"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." -Victor Hugo. "He who would search for pearls must dive below." -John Dryden. "You can go." -My wife. Disclaimer. This is not a comprehensive show report of the KL International AV Show 2017. The full show has speaker-fi, projector-fi, TV-fi, and some really really hot booth girls. I didn't cover any of those. Naw man we must focus! I had only 5 hours, so most of my time was spent in hotel rooms 1239 and 1240, the dedicated HeadFi sanctuary run by Stars Picker, Malaysia's coolest premium headphone shop. Gear used: -QP1R (medium gain) -Norne Therium 3.5mm SE -AAW W900 -Rhapsodio Galaxy V2 -AudioGD Master 7 > AudioGD HE-9 (the exhibitors' setup) For headphone and IEM testing, stock cables were used unless otherwise mentioned. Albums used: -Michael Jackson "Thriller" -The Eagles "Hell Freezes Over" -Amber Rubarth "Sessions from the 17th Ward" -Fleetwood Mac "Rumors" -Dire Straits "Brothers in Arms" The good thing about audio shows, these albums almost always show up in any enthusiast's setup (unless you're into some weird shat). I didn't have to use my own SD card throughout. Also, -Taylor Swift "1989" I have a soft spot for her. The show promised some top, top gear, and probably the first time Jomo Audio, Effect Audio, Rhapsodio and QDC products are featured in a local show. Plus the main attractions: Blue Hawaii SE > Stax SR009, and HiFiMan Susvara. Without further ado here are the impressions! Sonoma Acoustics Model One I kick off my listening with a screamer. A complete electrostatic headphone rig and Inner Fidelity Wall of Famer! Having not heard an estat setup in 2 years, this rekindled the flame of a sound I was so fond of but couldn't afford lol. As with estats, speed and detail levels are unquestionably high. From upper mids to treble, the detail, decay and texture are very satisfying. A quick switch back to my portable setup showed how much I was missing, from note attack to decay, and what went on between the notes! This is groovy stuff. The bass is neutral, lightning fast, and hits with great impact, but perhaps missing the decay I'm used to in dynamics and planars. For mids, the vocals are clean and dry, lacking a bit of warmth and intimacy. Instrument timbre and tone is a touch brighter than I'm used to, but the detail retrieval is amazing. Soundstage is adequately wide and deep, but one of the stars of the show is the imaging. You're in the centre of the action, surrounded with beautiful music. The overall signature is balanced, dynamic, and excellent for critical listening. Other than the dry mids I'm in love with this. I'm also in love with keeping $5000, so thanks for a great session. At 10am, I was one of the first dudes to attend the show, so while the boss was busy preparing the flagship desktop setup, he directed me to the portables. I'm back in familiar ground. Jomo Flamenco Jomo's great reviews have always intrigued me. I was glad to finally try the Flamenco, and it turned out to be a show favourite. The Flamenco is an 11-driver billed as the "Ultimate Flagship" (their words, not mine). Like the Prophile 8, it has bass and treble switches so you could switch signatures with a flick. Effect Audio Ares II was the cable I used with Flamenco. Both switches down The bass has excellent detail and texture, and breathtaking speed. Only problem is, the speed is sometimes too quick, and slam and decay are light for my tastes. The mids are very detailed and dryish, but upper mids onwards, the magic happens. Extension and resolution up the wazoo! The treble has a good amount of sparkle too, whilst sounding just smooth enough not to bother sensitive ears, or mine anyway. The soundstage is adequately wide and deep, but the trump (bad word?) card is the excellent separation and imaging, and very airy feel. It's immersive and addictive, this signature. Treble switch up When decorated fighter Brock Lesnar returned to Wrestlemania after a long stint at UFC, he pummeled Roman Reigns left, right and centre, triumphantly proclaiming "Suplex City, bish!" So with the treble switch up, replace the word "suplex" with "treble". Horrible analogy, but I love that quote lol. Uh, the treble boost is a bit strong for me, but super airy. If your ears can take a beating, by all means. Bass switch up My favourite setting. This brought out the most natural timbre, and increases the bass impact. It's more visceral now. The best part is the bass weight lends some authority to the lower mids as well, so now they sound more natural and less dry. The overall signature is less airy, but the added note weight is a great compromise between tone and staging. Both switches up More fun than the default, fuller bass and mids, but the treble is still too Brock Lesnar for me. I should mention that I'm sensitive to 7KHz elevations. The 6KHz spike in HD800 and 5KHz spike in Rhapsodio IEMs got nothin' on me, but at 7Hz I'm on my knees. Still, Flamenco with bass switch up is one of the best things I've heard all year. Bonus comparison with AAW W900 I couldn't resist doing a battle of the best of Singapore, so I whipped my unit out. Yes. Compared to Flamenco with bass switch up (my favourite setting), the W900 sounds more natural and euphonic. The bass has more authority but less detail, the mids more intimate, and the treble smoother with less sparkle. W900 has noticeably more note thickness than the Flamenco. Stage-wise, the W900 is much wider, but shallower and less airy. I would describe W900 as "speaker-like" while Flamenco is "resolute". Both are in the same tier, providing different flavours of a top-end sound. Jomo Samba Thirsting for some more Jomo (that sounded wrong) I tested the Samba next. The EA Ares II was the cable used. Immediately I noticed a more intimate stage size compared to Flamenco, and less airy too. However, it's a good balance of fun and detail. The midbass is pronounced, with a good thump and natural decay. Not DD level, but good for a BA. The mids are clean and clear, sounds like a good all-rounder. The highlight again are the upper mids and treble. Like the Flamenco, they have very good extension, sparkle, and decay. Crispy! But in some tracks, the treble notes are thinner than I prefer, and I do hear a hint of splashiness. The overall signature of Samba is fun, immediate, and very energetic. It gets your feet tapping, like you're transported to a Brazilian party of one. The W900 is smoother and more laid back compared to Samba. It also has thicker notes and a more satisfying bass, yet sounds more expansive, thanks to its ultra-wide soundstage. Too different to really state a winner. HiFiMan RE2000 HFM has taken a lotta flack this year for its pricing policies. But since I'm just testing their gear, it'll be the sound quality that matters most. A lot of reviewers have taken a stab at this new flagship IEM. In the flesh it might look great or tacky depending on your stand on black/gold, but it definitely felt lighter than the pictures suggest. The fit was a big issue at first. The shell was not ergonomic, and they had small triple flange tips on, which gave me such a horrible seal I nearly gave up. Only after switching to Spinfits did I get a good seal. First off, it's a hungry little fella. It took nearly double the volume of Jomo's IEMs to properly juice it. The first thing I noticed was it had amazing separation and depth for a single DD. Normally they pursue a more uniform, coherent sound, but here the layering and imaging is more akin to multi-BA IEMs. Impressive! I do like the bass, the subbass is bumped up slightly more than the midbass, painting a clean picture. It can slam with the best of DDs, with nice smooth decay. So far so good. The mids are special, something about HiFiMan mids that I like a lot. It's definitely coloured, but it sounds sweet and natural, with excellent timbre and a gentle reverb... heavenly for vocals. The treble is where it stumbles a little. It can get splashy and a touch grainy. The signature is more fun and coloured than reference. Compared to my Rhapsodio Galaxy V2, The V2 has a bigger midbass hump, and smoother upper mids/treble. Its separation and imaging is a tier below, and detail levels are a hair less. I do think however, that they are the same tier. All things considered the RE2000 sounds very good for the most part, save for the treble. So, is it worth $2000? Only if I win the lottery. HiFiMan RE800 "Psst! Hey, look over here!" a voice beckoned. "Remember your old RE400? You used it as your reference way back when? You had some great times yeah? Well now I'm twice the IEM she was!" Wary I was, but still, "Ok let's see what you got, 800." I loved my RE400. It had a flat, detailed bass, mesmerising mids, and a smooth, rolled-off treble that's gentle to the ears. So in comes this little lady who looks like my old flame, but all decked in gold, and she went straight for my ears, no foreplay. The fit and comfort was extremely pleasing, like the best part about the ol' 400. I pushed play. The mids are there all right, slightly warm, a gentle tone and timbre... just right. Again, great for vocals and mids. The bass, with the RE2000 as a reference point, is thinner and less fun and involving. The texture is good though, with a gentle decay. At this point it was like the RE400 on steroids. The imaging and air was very good too. The honeymoon stopped at treble though. It's like the RE2000 treble's evil twin! At times sparkly and nice, at times splashy and tizzy, and not weighed down by the bass amount like the RE2000 was... that was the dealbreaker for me. I called the date off. "Didn't you have fun?" "You come with all this bling, all these "enhancements", you prey on my memories, attack my ears, and expect me to take you home? Well touché! But I have a new love now. In fact, I've had a few great loves, better than you can provide." I've been told not to get too attached to IEMs. Beyerdynamic Xelento "Hey you! The Astell & Kern T8iE MKII was your ex, right? What a rotten name huh? Well my name is Xelento and I come with upgrades!" Oh God, here we go again. The T8iE MKII was one of the most fun IEMs I had, with awe-inspiring imaging and great bass. And I can brag about having Tesla tech in my ears. Its Achilles' heel was the elevated upper mids which sounded too aggressive at times. Beyerdynamic took back their flagship IEM, gave it a better name, and retuned it, I assume. The fit and seal is tip-dependent, so it's important you get it right. As explained by Twister6 who did a full review of the Xelento, you can use any eartips with them despite the oval-shaped nozzles. I used XL-sized tips for a good seal, and with that the weight of the Xelento just disappeared. It's ultra comfortable, more so than the equally small RE800. As for the sound, it's immersive, fast and fun. Subbass and midbass are elevated with a good punch and quick decay. Mids are clear and airy, but from memory it's smoother and less pushed forward than the AK. The upper mids have been addressed, it's now smoother and more pleasing than the T8iE MKII, making it a better all-rounder. I smiled. The smile broke the seal, and I had to listen again with a serious face. Damn. The treble is again, detailed and fast, with no sibilance. The soundstage might not be big, but the imaging is stellar, top-class stuff. Instruments and voices surround your head like a helmet, and the positioning is well-delineated. It's a winner. My Galaxy V2 has more subbass and midbass quantity, more detailed but thinner mids, and a more exciting treble. It has a wider soundstage but it's not as airy. The imaging is also not as sharp. I won't replace my Galaxy V2 with this, but potential buyers do take note of the MMCX connector and getting the fit and seal right. QDC Gemini QDC might have escaped the radar in HF but made a big splash in Chinese forums and among Eastern artists. I've heard great things about them, and was thankful for the audition. Their Gemini is an 8-driver flagship, with a hefty price tag to go with it. It has a bass switch too, like the Lime Ears Aether, sort of a "fun on" switch I guess. The stock cable is silver-plated copper. Bass switch off Here's the thing, I've been missing out! The Gemini is phenomenal! I've been trying to get off the grid, spend some quality time with my IEMs, but once in awhile some good poison comes along and I'll be like, how did I miss that? (Easy answer. I'm broke-ass broke lol) The signature is balanced, sweet and euphonic, with just a hint of warmth and excellent extension on both ends. It's coloured but in a good way. The bass is clean and not too quick, with a delicate bloom and natural, buttery decay. Sometimes I'd like more punch, but this bass keeps the stage clean. The mids are lovely. The timbre is dead-on accurate and vocals are brought forward just a bit. It's very immersive stuff. I imagine myself swimming in a pool of dense female vocals in my private time with this. The treble manages to sound very detailed and velvety smooth at the same time. It's a bit shimmery as well, so you won't be gasping for air. Soundstage is on par with most flagships, not particularly big, with more width than depth, and imaging is also quite good. Note thickness is just right, not too thin to be called analytical, not too warm and congested either. I would say yes, they nailed the tuning. They. Frigging. Nailed. It. Gemini has one of the most pleasing signatures I've heard this year. I threw every genre at it and the Gemini's rendering seemed effortless, like dust off its sassy shoulders. Reminds me a bit of my Oriolus actually, with better mids and less air. Bass switch on Remember when I said I could use more midbass punch? It's there now, but a shade too much. It's fun, but the midbass is now too boomy. I can only think of the words "Thank you Sam, thank you Otis, thank you Mudddyyyy" when the bass switch is on. So... let's turn it back off. Bass switch off Ahh, that's the stuff. Bonus comparison to W900 A short shootout revealed the W900 to be bassier and woolier than stock Gemini, with slightly smoother mids (Gemini's mids are more prominent and detailed), and a more detailed treble. W900 takes the treble decay and soundstage width too, but the Gemini tuning overall, is stellar. I'm running out of superlatives and left with expletives. Seriously, holy crapola, the Gemini is shaping up to be one of my favourites of the year, and along with Flamenco, a joint show favourite. QDC 8SH I'm not well-versed in their product line, but besides their flagship Gemini, they have 3-, 5- and 8-driver IEMs, both available in Studio and Hifi tuning options. One of the most welcomed IEMs of the show is their 8-driver Hifi, or 8SH. Like the Samba is to Flamenco, the 8SH is less airy and more intimate than Gemini, but makes up for it in immersion and overall enjoyment. This is another good example of getting the tuning and tonal balance right before anything else. The signature is again balanced, with a thick tonal body and just a hair brighter than Gemini. It's also very dynamic, making for a head-bopping good time. The subbass is ramped up, with excellent rumble. It's bass you can feel! And since the subbass is more prominent than the midbass, there's hardly any bleed into the mids. For mids, like in Gemini, the vocals are placed slightly forward, and has brilliant detail despite being thicker. It sounds very natural and speaker-like, probably why it got the Hifi monicker. The treble sounds very similar to Gemini, shimmery and toes a fine line between detail and smoothness. It's a bit more forward and aggressive than Gemini, and not afraid to have a good time. I love the tuning as well, but Gemini with the more laid-back and airy approach gets my vote. And would you check out those faceplates? I'd like a skull motif too while listening to female Cantopop ballads. I'm hard! Elysian Audio 6-driver "Hades" Up next is an IEM close to my heart, literally. Elysian Audio is the first-ever CIEM company in Malaysia, headed by an enthusiast, Mr. Lee. He was at the show enthusiastically showing his babies off. He cut his teeth modding and reshelling IEMs in a local forum and one fine day, decided to tune his own IEMs. His flagship 6-driver is a reflection of his beliefs, of what great sound should be like. It should be natural, with accurate timbre, and most of all, realistic. He said the Hades was superbly hard to tune, as he wanted to capture the live sound as if you were in the centre of the performance. On first listen, the Hades has a warmer tonality than most of the flagships here, with thick notes and a very organic sound, within the same ballpark as Rhapsodio Solar and CustomArt Harmony 8.2. The subbass is dynamic like, with a good rumbly impact. The midbass elevation is a bit too much for me, and this lends to the overall warmth of the tuning. Lee suggested a switch to silver cables to attenuate the midbass. It has helped somewhat. Mids are lush and dreamy, with excellent timbre and vocals. The treble is extended and smoooooth as silk. I'd like a bit more sparkle, but this easygoing and musical signature will have many fans. It's extremely likeable. The soundstage is on the intimate side, but the depth is very impressive. The layering and imaging is indeed brilliant, with sounds coming from all angles to form a realistic soundstage with you at the centre. I'd like a bit less midbass, and a gush of air and sparkle into the music, but overall, a good first attempt by Lee. I'll be reviewing his entire lineup later this year, so this is a taster of what he's capable of. Sennheiser IE800 To round up my IEM er, round-up, is an oldie but goodie. So deep into the HeadFi game but this is the first time I've actually heard this knockout from Sennheiser. I should spank myself. Done. The IE800 is one of the three cornerstone kilobuck flagship IEMs in the old days (along with Shure SE846 and AKG K3003) when people complained about overpriced kilobuck IEMs. Look what the complaining has done, now they are midfi compared to new flagships lol. The IE800 can be had for $600 now, and it's a nasty habit, but I should never dismiss the sound quality based on price. It wowed me. Actually, it kicked me in the ass. While it has a few questionable design cues (proprietary eartips with built-in mesh, replaceable cable only from the Y-split down, beefy Y-split, stiff cable), once you put that aside and focus on the music, it's very capable. First things first, subbass overload! What a vibraty, rumbly good time to be had with the subbass, it's out of this world and uber-fun. The last time I've heard such a prominent subbass was from the MusicMaker Shockwave III, which by its epic name you already know is bassy. The midbass sounds recessed compared to the subbass but it's definitely there. And even though I've read reports that the IE800 is V-shaped and mids recessed, this doesn't seem to be the case at all. The mids are thin compared to the massive subbass, but uncoloured and natural. The treble is fairly extended with a nice sparkle, but not sibilant. The soundstage is super wide with fairly good imaging, which can be drowned out by the pulsating subbass. Frankly speaking, based on SQ alone, I feel it's on par with RE2000, with the HFM focusing on euphony and immersion, and the IE800 primarily giving you a rocking good time. If you can tolerate the design quirks, and find one less than $500, it's a no-brainer! Surprise of the day. Stay tuned for more impressions later on, when I dive head-first into more TOTL headphone setups. Have a great day everyone!