Head-Fi Meet Impressions 1/28/17

Huge thanks to Keith and all those who helped set up ChiUniFi! It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a meet in Illinois and I’m glad to see it’s still as vibrant as it’s been in the past. I’ve written a few stream of conscious impressions but of course, take them with a grain of salt because the venue was moderately loud. I wasn’t able to examine details particularly well but I was able to get the general tone of the gear I’d tried.

Sony Z1R

I didn’t really have any expectations for the Z1R; I’ve managed to avoid reading impressions from others because I was legitimately considering buying one at one point. I’ve owned a Z7 in the past and was hoping it didn’t just sound like a more refined version of it. Thankfully, it seems to be a completely different headphone. The Z7 had a huge dip at 1.5k and a nasty mid-treble peak. The Z1R, however, has a bit of a downward slope past 1k and a tiny bump somewhere around 9-10k. It’s a relaxing sound that I actually could see myself loving in the long run. But they do lack air in the uppermost regions. Its bass is strange; it doesn’t hit like a traditional dynamic like a TH-X00, but it wasn’t enveloping like the Elear. The closest analogy I can come up with is that the Z1R’s bass sounded like listening to speakers in a room but the bass is coming from through the wall instead of from the speakers; it’s not quite diffuse but it’s not quite visceral. Jason from the Source AV brought the Z1R with the WM1Z and HAP-Z1ES and while the setup was gorgeous, it wasn’t particularly my cup of tea together. I feel like they actually held the Z1R back; it accentuated the treble peak and was overall too warm and unrefined, which I only noticed after trying it out of different setups.

Focal Utopia

After being disappointed by the Elear, I didn’t have incredibly high hopes for the Utopia, but I’m glad I tried them; they may have been my favorite headphone of the meet. I first tried it out of the HAP-Z1ES/WM1Z combo and didn’t really care for it. It sounded relatively “safe,” but not mind-blowing. Bass extension was decent, midrange sounded strangely artificial, not unlike the HD600, and treble sounded kind of plasticky. But out of the Eddie Current Zana Deux, they came alive. The midrange cleared up significantly, but it still sounded mildly artificial. Treble smoothed out enough that the treble timbre I heard with the Sony combo was likely the cause of my treble issues.

ZMF Eikon

I’ll be reviewing the Eikon and Atticus in the coming weeks but for the sake of completion I’ll include impressions for both. I demoed the Eikon and Atticus a couple months ago at Zach’s house and noted that both the Eikon and Atticus were on the warm side. I ran them both out of a Decware CSP3. But the warmness I heard in the Eikon was mostly due to the amp; out of my Krell KSA5 Klone, they brightened up significantly. Their bass is impactful but not overbearing in the slightest. I heard a bit more sub bass than midbass, which prevents the lower midrange from being affected by the bass tilt like many other dynamic headphones. The midrange is fairly even but I think I heard a little bit of an upper midrange peak. The mid treble has a moderate spike but it didn’t come across as fatiguing. It’s a very solid headphone and I dare say in the current market, its MSRP actually makes sense.

ZMF Atticus

The Atticus is a warm headphone. It has boosted bass, a bit of an upper-mid dip, and downward sloping treble aside from a peak in a similar area as the Eikon. The combination of the decline with the peak normally would fatigue me but the Atticus’ peak isn’t quite severe enough to bug me. It’s a fun, warm headphone and I’m glad that sound signature, which isn’t very common in the higher end, is being represented in the Atticus. Side by side with the Elear, I couldn’t really find anything tonally the Elear does better than the Atticus. The Elear is noticeably airier though.

The Eikon changed character pretty readily with different amps but I heard more drastic changes with the Atticus; with a solid state amp, the Atticus was pleasantly warm and the treble rise was a smidge under my own threshold with my Klone, but out of the CSP3 it was a bit too much of a good thing. The bass was almost overpowering and female vocals took on a strange tone.

Stax 4070

I’ve read very few references to these online and I think it’s a shame because I absolutely loved these. The 4070 is a closed electrostat. Its bass still has a mildly ethereal sound, but compared to the owner’s 009, it sounded significantly more coherent all around. I’ve never loved the 009 because its tone has always leaned towards slightly plasticky to me, but the 4070’s slight warm tilt just sounded right to me. They weren’t technically amazing from what I heard of it, but it just worked for me. Its midrange is delightfully warm and its treble is a tiny bit pushed back and lacks a bit of air, but as far as closed headphones go, the 4070 may be my favorite. I may even like it more than the 007’s I previously owned, but I’d need a much longer session with them to be sure.

Hifiman HE1000 V1 vs V2

I’ve been iffy on the HE1000 since first hearing it late 2015. Its softness always detracted me because it distracted me with how noticeable it was. Since then, I’ve warmed up to it significantly because of that softness. It’s a unique trait that, once I get over it, makes for a relaxing listening experience. The V2, though, gets rid of that softness which makes its mid-treble peak more obvious. I wasn’t the biggest fan of it but those who liked the HE1000 V1 other than the softness may enjoy the V2 more. But I’ll be patiently waiting for V1 prices to drop further and possibly nab one for myself

Eddie Current Zana Deux

This particular one was made right before the ZDS production started so it has some of the ZDS upgrades but isn’t a “legit” ZDS. Paired with a Gumby, it doesn’t sound as warm as most other OTL’s I’ve heard but still was a bit warmer than neutral. It had pretty good separation but its bass was a bit soft.

Mr. Speakers Ether Flow

The first thing I noticed was that its tonality was off. I believe there was a peak in the upper midrange that made them sound a bit unnatural. They had a good amount of bass, but it sounded slightly muddy. I noticed a bit of a disjoint in the transition between upper mids and low treble. Mid-treble was fatiguing for me, but I seem to be especially sensitive to mid-treble peaks, as shown from my Elear review. I also was hoping for a bit more air from them. The presentation was kind of strange; I didn’t really hear the “ethereal” feeling many say they hear, but  Overall, despite my issues with them they were pretty listenable, but I’m not sure I’d want a pair of my own.

AKG K872

I love the K872’s pads. They isolated very well. Their sound could use a bit of work but as far as closed headphones go, it’s one of the better ones. The bass was noticeably distorted and unclean and I heard some treble ringing. The midrange had an odd tonality, especially in the upper midrange. It didn’t quite sound plasticky like the K701, but it didn’t seem to flow with the rest of the sound.

Campfire Audio Andromeda

I’m a big fan of these. Their bass is a little bit too prominent for my liking and there’s a little bit too much mid treble, but I loved their midrange. It’s just a really fun IEM and I’m trying really, really hard to restrain myself from buying one. The green anodization is gorgeous in person.

Noble Audio Katana

I was expecting to like these but I really didn’t. I didn’t like the upper midrange coloration in my Noble 4 and the Katana seemed to turn that up more. Bass is less prominent than the Andromeda but it strangely sounded less clean. Treble was at a nice level; less than the Andromeda and extended well but it had an artificial tone to it.

Noble Audio Kaiser Encore

Basically took everything I didn’t like about the Katana and turned it up. Still had less bass than the Andromeda but a couple dB more than the Katana. Sounded disjointed overall. I can definitely see a fanbase for this kind of sound but I’m unfortunately in that base. Shame because I love the build in both Nobles.

Cavalli Audio Liquid Tungsten

This was paired with a Metrum DAC which I believe is supposed to be on the warm side but this thing was way, way too warm for me. It was on the ZMF table so I tried it with an Eikon and an Atticus. It was overwhelmingly warm with the Atticus. With the Eikon, it was still a bit too warm for my liking and smeared detail versus other amps, which I didn’t want to hear in (what I think) is supposed to be a very expensive amplifier.

Audeze LCD-X

I make it a point to try every LCD-X I can get my hands in because the variance between samples is shocking to me; I’ve heard some that sound like HD600s and some that sound like X2’s. The one at the meet had relatively harsh treble and some hollowness in the midrange. The bass was decent though.

JPS Labs Abyss

There was one at the meet and I used it a few times but I don’t want to say anything definitive about it because I didn’t get a proper fit. I didn’t hear any sub bass; I took a song I knew had a solid sub bass line and there was silence. The warnings about weird fit seem to be legitimate.

Mr. Speakers Ether C

I’m so sorry to the two owners of these but I’m just not a fan. I couldn’t get past the strange tonality so I don’t think I used either pair for more than about a minute each. I was hoping for more bass (it seems to be less than “flat” would be) and their treble far too etched and glary. Those looking for a bright closed headphone without the heavy bass most people typically assume comes with buying a closed headphone may be interested in this though, as I can’t really think of any other alternatives.

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