Headphone Heaven event at Rotterdam, Oct. 07, 2017: Impressions

  1. bidn
    Contents of this review:
    Part 1 Introduction, General remarks (= this present post)
    Part 2 In-Ears (64audio, Shure, Meze prototypes, Etymotic...)
    Part 3 Headphones (Bowers & Wilkins PX, Final D8000, Sennheiser HE-1, Meze 99, Kennerton...) and amps
    Part 4 Other Hardware (power supplies, cables).

    Introduction, General remarks

    This was the first headphone event for the Benelux countries (Benelux = the following European countries: The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg), and for me the first time I attended such an event, so thousand times thanks to the organizers and companies who made this possible!

    Except a few companies like Sennheiser and Shure, most large companies didn't have their own staff, but were indirectly represented by Dutch or Belgian importers or sellers who were carrying products of different companies. It is a pity that the sellers apparently hadn't had put the company's name on the booths. Afterwards I found out by chance that a set-up I had tested (...-> Hugo-2 -> iFi Pro + iESL --> Stax was from a shop at which I had ordered online my iFi Pro iCan and my Aeon. Had I known it was this company, I wish I had talked to them about a few things.
    I knew almost nothing about Meze, discovered that it is a Romanian company and it was nice to see that Meze had sent several of their own staff from the other side of Europe.

    The booths were positioned within a common, very large room with a very high ceiling but with a smooth floor (kind of polished stone) and walls, reflecting all noise. There was nothing for damping all these noise reverberations (I am thinking of hanging noise/absorbing curtains around the booths.. that would not look good, but that would help listening to the gear a lot).

    I only tested hardware I don't own. At many headphones booths I was not possible to test with my own music (I have take my Mojo with me), which was not very helpful. Some allowed to choose tracks from a preset list or in a few cases from Tidal, and some didn't allow any choice... However those showing In-Ears allowed me to connect the In-Ears to my Mojo and play my own music, to properly review them. Because of the noise I couldn't get any idea of how clean and detailed open headphones were, but this was not so an issue with In-Ears.

    I tend to be perfectionist, preferring to do fewer things well than more things superficially and badly. So I didn't manage to go to all booths (I think I went to about only 60% of all booths), and at those booths I only tested one or two things instead of everything.

    I will put the other parts in further posts with some pictures.Meze In-Ears pro
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2017
  2. bidn
    Part 2 In-Ears

    Most In-Ears were supplied with comply foam which cut off most of the loud ambient noise. I was allowed to connect them to my Mojo and test them with music I know almost perfectly.
    My main findings are:
    - discovering the top models of 64 Audio was a revelation for me and reconciled me with multi-BA In-Ears
    - the suggested price of Meze's In-Ears prototypes impressed me.

    Shure KSE1500

    During the event day I tested twice the Shure KSE1500 Electrostatic earphones (€ 3000). Due to the very positive reviews, I was several times in the past tempted to order a pair, but refrained because the specific amp required would be unpractical for me when listening in bed. The first time I tested them at this event I used their choice of music, fed by an AK (100 or 100-II), listened especially to tracks of an album of Metallica I knew well. This sounded fun and enjoyable. Then after having heard a few other In-Ears with my own music, especially those of 64 Audio, I came back and tested the Shure again with my own music.
    Trying to compare from memory to some of my In-Ears, my impressions were that this KSE1000 had clearly a larger soundstage than my JH Audio Layla but still quite smaller than the huge soundstage of my LAB II. Imaging however was really not as great as the soundstage. Re. detail retrieval it was difficult for me to conclude which of them and the Layla were the best, but I think they retrieved generally less details than the LAB II. The KSE1500 isolated somewhat less from the noise than the other in-ears at the show (I think my Layla isolates better. LAB II is fully open, so no comparison here...).
    So I found that, true to their reputation, the KSE1500 are indeed great TOTL In-Ears, but they did not convince me to the point of accepting their indispensable amp.


    There were some in-ears. I saw the Piano Forte IX. Because I already have all their top models (Piano Forte VIII, IX, X and especially the LAB-II) I didn't test any by Final.

    64 Audio U18 Tzar and Tia Fourte

    There were several models by 64 Audio, I tested the top two models.
    These were such a surprise and revelation for me. I had seen head-fiers mentioning 64 Audio, but that didn't catch my attention. These In-Ears were presented at the same booth as Final's products, from which I had wanted to test the D8000. So I gave them a chance, with low expectations, seeing they were multi-BA IEMs, given my impressions of some holes in the FR between the curves of the BA in my supposedly neutral multi-BA IEMs (Layla and AKG K3003). And here I didn't have such impressions of holes in the middle of FR, I was so amazed! I really loved them.


    U18 Tzar (€ 3700) has 18 BA drivers, is more reference and can be custom-made. Tia Fourte (1 dynamic driver + 3 x BA, € 4000, doesn't have the airduct tubes of usual multi-BA In-Ears but has instead acoustic chambers) was more fun. They both are big, but I prefer their shape to my Layla, as they extend in the plane of the ear instead of extending perpendicularly to the head, so they don't pop too much out of the ears, much less than my Laya. They fill and fit better in the ears.


    I had to test them at two different times (twice each) like the KSE1500 to be able to compare these two better. My impressions where that these two models of 64 Audio had a finer detail retrieval then the KSE1500, lesser soundstage but better imaging. But all these differences in soundstage and imaging paled and seem to me insignificant compared to the incredible soundstage and imaging of my Final LAB II. Even my Final Piano Forte VIII, IX and X (but their FR is very colored) have much more soundstage and imaging than the 64 Audio and KSE1500 I tested. Re. detail retrieval, it was not clear to me which of the 64 Audio top models and of the LAB II was the best. The 64 Audio extended more in bass, especially the Tia Fourte.




    There were several models, I tested the best one, Etymotic New ER4 flagship (€ 400). They are very thin, going deep into the ear and isolating very well. They are supposed to be very flat and indeed seemed very much so. However I didn't enjoy them like the other in-ears on the show.


    Meze had brought several pieces of a prototype which should soon become a commercial model. If I remember correctly, the price would be between € 300 and 400. This was certainly not flat like Etymotic's in-ears, but still flatter than their Meze 99 headphones, and, relatively to this suggested price, so much fun: details and a lot of body, involving music, with great extension and bass. Like the Meze 99 headphones which I tested for the first time at this event, I was really amazed at what they succeed in delivering for the price. No TOTL in-ears, but superb value for those looking to enjoy music with in-ears and limited by a relatively low budget.
    I will talk more on how Meze achieves such value/price ratios when addressing their Meze 99 headphones below.





    RHA also had a booth. I feel very sorry for the RHA guys, but I didn't even manage to come to their stand and talk to them. My first test of 64 Audio flagships had unexpectedly caught so much my interest that I had to test again the KSE1500 and the 64 Audio flagships. Would you read this review, RHA, please excuse me.

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