If I had to name one broad high-end audio product category that is growing rapidly and for all the right reasons, that category would be Headphones, Earphones, and the specialised electronics needed to drive them. No other product category can provide so much music rendered—in the best case—at exceptionally high levels of performance for so little money. For a new generation of music lovers (and more than a few traditional high-end audio enthusiasts, as well), the quest for serious high-end sound starts right here, and what’s not to like about that? Check out this report to learn about important new headphone and earphone offerings seen and heard at CES 2014.
This is Part 2 of a three-part report.
Most of our readers know of ENIGMAcoustics as the makers of the famous Sopranino self-biasing electrostatic supertweeter, but at CES we learned the firm is leveraging its Sopranino expertise to create a new hybrid electrostatic/dynamic-driver headphone. Thus far, we were able to get a brief listen with an R&D prototype, which was promising in many respects, but ENIGMAcoustics’ designer Marshall Lee made it very clear that the headphone will go through several further design revisions and iterations before it is ready to be brought to market. Stay tuned and watch www.hifiplus.com for further developments as they unfold.
Audiophiles of a certain age might recall that ESS was the firm through which Dr. Oskar Heil first brought his famous air-motion transformer-type drivers to market. Now that the original Heil patents have lapsed many other companies have begun to experiment with and to produce their own AMT-type drivers (often failing to credit Dr. Heil for his invention, we might add), but it is good to see that ESS is alive and well and still keeping the Heil faith. Moreover, at CES the firm showed a prototype headphone that will use a hybrid mix of Heil and dynamic type drivers and that is expected to sell for about $450.
Interestingly, a modern day ESS spokesman reminded us that, way back in the day, there was a very brief span of time (decades ago) when ESS briefly produced a headphone that was based solely on a Heil-type driver. In fact, the spokesman had a well-preserved set of these vintage ‘phone in good working condition, and I must say they sounded remarkably good even by modern standard. This certainly bodes well for those looking to create air motion transformer-powered headphones in the here and now.
Final Audio Design
Final Audio Design is a Japanese firm with longstanding experience in producing what might be termed “artisan-grade” earphones, but over the past half year or so the firm has been working overtime to launch a new series of full size headphones collectively called the Pandora models. For CES, Final Audio rolled out the first Pandora model called the Pandora Hope VI ($699). The Hope VI uses a somewhat unusual configuration in that it is based upon the hybrid combination of a 50mm piston dynamic driver and a balanced armature tweeter of the type typically found only in small in-ear devices.