New Arrival: Personal Audio – Headphones, Amps and Portable Audio Players
With the renewed interest in headphones and In Ear Monitors, this category has grown dramatically for the last few years. We listened to most of the highly regarded options, and as always, chose what we believe to be the best. To qualify, the products have to offer the best sound, be comfortable, reliable and easy to drive. If damaged, parts have to be easily available and easy to repair. Price has to be fair in comparison to the competition and to its performance. We can’t obviously carry everything that we like, but we are proud of the effort we put into curating our selection. Following are some of the lines and headphones we now have on display.
Audeze made a name for themselves when they introduced their planar magnetic headphone. It took off like the proverbial bat out of hell. Unlike most headphones back then which used dynamic drivers, Audeze’s headphone used a thin film which responds much faster to the signal. Like Magnepan speakers. The sound is incredibly spacious, detailed yet smooth and dynamic. I remember the first time I heard the LCD 2. It blew me away! The sound reminded me of all the things I love about electrostatic and planar magnetic speakers. Once you have experienced Audeze’s headphones, you will have a hard time going back to “traditional” offerings.
We have chosen the best in the range, from the Mobius Headphone (perfect for Gaming, Bluetooth, 3D and music production) to the LCD series for the serious music lover. The LCD4z may be the best headphone in the world today!
Like Audeze, HiFi Man headphones are planar magnetic. Offering a different sound, certain models are very good value. The Sundara is $499 and sounds exceptional. Founder and Chief Designer Dr. Fang Bian is determined to unseat Audeze and continually refines his products. We have been fans since we heard the 400i. I had the good fortune to hear the Shangri-La jr ($4,000 USD) at the recent Munich High End Show. It will most certainly give Audeze a run for the money.
“You should listen to these”, Richard Kohlruss said to me, and handed a pair of very attractive headphones to me. I didn’t recognize the brand, but based on the strikingly handsome pair, I suspected they would be very good, and very expensive. I connected them to the Woo Audio Firefly WA7 amplifier and fired up Tidal.
WOW! Very good indeed. Fantastic clarity, neutral, smooth, great bass extension…maybe not the last word in airiness, but that was to be expected since it was a closed-cup design. And soooo comfortable! I could wear these for hours. Ok, time for a confession. I am not the biggest fan of headphones because I don’t like the feeling of something heavy on my head. Many of the top headphones make me feel claustrophobic. Some are so heavy they make my neck hurt. A few feel like clamps! The Meze NEVER felt like this. At all.
“How much are these? They are fantastic!”. Richard grinned and said “$399”. I IMMEDIATELY ordered the line, in every finish. The Meze 99 Classics are available in real Walnut Cup with Gold or Silver Trim. The 99 Neo comes in Black Cup/Silver Trim for $269!
Turns out Meze has been around since 2011. Located in Baia Mare, Romania, the company combines superb sound, comfort, luxurious materials and stunning design. Even their website is fantastic!
Speaking of website, go to www.mezeaudio.com, and you will see 29 International Awards the company has received in their short history. If I were a reviewer, I would add my vote. Call me SOLD!
Check Meze headphones out if you want comfort, great sound, luxurious build AND fantastic price!
iFi PRO iCAN – Professional Studio-Quality Headphone Amplifier
This headphone amplifier is outstanding. Designed and built by audiophiles, the iFi Pro iCAN ticks almost every box. Drive any headphone, including the notorious AKG K-1000? No problem. Low noise? Check. Tubes? Check. Transistor? Check! Balanced input? Check. Affordable? $2,499!
It’s no secret that we are big fans of iFi. The company makes fantastic products at really great prices. Their stuff works! The PRO-iCAN is so good that professional audio engineers/record producers use it. If you love headphone listening, you MUST hear this one.
Astell & Kern – The Best Portable Music Players in the World
I used to think that Astell & Kern were the names of the founders. Turns out that Astell means “Stars” in Latin, and Kern means “Center” in German. Or Center of Music (though I don’t know how they got to that conclusion…)
One look and you know that A&K makes serious products. The players are hefty. Sculpted. Almost feels like the enclosures are cut from a solid block of metal. But these are not just pretty. Inside the sturdy body are the best DACs, capable of decoding up to 32bit/768kHz high-resolution audio. Designed like the best high end audio components, Astell & Kern products use balanced circuitry, high internal storage with additional memory card slots for even more music, wifi networking so you can stream the player to your system, output to drive most headphones, and fast charging.
While there will always be cheaper alternatives, Astell & Kern only wants to offer the best. And if you will only be satisfied with the best, the choice is clear.