Separate names with a comma.
Marcel or Everett?
Everett! That's it, now all I have to do is find he's instagram !
Wow! That was hectic but fun. I got to meet some folks I’ve wanted to meet for a long time in Jack and Dean Vang of Empire Ears, and Eric Chong of Effect Audio. I’ve been chatting with these guys on HeadFi and Facebook for a while. It’s great to finally meet these lovely people and purveyors of excellent audio. I also got to meet the brains behind Sony’s flagship MDR-Z1R and the WM1Z and WM1A, Naotaka Tsunoda and Tomoaki Sato. They were extremely attentive hosts, and generous with their time and explanation of their tech. Another fantastic meeting was the one I had with Misha Kucherenko of Stereo Pravda. Both the SB7 and Misha were revelations. I talked with Misha for a long while.
I’ll break down impressions by vendor and break it into one or two parts to make it more digestable.
At Empire Ears, I spent my time on my knees—nothing untoward implied—with various Empire Ears gear and the Noble Kaiser Encore being switched around on one of the red chairs at their station. The Audio Opus Opus #3 was my source for all the listening. I listened to both versions of an Empire Ears prototype (we'll call driver count number X), but only took notes on the first that Jack offered, which was the one I liked more anyway. The "number X" prototype I listened to was lush, warm, and natural with a slight v-shape. It was a very inviting sound, but not my preferred signature. My preference was definitely towards their higher end stuff. Gimme some Zeus variants and large prototype goodness and I’m happy.
About those top tier fabulous beasts, I loved all of them. I started with the Zeus XR without the ADEL module. In comparison with the the Noble Kaiser Encore, the Zeus XR has a similar tonality with a touch more mid presence. The stage is wider on the Zeus XR, and Macy Gray’s vocal off “I Tried” is silkier. The sound on the Zeus is a bit more lively than the Encore, and more forward overall. Longer listening would give more precise observations, and would remove the matched by ear caveat on the impressions. I’m fairly good to about half a decibel (recently tested on audiocheck.net), but a meet/show environment is not ideal.
I listened to their bigger prototype next. The bigger prototype still needs some development and is not close to release, but I can tell where they are going with this. Compared to the Zeus, the vocal is a little drier. The Zeus has fantastic height and width and the prototype maintains this, but improves depth. The bass is really solid and natural with a fully rounded development of the bass note. Spacing in the soundstage is absolutely exceptional.
Next up was the Zeus ADEL. The ADEL version of the Zeus is, in one word, airy. The mids are airy with a bit of extra breathiness to Macy Gray’s vocal that doesn’t sound quite right to me (still good). The sound is less firm in it’s expression. Depth on the Zeus ADEL is greater than that of the non-ADEL Zeus.
I’m inclined to believe that the bigger prototype is trying to get the best of both the Zeus and the Zeus ADEL into the same IEM. It will give the solidity of the Zeus and the cavernous stage of the ADEL without making the mids too airy.
Ear rape to commence.
I first heard about the Stereo Pravda Spear SB7 from my Russian Facebook friend, Hans Barbarossa, who has reviewed the SB7 in Russian. I joked before the show when commenting on the show preview video: “Does sticking Russian fingers in my ears count as innovation?” I think it does.
Stereo Pravda translates to Stereo Truth, which fans of Cold War intrigue probably already know, as Pravda was the ironic name of the official Soviet propoganda. In that case, truth was taken very much in the Orwellian sense, but here the meaning is honest. I had a long and enlightening talk with Misha “Big Misha” Kucherenko, the founder of Stereo Pravda. He is honest and straightforward, with potentially controversial views on what a balanced armature can do. He is absolutely passionate about sound.
The background of Stereo Pravda is in high end speaker sound and high end speaker wire (the cable for the SB7 was developed by Stereo Lab). The goal of the SB7 is to produce a high end loudspeaker experience miniaturised into your ear. They succeed.
Fitting the SB7 requires clipping the cable to your shirt to anchor it, looping the cable over your ear, tugging on the top of your ear and then riggling the SB7 as deep into your ear as you can. Anyone familiar with Etymotic may have flashbacks to traumatic Etymotic experiences. Maybe not. The fit is secure when you get it to where it needs to be but isolation is not great due to the flat-bladed design of the tip. If you move your head wrong, though, people may wonder if you took your seizure meds today. Graaagh. *Shivers*
I thought that the feel could be improved by rounding the tip a little bit. The tip is shaped like a silicone fan blade. The flatness at the edge means that it feels scrapey in the ear. I don’t think it has to be like this. Mind you, the fact that there are some large balanced armature drivers a short distance up still means that there will be some discomfort if you try to move your head vigourously.
On sound, the SB7 is divine. The mids are sweet and layered. The stage is holographic. The sound is extraordinarily natural. That is a good finger in my earhole. That is really f***ing excellent, more please.
For me the best measure of the quality of an audio device is how much the headphone sounds like live music. This sounds so much like live music it’s amazing. The soundstage was tall and deep with excellent realism. I rocked out to Macy Gray – I Tried, Tori Amos – Hey Jupiter, Why – Strawberries, and Daft Punk – Aerodynamic. Then I sat down to chat with Misha about the comfort level and the tech.
Misha’s response to the comfort was very Russian: “No pain, no gain. At first, it will be uncomfortable, but your brain will adjust after a couple days.” He likened it to having dental work done. At first it feels like an alien is living on your tooth (my words), and then it feels like a part of you again. I get this analogy. When I first tried the UERR it felt a bit uncomfortable, awkward, but I did get used to it. Where the analogy falls over though, is that dental work never leaves your mouth, so getting used to it is more natural, whereas the SB7 has to be inserted, removed, inserted…. You can get a little more acclimated to something that you use frequently, but it will never be as natural feeling as that filling on your second molar.
Misha says that the design is optimised for sound. In his view, Stereo Pravda is never going to be a high volume producer, so making something that everybody can use isn’t the most important thing. He would rather make the best sounding headphone he can and then find people that can wear it. He doesn’t need 100% of people to be okay with the fit.
The IEM is basically a stack of balanced armatures connected to a bulky cable. That cable in itself is very interesting. The cable was designed by a fellow that has worked with Stereo Lab and Kimber Cable. The design has many remarkably thin enameled copper wires arranged in a flat braid around a fiber core in two layers. The fiber core has a fluid injected into it. Before coming to the final design, a single layer braid was tried, but it didn’t sound good enough. Most of the cable consists of the fiber core, with the wires being only a hair’s thickness in diameter.
The driver contingent includes some special drivers called ferrofluid drivers (FED). The FED drivers are mechanically damped with a delicate magnetic balance by the ferrofluid. The drivers are vulnerable to impact, especially in cold temperatures (but it will stand up to normal Russian winter use). It would be best to avoid dropping these, if at all possible.
I also had a go with SB5. Comparatively, the SB5 was deeply lacking in bass. The upper mids and treble were incredibly defined and detailed, even more so than the SB7. The bass was slow and muted sounding. If you are crazy into Spanish guitar or string quartets these may do well for you, and they are a little more comfortable due to losing the two big balanced armature drivers. I did not try the SB3.
I talked and listened with Misha for about 40 minutes. It was a very interesting and enlightening experience that I would recommend to anyone.
This is what Misha had to say about the sound of the SB7:
“Like bottling of the best home audio systems and carrying it with you.”
I agree with that.
It was such a pleasure to meet and speak with the brains behind the Sony MDR-Z1R (Naotaka Tsunoda) and WM1A and WM1Z (Tomoaki Sato). They were incredibly gracious hosts who explained everything as clearly as they could with an obvious love for their work. I wish I was as happy in my job as they are in theirs.
I tried out several things at Sony, first up, the Sony MDR-Z1R flagship headphone out of the TA-ZH1ES DAC/Amp—they should give it a code name, that name is a mouthful. The signal chain was Sony NW-WM1Z to TA-ZH1ES to MDR-Z1R. I put on Dire Straits – Money for Nothing, Michael Jackson – Beat It, Norah Jones – Feelin the Same Way (music selection wasn’t bad on their players). These were my observations:
Upper guitars are sharp
Mark Knopfler has some vocal texture smoothed away, vocals a bit soft
Mids are forward
Strong centre focus to the stage with edges not as evenly populated with sound
Michael Jackson’s voice on Beat It was slightly veiled (this might be the recording as it was from SACD, original vinyl is miles better)
Dynamics on Beat It felt a bit crushed (again, might be recording)
On Norah Jones – Feelin the Same Way vocals are better but there is some added breathiness that I’ve never really heard and I’m not sure should be there. I’ve listened to the track on a lot of headphones and it is a breathy track due to Norah’s vocal style, but not this breathy.
Overall, the mids have less solidity than I’m used to on this combo.
The MDR-Z1R is one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve tried, I still give the edge to the Susvara, but this is pretty great.
The Kimber Cable that comes with it is very flexible and looks fabulous.
I also tried the WM1Z and the W1MA with the MDR-Z1R, both sounded more solid than the TA-ZH1ES, so I have to conclude that the TA-ZH1ES may be a weak point here. I didn’t have opportunity to test the Walkmans with any headphone other than the Z1R, as I only had my Noble Encore with a Double Helix Cables Symbiote SP v3 Elite 2.5mm balanced cable on hand and no 3.5mm adaptor—D’oh!
With the WM1Z vocals were more detailed and incisive than with the TA-ZH1ES.
So before I get into W1MA vs. W1MZ, let me go over some of the differences that were told to me and shown by Tomoaki San—they had all the internals visible at the table, it was really cool. For more stats, you can check the Head-Fi W1MZ/W1MA thread.
The W1MZ has a solid copper body whilst the W1MA has a solid aluminum body. Tomoaki San indicated that the copper body is used for the ground and reduces noise. The copper body is also about double the weight and very dense.
Resistors inside the WM1Z are higher quality.
Whilst both the WM1A and WM1Z use a balanced configuration for internal wiring, the WM1Z uses quad braided Kimber cable for internal wiring. The purpose of the configuration is to further cancel out any potential noise and interference.
Upon listening, I found the W1MZ to have more depth and width with a more full sound. The two players definitely share a similar sound signature, but the W1MZ just does it better. If I were to choose one for usability, the W1MA is lighter (267g vs. 455g) and less expensive ($1200 vs. $3200). I only compared with the Z1R, so it may be that the differences would be more apparent on a more reference quality headphone. I hope to have more listening opportunities in the future.
Because the Z1R is so comfortable, I decided to come back with my family the next day to let my just turned 2-year old daughter try it out. In a first, I was able to put it on her head without relieving any of the pressure from the cups. It’s a comfy and stylish headphone.
Naotaka Tsunoda san took some fun pictures of the whole family enjoying some Sony. Thank you for the lovely pictures. I’ve posted them below.
Dinner with Axel Grell of Sennheiser
At the end of the first day, I lucked into taking the place of my buddy, Layman1, at dinner with Axel Grell. Layman1 couldn’t make it because a sitter pulled out, and his loss was my gain. He worked the iBasso stand instead and got some good rewards for doing so. Four Head-Fiers had dinner at Ev Restaurant with Axel and some other Sennheiser reps, a large and open Turkish restaurant with some of the best mezzes I’ve had. My main was good, but not exceptional. The company was exceptional. Axel Grell fielded questions about the differences between the HD600 and the HD650. The drivers are the same, the housing is different, with the HD650 having a more closed presentation. Axel Grell prefers the HD650. I prefer the HD600 (I’ve modded it to be a little brighter). Axel also talked about how Sennheiser comes to their measurements and why they don’t publish them. The former subject was very interesting, but I won’t discuss here. The latter is well-illustrated by the HD600/HD650 comparison. They measure almost exactly the same, but any listener can immediately tell the difference. Measurement doesn’t always tell the whole story—that is from the man himself.
Axel Grell told us some of the history of Sennheiser and it’s a good story but one I wasn’t taking notes during, they started in a barn because industry was pretty much shut down in Hanover after WW2. They’ve been at it a long time, originally making OEM microphones before they decided to break out on their own. Axel Grell has been involved in a lot of their headphones over time, including all my favourites from them in over-ears: the HD600, HD800, and HE-1. The HE-1 is still the best headphone in existence in my book.
I asked if there was anything cool coming up from Sennheiser. There is. That is all. Keep your eyes peeled.
I will have another post (maybe two) going through the rest of my CanJam fun later. This was crossposted.
Main guy, guy with glasses, yeah I totally thought you would mean Axel Grell too! I was the "other" guy in the glasses, and I do the Sennheiser posts here too.
Funny what happens when you put on a suit! Thank you for making my day, let me know if I can be of service!
The original target was this July, so I can see how different dates could have come up. We will definitely post an official release date for the HDV 820 here on head-fi when the date is finalized; this is a product I've been anticipating too, based on the sound.
Londom was my first Canjam, what a interesting and refreshing take on exhibition! I'm used to speaker shows and Munich, this felt much nicer. Always great to meet so many interesting manufacturers and so many people interested into audio!
Really looking forward to next time. Just must make sure to go on social events on saturday and not just fall asleep at 20:: in my room
Nailed the description of the i4 IMO.
We've been with a 4-person team at CanJam London 2017. First things first: Hifiman Shangri-la. A perfect neutral sound that's totally outside the headphones. Holography, class, perfection. BUT... not much euphony, at least from what I've heard in these crowded noisy halls. Sound so neutral, it lacks some character and is a bit thin and airy (delicate), which is often the case with electrostatics (see Stax SR-009 etc.). This is the Hifiman style from what I see: neutrality, technicality, perfection. Pretty much the same could be said about HE-6 and Susvaras. High-end as they may be, I prefer more colorful, warm, musical Final planar dynamics, which could be heard in the next trade booth. That's a personal preference. Finals are not so technically perfect as Hifimans. But musicality... Pleasure... Emotions... Magical sound. They totally ruled in these categories.
The same may be said about the Sonoma headphones - a great electrostatic system falling into the same category as I said about Hifimans. Detailed perfection, lacking some warmth and musicality, however they may be considered a "reference headphone". Obviously, the Shangri-las were a class above. Also please note that Shangri-las used Chord Dave as a source... My friend disliked Sonomas for being made from mostly plastic. However I didn't mind. They include a whole AMP+DAC in the price of $5k. Wouldn't I prefer my STAX SR-009 to them, especially after they dropped the price? Probably; I had no possibility to directly compare them, which ones are better.
The Meter headphones sounded nice on classical music but play anything "normal" (pop, rock, etc.) and the bass kills you - in a negative way. There's so much bass, it's hard to listen to them. Made for bass-heads or something. The ANC was pretty decent though. I haven't even tried the bass-heavy settings, that would probably made me deaf
Sony trade booth was probably best prepared from them all. Many requisites, parts of the players and headphones, presentations about the differences between the two players and innovations behind the Z1R. First time I heard Z1R was in Warsaw, Audio Video Show 2016. And I didn't like them - for being just an average headphone. However my tastes must have changed a bit, or maybe it's because Sony team used an upgraded cable in their demos? Z1R is a great headphone and the most beautiful of them all over-ears at Canjam London. Their design is elegant and stunning but... why they are not totally closed? They have a vent in the housing, but not only that: the housing is really open, closed only by some paper pulp damping inside. It's a shame they don't isolate from the outside noise very much Which is a shame. Otherwise, they are a superb sounding good all-rounder, at least for me.
As Glassmonkey wrote above, I confirm that WM-1Z is much, much better than WM-1A. The "gold brick" sound just a class or two above the aluminum one. It is heard quite immediately. There's more euphony and culture or class in the sound. It feels more pleasurable listening to 1Z. The black one sounds like a "normal good DAP" in comparison, nothing special (even if it destroys some other models made by other companies - this I had no opportunity to compare). I tested them on both Sony Z1R and on my Final Lab1.
There was much more, but let me end here for now.
I also agree. It was a bit loud to test i4's throughly, but I loved their sound signature. Immediately you could say there was something magical about them, the euphony was there. They sounded beautiful from second one. What to do, when they have some strong contenders in the realms of open-high-end-IEMs?:
- Final Lab2, which I also have, and they have killer capabilities when upgraded with a high-end cable (the driver scales up to a point where you don't hear the headphones; they completely dissapear; ultra holography) - they were said to be 200 pcs limited, but from what I see Final still sells them, which is both unfortunate to the collectors, as well as fortunate to people who were not able to buy them till now;
- baby STAX SR-002, not appreciated enough - a really great headphone if connected properly to a strong pre-amp (for example, to the output of AK380 AMP) - killer musical magical sound signature! Not as good technically as KSE1500 (which I own too and test often with different tips), but more musical and warm for sure.
Shure KSE1500 sound completely different when using different eartips. One shouldn't judge them without finding a favorite set, that's what I've learned. I have 3 favorite sets and am still not totally satisfied. This is a neutral headphone with the greatest extension of higher tones one will ever hear in any IEM. I mean extension - not increase in loudness. I mean total neutrality and perfection. I have, for example, Ultrasone Edition 5 (both versions), which I though were the most detailed headphone ever. Not anymore. KSE1500 destroyed them in this manner. However, when you get used to this super extended highs, it's quite impossible to listen to some of the more musical, darker, smoother headphones, and unfortunately, these are my favorites (Final Sonorous X, Lab2, Lab1). Acoustical adaptation may take more than one day, after getting used to KSE1500.
I was not particularly impressed with the KSE1500 when I briefly heard it. But I left with the feeling I wasn't hearing it at it's full potential, be it due to the tips or some brain burn. I've also heard on several ocassions that the Lab 2 is something special, would be nice to try it some time.
Did anybody listen to the AKG N90Q headphones?
I also tried the Odin on a couple of tube amps on the next table. It was ok, but didn't float my boat so much. I was struck by the weight (heavy) and the head pressure (way too much). It seemed double the weight of an 009 at that point. I much preferred the Utopia and LCD 4s in the non Electrostatic camp. IMO the 009 on the BHSE kicks in the bass, I got to hear my own tracks on the head-amp stand and that was for me, the best in show. BUT the LCD4 did something new and I could see an LCD4 and a Feliks Audio amp in a second system if I ever get around to that at some point. At the moment I have my 007s for that. Hmm, Felix amp, LCD4s at my folks house, Carbon and 009s at my place, sounds nice.....
I personally found the Odin very closed sounding. I was expecting a more open soundstage even coming from a closed back, the competition is fierce even for closed back nowadays. Coming from Denon D7200, Sony Z1R, Fostex Lineup, the soundstage from the Odin just wasn't acceptable, with poor comfort.
Agree re Odin. it was tank like, a metal helmet iMO. Pity, it is good to have new companies popping up. I think they have ignored the weight and cable weight too much, and the vice like grip, it is too much. The LCD is heavy but felt more comfy, the Utopia almost not there it was so comfortable on my head. The 009 is finger pressure, very good for hours use. I am unsure of the HE-1's weight, too distracted in my short demo, more bothered about the pants music selections.
I see some brightness comments on the Shangri-La. It was most noticeable and on female vocals not nice. God knows why as 300Bs can be super smooth and warmish. Must be the design of the HP and / or amp? Can't blame the DAVE as that sounded very good on other set-ups at the show.
The Odin is heavy, indeed.
Yes, it is, but just as much as the Abyss and the LCD4.
Regarding its comfort, over time, by twisting the metal arch on the outside you solve the Odin clamping problem. As for the overall comfort of the Odin, it is above all a matter of adjustment (fine) of the adjustment screws of the arch (in all directions) and the rotation of the pads.
Personally I find the comfort of the Odin similar to that of the LCD3F (when properly adjusted) with less hot spot sensation on the top of the skull thanks to the secondary suspension band (similar to that of the LCD4).
When listening to these headphones, having owned both a Stax SR-009, an Audeze LCD3F and a Kennerton Odin (mk1 and mk2), well I can say that I sold the Stax SR-009 (amplified by an Audiovalve Luminare) because I got bored with it (in the long run); this headphone is certainly more technical, but too ethereal, lacking matter and life (not euphonic enough).
The mids of the Odin is beautiful, for my appreciation, more natural than the other two headphones.
The soundstage is not very wide (identical to that of the LCD3F)) but well proportionate (between width and depth) and more precise than that of the LCD3F.
The aperture of the sound is significantly improved with a very good tube amplifier (viva amp).
The LCD3F is more warm in listening than the Stax SR-009 and even the Odin, but it lacks clarity, definition and hold in the low (compared to the Odin) which has the best bass of these 3 headphones (in texture, definition and and strike force).
For the weight, the Odin mk3 to come (with frame of the drivers in carbon fiber) is announced as weighing 120 g less than the Odin mk1 and mk2, which is not nothing.
The sound of the new drivers of the Odin mk3 would also be improved compared to the versions mk1 and mk2, but I expect to test this new headphones at my house to convince me (Note: Loan expected from the Odin Mk3 via the French importer of Kennerton (Pierre Paya), when it will be available in France).
To be continued ....
Any idea when ?