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!
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!