I was invited for a visit to Denon's U.S. offices last week to meet with Denon's Petro Shimonishi (Senior Global Product Manager - Headphones) and Danielle Kohler (Headphone Product Manager-The Americas) for an introduction to Denon's new headphones--a lot of new headphones, with 11 new models in four new lines. The four new lines are named Music Maniac, Urban Raver, Globe Cruiser, and Exercise Freak.
Of most interest to Head-Fi'ers will no doubt be the Music Maniac over-ear models, as they will replace the very well-regarded and very Head-Fi-popular Denon AH-D2000, AH-D5000 and AH-D7000 models. Unfortunately, none of the Music Maniac prototypes on hand at the time were close to being voiced to production spec. In fact, only the Urban Raver models on hand were close to production voicing, so those will be the only models I'll offer sound-related comments about for now.
Here's an overview of what I was shown by Petro and Danielle:
Denon Music Maniac Line
It was just before April Fool's Day (April 1) that news of new Denon headphones leaked. Because of the timing--and because the headphones in the pictures were so unlike any of Denon's headphones past or present--it was thought by some that these photos were a hoax. Something like this happened several years ago, when a photo of a radical-looking prototype that would become the Sennheiser HD 800 was leaked, and almost everyone believed it a hoax up until its actual launch about a year later. As with the HD 800, the leaked pictures of the new Denon headphones were not a ruse, but there was some misunderstanding of the prototypes shown.
The Music Maniac line consists of three models, one in-ear, and two over-ear headphones. The in-ear model is the Denon AH-C400 (below).
The over-ear models are the Denon AH-D600, shown here...
...and the new flagship Denon AH-D7100 Artisan, shown below:
All of the Music Maniac models, according to Denon, are "tuned to a flat EQ for acoustic transparency." (Again, I haven't had a chance to hear voiced versions yet, so I can't comment on how close I think they came to that description.)
The in-ear AH-C400 is a dual balanced armature design (two drivers per ear). The chassis is a solid-feeling zinc die-cast housing, with what I consider an attractive design that is both industrial and space age in appearance. The AH-C400 comes in black with silver accents. It has a nominal impedance of 43 ohms. The cable has an inline three-button remote/mic, for use with the Apple iPhone/iPad/iPod and other smartphones. The AH-C400 also comes with three types of ear tips, including silicone; "double-solid silicone" which is a denser, more solid silicone ear tip; and Comply foam ear tips. The AH-C400 has a suggested retail price of $349.
Like the current Denon flagship AH-D7000, both the over-ear AH-D600 and Artisan AH-D7100 use what Denon calls 50mm "free edge" drivers, which means the driver edges are not affixed directly to the baffles (which is how most headphone drivers are configured). Like most loudspeaker drivers, Denon's free edge drivers have a flexible surround (which is said to result in smoother driver movement and lower distortion). The AH-D600 and AH-D7100 Artisan have what Denon describes as nano fiber diaphragms, which is comprised of even smaller fibers than the AH-D7000's microfiber diaphragms. I believe the new driver material further improves rigidity, while maintaining very low mass.
In terms of comfort, my preliminary impressions suggest to me that the AH-D7100 Artisan will be at least as comfortable--and perhaps even more comfortable--than the very cozy AH-D7000. While I didn't wear the AH-D600 as much, it seemed comparable in comfort, with a very similar design (although the ear pads on the AH-D7100 Artisan seemed to me to be made of a more supple protein leather than the ones on the AH-D600). I'm not sure if it's the new pentagonal ear pads or the ball-and-socket ear cup mounts (or both), but these new design features do seem to help in achieving a quick and easy fit.
The design of both the AH-D7100 Artisan and AH-D600 are very similar. Both of the new Music Maniac over-ear headphones use glass fiber reinforced composite material for much of its chassis. This material was chosen for its very light weight and for being very inert. Rapping on the chassis of either of these headphones reveals a very solid feeling frame. Not surprisingly, the AH-D7100 Artisan's materials and finish seemed to be of a higher grade; and the Artisan's ear cups are carved from solid mahogany, and serves as a component of what will be a sonic character unique to the Artisan.
Coming from headphones like the AH-D2000, AH-D5000, and AH-D7000--headphones that have more traditional styling--the styling of Denon's Music Maniac over-ear models is likely to be polarizing, especially when judging from photos. Both headphones definitely look nicer in person, in my opinion, with their largish chassis--though made of glass fiber reinforced composite--looking rather like they could be aluminum. Though large, they look good on the head, and, frankly, I like the new styling a lot. Do I like it more than the current models? That's hard to say, as I love the way the current models look, too, and the current models are certainly more traditional. But where as I was tilting my head to figure out the aesthetic of the new headphones in photos, seeing and holding them in person seems to sort out its style very quickly.
And as much as I love my AH-D7000, I rarely take it out and about. It's easy to drive, and sounds great out of my portable rigs, but the AH-D7000's build suggests a certain fragility to me. However, the AH-D600 and Artisan instill high confidence in me, in terms of their durability. Though the Artisan uses mahogany earcups like the D7000, they're very well protected by the headband assembly's design. I think this is a move in the right direction, as I'd love to have something that is sonically as good or better than a D7000 (and at least as easy to drive, which I'm hoping the new ones will be), but that's more suited to my mobile lifestyle. Denon seems to have had this in mind, as the both of the new Music Maniac over-ear headphones come with two different cables, one a 10-foot audio-only model for desktop use, and a shorter three-foot cable with an inline three-button remote/mic for portable use, straight from a smartphone. (The AH-D600's audio-only cable is made is made of OFC copper, and the Artisan's is 7N-OFC.) Both also come with nice carrying bags with carabiners, and the Artisan also includes a beautiful and well-designed display stand.
Both Music Maniac over-ear prototypes had more passive noise isolation than the current Denon AH-D7000, though I do not know yet whether or not they will remain this way in their final production versions. Like the current AH-D2000, AH-D5000 and AH-D7000, both the AH-D600 and AH-D7100 Artisan have nominal impedance of 25 ohms.
Again, none of the Music Maniac prototypes I had access to on the day of my visit were not sonically tuned, so I won't yet comment on their sound quality. That said, the sound of their lower-line over-ear Urban Raver model (AH-D400) was very good, especially in its passive mode (that model also has a self-amplified mode), which gives me very high hopes and expectations for the Music Maniac models (tuned prototypes for which I expect to be able to hear very soon).
The Denon AH-C400 in-ear has a suggested retail price of $349; the AH-D600 will be priced at $499; and the AH-D7100 Artisan will be $1199.
This brings me to the one new Denon line for which semi-tuned prototypes were available...
Denon Urban Raver Line
To be continued...