It occurs to me that many readers familiar with the traditional world of speaker-centric high-end audio systems may be unaware that there is a rapidly evolving, parallel high-end audio universe that revolves around high-end headphones, earphones, and related electronics. The organization that serves as both an information clearinghouse and rallying point for these sound quality-minded headphone enthusiasts is Head-Fi (www.head-fi.org), which is headed by our friend and colleague Jude Mansilla (a headphone visionary if ever we saw one).
Over the course of the year, Head-Fi practice is to stage regional headphone meets where members (and like-minded friends) are invited to gather to compare notes and to show-off their personal systems. Vendors, too, are encouraged to exhibit both to show newly released products and to preview prototypes of upcoming products in order to gather feedback on emerging “skunk works” designs.
The feel of a Head-Fi meet is, then, very different from that of a typical high-end audio show, in that there is no push-push pressure to buy anything or to become a dealer for this, that, or the other brand of equipment. Similarly, there is very little of the snobbish one-up-man-ship that is sadly so prevalent in the traditional high-end world. Happily, there is very little of vitriolic “my widget is better than your widget” posturing that can make the traditional high-end seem a less-than-welcoming place to spend time. Instead, there is much more a sense of shared discovery, a sincere mutual interest in finding out what works, what doesn’t, and to see how products and listening experiences might be made better for all involved. This blog offers snapshots from a recent Head-Fi meet held in Austin, TX, USA on January 18, 2014.
New Products and Novel Concepts
Perhaps the most noteworthy new product release for the meet came in the form of the debut showing Cavalli Audio’s new Liquid Cobalt hybrid valve/solid-state amplifier ($3,250), which is the long-awaited replacement for Cavalli’s then-groundbreaking Liquid Fire amplifier.
The Liquid Cobalt used a dual-triode 6922 valve for its front end with a solid-state output stage. Also on demonstration was Cavalli’s flagship Liquid Gold amplifier (Hi-Fi+ review pending), which was being used to power the amazing Abyss AB-1266 planar magnetic headphone. Dr. Alex Cavalli seemed pleased with reactions to his new Liquid Cobalt amp, which is at present the most affordable of all Cavalli designs.
Nick Kettman of Leckerton Audio was demonstrating two of his high quality portable headphone amplifier/DACs: the UHA760 asynchronous USB DAC/headphone amp with crossfeed and digital volume control ($439) and the UHA-6S Mk2 slimline USB DAC/Amp with crossfeed and digital volume control ($279). Both units are beautifully made and admirably quiet in operation.