Philadelphia Head-Fi Meet Impressions 1/29/17

A big thanks to Lee for organizing this event in his photography studio.  It was an excellent meet, run by an incredibly generous and helpful host.  Also thanks to xeph for the excellent photos of the meet, I was so busy going around trying stuff that I basically forgot to take pictures.  Please do note that these impressions are under meet conditions and so should be taken with that caveat and could change based on more extended time and a quieter listening environment.

Pictures

Hifiman Edition 6

To my complete surprise, a Hifiman rep attended the meet along with a prototype of Hifiman’s new Edition 6 headphone.  Many may have seen the uproar on Head-Fi when the price was first announced. While I don’t agree with the current pricing trend in the high end headphone market, I’m always curious to see what these manufacturers believe to be worth it for the prices they are setting.  The Edition 6 was on display with Hifiman’s new EF1000 amplifier designed specifically to deliver enough power into the Edition 6 which has a rated senstiivity of 84dB/mW currently (I’m told this is not the final version and so those figures may change).  I came away really disappointed with the Edition 6.  I felt that the headphone overall lacked clarity and definition, and had some pretty obvious tonality issues.  Mid-bass seemed entirely exaggerated and sloppy.  Mids sounded recessed and lacked clarity or impact I normally expect from vocals and the treble seemed to be exaggerated with what seemed like a rather broad and tall spike in the mid treble.  The clarity issues that the headphone exhibited also made all the music sound unnaturally distant.  Overall small impacts like the quiet details of strings and vocals lacked definition and were extremely hard to pick out, making the headphone sound compressed and muddled.  I hope that swift progress is made to make this a headphone worthy of its price (as much as one can make a headphone worth $6000), but I feel that this prototype didn’t bode well for the future of the headphone.

Sony MDR-Z1R

Another headphone that was recently released and that I was very anxious to try was the Sony MDR-Z1R.  Considered to be sort of a spiritual successor to the famous R10, I was especially lucky at this meet, because the R10 was available to listen to at this meet as well!  The Z1R seemed to have a sort of ‘W-shaped’ tonality that sounded like quite exaggerated bass, exaggerated upper mids, and exaggerated mid-treble.  It sounded like there were humps or peaks in those regions which made other regions sound a bit recessed.  The Z1R had extremely good clarity, and in a lot of ways its clarity and some other aspects of its character reminded me a lot of electrostatic headphones.  Overall, despite this amazing clarity, the Z1R managed to have no texture at all, presenting sounds without any feeling until you get to the bass.  The bass sounded exaggerated to the point where it seemed the driver really had to travel enough to give a sense of impact, but the impact was not well textured, not allowing you to feel the sort of individual ripples of a sustained bass note.  Bass also had an interested presentation, it seemed like a subwoofer was placed a distance in front of you in a room.  The sense of distance came from the way the headphone managed to create a large sense of stage, which I think the lack of texture is partly responsible for.

Sony MDR-R10

The R10 is a legend among headphone enthusiasts, using one of the first biocellulose based drivers created by Sony for a headphone.  The R10 has a very upper mid and treble forward signature, and is balanced out by a healthy amount of midbass, though I felt that overall the headphone lacked extension in the bass.  The feature of the R10 that impressed me the most was the width and depth of staging and the ability to convey texture of vocals and instruments even with this larger presentation.  Of course the headphone is amazing just to behold, with is sculpted wooden cups and headband design that was obviously an inspiration for ZMF’s new Eikon and Atticus headphones cups and headband design.  While the overall balance of the R10 is something that I think probably would not survive today’s market, its other technicalities made it surprisingly enjoyable to listen to.

Hifiman Edition X v2

The Edition X v2 is the updated version of the headphone that shares a similar cup and driver design to the HE-1000, but without the nano-thickness diaphragm of the HE-1000.  I felt the HE-X had good tonality, with good extension in both directions and no major dips or peaks in the frequency response and in that respect I found it quite enjoyable.  While I thought the tonality was very good on the HE-X, staging seemed somewhat closed in and I felt that the headphone lacked the dynamics to really present the impacts of quieter sounds in music very clearly.  Sound seemed to attack as a sort of big wall, as opposed to more precise individual impacts from the vocalist and instruments in the song.

Modhouse Audio Argon

While at the meet, I had the pleasure of meeting Tulon of Modhouse Audio and got to try his T50RP mk2 mod, the Argon.  I thought the Argon had quite a pleasant tonality, reminding me a lot of the modern LCD2 with pretty flat and good extension from about 2k in the mids to the bass, a drop in the lower treble with some peaks near the presence region, and a larger mid-treble peak.  I think that Tulon did a good job of tuning the headphone to accomplish this, but is still held back by the capabilities of the driver, especially the obvious clarity and distortion issues present in the lower midrange that can make vocals sound unnaturally thick and bloated.  These are the last for sale now as I understand Tulon is not adapting this mod to the mk3 at this time and I think is certainly worth considering for the reasonable price he is selling them for.

AKG K1000

Another milestone in headphone history is the AKG K1000, not so much a headphone as an ear-speaker because there is no cup, only driver suspended at the sides of your head and in front of your ears.  This headphones continues to surprise me every time I hear it with its great staging and extremely convincing front center imaging.  I find the midbass and upper mids a bit exaggerated on this headphone and the lower treble is a bit less present, but overall I find the headphone has great extension in both directions.  One thing that really surprises me is how well it can actually punch with bass notes with really textured bass, and overall texture and timbre of instruments seems present and quite good to me.  These headphones are hard to drive but my 27H made handy work of them and I feel really allowed them to shine.  A great surprise to see these here, if there were one more headphone I could add to my current collection, I think these might be it.

Eddie Current Balancing Act

I heard this amp and used it to compare the Z1R and the Eikon out of the balanced input.  One thing that I immediately noticed was that unlike a lot of tube amps I’ve tried the EIkon on, this one did not react with the impedance swing of the headphone and create an overbearing and woolly bass.  I felt that the staging of this amp when paired with the Schiit Yggdrasil was fantastic, provided great dimensionality to the staging both in width and depth.  I found the treble had a bit of glare and hardness to it, but that may have been due to less than ideal warm up time or the tubes that were used which I neglected to ask about.  Tone and timbre of this amp is extremely good, and the staging is kept in proportion but sort of blown up to be much bigger which is a very neat effect of the amp which I’m sure was helped along by the Yggdrasil as well.

Inspire IHA-1

This is a little amp designed by Dennis Had of Cary Audio fame and was attached to a DIY DAC that was brought by another attendee as well as a VPI classic turntable that you could switch between using the input knob on the amp.  This amp was an extremely pleasant surprise to me.  I felt that this amp had extremely good tone, texture and low level detail retrieval in testing it with my Eikon.  I also heard no hint of noise floor from the amp and was surprised that the amp, like the Balancing Act, did not react with the Eikon to create that woolly and exaggerated bass that can sometimes be a result of higher output impedances.  While I felt that this amp was a bit soft in its bass impact, I felt similarly to the Balancing Act that it created a very large, out of your head kind of staging effect that was very engaging, and still managed excellent texture of vocals and instruments in the mids and treble.