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.