CES 2014: Headphone, Earphones, and Related Electronics – Part 3

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Categories:
Audio,
Headphones,
Earphones and in-ear monitors,
Headphone amps and amp/DACs

Velodyne

Though best known as a subwoofer manufacturer, Velodyne has moved very rapidly to embrace a new role as a headphone/earphone maker—an area where the firm’s product line has grown be leaps and bounds over the past year.

The line-up now includes an earphone specifically geared for physical fitness enthusiasts, called the vFit ($99), which is characterized as a “lifestyle, action earphone,” an entry level headphone called the vLeve ($199), a wireless version of the vLeve called the vFree ($249), a noise-cancelling headphone called the vQuiet ($299), a high performance Bluetooth headphone called the vBold ($349), and a top-of-the-range performer known as the vTrue ($399).

Westone

In very many ways Westone, a veteran earphone and custom-fit in-ear monitor maker, has reinvented itself over the past year, partly by adding models in new product categories, but also by substantially re-vamping, upgrading, and expanding existing product ranges in ways that not only make the products look better but also, more importantly, improve upon their already very goo sound quality. Thus, the changes at Westone are no mere “once-over-easy” product facelifts, but rather represent much more substantial and far-ranging enhancements to the line.

One new area for Westone might be classified as “adventure earphones”—models that sound good but that are also built to stand up to vigourous use in rugged environments (e.g., snowboarding, hiking, jogging, and so on). Last year’s category-opening adventure product was the ADV earphone, but for CES 2014 the firm rolled out its new ADV Beta earphones ($179) which feature zinc earpiece housings, single balanced armature drivers, and come with clever and potentially life-saving reflective signal cables (the better to protect runners who jog in low-light environments).

In the universal-fit earphone market space, Westone has completely revamped what used to be called its Westone or TrueFit models to create a revised W-series range. At the entry level of the range is the W10 earphone ($249), which is based on a single balanced armature driver, while at the top of the range are two newly-announced models: the W50 ($749, based on five balanced armature drivers) and the W60 ($999), based on an impressive array of six balanced armature drivers). Westone VP of Audio Products, John Lowery let us try his pilot production pair of W60s for a brief listen and we found them very, very impressive indeed (a solid contender, we suspect, for best-in class honours, regardless of price).

Interestingly, all the new W-series models feature certain elements in common, including an assortment of interchangeable external earpiece shells (allowing owners to change colours at will), detachable and user replaceable signal cables (one set for purists, the other with remote smartphone controls), new ruggedized carry cases with what appear to be airtight seals, and what is arguably the finest set of both rubber-shell and compressible foam eartips being offered with any range of universal fit earphones on the market. All in all, these are some very impressive offerings. (Incidentally, Westone UM-series universal fit earphones have also been renewed, though our sense is that music lovers will—in almost all cases—prefer the tonal balance of the W-series models for listening to recorded music.).

But the innovations don’t stop with the universal fit models, since Westone has leveraged some of the same sonic insights poured into its W-series models to improve its range of custom-fit in-ear monitor. At the lower end of that range are three almost shockingly affordable custom-fit monitors: the new AC10 ($349), based on a single balanced armature driver, the AC20 ($479), based on dual balanced armature drivers, the CR10 “recreational monitor” ($289), whose low-profile earpiece is designed to fit comfortable within helmets.

Updating the CustomElite-Series monitors are a range of new ES-models, including the ES10 ($449), ES20 ($749), ES30 ($899), and ES50 ($999, with a Hi-Fi+ review of the ES50 slated for later this year). Although it is a bit too early to say, we think it is a safe bet that, within the not too distant future, there will also be an ES60 model that will leverage the technology of the upcoming W60.

Last but not least, we should give you notice that Westone is in the process of developing a potentially spectacular new full-size headphone that will feature—get this—a beryllium-foil tweeter/midrange ribbon driver pair with a beryllium diaphragm-equipped mid-bass driver. Projected pricing for this super-phone is roughly estimated at about $5,500, with release slated for late in Q3, 2014 or possibly Q4, 2014.

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