AXPONA Coverage Part 3

I stopped at the Mr. Speaker’s booth to say hi to the owner Dan Clark, who I respect immensely for his tireless efforts in pursuit of good sound. Dan has some awesome technical chops and I always learn something interesting when chatting with him, and he always has great sounding setups at his booth.

I really love the Aeon Flow Closed and new Ether 2 headphones, and I don’t say that frivolously – I own both headphones. At AXPONA he was showing the recently announced swappable ear pads for the Ether 2. I was a bit skeptical of the tacky polyurethane attachment method at first, but after swapping the pads a few times, I actually found it fast, easy and mess-free.

Very nice.

The pads themselves come in a synthetic suede, velour-type material, and the other option is a perforated synthetic leather. Both use memory foam inside. Comparing the two pads and the original pads, the Velour pads had a slightly warmer sound with a bit more prominent bass. Dan noted, and I agree that these work well for those who like to listen to loud rock or electronic music, where the warmer signature can mitigate some of the midrange shout inherent in cranking up the volume. The perforated pads had a bit more high frequency air and a slightly more v-shaped signature, with great snap to the transients in the treble. These are nice for folks who, like me, listen at lower volume levels. I can see these being popular if you listen to well recorded classical and jazz, things that are more spacious and laid-back.

As ear pad swaps go, I think these will make the sound tweakers happy, though I found the stock pads the most balanced, and probably still my preference. The velour pads were the most comfortable though – I really love the synthetic suede feel. The pads are currently available for pre-order at a price of $79.99 USD after which the retail price will go up to $89.99 USD. Definitely check these out if you like tuning the sound a bit.

Next up was a brief stop by the Headamp booth where they were showing their various lineup of amps. They had a very cool satin-purple Blue Hawaii, but the real star for me was the GS-X Mini, an amp which I’ve had the chance to hear a few times, and which competes with the SPL Phonitor as one of my favorite high-end solid state headphone amps. It has a really fast, almost invisible ‘wire with gain’ sound to it, and I can see this being a great reference amp for neutral heads.

Feet not failing me, I made it to the JPS Labs booth, where they were showing the Abyss 1266 TC. There’s been a number of updates to this headphone and this is the latest version, sporting a completely revised driver with a ceramic coating, updated pads and the same updated magnets as the Phi CC. On a quick listen these sounded a bit cleaner and smoother than I recall the old 1266 being. Some of the funky frequency-response issues seem to have been sorted out a bit better, and the ear pads were also easier to adjust. It still has that massive dynamic slam and absolutely gigantic bass performance that many of the Abyss fans originally fell in love with though.

They also had the Diana and Diana Phi headphones, which had an ear pad and headband change from what I recall. I found them still oddly shaped and quite heavy, though not as uncomfortable as my first experience with the Diana’s. The sound channels a lot of the 1266 magic, and is very dynamic, though one would hope so for the price. The 1266 comes in at a hefty $5,000 USD, the Diana Phi at $4,000 USD and the regular Diana at $3,000 USD.

The Manley Labs booth had EvaAnna Manley on hand who is not only a really wonderfully nice person, but a fellow pro audio person like myself. The Manley Labs Absolute headphone amp has become, in short order, a tremendously popular amp at shows, and it only takes one listen to see why.

Despite being rather pricy by the standards of the headphone world, this things is packed to the brim with features and sounds astonishingly good with pretty much every headphone you can throw at it. I’ve heard it power Abyss headphones, Mr. Speakers, ZMF, HifiMan, Sennheisers – you name it and this thing will not only drive these cans, it will drive them as good as I’ve ever heard them. This is one of the rare pieces of rather pricy ($4,500 USD), aspirational gear I would actually consider owning one day.


Simply Nobody's picture

May be Inner/Fidelity could review the Manley Absolute tube headphone amp? :-) ........