Hi-Fi+ Awards: Headphones

Abyss Headphones AB-1266 Phi,
MrSpeakers ÆON,
Sonoma Acoustics Model One
Hi-Fi+ Awards: Headphones

Cost no object headphone

HiFiMAN Shangri-La

HiFiMAN’s Shangri-La system is an all-out, cost-no-object assault on the pinnacle in headphone performance. The system consists of a set of Shangri‑La electrostatic headphones with a ‘Nanotech’ driver whose Nano-material diaphragm is just 0.001mm thick, a matching Shangri-La valve-powered electrostatic headphone amplifier, plus various necessary accessories such as a high-quality power cord and a desktop cradle for the headphones. Each Shangri-La is built to order, taking around 120 days to build, and a HiFiMAN representative will install and set-up the Shangri-La at the customer’s home. 

In our test, Hi-Fi+ Publisher Chris Martens felt that the system helps “bring your favourite music alive in eye-opening ways: namely, extraordinary levels of transparency coupled with also extraordinary levels of dynamic expressiveness,” and that they produce a “neutral tonal balance and remarkable freedom from the ‘highs-covered-in-plastic-wrap’ colourations to which some electrostatic headphones are prone.” He concluded by saying “The Shangri-La electrostatic headphone system is one of the two most transparent, revealing, complete, and accomplished music systems I’ve every heard.”

See: hifiplus.com/articles/hifiman-shangri-la-electrostatic-headphone-system/

High-end headphones

Warwick Acoustics Model One

A few yers ago, Sonoma Acoustics – a Colorado-based firm led by a group of the same technical visionaries who originally helped launch the high-resolution SACD disc format and its corresponding DSD digital audio file format – began working with a team of boffins working at Warwick Audio Technologies, itself a spin-off from the University of Warwick in Coventry. Using WAT’s High-Precision Electrostatic Laminate, Sonoma developed a new electrostatic headphone system and the result is the £4,595 Sonoma Acoustics Model One.

Allthough he raised concerns about ultimate loudness and fastpaced deep bass, in our test, Hi-Fi+ Publisher Chris Martens found himself won over by “the Model One system’s deliberate ‘modified pseudo-diffuse field’ frequency response curve.” He also thought that “Some headphone systems are ones you admire as reference components, while others are ones you want to spend time with purely for the joy of hearing your favourite music reproduced with power, detail, expressiveness, and nuance. Quite frankly, the Sonoma Acoustics Model One system is both,” and concluded that, “to hear Sonoma’s Model One system in action is to want one!”

See: http://www.hifiplus.com/articles/sonoma-acoustics-model-one-electrostatic-headphone/

Abyss AB-1266 Phi

We liked Joe Skubinski’s distinctive Abyss headphone designs from the first moment the original AB-1266 was clamped to our ears. The sonic performance – especially when used with a suitably excellent headphone amplifier set new levels in personal audio, and the latest Phi model looks set to do exactly the same.

The high-end planar magnetic design with its distinctive, yet surprisingly comfortable, squared off headband is all down to the ideas and concepts of the father-and-son design team at Abyss, and the use of JPS cables is understandable given this is Joe’s other brand. Abyss set its standards high, aiming for the performance of no less than the Stax SR-009 electrostatic headphone. The ‘bolted in’ feel soon becomes second nature because it’s extremely comfortable in use. Most importantly, the AB-1266 Phi takes significant sonic steps forward from the original AB-1266--in terms of resolution, focus, and tonal neutrality, becoming fully world-class once more..

Review pending


High-value headphones

MrSpeakers ÆON Flow/ÆON Flow Open

MrSpeakers ÆON is said to use most of the technologies and to offer much of the performance of the bigger ETHER headphones at the much more domestically-chummy cost of just £799.99, which goes some way to explain MrSpeakers’ marketing tag-line for the model: “No Compromise Sound & Comfort; Affordable Price” The closed-back planar magnetic ÆON Flow has recently been joined by the open-backed ÆON Flow Open (review pending).

In his review of the ÆON Flow, Hi-Fi+ Publisher Chris Martens said, “Perhaps the first thing that captures the listeners’ ears about the ÆON is its articulate, transparent, and emotionally communicative midrange and upper midrange response. In those regions, the ÆON frankly does not sound like any sub-£800 headphone I have yet heard; instead, it sounds as if it really should be carrying a four-figure price tag.” He concluded that, “The MrSpeakers ÆON takes listeners very far up the ladder of high-end headphone performance and does so for a tick under £800. More importantly, it’s an affordable transducer that honours the music in all the ways that matter most. For this reason and many more, I encourage you to place the ÆON on your ‘must audition’ list.”

ÆON Flow, See: hifiplus.com/articles/mrspeakers-on-planar-magnetic-headphones/

ÆON Flow Open review pending

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