This is Part 2 of the two-part Hi-Fi+ report on Earphones, Headphones and related products seen at Munich High End 2013.
For the sake of simplicity, we present products in alphabetical order, organized by the names of their manufacturers.
Manufacturers covered in Part 2 this report include: KEF, King Sound, Klutz Design, Lehmann Audio, M2Tech, Micro Gear, Musical Fidelity, NuForce, Pawel Acoustics, Sennheiser, Stax, Ultrasone, Velodyne, Violectric, and V-MODA.
British loudspeaker manufacturers KEF has now joined with earphone and headphone fray with its M200 earphones (€199) and M500 headphones (€299). A brief listen suggested that the M500s sounded hearty and full-bodied, although we were unfamiliar with the over-the-top hip-hop mix being used as a demo track. Editor Alan Sircom revisited the KEF room to try the M500 with some different material and came back with a favourable report.
The Chinese electrostatic loudspeaker specialist King Sound demonstrated its new Emperor electrostatic headphones, which represent, we think, one of the greatest values in today’s high-end headphone marketplace. The Emperor can be bundled either with a solid-state electrostatic amp (£600 for the bundle) or with a valve-type electrostatic amp (£1200 for the bundle). In both instances, the sound shows sophistication beyond proportion to the asking price.
We have seen a lot of good headphone stands, but almost always come away thinking of one or two features we wish had been implemented differently. But, Klutz Design’s Can Can headphone stand (€450 - €600, depending on finish) is arguably the most perfect product of its type we’ve yet seen. As company founder Michael Hollesen demonstrates, the Can Can is beautiful to look at, provides smoothly curved surfaces for your headphone ear cups to grip, and even offers thoughtful provisions for gently coiling up the headphone’s signal cables.
Lehmann offered a preview of its upcoming, micro USB-powered portable headphone amplifier, which will feature a stout 4000 mAH battery and should sell for about (€400). The display model shown on the stand used a 3D-modeled version of the amp’s case, thus giving enthusiasts a reasonable idea of the size and shape of the upcoming product.
The Italian firm M2Tech is perhaps best known for its impressive DACs, but for Munich the company brought a long a preproduction prototype of its impressive new Marley Class A headphone amplifier (€1000), which should arrive in September. Also on demonstration was M2Tech’s very cool 32-bit/384kHz compact HiFace USB DAC (€220).
MicroGear is a Chinese firm that specializes in building OEM headphone-related electronics and headphones that, more often than not, will be offered under other firm’s brand names. One of the most popular models on demonstration in Munich was the BT460 Bluetooth receiver with coaxial digital outputs (€180-€200, sold under the Wiss Audio brand name), along with a surprisingly good, low-cost full-size headphone (€60-(€80).
Though not much detailed information was available at the demonstration stand, Musical Fidelity offered a preview of its plainly very ambitious balanced output MX-HPA headphone amp. Precise pricing information will have to wait, but speculation on the stand was that the amp would sell for “around €2000.” It certainly looks the part.
NuForce has made its name in part by offering personal audio products that offer terrific value for money, so that it came as no surprise to see two of the firm’s lower-cost components highlighted in Munich. First, we had the long-awaited, second-generation version of the firm’s popular NE-700X and NE-700M earphones (€79-€89, respectively) as well as a pre-release sample of the firm’s tiny new MMP Mobile Music Pump, which should be priced “between €50-€60.”
To address the widespread desire for headphone systems that offer more nearly speaker-like imaging capabilities, the Swiss firm Pawel Acoustics offers its HPA-1 Mk3 headphone processor (€1600), which is designed for use with Stax electrostatic headphones and provides switch settings for “Diffuse Field” and “Binaural” processing. An upcoming new model, to be called the HPA-2 headphone processor/amp (~€2100), which is intended for use with conventional headphones, adds headphone amp functionality to the mix.
Sennheiser’s newest products for Munich were new high-performance, signal cable sets designed to allow the firm’s top headphones (e.g., the HD600, HD650, HD700, and HD800) to be powered directly from balanced-output headphone amplifiers. There are also new high performance cables available for the firm’s flagship IE800 earphones.
In an interview with Dr. Axel Grell, Sennheiser’s Product Manager, High End we made an interesting discovery. To wit: Sennheiser’s top-end HDVA 600 balanced output headphone amplifier (€ 1399) and HDVD 800 balanced output headphone amp/DAC (€1799) both started life as purpose-built piece of Sennheiser laboratory equipment. As Dr. Grell put it, “we decided to make them products, largely so that our headphone customers could hear what we have been hearing in the lab right along.”
Stax’s demonstration areas centered, not surprisingly, on the firm’s world class SR-009 electrostatic headphones, with a highlight for show being the firm’s SRM-007tS electrostatic headphone amplifier (€2925), which is offered as a complement to the SR-009. The SRM-007tS seemed to impart a degree of natural warmth and enhanced smoothness to the SR-009, while giving up little in the way of absolute resolution and focus.
Up to this point, the German firm Ultrasone has offered as its flagship model the very limited production Edition 10 (€1999), but for Munich the company was previewing its new Edition 12 headphone (€ 1299), which should become available in the June – July timeframe. We found the Edition 12 prototype sounded terrific and was very comfortable to wear. Better yet, it should be built in somewhat higher volumes than the hard-to-find Edition 10.
Complementing these full-size ‘phones were Ultrasone’s new top-tier iQ earphones (€659), which feature the hybrid combination of a dynamic driver (handling bass and lower midrange frequencies) and balanced armature-type tweeter. A brief listen suggested that the iQ will be one to watch at the top of the high-end earphone marketplace.
Though perhaps best known for its powered subwoofers, Velodyne is becoming an ever more serious participant in the headphone marketplace, as evidence by the firm’s vTrue headphones (€399), which are arguably the firm’s best sounding ‘phones to date, and by the self-powered vFree headphones (€299).
The German firm Violectric showed not one but four impressive desktop headphone amplifiers, including the HPA V90 (€380), the HPA V100 (€550), the balanced output HPA V181 (€715), and the HPA V200 (€715). The top three models are available with optional onboard DAC modules. Interestingly, all models feature switch selectable master gain settings allowing users to tune their amps for the best possible combination of gain coupled with low noise.
For the US-based firm V-MODA, the big news was the arrival of the new Vamp Versa portable DAC/headphone amp/smartphone charger (~€600). Significantly, the Vamp Versa sports two onboard DACs—one to support iDevices and the other to support Windows/Android devices (and specifically, Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones). Conveniently, V-MODA offers beautiful and robustly made add-on cases to fit iPhones and Galaxies (~$100), which allow the phones to be clamped neatly to the housing of the Vamp Versa, making for easier carrying.