CES 2016: Day Three

Of course, the high-end headphone world is abuzz about the HiFiMAN Shangri-La electrostatic headphone and 300B tube amplifier...as well it should be. Dr. Fang Bian has been working on this baby for nigh on a decade. He told me the HE1000 diaphragm was essentially a technological spin-off from the ongoing e-stat work.

Yes, indeed it did sound good, but not going to spill more than that. Wouldn't want to spoil your read of next weeks full report.

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Just a little observation here: The number of rooms that featured traditional audio systems—CD players, turntables, and pre-amps in the middle with two speakers and amps on each side—has noticeably dwindled to probably less than a third of the exhibits. It's pretty clear that computer audio, internet gadgets, and various streaming devices like the Lumin gear pictured above are more likely found between the speakers. It's taken time, but high-end audio does seem to have fully embraced the 21st century.

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I was happy to see Etymotic at the show. Nothing spanky new in the line...which is fine. Their ER4S is like the Sennheiser HD 600 of the IEM world: It remains a top performer and a solid offering even after nigh on 20 years. I did get a little off-the-record info on upcoming developments, so keep an eye out for a dandy announcement the course of the coming year.

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Emotiva has released a couple new high-res capable USB DAC/Amps: the Big Ego and the Little Ego. The main difference is the Big Ego has line and Toslink outputs. Both receive full bit depth signals from the computer and effect volume control within the unit for best resolution at all settings. On sale now at the very nice price of $179 and $139 respectively; click the links above.

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I almost didn't go into the room because I hate trying to evaluate cables. It's not that I don't think they make a difference, it's just that I think the difference is very small and hard to clearly distinguish...especially in a five minute demo at a show. At any rate, Wireworld has come up with a simple but seemingly legit way to evaluate cables for headphones. (Well, 3.5mm to 3.5mm cabled headphones.) They've made a very short cable they call the Headphone Cable Polygraph—a 3.5mm male to 3.5mm male stub really—to connect an Oppo PM3 to a DAP in order to present the listener to the most direct connection possible. You can then switch out to the stock or other cable for comparison.

My experience was that going from the stub to the stock cable did seem to make an improvement in clarity that was small but more easily heard than I expected. Switching between the stub and the Wireworld cables was much less obvious; probably best described as indistinguishable under show conditions. Surprised me.

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Boom! And out of nowhere another headphone maker appears. U.K. firm Mitchell & Johnson, a hi-fi company the prides itself on delivering affordable audio products, has just launched and effort to produce a line of dynamic/electret dual-driver headphones. (What's up with that? It seems dual/driver headphones are all the rage all of a sudden.) Three models, each available in two or three color stylings, will cover a price range of roughly $200-$500. I'll publish pics of the driver assembly in my full report next week.

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I'm constantly amazed at how many cable companies there are out there. Not exactly sure whether Labkable makes their own lines or just resells them, but if you're in China in need of stringing up your cans these guys might be a good resource.

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British speaker firm UandK Sound was showing a prototype IEM. A bit bright for me, but it's early on.

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U.K. firm Pure was showing a pretty broad range of table-top radios and streaming speakers. Their U.S. offering is a more limited than their U.K. products, which includes the very wife-friendly stylings of their Sanderson and Whitby editions.

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CES2016_Day3_Photo_NADBluesound, part of the Lenbrook Group which includes sister companies PSB and NAD, has undergone a complete refresh of their line of high-end, whole-home, wireless streaming audio speaker solutions (similar to Sonos, but better sounding). Added to the line is the Pulse Flex ($299) portable speaker, which will allow you to take it out on the back porch and continue your normal wi-fi connection to the rest of your home network of Bluesound speakers. Or you can pop it into your picnic kit and take it to the park for Bluetooth connected tunes.

Also in the room was a display of NAD and PSB headphones and a giant sign touting the NAD VISO HP50 headphone with a quote from me, "My favorite sealed headphone." It still remains as true today as the day I wrote it—it's easily the most common recomendation I make to people. A really great headphone!

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It doesn't seem to be on their website yet, but a number of dealers are reporting the Pass Labs HPA1 ($3500) as in-stock. I did report on this amp at last years CES interviewing designer Jam Somasundram, and boy I'm happy to see it now available.

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The inside is simple, clean, and minimalist—like any Pass Labs product should be. I had a nice chat with some of the folks there and am assured a review sample soon. Oh yeah, baby, I can't wait to spend a bit of time with this.

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Here's a show highlight, The Manley Headphone Amplifier ($2995; and yes, I think that's actually its name) is seriously cool having way more controls than any tube headphone amp I can recall. For just a couple of examples, you can switch between push-pull and single-ended topologies, and you can continually adjust the amount of feedback. More details coming in a full report next week.

CES2016_Day3_Photo_Warwick

Wow! You ain't gonna believe this. Warwick Audio Technologies is manufacturing a continuous roll, flexible, single sided stator, electrostatic driver that in can be cut to any shape desired. They're here at CES in a private room doing demos for all sorts of big companies who might use this flat and very thin transducer for talking signs and all sorts of interesting applications, including electrostatic headphones. Prices aren't set yet, but this technology apparently might produce a headphone about 1/4 the cost of current e-stat designs. You bet I'll do a full report next week. I'll leave you with a pic of this very novel diaphragm material.

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COMMENTS
Seth195208's picture

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Tyll Hertsens's picture
I've known EveAnna for years. But "The Manley Headphone Amp" is a bit literal.
ultrabike's picture

Very excited and interested in hearing more about Warwick Audio Technologies. Thanks Tyll!

barun432's picture

It seems a lot of companies are getting in to Electrostatic headphones/IEMs.

Hope HiFiMaN is able to produce something as good as the Jade in the foreseeable future and more companies come in so that the technology becomes cheaper and affordable for the masses.

Guitarist9273's picture

Any comments on the HP30 on ear from NAD? I've been intrigued by it, hoping its competitive with similarly priced on ears & has a frequency response near the Harman target.

ClieOS's picture

...looking too much like a pair of MacaW GT100s.

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