The Russian firm Stereo Pravda (meaning “solid truth” in Russian) showed its highly unorthodox SPearphone SB-7 passive universal-fit earphone ($2,000) and the similar SPearphone SB-7A ($2,500), which is intended for use with the firm’s DACCA dedicated portable module that provides DAC, crossover network, tone control, and dual differential amplifier functions.
The SPearphone SB-7 and SB-7A both feature seven balanced armature-type drivers per earpiece, with the drivers arranged so that their sound outputs are all aligned on the same axis—a design touch said to foster superior sonic transparency, clarity, and cohesiveness. The earpiece enclosures are quite unusual, too, in that they are made of wood and are slender, relatively long, and look something like Scandinavian sculptural interpretations of a gnarled section of tree branch. The sound, however is not gnarly at all; as advertised, it’s wonderfully clear and transparent-sounding.
The DACCA module is nominally portable, but it’s certainly not a pocket-sized portable; rather, the complicated multi-function DACCA is more the sort of device you would carry in a fairly good-sized over-the-shoulder pouch. The size may be a bit cumbersome, but there’s no arguing with the fact that the DACCA really helps the SPearphone SB-7A's to ‘sing’.
The German firm Ultrasone had two new models of interest at the show, one in the mid-tier price range and the other solidly positioned in the cost-no-object class.
The new mid-tier model is the Performance 880, which is a closed-back, dynamic driver-equipped headphone featuring the firm’s patented S-Logic Plus technology and ULE shielding system. The Performance 880 sells for $499 and ships with a neoprene carry case, velour ear pads, and two detachable signal cables (one 3m long and the other 1.2m long).
The new over-the-top model is the Jubilee 25 limited edition headphone, designed to commemorate Ultrasone’s 25th anniversary, and of which only 250 sets will be made for worldwide distribution. The Jubilee 25 is a closed back headphone featuring Macassar ebony ear cup covers, a 40mm Mylar/Titanium driver with neodymium magnet assemblies, and that incorporates the firm’s patented S-Logic EX technology and special ULE shielding. The Jubilee 25 ships with a very high-quality aluminium travel case, a micro fibre cleaning cloth, various gold-plated adapters, and a premium 3m four-core signal cable fitted with LEMO headphone connectors.
(We apologise for using a stock photo of the Jubilee 25, but the fact is that the headphone was on site for only part of the show, so that it had been sent on before we arrived at the Ultrasone display.)
Many audiophiles think of the Italian firm Unison Research as a maker of amplification components (and loudspeakers) for full-sized home hi-fi systems, but at CanJam RMAF 2016 we learned that the firm also makes a lovely valve-powered integrated headphone amp/DAC called simply the SH ($1,795).
The SH uses pure class A circuitry throughout, with an input stage based on 12AX7 valves, an output stage based on dual EL84 triodes, and a power supply that features valve rectification. But for even greater flexibility, the SH also incorporates two user selectable gain settings, plus an built-in USB DAC based on the popular ESS SABRE DAC device.
For CanJam RMAF 2016 Wells Audio showed the latest and most refined version of its flagship headphone amplifier: the Headtrip ($7,000). The Headtrip, as you might expect, is extremely powerful (50Wpc @ 8 Ohms), very quiet (SNR -103dB at full power), and essentially leaves no stone(s) unturned in its quest for unbridled performance. This amp enjoys an almost magical musical synergy when used with the Abyss AB-1266 planar magnetic headphones.
However, the even bigger news from Wells is that the firm’s new dramatically cost-reduced Milo headphone amplifier ($1,699) is now in production. In essence, the Milo represents an attempt to capture much of the magic of the firm’s Enigma and even Headtrip amplifiers and to do so without giving up too much in the way of performance specifications, but at a far more accessible price point. Besides, the Milo just plain looks cool!
Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Westone Laboratories used CanJam RMAF 2016 as the big stage upon which it debuted its spectacular new flagship universal-fit earphone: the new W80 ($1,500). At present, the W80 is the most sophisticated in-ear transducer it knows how to make, whether universal-fit earphone or CIEM. The W80 features an array of eight balanced armature drivers arranged in the three-way configuration and fitted into a remarkably compact, ergonomically sized and shaped earpiece enclosure.
Lead engineer Karl Cartwright spent an extraordinary amount of time working on and revising the voicing of the W80 in an effort to give it neutral tonal balance coupled with the elusive qualities of top-end openness, airiness, and purity in reproduction of upper-midrange and high frequency harmonic. The result is one of the most effortlessly spacious and three-dimensional-sounding earphones we’ve yet heard. As you might expect, the flagship W80 comes with a carefully chosen set of premium accessories including a set of detachable ALO Audio Reference 8 signal cables that feature eight braided, silver-plated copper and OCC copper conductors. Watch for a full Hi-Fi+ review of the Westone W80 in an upcoming issue.
ZMF started out by building a headphone called the Omni ($899 - $999) that was in essence an extensively modified Fostex T50RP. This model is still in the ZMF range, but in some respects two new, entirely ZMF-manufactured models as shown at CanJam RMAF 2016 have superseded it.
The new models, which are very similar in design, are called the Atticus, featuring a TPE/PET driver ($999 - $1,099) and the new flagship Eikon, featuring a biocellulose driver ($1,299 - $1,399). All ZMF models feature lovely hardwood ear cup shells, so the price ranges shown above reflect market pricing for the various hardwoods on offer. Of the two new models, I thought the Eikon particularly showed promise (that new biocellulose driver seems to have a lot going for it).