CES Kicks Off With A Look Back: Sony and Technics (Re-) Introduce Turntables

Courtesy of Panasonic
The Technics 50th anniversary limited edition Grand Class SL-1200GAE.

CES is here, and the world will remain much the same. 

For those unfamiliar with the annual technology product showcase, picture the utopianism of Silicon Valley transplanted to an anti-bacterial convention hall stage in Las Vegas, where capitalistic bromides flow as free as vitamin-enhanced coconut water. Its engine is very smart and very wealthy people, all doing their best to change the world. Or at least their company's futures.

That utopianism is a required ingredient to the future, a creative necessity that inevitably results in some very bizarre ideas. The road to the cloud is paved with good intentions and bad products -- for every useful invention there is a fridge with a giant touchscreen, a device that turns 50 Shades of Grey into a very personal haptic experience, a lightbulb that plays music. (There's also the intriguingly useful, like a device that helps with conceiving a child.)

So yes, it can seem a little half-baked. As anyone who's meandered the aisles of a product expo can attest, much of it is wholly ignorable. (At the risk of journalistic navel-gazing, the Times described much on offer as "janky.")

In a totally opposite direction -- both chronologically and practically -- the refreshes that Sony and Technics have made to their turntables seem like something music fans may have an actual interest in, not to discount the potential of lightbulbs that project sound. Of the two, Sony's elegantly named PS-HX500 attempts to streamline the digitization of your vinyl through a USB cord and an app that eases the process. The company touts the product's capability to digitize that vinyl in high-resolution formats (including its own proprietary format), but audiophiles have had that ability since the advent of cabling. (Billboard took a look at the actual quality of high-resolution quality music about a year ago.)

Between the two, Technics' update to its legendary 1200 line of turntables will be the most coveted, however. Much-loved by DJs since its introduction in the early '70s, the line was discontinued about five years ago, just as the vinyl revival was picking up serious steam. Recognizing its error, parent company Panasonic announced last year that it would be bringing back the still-in-demand piece of low-fi tech, and that moment has now arrived, in two flavors. A "Grand Glass" version, limited to 1,200 units (get it?), is set to be available this Spring, with a wide-release unit set for later this year. The guts of both have gotten upgrades, including a microprocessor to watch over motor tremors and adjustments to the tonearm that will make little sense if described. (From the press release: "... high initial-motion sensitivity is attained by employing the traditional Technics gimbal suspension construction with the horizontal rotation axis and the vertical rotation axis intersecting at a single central point... ").

The presence of these two analog updates casts the high-minded mania of CES in sharp relief, and highlights the most important thing to remember as presenters with wireless microphones tout the magic they've created: they are all, like everyone, here to make some money.