CanJam at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017 – Part 1, Headphones


LB Acoustics Mysphere 3.1

The Austrian firm LB Acoustics demonstrated one of the most fascinating headphones at the show in the form of its new Mysphere 3.1 ‘near ear’, dynamic driver-equipped headphone. Herr Ryner and Herr Renner, the same men that developed the legendary AKG K1000 headphone, also designed the Mysphere 3.1, which can be viewed as a radically updated re-think of the AKG classic. In practice this means the headphone uses an overarching frame from which swivelling left and right driver ‘pods’ are suspended. By design, the driver pads float free of the listener’s ears, just barely skimming the ears’ outer surfaces in most cases, although the driver pods can be adjusted upwards or downwards and swivelled outwards, if desired, to suit listener preferences. Tilting the pods outward gives a more spacious and three-dimensional sound with some reduction in bass output, while tilting the pods inward (so that they are nearly flat against the ears) yields a more intense and focussed presentation.

The Mysphere 3.1 uses a square-shaped dynamic driver with a hemispheric centre-section and a diaphragm featuring a ‘glass foam membrane and a cobweb structure’. The headphone presents a very low 15-ohm load with sensitivity of 95 dB, meaning the Mysphere 3.1 is fairly easy to drive for amps capable of handling the low impedance load. Based on a brief listen, we felt the Mysphere showed a lot of potential, with an uncommonly open and transparent sound. The price: $4,000 or €3,500.

MrSpeakers AEON Flow Open

Following hot on the heels of the closed-back AEON Flow headphone, which is a mid-priced favourite among Hi-Fi+ staff members, comes the identically priced open-back AEON Flow Open, selling for $799.  In a twist on the usual order of things it turns out that the closed back AEON Flow places a greater emphasis on perceived openness, definition, and neutral voicing, where the AEON Flow Open has a slightly warmer and more relaxed presentation with a greater emphasis on perceived tonal richness. Both versions have merit, so that it could be desirable—budget permitting—to own one of each.

MrSpeakers ETHER ES

MrSpeakers has shown various iteration of its upcoming ETHER ES open-back electrostatic headphone for over a year now, but CanJam RMAF 2017 marked the point where designer and company president Dan Clark declared development work on the headphone to be complete. The final ETHER ES version we heard at CanJam RMAF is by far the best-sounding of any of the variants we have heard to date, offering a beautiful blend of openness, transparency, transient speed, and an effortlessly natural presentation that avoids the sometime sterile, treble-enriched sound that some electrostats produce.

PSB M4U8/NAD HP70 Bluetooth/automatic noise cancelling headphones

One of our all-time favourite mid-priced headphones is the Paul Barton-designed PSB M4U2, but for CanJam RMAF 2107 the Canadian firm announced the release of something arguably better: namely, PSB’s new M4U8 priced at $399 (and a similarly-priced companion model from sister brand NAD called the HP70). Significantly, the M4U8 is offered at the same price as the original PSB M4U2, so that users will get more features at the same price.

The PSB M4U8 and NAD HP70 headphones both feature Barton’s signature ‘RoomFeel’ voicing and offer three operating modes: a passive mode, an active/BT mode, and an active/BT/noise cancellation mode.  Both the M4U8 and HP70 feature aptX HD Bluetooth 5.0 implementations and are configured with USB charging ports that can also accept digital audio data directly from computers at rates up to 24/48 (meaning that the M4U8 and HP70 appear as sound cards from the computers’ frame of reference).

Based on a very brief listen, I felt the M4U8 and HP70 sounded similar, but not identical—possibly owing to slightly different automatic noise cancelling profiles for the two models. Both headphones, however, offer extraordinary value for money, which has long been a hallmark of Barton designs. These new models will begin shipping in November 2018.

Ultrasone Edition 8 EX

The Edition 8 EX is Ultrasone’s reigning flagship, full-size, dynamic driver-equipped headphone, which sells for $2199. Internally, the Edition 8 EX features the most advanced form of Ultrasone’s proprietary S-LOGIC system, known as S-LOGIC EX, which is said to project “the sound produced bye the decentralised sound transducer by means of an elaborate funnel structure and targets this towards the unique structure of the ear muscle that is responsible for spatial sound”. The result, says Ultrasone, “is the perception of a perfect, three-dimensional sound…”

Ultrasone Pro 480i, 580i, and 780i

Ultrasone rolled out three new and affordably priced Pro-series models called the Pro 480i ($149 or €119), the Pro 580i (~$249 or €159), and the Pro 780i ($299 or €199). All three models can be used simply for personal music listening or as monitoring tools for working musicians. There is something of a ‘good/better/best’ relationship between the three models, all of which are closed back designs. The Pro 480i features a 40mm dynamic driver with a Mylar diaphragm and claims frequency response of 20Hz – 20kHz. The Pro 580i promises more bass and also the ability to play very loudly if desired: it features a 50mm Mylar diaphragm, claims frequency response of 10Hz – 22kHz, and specifies very high sensitivity rated at 101dB. At the top of the range, the Pro 780i returns to neutral voicing and to a 400m Mylar diaphragm described as having a ‘gold membrane’ coating. The 780i claims frequency response of 10Hz – 26kHz with rated sensitivity of 96dB.  All three models use Ultrasone’s proprietary S-Logic Plus system and ULE magnetic shielding.

ZMF Auteur headphone

The headphone maker ZMF is perhaps best known for its rear-vented closed-back headphones such as the Atticus and Eikon, but for CanJam RMAF the firm rolled out its new bio-cellulose driver-equipped open-back Auteur model, which can in a sense be regarded as an open-back version of the Eikon. During an initial pre-order period (which will continue until 30 November 2017) the Auteur can be had for $1399, though after the pre-order period the price will rise to its normal level of $1599.

ZMF says the Auteur “combines the signature ZMF musicality and combines it with the resolve and spaciousness that comes from an open design”. The Auteur can fit either the ear pads of the Atticus or of the Eikon, giving listeners some degree of control over the earphone’s voicing.

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