The Hugo 2 is getting around quite a lot. This shot was taken on a short trip. The marbled table provided a good contrast to the smooth surface of the beautiful metal build of the Chord.
InEar StageDiver 5
The InEar StageDiver 5 are technically easily the best of the series. In fact, I think the SD-5’s strengths even outperform the company’s reference flagship ProPhile 8 if linearity is not top priority. The tonality is extremely engaging and balanced at the same time and I can see some less experienced users thinking they are neutral. I have become a big fan of the midrange and I am surprised how easily my mind adapts to the signature.
But not only the sonic performance impresses. The StageDiver are still the most comfortable universal IEM series for my (German male) ears. The design allows a tight and deep fit and I don’t know anything that comes closer to an actual CIEM. For the first time, a small version is already available with the product launch.
Those striving for high-end audio can achieve further improvement by upgrading the cable and they also have the option of choosing real wood designs and an optional leather case to match the performance. Do not let the driver count fool you, this is a TOTL monitor!
The AM850 enter an extremely crowded market with an abundance of choices among sub-100$ priced IEMs. This is quite a challenge and for that Astrotec did well. The AM850 feature good build quality and an attractive design. The sound has an authoritative low-end with nicely tuned mids and highs. Ultimately, it is not enough to stand out as the single best choice, but nonetheless, they are a good addition to a pool of similarly priced IEMs.
At Headflux we think pragmatically: good sound is good sound, whether or not it was achieved with the help of DSP. In our opinion, the frequency response in particular is very important for subjective sound perception. This is one of the reasons why we have been intensively involved with the linearization of headphones behind the scenes for a long time. For this purpose we have already tested several target curves internally – the review of the biggest player Sonarworks should not be missing.
Altogether, we can easily recommend Sonarworks True-Fi as a cost-effective solution to achieve a significant improvement in the audio chain in terms of high-fidelity in most cases. The project is very ambitious, but currently there are not enough headphones on the list of supported devices. We also see potential for improvement in regards to IEM equalization. For the full experience, we also suggest to take a look at Sonarworks Reference, which allows manipulation of the default correction that thus can be better adapted to subjective perception. Anyone can test the software for free for 10 days before buying. We highly suggest to try it – at least if your headphones are supported.
Munich High End 2018
From May 10th to 13th 2018 the High End show took place in Munich. It is organized by the High End Society with its headquarters in Wuppertal. The High End has been an annual event since 1982, making it one of the largest international audio shows. Once again this year the size was immense and four halls, each with two floors, were filled to the smallest corner with booths. The visitors were numerous, but the fair was not so crowded that one would not have found access to interesting products. For the first time, CanJam Europe also took place in Munich. The entrance ticket was also valid here. Although CanJam was comparatively small, one day was far from enough to cover all the latest the headphone news. Therefore, some selected few impressions must suffice. Click on the link below to read the full article.
In the Woods
The great thing about portable audio is you can listen to it anywhere. In the woods, some might rather listen to birds sing or the bickering of a creek, but at least you have the option.
My first shot of the black Hugo 2. I think the colors pop much better than with the silver version.
At the Riverside
Sunset at the river Rhine created this nice bokeh of the stones with the water in the background. I thought the shadow leading to the plug created some more dynamics.
beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless
The beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless are a chic, well-made and comfortable set of on-ear headphones that are fun on-the-go with a warm tuning, moderate bass and smooth highs. You’ll enjoy wearing and showing them, but with a RRP of 449 € they ultimately stay a little below our expectations or don’t quite meet our demands of a neutral studio sound. Nevertheless, they can stand up to competing Bluetooth headphones. Perfectionists will criticize some shortcomings, such as the imprecise touch controls, noise from the built-in technology and a much too coarse volume control. In addition, the connection to the accompanying app is unreliable. Although the MIY app occasionally has problems accessing the headphones, the Bluetooth connection itself works very well. I am also very satisfied with the voice quality. As an audiophile, it’s easy to forget how convenient wireless use really is. Bluetooth definitely has some advantages.
The usefulness of the MIY app, which is actually supposed to enable “perfect sound” through personalization, ultimately depends very much on the health or age of one’s own ears. If your ears are still healthy, the additional benefit remains relatively small, but I can see how the idea makes sense in the long run. Especially those with asymmetrical hearing are offered an almost unrivaled advantage. Others are instead advised to take a look at a cheaper on-ear from the same company, such as the Aventho (without wireless), the T51i or the DT 1350.
I have a new table. It’s white and big. Like really big. I experimented a bit how I could use the space.
RME ADI-2 DAC
I can’t think of any other desktop DAC/amp combo that would be easier to recommend in 2018. There is no magic involved in the RME ADI-2 DAC: no proprietary filters, no patented exclusive circuits, no unordinary connections and most importantly no voodoo buzz words. This is an extremely down-to-earth device that has just been given extreme thought, massive experience and great attention to detail. It’s not the supplier’s chip that makes a great device, it is how you use the tools.
The ADI-2 DAC is technically marvelous, regardless of whether you want to dive into the long feature list or not. I do recommend you do, though, because the equalizer with its many save slots, the customizable loudness function, the tight crossfeed, various DA filters and many controls to test your whole audio chain just keep on giving and giving. Despite the huge amount of functions, the software is extremely stable and hasn’t failed me once.
While the Phones output provides clean and linear amplification for even power hungry headphones, the new IEM output might just have reached a new reference level. Of course the device will work just as well as a standalone DAC in case you want to connect some warm tubes with the line-out. The channel-specific dual EQ or quick bass/treble adjustments can work wonders in a speaker setup.
I praised the RME ADI-2 Pro before and it proved to be a massive success. At 1.599 € (or 1.999 € for the black Anniversary Edition) it challenged competitive high-end products and it seems almost unfair that we now can get the same performance for a lot less, e.g. 999 €. Friends of high-fidelity, what are you waiting for?
Somehow coffee and audio go well together. It is about enjoying your leisure time and what better way is there to relax? The least the Hugo 2 with the qdc Gemini deserve is the Reserve coffee.
Cameras and Audio
Photography and portable audio just go well together. A lonely soul wandering around and taking pictures while listening to music in the best way possible. Isn’t that romantic?
Sennheiser HD 660 S
Just like the HD 600 and the HD 650 before it, the new HD 660 S is another great hi-fi headphone for home use. The revisions and minor improvements are legitimate and suit the series well – even if the surcharge seems to be a bit steep for the moment. I do not agree with the decision to include a symmetrical Pentaconn cable, but otherwise, considering the complete package, there is very little cause for criticism.
Sennheiser have once again delivered a very well-balanced and ambitious set of headphones, which can actually be blindly recommended for almost all purposes. However, if you already own one of the headphones from the six hundred series, you might save yourself the upgrade, depending on your requirements. Despite the new technology, the relationship to its siblings cannot be denied.
Actually I left my home early that day to take a blue hour cityscape shot. However, I always carry the Hugo 2 with me, so when I saw a frozen puddle, I thought it would be worth a shot. I like the rough texture of the ice in contrast to the smooth surface and clean design of the Hugo 2. However, it was after this shot that I noticed that I have to buy and use a grey card in the future.
The Hugo 2 can receive data via Bluetooth. It uses aptX with 352 kbps for 16bit-48kHz.
I used focus bracketing for this shot and manually stitched 10 pictures at f/1.8 together. The lighting is all natural.
The Hugo 2’s durable aluminum body with black accent perfectly matches the iMac desktop computer.
At almost two thousand dollars, the qdc Gemini is not a steal. But for that, you not only get a very goodmonitor, but also the whole high-end experience: beautiful design, perfect fit, flawless production, a nice case, superior cable and the adequate packaging.
The tuning of the 8 BA receivers is done very delicately. The Gemini sound more musical than a reference tuning but they still provide overall great balance among bass, mids, and highs. They also scale very well with better equipment and I am interested to see how much I can push them in the future.
The bass switch is nothing I asked for, but surprisingly I use it a lot. Once I get on the tram, I subconsciously automatically flip the switch. When I arrive back home, I flip it back. Independent of the music genre, the sound is very saturated, melodic and easy to listen to, yet provides ample texture and great micro-details.
Westone UM-1 (2017)
The new Westone UM1 might not be the first choice for the full hifi experience with impressive extension on both ends, strong low-end rumble or airy treble. But what they do, they do very well.
Their presentation is positively mild with great potential for tweaking, but even without modifications, the homogenous frequency response does well in giving instruments and voices enough room to stand out on their own.
Westone provides a nice package with durable IEMs, a large selection of ear tips and the pro-feeling of higher priced monitors. If they had included a more useful pouch, the value would have been even higher. The new UM1 still prove to be a solid recommendation for musicians on a budget and I prefer them slightly over the current placeholders by Shure.
CanJam Europe 2017
As a true headphone aficionado, new announcements seldom fly past me. So truth be told, I had some spots on my list that I had prepared to fill out with impressions but I could not find many of the very new products.
CanJam Europe is not the single most important headphone show and unsurprisingly Asia is favored over Europe by international exhibitors. Nonetheless, there was much more shown than one could demo even in two full days.
The event is also closely connected to the headphone enthusiasts’ community and they reserved several tables in a corner for visitors to meet, share impressions and exchange gear. That is awesome even though I did not have time to stop by!
If you are interested in headphones, CanJam Europe is still the best local opportunity to compare a wide selection of gear. If you ever wanted to visit Berlin or live close by, the show continues to be worth a visit.
To be honest, I have very little experience with flash photography. My Olympus OM-D comes with a removable flash that lets you adjust the angle of direction. That inspired me to experiment with a reflector to catch the texture on the leather case and also the wood pattern on the headphones.
Audio Zenith PMx2
Audio Zenith asked me many times to enjoy the music while writing this review. That is exactly what I did! I enjoyed my time with the PMx2 a lot and eventually it even made me question the perception of warmth. At the end of the day, the PMx2 definitely had me convinced that their tuning is very enjoyable and natural with not a hint of fatigue. It’s all about music first and that’s where the PMx2 excel at.
Modifications are a subject on their own. No doubt the upgrades done with the PM2 are troublesome and the PMx2 are a further development toward high-end audio. However, I do think that Audio Zenith were a bit too aggressive in covering up Oppo’s base work of a good headphone. Less of those Audio Zenith stickers would have sufficed too. Perhaps something along the lines of “PM2 reworked by Audio Zenith“ could have worked too. But the point is that the team of A.Z. put a lot of work into the PMx2 and the outcome is definitely something to be proud of. This is a very refined product.
I can only recommend to check these out if they are available anywhere near you. Looking at the street prices, I think it might be easier to recommend to grab an Oppo PM2 as long as they are still available and then send them out for modification – this should be cheaper than paying full price for the PMx2. That is not saying they aren’t worth it, but it could make the investment even more worthwhile.
I took this fast shutter photo tossing the Hugo 2 in the air and simultaneously dropping a leaf. Not gonna lie, took a few attempts. It would have been cooler to have a headphone dropping in the background too, but unfortunately I am not an octopus and thus limited to two arms.
I find it very easy to recommend the MrSpeakers Aeon. The workmanship is good, the comfort is high and most importantly, above all, the sound is pleasing. However, you should prefer a neutral tuning with little coloration, especially in the high frequency range. This is of course the greatest feat in hi-fi and thus I am very positively impressed by the Aeon. Despite the closed construction, the bass is relatively firm and clean. There is slight potential for improvement in regards to homogeneity in bass and midrange, but that’s very picky criticism.
The high level of isolation is very welcome, yet the Aeon are not really suitable as travel companions. They’re too large and the construction is anything but space-saving. It’s a pity, because the Aeon are easy to drive and do not require much power from an amplifier, theoretically making it very practical for mobile use.
I am particularly pleased about the price, which is relatively low for a headphone of this quality. Regardless of price, the MrSpeakers Aeon are one of the best closed headphones available today.
Audeze iSine 20
I wonder what the motivation behind the iSine was. Audeze clearly did not want to improve ergonomics, comfort or handling of existing IEMs. It was all about using a magnetostat that is characteristic of the company. Admittedly, the challenge is high and it is impressive that they have taken up this challenge. Also, certain technical strengths cannot be denied. But in the end, what you get with the iSine 20 for approx. 600 € doesn’t deserve a purchase recommendation.
The tuning with normal cable is best used for fast metal and hard rock. The bass is fast and tight, and screaming vocals gain authority due to the coloration in the midrange. However, with complex jazz compositions, the advantages are outnumbered by disadvantages. The stage seems big, but instruments are not always in the right position and trumpets or oboes can sometimes not achieve the desired presence in the orchestra.
If you decide to grab the iSine 20 nonetheless, 50 € surcharge for the cipher cable should be attractive. The bright tuning can even be pleasing with high-quality classic recordings; but as soon as the recording offers little headroom, the iSine with iOS become exhausting and strain the ears. Instead of relying on the proprietary cipher lightning solution, I would recommend using an alternative equalizer instead. Users of other operating systems have no other choice anyway. There are plenty of EQ apps available and Audeze’s official app does not fully meet the hi-fi requirements in this case.
Audeze has nevertheless succeeded in producing an interesting product. Although my assessment is a bit conservative and the weak points of the iSine outweigh the advantages of the iSine for me, I hope that with the recently released in-ear flagship LCD-i4 Audeze managed to bring the tuning closer to the large LCD series. Should the tuning be pleasing without the help of DSP, the concept of the iSine could become very attractive. As of now, it is but an interesting technology study that only the less hifi-focused geeks are sure to enjoy.
Final E2000 & E3000
The two new Final E-type IEMs are a pleasant surprise. Both the E2000 and E3000 offer a very attractive package with terrific ear tips and useful ear guides. Apart from lacking a hard case, there is barely any open attack surface. Comfort and build quality are as simple as they are useful.
The difference of E2000 and E3000 mostly lies within the tuning. The tonality of the smaller brothers is very well balanced and they do a terrific job as a backup or portable pair for serious detail aficionados. The warmer E3000 is perhaps even more refined but they will take some time to grow on the listener. Of my hifi friends, I am perhaps the one who least likes a warm signature but I kept grabbing the E3000 more often than I thought. They serve extremely well as a nightly companion on the bed stand.
Final’s 6.5mm driver is pretty quick but not enough to punch outside the sub-100 $ price category. The vented design helps a lot in this regard but it also means that the isolation is below average for an IEM. The E3000 use this as an advantage for a big soundstage. Ultimately I do think that the E2000 is even more attractive for the price.
How much is a DAP allowed to cost? Up to 900 €, apparently. I criticized a few points, for example the display. However, there is nothing that cuts back on the music enjoyment. The DX200 has everything an audiophile needs: it sounds transparent, uncolored, spatial, revealing, and more.
The “ideal customer” of the iBasso is uncompromising, but also makes high demands based on price. He also wants to have the feeling of buying a premium device. The DX200 offers all this: the packaging is too fancy to store away; the charging cable is nice enough to proudly carry along and every day anew you want to decide whether to put on the leather case or not – it is attractive with or without it.
If you know that you prefer to listen to music very loudly, then you might want to replace the amplifier unit yourself and order the AMP3 module. The modularity is a big advantage in the long run, as there should soon be the 4th option. Personally, as an IEM user, I was already completely satisfied with the AMP1.
Not surprisingly, the AK70 is less oriented towards technical nerds, but rather tries to deliver an attractive overall package for the hifi enthusiast. The buzzwords are all there: HD, Hi-Res, DSD with up to 128x CD resolution, etc. However, the actual sound improvement is negligible compared to some of the better iDevices – provided you can do without HD. But the sound is a bit brighter and more neutral. It is also a nice handy device, which has a useful USB-DAC function.
I would wish the device would be a little bit quicker for menu navigation and the output impedance could have been lower. Then it would be easier for me to make a purchase recommendation. Now my recommendation is limited to: “My smartphone is not loud enough and apart from good sound, design is very important to me.” If you have 600 € to spare, then don’t let my impression be in your way!
FiiO X5 III
In this review the poor FiiO got wiped several times from left and right. I am someone who demands streamlined minimalism and who prefers perfectionism over loads of functions. The X5 III moves in the opposite direction and offers quantity instead of quality in the software. Those who take their time will certainly get the Android device optimized to their advantage and have an excellent technical basis. If you can do without highly sensitive inears, you get a lot of power for 450 €. Unfortunately, you don’t get it served on a silver platter and I don’t recommend the FiiO music app.
How to build a Custom IEM
Custom-made in-ears – more commonly known as CIEM (Custom In-Ear Monitors) – are becoming increasingly popular. A few years ago, this was not the case when Ultimate Ears, Jerry Harvey and Compact Monitors still featured high-end products, but universal mass-produced earphones cost less than half the price. This price difference has now almost been closed. A custom-made earphone does not necessarily have to cost more than a good universal earphone such as the Campfire Andromeda or InEar ProPhile 8.
That’s reason enough to look at how a CIEM is created. How does it get its shape? How does the technology get into the custom? To answer these and other questions, we visited the specialists of Vision Ears in Cologne.
iFi Audio iEMatch
In my testing, the iEMatch was a huge improvement in everyday use. I mostly use in-ears and most of my headphones are very efficient, too. Paired with the normal headphone output of the iPhone (R.I.P.), improvements were very noticeable and highly appreciated. Almost even more so with desktop amps that feature an analog volume control, like the Objective O2.
There are really no drawbacks unless your habit is to listen to music at very loud volumes and your headphones aren’t very sensitive. Very demanding users might be bummed that the little iFi won’t reach below 1 Ω OI, but then again this will probably be easy to accept for a clean and less hissy output. Andromeda users might want to try the ultra setting for arguably better tonality.
In the end, the iEMatch is only a small gadget. A small accessory. A cheap one, considering the investments we usually bring up for this hobby. This is a dead easy recommendation and I am sure it will find a safe place in your IEM case!
NF Audio NF6i
NF Audio caught me by surprise. Based on Chinese local reviews, I was already expecting a solid contender with an enjoyable sound. Obviously, one would expect a newcomer brand to punch the price very low. NF Audio did all that, but that is not even enough to describe the NF6i. This earphone is unique and just as enjoyable as many well-regarded TOTL CIEMs. The high frequencies performance is outstanding. The clarity matches that of an open vented design yet allows high isolation in a custom fit. All without fatigue or sibilance. The NF6i sound fresh and have a unique selling point.
The NF6i are not a new studio reference as their W-signature does not allow the most precise of monitoring across the frequency spectrum. The accurate mid-range floats like an island between present sub-bass and airy upper range. Overall, the NF6 are refined all-rounders that do not let any detail go amiss with any genre. It’s all there, plenty and balanced. They sound fun and hardly colored at the same time. They left me impressed.
Being able to place an order through a Chinese market only will understandably be a huge turn-off for most. But this is a product I advise to put on the watch-list. International dealers or a universal fit might be on their way; at least I hope so, for a more competitive market.
We are friends of magnetostatic headphones. We are particularly pleased if these are visually attractive and of high quality, without being punished with a lot of weight. It’s almost unbelievable when a headphone can do all of this and also fits into your hand luggage, yet still manages to play loudly and clean from almost any source.
The smaller deviations from a perfect frequency response give the headphones their individual character and we are pleased that these do not end in too much bass and highs – as is often the case with the competition. Instead, the Oppo PM-3 appear surprisingly mature and feel most comfortable with multi-layered and complex compositions.
Lake People Reference Series
The Lake People Reference Series is easily recommendable for headphile purists. DAC and amp sound very clean and linear without any flaws. Especially the amp impressed me. Aiming at the same sonic qualities as the pricier Violectric products, the Reference Series deserves its name in my humble opinion.
InEar ProPhile 8
Humble in its appearance, InEar yet again impresses with an amazing universal fit and great build quality. Sonically, the PP8 showcase incredible clarity, high speed, great attack, uncolored midrange and a transparent tuning like I have not experienced before. They’re not of the wowing kind that makes you hear things you haven’t heard before. Instead, they refine them in a very mature way. The room for improvement has become very, very small. Classifying the ProPhile 8 as the best jack of all trades would be an understatement.
The InEar ProPhile 8 is not only the company’s flagship, as of right now, it’s also the flagship of all of Germany’s in-ear monitoring systems. The ProPhile 8 is so impressive that I suggest dropping the number 8 altogether. This is the ProPhile! A masterpiece of an IEM with professional monitoring capabilities and also audiophile musical tuning, nearly regardless of personal preference thanks to the sound tuning switches. The only two groups that I do not see to match the target market are extreme bass heads and users that successfully calibrated their ears to the ER4 S.
Granted, the asking price of nearly 1.300 € is not low, but when has a reference ever been cheap? In the case of the ProPhile, due to it potentially almost achieving CIEM qualities, I can absolutely recommend it. I am sure, this is a monitor we will continue to hear about a lot!
Benchmark DAC3 HGC
£2,349.00 is not cheap. I will not lie, I was anxious at first, especially in regards to the slightly less expensive competition. But Benchmark did not fail me. The converted sound is rich in dynamics, crystal clear and completely transparent. Looking at the complete package, the DAC3 (HGC) offers everything one would need. It would be a shame to only use it as a desktop DAC to amp headphones.
Despite its rather small appearance, the DAC3 deserves to be a hifi stereo’s main centerpiece. Dual analog, dual optical, dual coax and a USB input with native DSD support accompany dual headphone, dual unbalanced and 3-pin balanced outputs. The optional – but highly recommended – remote control top off the audiophile consumer’s dream. If the Benchmark DAC3 fits your budget, this is a really good recommendation.
beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
The DT 1990 PRO is an entirely different headphone to what I was expecting based on my experience with the DT990. In a way, we have a double-edged sword that shows a weakness for every strength. Based on the reference build quality, beautiful design and great comfort, I was hoping the DT1990 could secretly turn out to be the company’s flagship and single-handedly rise against the competition.
The bass performance is absolutely great for a dynamic driver. Beyerdynamic’s implementation of their Tesla design also shows technical prowess. The DT1990 PRO kick fast, woo with speed and attack and top it off with great separation and fine details. However, some recordings tend to sound thin and a little fatiguing due to the upper midrange. In that case, the user shall be advised to install the B pads.
I have no doubt that when used in a professional environment for recording or mastering, the outcome will sound great too. No faults of the source audio will go unnoticed with the 1990 while still allowing a relatively neutral tuning. This is a solid studio recommendation.
Etymotic ER4 XR
Wow, what a positive surprise by Etymotic. In the past, I have forced myself several times to like the ER4 but it simply never worked out. As a result, I ignored the Etymotic brand for a while comforting myself “it is simply not for you.”
Those days are gone now. I have finally become a fan! A little bit more bass is all it took for the ER4 family to make the important step to jump from neutral to natural sounding and follow the contemporary trend. For a universal daily-driver IEM, I would wish there were a solution to better avoid microphonics of the cable and to play louder from an average source. Nonetheless, build quality is superb and the sonic performance is great. This is an easy recommendation for any aspiring audiophile.
1More E1001 Triple-Driver
I have been very harsh on the E1001 in this review. I tend to forget that even though it’s a company’s flagship, they’re still budget priced IEM. When I see them on the table laying around, I just think what a gorgeous set of earphones they are. I pick them up and they feel great in the hands too. I just want them to be perfect! And probably they come too close, that’s why I am nitpicking a lot. All my criticism is arguably invalid considering the asked price.
Even all criticism considered, these earphones absolutely shine with Pop music. It’s a great tuning that is not neutral but engaging and awfully fun most of the time, yet not colored enough to annoy true audiophiles. Nevertheless, I do think that a small re-tuning (lowering bass quantity, straightening mids, retuning treble) could make these an even bigger success in the audiophile community. Not to mention what would happen if they replaced the plastic part with wood…
For me, the E1001 by 1More is the perfect set of backup earphones to always carry in your pocket. Definitely good enough to get you through the day, beautiful to look at too. Sometimes they made me think that pulling out my custom IEMs isn’t worth it, this will do just fine.
RME ADI-2 Pro
I highly recommend making use of the ADI-2 Pro’s functions. Now, I fully support hifi purists and sometimes all I want is to listen to vinyl with no DAC or whatsoever involved.
But ironing out an Oppo PM-3 via EQ, adding a minimum of crossfeed and choosing NOS DA filter results in a very different experience – one that I can fully recommend after using for several days straight. It is more than a gimmick to toy around with all the DSP effects – in my opinion, it really is added value!
That is not to say that without digital manipulation the output is weak. Absolutely not! The DAC and amp section are absolute beasts out of the box. The amp is dead silent, low on noise, extremely gracile when feeding sensitive in-ear monitors, but also powerful enough to heat up an HE-6 – unbalanced! Simply put, it is a stunner that declassed my Chord Hugo and continued to amaze me on a daily basis. The dual output with memory function is pure genius. I can always reserve one output for IEMs with low gain and have the other ready for full-size planar magnetics.
Of course, the ADI-2 Pro is a wet dream for comparing headphones and quickly checking how a little less bass could increase clarity. How could Headfonics not fall in love!?
You could go ahead and ignore all settings and still have a formidable audio chain with great dynamics, high resolution, and amazing matchability. But if you know that you will ignore the ADC and all the DSP functions altogether, you can find some systems that might punch even harder for the money. As my comparison in the Lake People Reference Series review shows, there is a slightly better performance to be found at the same price point, but this is nitpicking.
Even in a raw state, RME has delivered a formidable DAC/amp combo that is worth more than the asking price. But in the end, once you’ve gotten used to all the corrections DSP allows, it is nearly impossible to go back. This is a game changer, even for pure music listening!
I like to label myself as an audiophile but my interest in product design keeps me wanting more. If a headphone looks like a DIY project, I don’t care how good it sounds. Best example would be an HE-6 – with its heavy weight and lack of comfort, it’s not a complete package for me.
I am absolutely on line with KEF. The M400 might not be a hifi revelation, but they also never intended to be. I would consider the M400 as some of the best looking and most comfortable on-ear headphones yet.
They’re damn great companions for short travels or a quick music fix down on the street. All they need is your smartphone’s output and they will sound simply good. Not having any flaws is a great achievement.
The new 6V2 is the flagship of Jomo Audio’s Signature series, an audiophile category next to the Pro Audio series. As I already hinted, the Jomo6 V2 is not necessarily a v-shaped monitor. Bass elevation is modest and mostly impresses with sub-bass rather than forward slam. With mids being well separated and airy, I can absolutely deal with a hint of coloration. Same goes for the smooth treble that does preserve a little sparkle but overall plays it very safe. It’s a tuning that does not want to stress the listener but also tries to be neutral in the most enjoyable way.
The great weight of fundamentals and soft treble – though with good air – derivate from what a usual reference monitor would reproduce (presumably including the Jomo6R). But it all comes together nicely and allows the music to really pull you in. It might just be in the details, but it is the details that turn a monitor that could have been analytical into pure musicality without fatigue. Picking up on the kitchen reference earlier, I am happy to say the dish served on this plate is very delicious!
The Jomo6 V2 are great all-rounders that impress with a big soundstage and do well with any genre. The bass does extremely well with movies too and I recommend the Jomo6 V2 to users that are looking for a good all-rounder with multiple applications and sources.
The Bit Opus #1
In some details my review reads quite negatively. However, this should not affect the conclusion. The player has some minor weaknesses, which should not deceive the overall summary. I just want to avoid that people will purchase the Opus #1 and afterwards complain to me about smaller issues.
Once the music is neatly stored, either on folders or perfectly tagged, you have a relatively pretty player that delivers clean power to headphones. It does not distort anything and does not create any superficial wow experience – in a positive way. In addition, the battery finally lasts really long and does not need to be charged twice over the weekend.
CanJam Europe 2016
Germany’s city Essen hosted yet again Europe’s leading headphone show at the Congress Center for two days. On September 24th and 25th, visitors could look at, touch and try all kinds of amazing audio gear all around our beloved hobby that is headphones. CJE16 was the biggest event yet that Europe has seen in this regard and for me, it was the third visit already. It is just amazing to see how the show has blossomed!
Final Sonorous III
Though previously not too familiar with the brand, I have developed strong sympathy for Final over the past days. Headphones don’t have to be portable and if you need a closed pair that reminds you of a speaker setup, the Sonorous III might be right up your alley. I find them to be competitively priced just below the 400 $/€ price tag. Build quality and choice of materials is great, even though I strongly suggest to invest a few bucks into other ear pads. (I hear Shure SRH1540’s pads are compatible.)
Noontec Zoro II HD
Finally, I have some mixed feelings about the Noontec Zoro II HD. I like the tuning of the driver a lot and the overall sound performance is quite good. But I feel like the Zoro II absolutely want to stand next to Beats to look better. There is a gap in build quality but that is to be expected at a 100% price difference. Overall, Noontec reminds me of Instagram girls that only upload selfies with their less attractive female friends. The range of competitors is far bigger and if you raise your budget just a little bit, you will have a much stronger pool of competitors.
Ironically the Zoro II HD perform better with sophisticated tracks in which a more hifi-orientated presentation makes sense. But those people that value this kind of sound usually not opt for glossy plastic headphones. I am very interested to see what Noontec can do if they actually try to create a new design and if they use better materials. I am putting this brand on my watch list and so should you!
CanJam Europe 15
I’m proud to have shot the poster and media advertisement for CanJam Europe 2015.
One could argue whether it makes sense to use a HiFiMAN headphone outside, but either way you have the choice with so much power in a portable device.
Everywhere You Go
I was told Hugo is a phonetic pun on “you go”, emphasizing on the portability of the device. The Chord Hugo did accompany me everywhere I went.
Following my short paragraph on flaws, I have to stress that the Chord Hugo DAC and head-amp is an absolute killer device. But you already knew that because people have probably been telling you that for a while now. It’s the Swiss army knife among portable DACs and it has an incredible headphone output (well, three) as well. Build quality is superb, too. But most of all, the sound is very truthful to the source with an organic and realistic feel like I have rarely felt. The crossfeed network is implemented perfectly and overall Hugo is capable to put many home set-ups to shame while neatly fitting into most pockets. This is reference material!
Musical Fidelity MF-200
For one, I just really like how these look. It’s a humble and unique design with exquisite details and phenomenal finish. Headphones shouldn’t be about fashion, but it really doesn’t hurt if they look and feel great. Secondly, I appreciate that Musical Fidelity decided not to throw another warm and smooth headphone on the market. It’s hard to keep up already and fresh and energetic sound signatures have become rare. In my opinion, the MF200 excel with Classical and Jazz music in a silent environment. Resolution and separation absolutely justify the price tag. Though I do think the MF200’s lower treble can be a bit edgy and the bass lacks rumble with Pop and Rock.
There are too many smartphones to generalize, but the iPhone 6 proved to be a good source and match already. I am sure there will be many options for Android too; especially if you want to make use of the headset.
Dragon Wood Cutting
At rhines I became a perfectionist, just like the artist that carved a dragon into a single piece of wood.
rhines 2015 Brochure
To this day, I am still in love with IEMs. It is amazing how much thought and attention to detail you can put into a unique pair. Felix was maybe one of the best and it was an honor to support him building them.
Everyone should draw a conclusion for themselves. Objective evaluation is not easy and I have tried to highlight both positive and negative aspects equally. The final verdict might be different for every user.
Personally, I like the self-confident but modestly inconspicuous appearance of the M. An ergonomically slightly unwieldy brick, which does not stand out with flashy design but instead clings to a tasteful appearance.
After a few start-up difficulties and getting used to the handling, it won a lot of sympathy. If you just want to enjoy music, then the Calyx M is simply top notch! And does anything else even matter?
Unfortunately I never got a decent soft box for product photography. But in my learning phase I experimented a lot. Here I placed some CIEMs on a gold foil that I sprinkled some water on. I quite liked the outcome.
This is the CIEM that was supposed to boost rhines’ brand image. I came up with a custom design that I cut out of wood and with which I pushed our precision laser to its limit. The review did not meet our expectations, though.
To simplify mostly international purchases from audiophiles, I came up with the idea to promote five premium colors. These were created anew according to my requests. Syrah, named after the red grapes known for the wine (also known as Shiraz), is probably my favorite color.
Starting with the Stage 5, I wanted to go for a more luxurious look of expensive CIEMs. I think rhines was very much on top among best build quality and I felt it deserved to go the extra mile for product shots, too. I searched out this small waterfall to create a nice bokeh and dynamic lines in the background to give the shot a stronger overall feel.
Lifestyle of the Rich
Our customers were mostly top earners looking for premium brands. I tried my best to represent that branch although I’m actually a very humble person.
I am not sure why, but back then I thought people might want to have a rhines wallpaper. I took this shot and uploaded it in all kinds of resolutions, including desktop, iPad and iPhone. I don’t think anybody ever downloaded it. I didn’t even use it myself…
rhines feels very much at home in Cologne, Germany. One customer requested for the city’s emblem to grace his monitors. I took it out to the city’s most famous place. I hope the customer appreciated it.
Musicians really have different expectations of a product than audiophiles. Many pro-musicians came up with some really ridiculous designs. This is one of the positive surprises that turned out much better than expected.
Gold Tea Set
This is one of the very first photos I shot of a customer’s CIEM. I am not a big fan of gold, but I thought it matched my original Japanese tea set nicely.
Sennheiser IE 800
I like the Sennheiser IE 800. I like *easy* earphones that you just put into your ears without a lot of fiddling around to quickly enjoy music. With a high-quality appearance and a beautiful carrying case, I’m all in! You hardly notice the earphones when worn and they play incredibly airy, not even challenged with detailed reproduction of the recorded sound. Elsewhere I wrote that music resembles toys, as the instruments shrink in your head. And yet the miniature cabinet produces an incredibly powerful bass that might distract but not overshadows the rest of the spectrum. At low volume, the deficiencies I encountered are negligible (although I also suspect personal misfortune regarding channel imbalance).
Ultimately, I can also understand the price for 699 €, although I think there is better value to be had.
InEar StageDiver 2 & 3
The clean and easy performance from upper bass all the way to the high frequencies with great extension deliver the best sonic performances with Classical, Acoustic, Vocal and instrumental music I have heard recently below the high-end customs mark. As a downside, you will have to use an EQ to get some rumble but even then the driver proves to be capable. You do get some kickbass and the bass is fast enough to punch but it definitely takes a backseat.
Separation and soundstage are simply incredible and the large acrylic shell does feature top-of-the line high-end custom crossover technology. I was wary at first, but there is no denying this is an improvement over regular small universals.
Add amazing build quality and comfort and you have a new reference for on-stage monitoring. The price is very worth it, even from a hifi enthusiast’s perspective.
The StageDiver 3 is a fun earphone. A very good one at that. No, actually, per design it is a precise tool for on-stage musicians that need the bass to come out clearly. The tonality is warm, but also smooth and easy to get into. This is a high level custom in a universal housing that knows how to impress by technicality.
It does not have the best timbre, but within this price range it features incredible soundstage and resolution.