Postcards from Las Vegas (part two)

A handful of high-end highlights from CES

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ENIGMAcoustics Dharma hybrid electrostatic/dynamic headphones and Athena A1 valve-type (single-ended triode based) headphone amplifier.

ENIGMAcoustics is best known for its self-energised electrostatic supertweeters, but for more than a year now the firm has been working on its design for a new hybrid electrostatic/dynamic driver-equipped headphone, called the Dharma ($1,200). The Dharmas incorporate electrostatic drivers that are self-energised and thus require no outboard power supplies, unlike most other brands of the electrostats. Complementing the Dharma is the lovely Athena A1 valve-type (single-ended triode-based) headphone amplifier.

Though I had time for only a cursory introductory listen, the Dharma/Athena A1 pair well and truly blew my mind, and here’s why. This pair provided what stands out in my mind as the most spacious and compellingly three-dimensional sound I have ever heard form any headphone system to date.

At times, the Dharma/Athena A1 created the compelling (though in my experience extremely difficult to achieve) illusion that sounds were literally emanating from far, far outside the headphone’s ear cup housings. In practice, this meant the Dharma and Athena combo yielded amazingly wide soundstages with very, very precise placement of vocalists and instrumentalists within those stages. Most impressive.

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