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Headroom Show 2016

Headroom Show 2016

Now in its second year, the Headroom show ran at the end of January at the Metropolis Studios in Chiswick, West London. With almost every exhibitor at last year’s show turning up again for this year, and more companies trying to squeeze into the limited studio space, the show was filled to bursting. No wonder – it’s a friendly, inviting show run by people who are genuinely passionate about their music and their products, and enthusiasts who are enthusiastic, not simply there to score points. For those more used to conventional audio shows, this is a more exciting and dynamic place: among the larger, more established audio shows, arguably only Bristol and Munich get close to providing the same buzz.

Once again, there were a lot of products that were already seen at CES or at previous shows, so we decided not to go over freshly trodden ground. Nevertheless, there were some surprises and new product launches, as well as some little-seen gems worth talking about.

It’s been a long time coming, but the ADL Stratos DAC/ADC recorder/headphone amp/preamp has finally made it! It changed a little since first seen in prototype form back in 2013, but the new £995 Stratos is densely packed, with phono input and up to QuadDSD replay performance.

Beyer Dynamic now has one of the strongest high-end ranges it has ever pitched, with a prototype of the revised T5p alongside the  T1 and DT1770 Pro. New drivers, removable headphone cables, a better headband and a host of ‘Gen 2’ technology learned from the T1 should filter through to the revised £849 headphone.

The Chord Company has developed a cable that is both flexible enough to work in a headphone setting, and yet offers the advantages seen in the company’s best loudspeaker cables. The secret seems to be that the twisted pair cable uses an extruded carbon-fibre shielding, is expected to cost between £200-£300, and fits all current conectors. Other cable brands at the show included Nordost and Vertere. 

Chord Electronics was running its popular demonstration of its trio of ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘best’ DACs with the Mojo, Hugo, and DAVE. But in the same room, Chord supremo John Franks was more taken by another Hugo, one that is owned and used by the studio itself. Ed Sheeran’s X (pictured just above the Hugo) was said to be mixed on that DAC in that control room.

Not a lot was known about these two new lower-cost headphones from Final, save that they bear a striking similarity in design, build, and even sound to the Sonorous VII and X models in the line that cost significantly more!

 

Headphone amps don’t come much bigger than the Fostex HP-V8. This £7,000 all valve design is bigger than most integrated amplifiers in the traditional hi-fi market!

A relatively new name on the headphone scene, the Kennerton brand from Russia makes a range of earphones, headphones, amps, and DACs that go from high-value to high-performance. 

Luxman had two models at the show; the seldom seen £4,500, all-analogue P-700U twin headphone amplifier, and the new DA-250. Expected in may, this £2,000 headphone amplifier/DAC supports a wide range of analogue and digital sources (up to DSD) and features the company’s ultra high performance attenuator in the signal path. 

 

Melco was showing off its £7,000 40th anniversary version of the N1Z. Just 40 models will be made, sporting a raft of improvements over the basic model, everything from twice the internal storage down to new feet. Good news for US Melco followers, too: although models bearing a SSD drive still cannot be sold in America, there will soon be a N1Z-H60 model, which includes 6TB of conventional HDD in the N1Z chassis. This is expected to cost £3,500. The existing 4TB HDD N1A and 1TB SSD N1A will continue.  

Electromod had hoped for a whole load of hot Schiit, with the latest new DACs and amplifiers from the brand. It’s perhaps an expression of the brand’s success that someone in the courier company had other ideas and the hoped for delivery was missing. Nevertheless, this gave the company the perfect opportunity t show off its high-performance, low cost line, including the £150 Vali 2 tube amplifier with matching £140 Modi 2 Uber DAC. Small, cute, and affordable… what’s not to like?

Sennheiser Orpheus (the old one… the new one was otherwise engaged!). No real reason to show this one and in an ideal world, I’d have corrected the white balance to make this look a little less old-world-charm, but this classic oozes old-world-charm!

With all the shouting about the new HD800S and the (new) Orpheus, the  HD 630VB has been almost overlooked. This £400 closed back addition to Sennheiser’s HD range is ‘all about that bass’, with a varible control on the left ear-cup to adjust bass boost or cut. 

 

Shure’s KSE1500 system is the world’s first in-ear sound isolating electrostatic earphone. It comes complete with its own energiser/amplifier with a mini USB input and 20 hour battery for £2,200.  

One of the most significant new products at the show, Stax announced a new Earspeaker and a wholly new combination Earspeaker/Energiser system, both at new price points. On the left of the picture above is the £1,395 SRS-5100 system, comprising SR-L500 earspeaker and SRM-353X energiser. The new SRM-353X (available separately for £895) is an new entry-point for Stax’ top line of electrostatic amplifiers. The SR-L700 Earspeaker features a new enclosure in the Lambda design, with technology first seen in the SR-007 and SR-009. All for £995!

With all the hyper over the re-release of the Technics SL-1200 turntable, the neat £799 T-700 headphones from the brand may have slipped under the radar, but these closed-back, twin driver designs are more than just a range filler. Using a full-range driver coupled with a supertweeter in each cup, the drive units are spaced and angled to give a more ‘unconstrained’ presentation than most headphones. The aluminium body and especially the headband allows the listener significantly more placement flexibility than usual, too. 

Ultrasone’s £699 on ear Edition M uses the S-Logic driver placement seen on the company’s more exotic models, but serves it up in a smaller, more sensitive package that is ideal for on the go listeners with smartphones.

And finally… perhaps the one thing you might not expect at a headphone show – a turntable. This one is the entry-level Vertere MG-1, now available in a specially finished black acrylic. 

Aside from some extremely difficult photographic lighting conditions (I already take a tripod, but I’ll bring some white balancing tools with me next year), this show is an excellent example of how a good, small, highly focused show should run. There were far more brands on display and demonstrating at the event, and it’s fast becoming the go-to show for the London headphone scene!

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