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Headroom Show 2017

Headroom Show 2017

Metropolis Studios in West London is one of the last great recording studios in the British capital, and in the early months of the year it is home for a weekend to the Headroom Show, in association with headphone retailer, Audio Sanctuary. More than 50 brands rocked up again this year – 45 for the headphone world – to fill the four of the five studios and the bar section of the four-floor studio complex.

We recognise that there are a lot of shows crammed into the first few months of every year, and many of the products on show at Headroom have been seen several times in many different events across the globe, so rather than cover all the products at the event, we are going to focus largely on newcomers, or products that are new to the UK or Europe, as well as discuss some of the trends in this fast moving world.

ACS

UK makers of custom in-ear monitors for pro musicians, ACS has recently branched out with a trio of universal fit models, initially designed pragmatically as demonstration models for the custom designs. The single driver Evoke, three driver Evolve, and five driver Emotion are based heavily on the pro range and all feature detachable Danish cables. Prices range from £199-£749, with the custom in-ear versions costing around £50 more.

Audio Technica

We’ve been selectively focusing on Audio Technica’s output both at CES and Bristol, in part because the company had so much to show. This time at Headroom, Audio Technica concentrated on its Pure Digital Drive technology in its Digital Wireless headphone range. The two models – the £299 ATR-DSR7BT and £499 ATR-DSR9BT – both feature an innovative 45mm ‘True Motion D/A diaphragm that couples with a Trigence Dnote chipset. This feeds a digital datastream direct to a multi-layer voice coil on the carbon-composite drive unit, via a modulated power supply voltage. This is akin to taking Wadia’s concept of the ‘power DAC’ even further, right to the drive unit itself.

The aptX, NFC compatible Bluetooth headsets support AAC and SBC codecs to 24-bit, 96kHz, and include a USB combination charger and signal cable for wired connections to Macs and PCs. The difference between the two models include improved materials and finish, but more importantly more layers to the voice coil on the higher-end model.

The Chord Company

The Chord Company launched its ShawCan headphone cable from the company’s Shawline collection. This cable uses silver-plated copper conductors, with a PTFE dielectric, a carbon-composite shield, and a braided outer jacket. The design uses a variation of the company’s Super ARAY conductor geometry so successfully used in its top lines of interconnect cables. Currently available with connectors for mono or stereo jacks, mini jacks, 2-pin IEM, mini XLR, LEMO, and more, we got to hear these on a pair of Audeze through a Chord Electronics DAC and the difference was marked. Prices start from £275 for a 1.5m cable.

It’s worth repeating periodically that despite The Chord Company using a Chord Electronics DAC, and despite The Chord Company and Chord Electronics frequently turning up at the same shows (including this one), the two brands are entirely unrelated and based on different sides of the country. OK, so it’s a small country…

 

Cyrus

The new £99 soundKey from Cyrus is a bold departure for the Cambridge-based company. The small digital converter/headphone amplifier is designed to run from portable and desktop audio alike (and is compatible with iOS device power output limitations). Made in the UK and not much larger than a couple of SD cards, this powerful little device was Kickstarter funded (raising £50,000 in its first day).

Once the initial Kickstarter angels have been supplied with their soundKeys, we look forward to investigating this UK-built, elegant little portable audio DAC, and see how it shapes up against stiff competition from the likes of AudioQuest’s DragonFly models. First impressions are very positive!

Even

Even currently makes a pair of wired headphones and a pair of wired earphones, with a pair of wireless headphones expected soon. Prices are very competitive, with the in-ears retailing at £129, the H1 headphones priced at £199, and the Bluetooth headphones (expected in May) will cost £299. If you are at the ‘so what?’ stage, the Even EarPrint concept takes this headphone to new levels.

Press a button on the headset and you run through eight, low level pieces of music in the left ear, followed by eight in the right ear. Your job is to press the button when each piece of music is audible. Once the process is complete, the Even H1’s have taken a basic audiological profile of your hearing and applies it to music played through the headphones. This is a fascinating experience, and is especially useful for those who have hearing loss or damage. We hope to be looking at a pair of these clever headphones in a forthcoming issue of Hi-Fi+

Goldmund

A name perhaps best known among high-end audiophiles, the Swiss firm Goldmund has a commanding reputation for top-grade audio and its £9,500 Telos Headphone Amplifier 2 looks set to extend that reputation to the headphone space. This cost-no-object DAC/amplifier is capable of 32-bit, 384kHz or DSD playback through its USB input, high resolution through its optical or coaxial digital inputs, and includes a line input for analogue sources, which are digitised at input.

The main difference between the original and latest version of the Telos is the inclusion of a Binaural encoding option. With Chasing the Dragon actively releasing binaural recordings (among the first in a generation) and the original binaural discs now highly prized, this all-digital amplifier could prove a popular choice among the well-heeled cognoscenti.

On the same stand, Goldmund distributor and Simaudio dealer Sonata Hi-Fi was showing the first European outing for the £1,700 Moon NEO MiND network streamer, allowing the THA2 to gain full streaming services via the NEO MiND’s array of digital outputs.

 

HiFiMAN

HiFiMAN had a busy few months (when did HiFiMAN have a few ‘quiet’ months? it seems to launch a new product every couple of weeks), but Headroom gave the company a chance to showcase products new to Europe rather than ‘brand new’. The show was the first public outing across the continent for the finalised version of the £50,000+ Shangri-La electrostatic headphone system (playing vinyl through a Michell Orbe turntable), as well as first public outings for the £2,000 RE2000 and £690 RE800 in-ear monitors. The company was also comparing the current and previous versions of its £2,199 HE1000 planar magnetic headphones, which made for fascinating demonstrations!

Jays

As the name suggests, the u-Jays Wireless headphones are a £140 Bluetooth wireless headset with a unique touchpanel on the right ear cup that allows swipe controls of the Android or iOS device to which it is connected. The all-black, and black with gold trim versions were on show. Jays expected to have the new white version available, but the first versions proved too popular and none were left to put on show!

Meze

The 99 Classics by Meze have gained lots of attention since their launch a couple of years ago. The latest variant is the £260 Meze 99 Neo, which has been seen in near-complete form before. The new models are an affordable, none-more-black version of the walnut Classics with the same stamped manganese spring arrangement for the headband.  

oBravo

Innovative Taiwanese brand oBravo has a somewhat bewildering range of in-ear monitors and headphones, including a new $6,000 flagship version of its Air Motion Transformer (AMT) HAMT-1 headphone. More significantly, however, it also had samples of the most expensive earphones currently in production, the hybrid EAMT-0  (codename Zeus) in different finishes. The ‘standard’ model features aluminium enclosures and costs £6,000, with copper and titanium, and each one sounds very different. The supplied Comply tips weren’t an ideal fit for me and there was a lot of ambient noise in the room, but the midrange and bass were extremely exciting, and the treble was effortless too.

Onkyo/Pioneer

Sister brands Onkyo and Pioneer simul-announced their latest DAP designs, the £399.99 Rubato DP-S1 from Onkyo and the £xxx.xx XDP-30R from Pioneer. The two share a lot of common technology, including the dual ESS 9018 SABRE DACs, a 2.4” touchscreen, twin MicroSD slots, and 16GB of internal memory.

The similarities don’t end there. The two also use the same milled-from-solid-billet aluminium chassis (different finishes separate the two), the same basic ergonomics, the ability to run balanced headphone cables, and a custom-based Linux platform. Both also share a dual-band Wi-Fi networking capacity in order to stream TuneIn radio stations and TIDAL services. And both are expected to add MQA to the current line-up of DSD, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, AAC, WAV, and MP3 file support not long after their launch in May this year. Finally, both include Bluetooth connectivity, and a DAPcontroller App, so your phone in your hand can control the DAP in your pocket.

The main difference is in the voicing and tailoring of the sound of the two devices, with the Onkyo featuring selected components – including thin-film resistors – to make it the more ‘audiophile’ of the two. To this end, the Onkyo will appear in more audiophile settings, while the Pioneer is intended for more mass market appeal. The Android-based Pioneer XDP-100R and Onkyo DP-X1 models will be phased out as a result of the new models.

Sennheiser

Alongside its normal coverage – including the outstanding £54,000 HE 1 electrostatic system – Sennheiser was heavily promoting its wireless designs, to reflect significant change in the portable audio market. The company is convinced that wireless headphones and earphones will come to represent around half the total market by the end of 2017, so its main thrust this year has been to promote higher end wireless designs, such as the Momentum over-ear, on-ear, or even in-ear wireless models, as well as the £329.99 PXC 550 wireless noise-cancelling, touch-panel controlled models. Most of these have been seen in previous shows – most notably Bristol Sound & Vision – but Sennheiser’s commitment to wireless is as strong as ever, even in a dedicated headphone show where wires still dominate.

Tron

Tron’s new Antares (£3,000, Standard model, £5,000 Deluxe pictured here) is a Class A headphone amplifier featuring just one transistor in the output stage. It features a massively overrated power supply (in the good way, not ‘overrated’ in the Mark Wahlberg’s acting ability way), a dual mono linear power supply and is not only powerful enough to drive two sets of headphones at once, but can even drive two sets of desktop loudspeakers! We like the Original Star Trek font, too!

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