Headphones, etc. - A Baker's Dozen from Munich High End 2016

Earphones and in-ear monitors,
Headphone amps and amp/DACs,
Headphones, etc. - A Baker's Dozen from Munich High End 2016

At the Munich High End show one of my assignment(s) involved new headphones and headphone-related products. Compared to years past (and to some shows I have attended in the US and the UK), there were fewer new headphone products introduced at Munich High End than I expected. But, with this said, there were still enough new entries to more than fill this report. In fact, given that I visited over 110 vendors over the course of the show, I actually had to trim and winnow my list of new headphone products down to an essential ‘baker’s dozen’ of key components that particularly caught my eyes and/or ears.

What follows are descriptions of thirteen noteworthy headphones and headphone-related products seen in Munich. Please note that my selections in no way reflect any lack of merit in the many components I’ve been forced to leave off this list. Rather, the list is in a sense a concession to space and time constraints and gives some indication of the sheer richness and inventiveness of our industry.

Arcam rHead headphone amplifier

If Arcam’s rHead headphone amplifier were a WWII-era military vessel, it would no doubt be a so-called “Q-Ship”: that is, a vessel far more capable than its innocent looks would lead you to suspect. The modest-looking, ‘black box’ rHead is, in fact, a potent class A headphone amplifier with both single-ended and balanced inputs and that is fitted with an upscale analogue/resistor ladder-type volume control. Power output for the rHead is substantial: 2.0W @ 16 Ohms, 1.1W @ 32 Ohms, and 0.13W @ 300 Ohms. Despite these very impressive specifications, the price for the upcoming rHead will be about £400.

Cayin iHA-6 headphone amp and iDAC-6 high-res DAC

Cayin’s iHA-6 fully balanced headphone amplifier and balanced output-capable, high-res iDAC-6 are very much a matched set, offering an elegant, full featured desktop headphone system solution in a relatively compact form factor (the components measure roughly 10-inches per side and so do not take up much surface space). Both units are priced at €1,198/each.

The IDAC-6 is based on dual AK4490 DAC chipsets, sports a hybrid valve and transistor ‘timbre control’ (giving the use some measure of control over the DAC’s perceived ‘voicing’), provide USB, AES/EBU, coaxial S/PDIF, and Toslink inputs, plus balanced and single-ended outputs. The iDAC-6 can handle PCM files to 32/384 rates and both DSD64 and DSD128 files.

The versatile, companion iHA-6 is a solid-state, balanced output headphone amplifier that, distinctively, offers both high and low-current output modes for both its single-ended and balanced outputs. Single-ended output is quoted at 1,100mW per channel in high current mode, and 2,200mW per channel in low current mode. Balanced output, in turn, is specified at 5,000mW per channel in high current mode and a stonking 7,000mW per channel in low current mode.

Final F7200 universal-fit earphones and Lab II open-canal earphones

Final, the well regarded Japanese earphone/headphone specialists, introduced two very impressive, but also quite conceptually different, new earphone products at Munich.

First up was the new F7200, priced at USD$480, which is the top offering in Final’s new three-model F-series line up, which enjoys the distinction of being arguably the world’s smallest universal-fit earphone.  The F7200 uses a single, full-range balanced armature-type driver fitted within a very compact, stainless steel earpiece enclosure that leverages the firm’s signature BAM (Balanced Air Movement) technology. Each of these tiny earpieces weighs in at a remarkably light 2g! The F7200 ships with five sizes of silicone ear tips (SS, S, M, L, and XL) and three sizes of foam ear tips (S, M, and L). Signal cables feature silver –coated OFC copper conductors. According to Final, the F7200 ear tip collection allows users to experiment with two significantly different wearing positions: with small tips installed, the F7200 supports a deep-within-the-ear-canal wearing position, while when larger tips are fitted the F7200 can be placed much further out in the user’s ear canals. The F7200 will sell for ~USD$480/pair.

At the other end of the pricing continuum we find Final’s striking beautiful Lab II open-canal earphones, priced at USD$4,000. What’s an “open-canal earphone?” It's an earphone that is worn relatively loosely in the outer ear and whose sound outlet tube deliberately does not seal tightly against the ear canal (for this reason, some consider open-canal earphones to be ‘ear-buds’, though I personally feel that term does not really do them justice). The Lab II features an extremely intricate and labyrinthine mesh-like enclosure that has been fashioned from titanium power via a laser-fused 3D printing process. The enclosure deliberately is not sealed on either its front or rear side and at the centre of the enclosure is suspended a purpose-built 15mm dynamic driver fitted with a 6μ thick diaphragm. By design, both the front and rear sections of the Lab II’s titanium mesh earpiece enclosures serve as a ‘mechanical equalizer’ that, says Final, applies, “optimal damping to the driver.” During an all too brief listen, the Lab II’s almost shocking levels of transparency, transient speed, and dynamics made a strong, favourable impression on me.

Kennerton Odin planar magnetic earphones

There’s a new planar magnetic headphone kid on the block and its name is Kennerton Audio, hailing from St. Petersburg, Russia. Kennerton has been following planar magnetic driver technology closely for some time, but claims that, “after checking most of the recent and vintage planar magnetic headphones existing,” the firm found, “there is basically no core difference between them.”

Seeking a newer and better path, Kennerton claims to have made, “several core patent-pending innovations” designed to “eliminate unwanted resonances, and (to provide) uniform magnetic field distribution over the main working area (of the driver diaphragm).”

These innovations are brought to full fruition in the firm’s flagship Odin headphone, priced at €2,450, which in Munich was sounding very clear but also was imbued with notable qualities of smooth, natural, and organic warmth. Watch for an upcoming review in Hi-Fi+.

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