As regular Hi-Fi+ newsletter readers will already know, the Munich High End show was massive—so much so that it defied any possible attempt at comprehensive coverage of all the exhibitors present. Accordingly, we took a different tack and instead decided to create a series of reports—collectively called the ‘Baker’s Dozen’ series—that aim to provide a representative sampling in each key product category of some of the hundreds of components seen and heard at the show.
One of my show coverage topics—one that happens to be a personal favourite of mine—is headphones, earphones, and the related electronics that help make them ‘sing’. What you will find, below, is my ‘Baker’s Dozen’ drawn from among the many headphone products I spotted (and in many cases briefly sampled) in Munich. Please note that is not by any stretch of the imagination a ‘Best of’ list; rather, it is an attempt to show the depth, breadth, and sheer eclecticism of the headphone offerings on display in the heart of Bavaria.
Astell & Kern AK380 high-resolution balanced-output digital audio player
Any sort of readers’ poll asking about the best portable high-res music player/headphone amplifiers on the market today would inevitably reference Astell & Kern. In fact, when most of us saw the firm’s then-flagship AK240 we assumed the format had gone about as far as it could possibly go (both in terms of features and pricing). Astell&Kern, however, had other ideas and in Munich launched a new über-player (no relation to the taxi-like service of the same name) called the AK380, which sells for an astounding $3,499 and carries nearly every high-res playback feature imaginable. In truth, the AK380 is not just a player/DAC/headphone amp, but more of a playback system, with such available add-on modules as a mini-CD player, a tabletop dock with full balanced output connectors, and even a style-matched, clip-on auxiliary high-output amplifier.