The most epic meet of the year for Filipino head-fi'ers, with an epic array of high-end flagship headphones from Ken's collection! Around 30+ attendees for this one.
I'm the dude with the DT150 perched on my head, in a Testament shirt.
On to my impressions:
For source material, I had an ipod nano 3G on me playing select ALAC-encoded tracks from Obscura, Death, Spawn of Possession, Down, Al Di Meola, Immortal and Shrinebuilder. For the rigs with CD players, I popped in discs of Obscura - Cosmogenesis, Death - Spiritual Healing and Behemoth - Zos Kia Cultus, all of which I consider to be well-recorded and not casualties of the loudness war.
I just had to try the Stax Omega MK II first. Already having been impressed with the Stax Lambdas in a previous meet, suffice to say my expectations were high for this one. The rig was a Sony XA7ES CD player (with a very cool silver puck in the tray I might add) connected to a Stello DA100 DAC, then driven by a Stax vacuum tube amplifier unit. I've stated in the past that electrostatics seem to be tailor made for technical death metal - or any multi-layered music with a lot of fast and complicated passages. Naturally, I went with the Obscura - Cosmogenesis CD.
Man oh man, it did not disappoint! It had the trademark electrostat attack, speed and detail resolution pushed to stratospheric heights. When Thesseling has that sliding bass part on "The Anticosmic Overload", I could have sworn I heard residual waves from the string vibrating against the fretboard. Every microdetail was heard, sick stuff. After a few more minutes of changing tracks and picking out nuances, it made the Lambas look somewhat one-dimensional in comparison. The Omega now had the complete package - the incredibly textured midrange now had body and authority, bass impact was more prevalent and the upper mids and treble now had this added salacious aura that was nothing short of addicting. This Stax rig would definitely fit the bill of a be-all end-all retirement rig due to the prohibitive price tag.
The other electrostatic I tried was the Koss ESP 950. I didn't feel it was as good as the Stax ones, mainly due to fact that it sounded thin and and boxed-in, sort of congested, compared to the Lambda and Omega.
Time now for the flagship battle royale. I went with Beyerdynamic Tesla T1 first, and it was absolutely stunning actually holding it, instantly exuding class and luxury, beautifully crafted by folks at Beyer. It was driven out of a Mosfet Class A DIY amp which had more than enough power to drive this 600 ohm beast, at about 11:00-11:30 on the volume knob I was already at a comfortable listening level. It instantly impressed with its astoundingly lucid tonality, with no jarring peaks or valleys heard. I tried to look for a weakness in its presentation, but didn't fine one. Soundstage was pleasantly wide and three-dimensional, bass texture and quantity just about perfect, midrange so real it's almost tangible, and best of all a shimmering top end that never got harsh or strident even with some of my poorly recorded black metal material.
With the T1 making such a nigh-unbeatable impression on me, the other flagships now had a tough act to follow. I moved on to the Sennheiser HD800 (stock cables) next, driven by the same DIY amp. It made a solid show for itself with unbelievable space and headstage (some might find this artificial) which made live recordings that much more enjoyable. However I noticed that it had this certain proclivity towards being a tad shouty and peaky particuarly during guitar solos. On the whole though it could not shake off the T1's hold on my soul, sounding a bit too sterile and linear for my tastes, somewhat akin to one of the things I didn't like about the AKG K701. In fact the HD800 strikes me as a K701's next evolutionary step for those who love their sig, as it manages to fix the plasticky mids problem that I had with them and upping the ante in all other areas.
Edroc's HD800 with balanced cables run out of the RSA Protector did better, with more lushness top to bottom and reducing the aforementioned highs issue. Another great HD800 match was the Naim CD player + NAHA amp, which added a pleasant thickness to the proceedings. The best for the HD800 would be saved for last, as Alex's Cardas-cabled HD800 via the Apex Peak setup ultimately stood out as THE perfect match, they now sounded just right to me and quite close to the T1 in terms of sheer overall performance and enjoyment factor.
Grado's PS1000 now steps into the ring. I wasn't fond at all of the GS1000 before, so I was hoping for this one to break my stigma against the jumbo Grados. Right off the bat I noticed good similarities with the HF2, there is now an added creaminess to it and whilst adding more mids presence. Alas, I waited for it to have the same RS1 magic but it never came - suffice to say this fell short of my expectations.
Of course, the Ultrasone Edition 8 would not be left out of my to-try list. It's right up there with the Beyer T1 in terms of snazzy good looks, shiny surfaces all around and seemingly tough construction. Putting them on my head they made their presence felt with an admittedly strong clamp, but as they were circumaural it wasn't uncomfortable at all. SQ-wise it sounded great out of the D4 Mamba (Hiflight topkit), with superb bass control and rumble. Not much else to fault about it, but I honestly felt they should only be priced $400-500 for what they deliver, not the obnoxiously exorbitant price that Ultrasone is asking for them.
Despite the late arrival the elusive AKG K1000 would not be denied. Rightly so, everyone was flocking to try these oddities. When I finally got my chance, and with a little bit of fiddling of the swiveling earspeakers to get the position right, I was treated to an unreal experience that truly defines "open". Their sense of intense realism is a whole different ballgame altogether, and approached Stax-like levels of speed to top it all off.
Claude's JVC Victor HP-DX700 made an appearance, and while I only had a short time with them out of the D4 Mamba I liked their sub-bass which goes quite low, but had a little too much quantity for me. Soundstage was another strong suit, they gave the illusion of being more open than they had a right to be. Mids and highs however seemed pushed back and distant in the mix.
The Headstage Arrow 12HE portable amp was also a pleasant revelation, exhibiting beautiful transparency, and a wide array of features - crossfeed/gain/impedance/bass boost selectors, two input jacks and a brilliant way of turning on and off! It doesn't have a switch, rather it will power on automatically if it detects a signal. Paired with my Denon D1100 (bass boost 0, gain 1, crossfeed 1, impedance 1) it was a delight, as they brought out all the enjoyable aspects of the D1100 with an subtle widening effect. I daresay the 12HE even a better match with them compared with the D4 Mamba.
After reading that the D4 Mamba with the Hiflight topkit was essentially a RSA Mustang P-51 clone, I also A-B'ed my Hiflight-upgraded D4 Mamba with the Mustang, using the Beyerdynamic DT150 on velour pads. They indeed shared the same mids prowess, and I was hard pressed to find any significant differences elsewhere. So, the Mamba is the better value for me as it also has USB DAC functionality, and I can overlook the Mustang's advantages over it. (3 year warranty, longer battery life, compact size).
Also on the A-B examination table were the Creative Aurvana Live! and the Denon D1100. Both do certain things in a different way, ultimately it's a matter of preference with no one headphone coming out way ahead of the other. One thing they had in common excellent retrieval of detail and instrument placement. The CAL! - softer and sightly fuzzier bass, mids pushed back, wider stage. The D1100 - punchier slamming bass, forward mids, closer stage. As a point of comparison I revisited the Denon D2000 too, but found it too V-shaped to my liking which is not what I want when going up the Denon chain.
Last but not the least were the full-size headphone doppelganger Sennheiser MX980 and Yuin PK1 earbuds. They were quite close overall, both breaking the notion that earbuds are not deserving of a spot in an audiophile's niche. I preferred the PK1, it just had more weight and bass heft which was entrancing. The MX980 did have the edge in sparking highs, the best top end extension bar none for an earbud.
In conclusion the Beyerdynamic Tesla T1 was my favorite of this meet, it was the one headphone I spent the most time with and kept coming back to. My one regret was not trying it out with Schiit Asgard to see if they could drive them well. Too little time, so much gear! I also wasn't able to try the Ortofon e-Q7, Stax 3030 and the iBasso D12 Anaconda amongst others.
Thanks for posting this here Azathoth. Awesome pics. Biggest ever so far. :)
Wow looks like an awesome meet with a great selection of gear.
Awesome, and to think this was the first time I listened to an RS1 (vintage) after being a headphone nut for more than a year.
The Omega was simply bliss, but I moved on to the Koss Stats because I felt it was more realistically acquirable financially, LOL. The drop in performance compared to the Stax seemed acceptable to me, and I might try going electrostatic next year.
I didn't listen to the T1 out of the MOSFET amp, which is probably why I preferred the HD800. I tried both out of my MiniMAX, and it could not drive the T1 sufficiently.
oh yeah! rock on pinoys! so sad i didn't make it, next time guys...
congrats to all attendees and to sir Ken! :)
I'm really frustrated with my schedule, I really should have been there! :)
Congrats to all. Pinoy Rocks...
Man I really enjoyed this meet. Like you Chris the T1 left me with such a huge dilemma since I am looking to buy one flagship model in the next few weeks and I guess it comes down to the T1, HE6, LCD-2 or the HD800. I loved the W5000 looks, the feel and presentation but ultimately it's lack of bass just couldn't cut it for me, but wow, one of the most beautifully crafted visual stunning headphones I have seen in a long time. The PS1000 for me, if around 1k$ would have been maybe a winner, but Grado for me is fast moving out of my radar for some reason being surpassed by Beyer and Stax.
The Stax Omega MK2 system was amazing. From the 3030 system I own I could feel the step up in quality of the cans. Much as I love square, round it just a more natural fit. The 3030 gives me plenty of attack, detail, transparency and laser guided imaging but the MK2 adds beef, a darker soul and reaches much deeper in the lower end. I really did not want to listen to them too much since I just acquired the 3030. When I got home I put in a good few hours until sleep on my 3030 to basically 'wash my mouth out with soap'.
Got my hands also on a Sony Walkman X for the first time (16gb courtesy of Adam). now whilst I love my Cowon s9 I feel the Sony x is the next step with a much superior capacitive screen and OLED display and boy these little fella's product a powerful sq - warm, organic and just right for my tastes. Looking forward to hearing them again in late-January. I had half an eye on the Cowon x7 due to the idea of 160gb of BBE fun, but these have made me think.
LCD-2 - what can I say , still my favorite from the original demo some months ago until now. Still the best looking can on display and still the best for bass extension and reach - loved them with my dance, R&B and yes even Mediaeval Baebes which is supposed to be 7 women singing in unison and nothing more but dang didn't these babies find subterranean bass there also!
The final test for me was a personal treat which, apologies for this, brought Racio in much against his mind but totally with his heart - iRiver h120 with line in to the Apex Peak monster with some nice Flac on the HD800's. That was something else! Effortless, majestic sound stage, lot of nice black space in behind the vocals - total overkill but just confirmed my love for the old rivers that little bit more. Sorry Racio, but at least I know you are with me on this one.
Yup, good point there. Although my post above about the ESP 950 may have been too harsh, they were still very much capable 'stats with clarity and detail in a different level compared to most other headphones. I guess the Lambda and Omega set the bar unrealistically high for me.
Tons of thanks to master Ken for organizing this meet-up. ;)