiled in 1982. SDA technology minimizes interaural crosstalk (IAC), and thus creates an improved stereo image, ideally suited for both traditional two-channel orientation or home theater systems.
The third awarded product in this category is the ViewSonic X1000-4K LED Home Theater Projector, combining things that should have long been available in any home projector, like 4K resolution with Wi-Fi streaming, combined with the convenience of ultra-short throw projection allowing it to be placed just inches away from a wall or screen, and project an image up to 120 inches (diagonal). It generates only 2,400 LED lumens of brightness (which still requires dimming the room lights), features built-in support for voice control (Amazon and Google) and comes with speakers from Harman Kardon, in case the user doesn't have other speakers (?!).
Finally, the fourth Honoree is the SVS SB-3000 Subwoofer, truly a High-Performance Home Audio solution, which "goes where no subwoofer of its size or price has gone before," as the SVS says. With and awe-inspiring output and deep bass extension below 20Hz, all enhanced by "the most advanced DSP and subwoofer app control technology ever used in a subwoofer," the SB-3000 combines an all-new 13-inch high-excursion SVS driver with flat edge wound split-wind voice coil and 800 watts RMS, and a 2,500+ watts peak power Sledge amplifier with fully discrete MOSFET output. A design that SVS says will easily outperform much larger subwoofers.
Best of Embedded and Better World Technologies
Among the awards in the always important Embedded Technologies category, we can find two Best of Innovation entries: the Syntiant NDP100 Neural Decision Processor from Syntiant, and the Atmosic M3 Battery-Free Bluetooth 5 SoC, by Atmosic Technologies. The first is a microwatt-power Neural Decision Processor (NDP), the first and only commercial silicon device designed to put machine learning/artificial intelligence processing into almost any consumer device. Custom built to run neural workloads, the NDP100 processor consumes less than 150 microwatts making artificial intelligence a reality for products as small as hearing aids to as large as laptops without requiring a connection to the cloud. The NDP100 truly provides powerful always-on AI processing for voice and other sensor applications.
Having achieved Amazon Alexa wake-word qualification, Syntiant provides a drop-in hardware and software solution that enables always-listening Alexa wake-word gateways to Amazon Alexa Voice Services (AVS) at power levels that are orders of magnitude lower than what was previously possible. For example, the NDP100 can be embedded in an earbud and enable always listening for Alexa with a less than 3 percent impact to battery life.
The Atmosic M3 Battery-Free Bluetooth 5 SoC is another important innovation, enabling devices to connect while consuming radically lower power versus competing solutions. According to Atmosic, the M3 can give devices forever battery life and even eliminate the need for battery power, reducing the environmental impact of batteries. The SoC combines Lowest Power Radio, On-demand Wake-Up and Managed Energy Harvesting technologies (from multiple sources: radio frequency, photovoltaic, thermal and motion) to deliver 10 to 100 times lower power than other SoCs.
Finally, in the Tech for a Better World category, that distinguishes products that share a common goal or ability to impact the world in a positive way, we were very pleased to find two audio-related products that truly deserve recognition.
First is the Greenplay Biomaterial Headset by Pixminds, an headset with a "negative carbon impact" (-5g) using minimized electronics, bio-material rubbers and coating as well as algae replacing 100% of plastic parts. "Pure algae injection is a technological breakthrough by itself, and injecting resilient and comfortable algae-made rubber imitation cushions was specifically challenging. Greenplay Biomaterial Headset is the result of solving these challenges and is the first of its kind to reach such a low environmental impact at the same price point than competing petroleum-plastic headsets with similar performances," the company explains.
The second is the BeHear Access from Alango Technologies, a company that audioXpress has long been following, and the source of many important innovations in DSP, voice processing and hearing technologies. Part of the company's bet on direct-sales of reference hearing solutions, the BeHear Access is a personal hearing device for people who need enhanced hearing in specific situations. While it looks and functions like a Bluetooth stereo headset, the BeHear Access also performs fully customizable hearing amplification for various use cases, such as face-to-face conversations, public places, live music concerts, mobile phone calls, streaming audio, and others. Thanks to the company's advanced DSP technology, the built-in noise reduction clarifies speech when necessary, and a very special technology slows down speech of fast talkers during mobile phone calls.
The Alango BeHear Access includes two telecoil receivers to deliver optimal sound in locations outfitted with hearing loop technology. The company hopes that the product design will help overcome the stigma, expense, and limited functionality of a traditional hearing aid by combining advanced hearing technology and consumer electronics, "putting people in charge of their own hearing." A free smartphone application (downloadable from Google Play or Apple Store) can be used to administer a simple hearing assessment. Following the assessment the product automatically adjusts amplification of all sounds to suit the user's hearing preferences. It creates various profiles for different listening environments: indoors, outdoors, crowd, live music. These profiles can be fine-tuned at any time using a simple graphic interface on a smartphone, keeping the user under full control of his hearing.