Most Promising Newcomers
Abyss Diana planar
Ever since launching its superb-sounding but also large and unorthodox-looking AB-1266 planar magnetic headphone, the Abyss team has had a vision of creating a smaller, lighter, somewhat less expensive, more conventional-looking, and almost-as-good-sounding planar magnetic headphone. The model is almost here and is called the Diana, which will be priced around $3000. The Diana is significantly lighter and simpler looking than the AB-1266 and comes in three gorgeous matt-finish colours: a tasteful and subdued grey, a subtle off-white or cream colour, and a downright delicious-looking chocolate brown.
Acoustic Research AR-H1 planar magnetic headphone
In recent years Acoustic Research has been known primarily for its ambitious portable high-res digital audio player, but Munich marked the product release of the firm’s eagerly awaited and very well priced AR-H1 planar magnetic headphone, which will sell for $599 or £549. Visually and in certain other respects the AR-H1 reminds us more than a little of Oppo’s far more costly flagship PM1 headphones, which means we may well want to seek out the model for further evaluation once review samples become available. We predict the AR-H1’s combination of handsome good looks, pleasing sound, and a manageable price will make it a marketplace winner.
Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000 portable digital audio player
Not long after announcing its very powerful and comparatively affordable Kann digital audio player, Astell & Kern turned around to release a new cost-no-object flagship digital audio player called the A&ultima SP1000 (~ €4000) slated to take its place at the very top of the Astell & Kern range. Differences between the A&ultima SP1000 and the firm’s previous flagship AK380 include a slimmer chassis but one fitted with a larger 5-inch screen (as opposed to a 4-inch screen for the AK380), a step up to a pair of AKM’s latest AK4497EQ DACS (as opposed to dual AKM AK4490 DACs in the AK380), an increase in maximum balanced output voltage swing (from 2.3Vrms to 3.9Vrms), an even lower noise floor (the SP1000’s balanced output signal to noise ratio is an impressive 122dB), and somewhat lower distortion. Finally, the SP1000 uses an octo-core control processor as opposed to the AK380’s dual core processor. We are eager to hear this new flagship model in action.
Beyerdynamic Xelento Wireless earphones
As some readers will already know, Beyerdynamic’s Xelento earphones are in a very real sense miniaturised versions of the firm well-respected flagship T1 Tesla headphones, which is saying quite a lot. However, for Munich the German firm decided to take the next evolutionary step by offering a Bluetooth compatible, self-amplified Xelento Wireless model, which uses an elegant little Bluetooth amp/DAC module that looks like a classy albeit truncated pen, complete with a handy garment clip. The whole system packs up into an elegant travel case not too much larger than an extra thick business card case. The Xelento Wireless will sell for €1,200—or €200 more that the standard Xelento earphone.