Headphones and Personal Audio at CES 2011, Part 3

Digital-to-analog converters,
Axiss Audio Accuphase,
Kanto RYO,
Mission Misphere,
Nuforce NE-700M,
Nuforce NE700X
Headphones and Personal Audio at CES 2011, Part 3

This is part 3 of Chris Martens' 4-part CES personal audio coverage.
Click here to read part 1.
Click here to read part 2.
Click here to read part 4.


Kanto demonstrated an appealing new self-powered two-way desktop speaker called the Wireless RYO ($499/pair), which incorporates a 2.4 GHz wireless system complete with an iPod dongle said to give about 30’ range. Alternatively, a USB wireless system should increase wireless range to about 100’. In the not too distant future, the Wireless RYO will also be able to support Apple Airplay functionality.


For CES, Klipsch rolled out its first-ever full-size, over the ear headphone, called the Image One ($149). The Image One is extremely easy to drive and features ear cups that fold flat in order to help the headphone collapse into a very small package, making this Klipsch an ideal model for on-the-go use. Unlike many full-size ‘phones, the Image One incorporates an Apple-compatible mic and 3-button remote control.


The British firm Mission debut its compact Misphere (pronounce like “hemisphere,” but with a silent “h”) desktop audio system comprising a pair of sphere-shaped speakers with LRT full-range drivers, one pair each of tabletop speaker stands and wall-mount speaker brackets, and a cool little disc-shaped USB DAC/desktop amplifier (class D, 2 x 20 wpc). The amp sports both digital audio (USB) and analog inputs. The Misphere system ($399), which is offered in a wide range of colors, appears extremely well made and sounds quite sophisticated for the price. Actually, there are two sizes of Misphere system available, as you can see from the accompanying photo. The standard ($399) version features speakers about the size of softballs, while the larger version ($1189) features speakers nearly the size of basketballs.


Monster announced a new high-end in-ear headphone called the Miles Davis Trumpet ($299) whose earpiece housings actually do resemble the bell of a trumpet. Carrying the trumpet theme even further forward, the new model provides a three-button iPod mic/remote module whose control buttons are shaped—you guessed it—to resemble the three valves of the jazzman’s famous horn. One might at first be tempted to put all this down to gimmickry, but if past experience shows anything, it’s that Monster’s Miles Davis tribute-series products deserve to be taken seriously. We’ll reserve judgment until review samples are available.

Other Monster-family announcements include the new Beats by Dr. Dre Beat Box ($399), which is an iPod speaker system that—as a demonstration in a very noisy environment proved—is capable of amazingly high output levels.

Finally, Monster offer a set of vividly styled new Tron-themed products, including two light-up, Tron-style headphones (a black Tron model and a white Daft Punk model, both $299), a matching Tron-style surround processor for use with the Tron ‘phones, and a Tron iPod-docking speaker with a light display that syncs with the rhythm of the music.


One of our all-time favorite affordable in-ear headphones was NuForce’s NE-7M, which has now been replaced with not one but two new models: the NE-700X (basic headphone, $65) and the NE-700M (headset model, $79). I spoke briefly with NuForce’s Jason Lim and Casey Ng and both stated emphatically and unequivocally that—good though the NE-7M was—the new NE-700 series models are substantially better. The NE-700X is shipping now, and the NE-700M will ship in late January. Playback now has review samples of both units in hand, and will prepare a review shortly. Stay tuned. 


High-end audiophiles know Axiss Audio as the distributor of such uber high-end brands as Accuphase, Air Tight, and Soulution (among others), so that what we didn't see coming was a new brand called Olasonics, which offers adorable and exquisitely made little egg-shaped USB speakers priced at jus $125/pr. I found both the sound and build quality of the Olasonics to be unexpectedly good in light of their modest price. Besides, I got a kick out of seeing Arturo Manzano, head of Axiss Audio, take such obvious delight in demonstrating his new desktop gems.

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