CES 2016: Day 2

Mike Pappas (left) and David Day (right) of DaySequerra and ATI.

Done with the mayhem over at the Las Vegas Convention Center. I've got a feeling there's going to be a lot more headphone action in the high-end displays at the Venetian this year, and I don't want to miss any of it.

But before I could even start this morning, I had to return a favor. David Day of DaySequerra and ATI did me a solid loaning a bunch of digital distribution amplifiers for the Big Sound 2015 project. As we arrainged for the gear return, David mentioned they were working on something that might be of interest to me and asked if he might have a little of my time at CES for a listen. Absolutely, said I. This morning his partner, Mike Pappas picked me up for a meeting with David.

Um...it's a bit complicated, but DaySequerra and ATI are in the pro-audio broadcast field with gear to monitor and distribute signals. One of the big sea changes going on at the moment is surround sound in sports broadcasting, and two of the problems that keep cropping up are the need to convert 2-channel stereo material to 5.1 surround, and to monitor 5.1 surround on headphones for the tech crews.

Now, DaySequerra has ties with DTS, and the Headphone:X product/process was tested for this application. While it might make for an immersive consumer listening experience, it was determined to be too "wet" (having too much reverberant information) for a pro monitor application. What they needed was a much more simple and dry signal so engineers could rapidly determine that all the channels were in proper polarity and at the right relative levels. They needed a quick, clean way to check the surround signals on headphones.

CES2016_Day2_Photo_DaySequerra

Again, the whole story is much more complicated than I can write or even remember accurately here, but the bottom line is they've managed to produce a box that can convert 2-channel stereo to 5.1 surround on headphones. They wanted to hear what I thought; I told them as long as I can report about it, I was game.

Well, what I heard was pretty cool, and was pretty much exactly what I described above: a very clean, positionally stable, 5.1 surround presentation on headphones. It wasn't fake sounding in the least, and though it didn't get the sound out of my head, the speaker positions inside my head were quite good. Center channel was a little high—which seems almost always to be the case—but front-to-rear reversals just didn't happen, which is problematic in many systems. They played a couple of test signals used for pro 5.1 quality checking, and one of them used pure sine tones for position checking. It's my experience that virtual positioning of pure tones on headphones is very difficult, and this gadget pulled it off quite easily.

No further report for this show, but David promised an iMix Live unit for review consideration when production units become available later this year. Seems to me this gadget might fill the bill for audiophiles wanting surround on headphones without a bunch of whiz-bang fakery to force a sense of immersion.

This experience was a perfect example of, "You never know where something cool in the world of headphones is going to show up at CES." Thanks for the experience, guys!

Now, off to the Venetian.

CES2016_Day2_Photo_Arcam

Sorry about the picture quality (man, so many of the rooms were dark at the Venetian) but what you're looking at here is an iPhone6 nestled in a case made by Arcam that includes a headphone amp, DAC, and extra battery all for under $200. Arcam has been building some surprisingly innovative and forward looking audio gear for a traditional high-end audio company (check out their rSeries gear), but this thing really starts making them look like regular headphone enthusiasts. Full report next week.

CES2016_Day2_Photo_UnisonResearch

Colleen Cardas Imports was showing off a new class-A tube headphone amp made by Italian firm Unison Research. Dead sexy and lovely sounding, I couldn't resist a full report from Mark and Colleen.

CES2016_Day2_Photo_MacIntosh

A McIntosh self-powered speaker...was there any doubt? You know the world of high-end audio is taking note of the dramatic changes in personal listening when you see someone like McIntosh making headphone amps and desk-top speakers. Man, I wish I could have been in the room when marketing folks were trying to get engineering to put a back-lit, aqua-blue, analog meter on the outside of their headphones. I gotta admit, I do love the blue meters. No further report, but the speaker is cool looking, no?

CES2016_Day2_Photo_Nordost

Been itching for a Nordost cable but unwilling to drop $800 for pleasure? The time is coming. A less expensive headphone cable—somewhere around 1/3rd the cost—will soon be available in their Leif Blue Heaven line-up. I've got every confidence this will be a very nicely built cable with plenty of connector options...and frankly I prefer blue to red.

CES2016_Day2_Photo_HeadsUp

Yes, I do think the world needs another headphone stand...especially when it's inexpensive. Heads Up, a U.K. firm, offers 3 models starting at around $39. And yes, believe it or not, there will be a full report on the Heads Up product line. These stands have some nice features, especially for point-of-purchase displays.

CES2016_Day2_Photo_Pryma

Holy smoke! Wasn't expecting a new line of fashion headphones from Sonus Faber, and my oh my, these are fair dinkum (Australian for "the real deal") fashion headphones. I don't say that out of any sense of denigration—I think it would be great to see sweet looking cans like these in the accessories department of Nordstroms or Neiman Marcus. The Pryma cans are absolutely fantastic looking...the sound was not their strong point, but it was okay. I did a full report for next week...I just couldn't resist the very unique and much better in real life look of these cans. Sexy in the extreme!

CES2016_Day2_Photo_ADL

ADL was showing off their new Stratos ($1300) all-in-one headphone amp. Lots of bells and whistles here—optical and coax digital ins to 24/192kHz, and higher, including DSD, on USB; a phono stage; an A-to-D converter for ripping analog to digital; balanced ins and outs; and much, much more all packed into a very small chassis. Got the full tour for you on video for next week.

CES2016_Day2_Photo_obravo

The folks at oBravo have been working very hard for the past 4 or 5 years developing full size, dual-driver headphones mixing dynamic drivers with planar magnetic (PM) or Heil Air Motion Transformer (HAMT) elements. Now they've begun to produce dual-driver IEMs. Pictured above are the smallest HAMT (to the left near my finger-tip) and PM (to the right) drivers I've ever seen. The sound is not quite up to speed yet, but these guys keep improving at every encounter.

CES2016_Day2_Photo_Cobblestone

I stared at the Muzo Cobblestone ($59) for about 15 minutes in a state of uncertainty, and then it hit me like a brick on the head: I need about four or five of these things around the house. Basically, it's a streaming music service receiver...which is no big deal these days. What is a big deal is that you can have up to 6 of them in your home and they can all be synchronized for whole home playback. They also support AirPlay and DLNA playback for music off your NAS drive. There's an app that allows you to group or ungroup them, and adjust volumes remotely.

An analog output from a 3.5mm jack on the back lets you plug them into any old clock radio or boom box around the home, essentially converting all your existing gear into a Sonos system for cheap! You bet, full report next week.

CES2016_Day2_Photo_Olasonic

Olasonic's Nanocompo micro-miniature rack-and-stack gear was almost too cute to bare. Here's the rear view...

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No further reports. The gear just made my inner geek go, "Awwww."

CES2016_Day2_Photo_MasterDynamic

Since my review of their first headphone—the circumaural MH40—of a year ago, the folks at Master & Dynamic have been hard at work fleshing out a full line of cans now including on-ear, IEM, and BT wireless models. I had a chance to chat with their engineer and he's been really good about attention to detail and improving product sonics. I won't spoil the full report with too much info now, but I will say I liked what I heard. I suspect that if Q went out headphone shopping for 007, this is what he'd come back with.

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Alrightythen. Ready for the big surprise of the day?

CES2016_Day2_Photo_TechnicsEAHT700

This is the about-to-be-released Technics EAH-T700 (~$1300) dual-driver, "Hi-Res Ready", circumaural, sealed headphone. The sound was quite good...stunning for a dual driver. Of course, the thing I didn't know until after my little listening session was the second driver cross-over point is at about 50kHz!!! It's very hard to tell in the picture, but all the sparkly stuff around the driver elements is a kind of fine fuzz damping material intended to keep high frequency resonances at bay.

CES2016_Day2_Photo_TechnicsEAHT700Slide

Another very unusual feature was a headband adjustment allowing about 8mm of headphone capsule movement fore-and-aft.

No full report on this one as my guide was one of the engineering team whose English was very poor, but you bet I'm hot on the trail of this baby.

And that's the 29th floor of the Venetian. Gonna have to do better than one floor tomorrow.

Nighty night!

COMMENTS
jewbear's picture

Must resist harassing Tyll about looking at Moon Audio Neo230had.

Resistance is futile.

jk6661's picture

How did it compare with the Smyth Realiser?

bmoura's picture

I was wondering the same thing. The Smyth Realiser is the most convincing 7.1 Surround to Stereo Headphone product I've heard - far better than the other products in this category.

I'm also wondering what the cost and availability date of the DaySequerra iMixLive 5.1 Audio Surround Processor might be.

Impulse's picture

That Muzo Cobblestone just sounds like an overpriced Chromecast Audio, granted the latter won't do Airplay but for those of us not invested in Apple's ecosystem that's no big loss... Or conversely, it sounds like a cheaper Beep (RIP Beep, Chromecast Audio ripped your heart out).

Never really understood why Sonos prices it's audio streamer with no speaker or amp as high as they do (it's like $300?), makes it pretty unreasonable for those of us who already have spare speakers/amps and just wanna get it all connected. I mean they have speaker units with all the same functionality at lower price points...

Hell the Chromecast Audio has optical out at $35...

Seth195208's picture

That means it's just a single driver.

zobel's picture

or bats, rats, opossum, hedgehogs, sea lions, or cats...but there would be issues of fit.

Seth195208's picture

Did you get a chance to listen to the Mcintosh headphones? After all, they were right in front of you.

steaxauce's picture

50KHz crossover point? Is that a typo? WTF?!

Beagle's picture

That Technics EAH-T700 don't look no $1300 worth...kinda plasticky lookin'

thune's picture

These timely show reports are very engaging. It must be grueling, but it is definately appreciated.

barun432's picture

I have been listening to Pryma headphones for over a month now and they easily sound better than the other Fashion headphone which came out in 2013 Aedle Vk-1.

They sound marvelous in a quite environment as they do not provide great isolation. Right now it is neck to neck in SQ in comparison to my Denon Ahd- 950.

So they are just not great lookers, they sound great as well. Will be interesting to see how it compares with the Oppo Pm-3

Tyll Hertsens's picture
.....I agree with you whole heartedly. These thing really tick the boxes for ladies that have a couple $600 purses. These things were dead sexy.
zobel's picture

Are they on-ear?

barun432's picture

For small sized to medium sized ears it is an over ear and on ear for big ears.

barun432's picture

Sonus Faber wanted to build a lifestyle product. which will definitely attract attention of a lot of Ladies in that particular demographic, but they sounded surprisingly good to me. A tighter fit is recommended for portable use as it provides better isolation.

Enjoying them very much with the Questyle QP1R pairing.

Xinrise's picture

Looks an awful lot like the Panasonic HD10s. Looks like the same iridescent Multi Layer Film Driver as well as their Horizontal Slide Adjustment feature. Maybe its a spiritual upgrade? The HD10s didnt reach many reviewers hands, though that driver is gorgeous.

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