This past weekend large groups of British and other European audiophiles enjoyed the National Audio Show, 2014, held at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire, UK. But one important facet of the show that some attendees might not have seen coming was the delightful “Headzones” area of the show (sponsored by the superb headphone-centric UK specialists High End Headphones). As its name implies, the Headzones area of the show was dedicated exclusively to high performance headphones and related electronics and cable systems.
It is perhaps a sign of the times (and a welcome one in our view) that within the span of just a few short years headphones have gone from being perceived as high-end audio oddities (as in, “What are those doing at a serious hi-fi show?) to a point where they are—now more than ever—an increasingly appreciated and therefore valid part of the high-end audio landscape.
We at Hi-Fi+ got an opportunity to observe this phenomenon in our own demonstration room, where we had configured both a fine traditional (speaker-based) audio system, but also a series of three headphone demonstrations systems for readers and showgoers to sample and enjoy. On many occasions it became a common sight to look across our room to see all three headphone stations simultaneously occupied by happy music lovers who appeared deeply engrossed, each in his or her own private listening session.
In this , we offer a few highlights from several of the manufacturers exhibiting at the Headzone section of the Whittlebury Hall show.
The French firm Aedle, represented both by High End Headphones and the cable manufacturer Atlas, showed its beautifully made and very lightweight VK-1 Valkyrie on-ear headphone (£300). Based on two brief listening sessions, we were struck by the Aedle’s light, airy, open, and well-articulated sound.
As some of you may know, the Austrian firm AKG offers two broad ranges of headphones, with one range targeted toward the consumer market and the other toward the pro sound world. You might think AKG’s best-sounding and most technically accomplished headphone in recent memory would be reserved for the consumer marketplace, but in the case of the firm’s superb new K812 reference-quality headphone (£1,100) you would be wrong. As it happens, the K812 has been made part of the Pro Sound lineup, but don’t be deterred by the fact. The K812 features large 53mm dynamic drivers, is an open back design, and promises extraordinarily flat frequency response form 24H – 28kHz. In a very brief initial listen, my perceptions was that the K812 does everything I ever liked about the K701, but at a much higher level of sonic refinement and overall performance. In short, I suspect the K812 is the most capable and accomplished headphone from AKG since the late, lamented K1000.