CES 2007: Dear Diary…M-Audio, The Sands And A Whole Lotta Targus Bags

After nearly three days of talking to vendors about their products, you start to feel like you’re on a marketing treadmill. But every now and then you hit a meeting with people that are really passionate about what they are doing. And on the second half of day three, January 9, I met with three such companies: M-Audio, CoolIT Systems and Targus.

I’m at the Venetian now for a 1:00 p.m. meeting with M-Audio. Owned by Avid, M-Audio makes a ton of computer-centric tools (hardware and software) for musicians, both professional and amateur. The guys I spoke with, Tony McCall and Robb Mason, have a genuine love for the products, which came through clearly in our conversation. A few months ago I heard their Studiophile BX8a studio monitors for the first time and was impressed, producing great sound quality for a compact speaker. They saw an opportunity to knock out some smaller, more cost-efficient models and went for it, creating the Studiophile AV 20 (at the top) and Studiophile AV 40 systems (below).

The AV 20 speakers (which they expect to street for around $100) are a perfect choice for those who want to step up from the set bundled with their computer, but don’t need to fill a large area with sound. They sound terrific—especially when you’re positioned in front of them at a desk—providing a nice even-keeled sound, not too boomy, not too high. The 40s are more powerful, able to fill a bigger space with crisp highs and tight bass notes. At less than $200, you’d be hard pressed to find a better sounding set of stereo desktop speakers for the money.

M-Audio also showed off the Session KeyStudio keyboard-and-software package. For $99 you get a 49-note USB keyboard to connect to your Windows PC with the company’s easy-to-use Session software. At that price, even those just thinking about toying with creating music can pick one up.

My next meeting, at 2:00 p.m., is with the Geoff Lyon, CEO of CoolIT Systems, makers of PC cooling products. As he ran through the basics of the liquid-cooling units and the new RAM Fan, again I got the strong impression that this is another company that cares about their product and their customers.

It’s certainly not uncommon to hear about new desktop processors, graphics cards, hard drives and, hell, even RAM, but it’s rare that cooling systems get as much press as CoolIT’s did in 2006. They launched an easy-to-install, completely self-contained cooling unit, the $200 Eliminator. They were picked to design a special cooling system for Shuttle’s SDXi small-form-factor gaming PC. There were also partnership announcements with several boutique system builders: Alienware, Velocity Micro, Maingear, Hypersonic and Biohazard. And then, at CES came the news that Dell would be using CoolIT Systems’ MTEC technology to chill the XPS 710 H2C Edition gaming desktop.

Aside from the incredible cooling power of their solutions, CoolIT is also working on a USB-connected Control Center module that sits inside your PC with “predictive cooling” that’s able to anticipate heat production and adjusts the cooling accordingly. This is unlike most systems that react after the temperatures have already risen. Plus, the board works with a piece of software (pictured above) that, along with monitoring the health of the cooling system and component temperatures, allows you to manually make adjustments or setup task-specific profiles that will automatically adjust fan speeds if say, a particular game is launched or you’re watching a DVD. And since its controls are software-based, you won’t have to open the case at all.

The temperature drops are kind of amazing and if you’re an overclocker looking for a single-product, maintenance-free, quiet CPU cooling solution, don’t hesitate to pick up a CoolIT cooler.

I accidentally double-booked some meetings at the Sands due to my inability to remember to write things down. I did hit three of the four I had scheduled after CoolIT, though: Novint, Siren and Targus.

I remember reading about the Novint Falcon PC-gaming controller when it rolled out at E3 last year. The device provides a new level of force feedback, letting you not only feel your gun kickback in a first-person shooter like Half Life 2, but all kinds of surface textures. So if you’re climbing on something rocky, it feels rocky. There’s a demo that uses a ball attached to an elastic band and as you snap the ball up and down, the Falcon responds just as it would if you were trying to control a weight attached to elastic. It’s incredibly realistic. If you still don’t understand, here’s a CNET video of Veronica Belmont using the Falcon.

Next I hit a 3:30 meeting with Siren. Nothing crazy going on with their upcoming products. There are some very basic digital picture frames and a couple entry-level GPS devices. But what I respect about Siren is that they are trying to bring more tech to the masses. Their new Siren V (pictured), for example, is an attractively designed, lower-cost media player that does everything a current media player should. They aren’t trying to beat the iPod, they’re just trying to make a nice product for the average-consumer audience. This includes their new Siren Screamer, which will allow even the most novice users to listen to music on their PC wirelessly through their home stereo systems. There’s a set of wireless headphones it works with, too.

Finally, after a quick stop at the PepperPad booth, I was headed to my last appointment of the day at New York New York with Targus. I met with Al Giazzon, V.P. of U.S. marketing to discuss a handful of new accessories and many, many bags. (And who I may or may not have gotten sick. Sorry Al.)

They have a set of over-ear noise-canceling headphones that with the push of a button, shuts down the audio in the headphones and amplifies voices around you so you can have a conversation without taking them off. At just $70 they’re a steal, too.

LEDs found their way into a ton of products this CES, including this little notebook light/USB hub that’s just a very neat, compact gadget. It’s $30 and can be used directly from a USB port or a USB extension cable is included so you can clip the light to your screen. There’s a new $70 wireless PC presentation remote/laser pointer/voice recorder that has a built-in SD card slot for storage. Its USB dongle for the wireless connection to your computer, tucks right inside the top of the remote. Last but not least, was a compact notebook desk stand for elevating the screen to eye level and one of the most full-featured notebook docks I’ve seen in awhile with four USB ports, one serial port, one VGA (15-pin) port, one DVI, one S/PDIF port, Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000), and 5.1 analog 3.5mm jacks (for speakers and a microphone). It runs off of an Express Card slot and costs $190 MSRP.

It would be too difficult to go into just how many bags they are launching, because they must’ve have showed me more than 20 of them and there were some they didn’t have with them. Needless to say, if you’re looking for a new bag for you laptop, check out Targus. They have or will have styles to fit just about any appetite and any notebook size. Some of them are branded more prominently than others, but depending on the type of bag (say the more business-oriented you go) the more discrete the label. Mr. Giazzon said he has to use and test almost every bag that the company makes and after my meeting with him, I think he would do his best to make sure Targus’ customers get the best bag for the money.