Capital AudioFest Part 4: Andover Audio

CAF this year was awash with vinyl front ends, something which is a little bit unusual for headphone playback. I’ve seen it start to take more prominence in many headphone listeners rigs however, as LPs becomes more popular with audiophiles of the personal audio disposition.

Today’s coverage, then, is about just that; vinyl and headphones, and a company called Andover Audio.

Andover Audio is a name I hadn’t heard of before, but when I entered their room, the folks there mentioned that their team is made up of former employees from a laundry list of well-known companies in high-end audio. While they have hi-fi pedigree, Andover is a new company that has a somewhat different product than many hi-fi companies, however, and the team there has drawn on their experience to create a couple of products that bridge the gap between mainstream and audiophile in interesting ways.

The first is the Model One record player, which is a turntable and powered speakers with a preamp and discrete, Class A headphone amplifier. The table itself is a modified Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Espirit SB, and comes in a snazzy wooden frame. There are a number of record shelf and subwoofer expansion options, and the speaker itself sounded surprisingly full and rich, not at all what I was expecting from an all-in-one turntable, speaker, headphone amp product.

What’s more, the headphone amplifier was quite nice, with plenty of juice for both planar magnetic and dynamic headphones, and a very even tonality. There was good dynamic impact and sound stage, again, this was a much better sounding unit than I expected with headphones plugged in, and it should be, given the $2,500 USD price tag and Andover’s upcoming planar magnetic headphone.

That’s right, yet another company is dipping a toe into the planar magnetic water. The models I heard were prototypes, and tuning is not yet finalized, but I thought what I heard had a lot of promise.

The Andover representatives gave me a few details on the driver, cable and overall construction on the headphones, and they definitely have some interesting ideas, so I’m intrigued to see where they go with this. Headphones are not an easy accessory to slap together if you want to do them right, but the folks at Andover seem to have their ears and heads pointed in a good direction.

Planar magnetic headphones, particularly, are phenomenally complex devices to manufacture consistently, between driver tensioning and the constant challenge of dealing with damping and ear cups (to name but a few). The Andover prototypes seemed pretty even-handed in the midrange, with slightly elevated treble and bass responses, but overall a very clean and more dynamic sound than I was expecting from a first effort planar magnetic. It paired quite nicely with the headphone amp on their Model One Record Player, and the two pieces certainly sounded like they had been tuned to be complimentary.

The representatives in the room told me they were looking at a roughly $500 USD price-point for the headphone, which will be open back. I always like it when companies look at more reasonable price points when entering the headphone game, and while experience with stereo companies does not guarantee success in the headphone realm, the folks at Andover seem to be listening to the community and doing their homework. The tuning on the headphone is not final, so take my impressions with more than the usual grain of show-listening salt. I’ll definitely be keeping track of Andover, and look forward to hearing the finalized tuning on this headphone.

Next up: New headphones from Japan!

Capitol AudioFest