2009 in Review

Will there be another year like 2009? Despite the economic downturn, 2009 has been a year of high end headphone fest. The HD800, Edition 8, PS1000, JH13, T1, LCD-1 and LCD-2, and the HE-5 all came around in 2009. Though some of these cans were announced in 2008, they only started to become available in 2009 and thus 2009 became sort of a high-end-fest year.

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The Sennheiser HD800 was definitely the most awaited headphone this year. From the time Jude’s post on Head-Fi appeared, the wait seemed very long until June, nearing Can-Jam, when people started receiving their HD800s. Initial impressions were very very good on the HD800, but finding a perfect system for the HD800 proved to be a difficult task, and many people gave up on it on the way.

Perhaps “buried” by the excitement surrounding the HD800, the Grado PS1000 and the Ultrasone Edition 8 didn’t get the attention they deserve. This is a bit surprising, considering that both the PS1000 and the Edition 8 are brand new flagship models from major headphone companies. It’s even more surprising that the Grado HF2, a limited edition release by Grado, stole the show from its bigger brother. I personally have a very positive take on the HF2, and I believe that the HF2 will go down as one of the most desirable Grados in history. The HF2 is so good, that if they made the HF2 a non limited edition model, it’ll steal most of the sales of the Grado RS1.

Then there were new names in town with some stellar products. Audez’e released the very limited quantity LCD-1 (which I still haven’t had the privilege of auditioning), and within a few months, updated it to the LCD-2. Keep in mind that these are not just the average “new model” release, but rather, a modern take on the Orthodynamic technology. Given their performance level, both the LCD-1 and LCD-2 are headphones fit for any high end system. Hifiman also joined “Team Orthodynamic” with their HE-5  headphone. These orthodynamics have become the new favorite underdogs for challenging the high end establishment. A review of the HE-5 Orthodynamic is currently in the works, so look out for that to be published in 2010.

Yet another new name came up, and it created the biggest headline in the headphone world and changed the headphone game forever. You all know what it is. Jerry Harvey with his JH13 IEM. I have had a chance to audition a universal set, and it really lived up to its hype. JH13 really is the first IEM that successfully challenged full size headphones. Hopefully we can have a proper review for the JH13, though by then you all probably have read the abundance of reviews for the JH13 out there.

Beyerdynamics come a little late to the party this year with the Beyer Tesla 1 (T1) flagship headphone. Positioned to go against the Sennheiser HD800, we’ll have yet to see how good the T1 really is. Before the T1, Beyerdynamics is not a headphone often associated with high end rigs. Does the T1 have what it takes to bring Beyer to the next level? We’ll see about that in 2010.

On the sidelines, Rudistor actually released an electrostatic headphone as well this year, though not so much are known about them. Google “Rudistor Titanus”, and you’ll see how little information are available about them. Hopefully we can get a review on these in 2010, along with Rudistor’s electrostatic amplifiers, the Egmont, and the Coriolan.

A lot of the releases this year has been high-end, flagship headphones, and that’s what so good about 2009. I don’t think we have seen as much releases of flagship products in a single year as we have seen in 2009. To recount them, we had the Sennheiser HD800, Ultrasone Edition 8, Grado PS1000, Audez’e LCD-1 and LCD-2, Jerry Harvey JH13, Hifiman HE-5, and Beyer’s T1. Of course a lot of these products have only made it to a handful of people in 2009, and so 2010 will be an exciting year to see the development of people’s opinion on these high end cans. I’m very eager to do a shootout between the HD800, the LCD-2, the HE-5,  the Beyer T1, and call it a Dynamic vs Ortho battle.

Of course 2009 was not only about high end headphones. We also see an abundance of new products such as amplifiers, DACs, and IEMs as well. There was the SPL Phonitor amplifier, which created quite a buzz with their crossfeed and 120V amplifier technology. Expect a review on the Phonitor in January 2010 here in Headfonia. Then there was an abundance of new portable amplifiers: the RSA Shadow, the ALO Rx, and the TTVJ Slim, all of which has been reviewed here. Triad Audio also announced their Lisa RS amplifier, a desktop version of the current king of portables: the Lisa 3, as well as a smaller Lisa Mini portable amplifier. For next year, we are waiting for the Pico Slim, as well as new portable balanced amplifiers from Ray Samuels, iBasso, Oji Special, and Oort-Cloud Lab.

I simply cannot mention all the new products introduced this year into this page, but we can definitely see that the whole world is catching the headphone bug really bad. Looking at the new lineups of Sennheiser, AKG, and Beyerdynamics will give you an accurate picture of how much investment is being poured into personal listening products. Not to mention other new products from the Japanese companies like Audio Technica, Denon, and Sony, as well as newcomers from all around the world like iBasso, Hifiman, Atomic Floyd, Unique Melody, as well as numerous other small manufacturers.

Since everyone has been making news in 2009, I wonder how AKG has managed to stay out of the headlines this year, despite their impressive looking line up of new portables, earbuds, and IEMs. I guess none of their new line ups are really designed for serious headphone enthusiasts in mind. AKG really needs a breakthrough product, preferably a high end one, to bring the spotlight back to their company.

This year I reviewed the Koss ESP-950 Electrostatic headphone, which I find to be excellent. What a pity that near the end of the year, Koss finds themselves in quite a situation with their vice president stealing money from the company. I really hope that Koss will get over this problem and come out stronger at the end.

I almost forget that Shure’s entry to the headphone world also happened in 2009. I find the SRH-840 to so good that it can be liked to a baby, closed-back, HD800. Let’s see if Shure will update the headphone line up with even better ones next year.

Anyway, looking at the number of new companies in the Headphone/IEM industry, we know that the future is big for headphones. With everybody owning Ipods and music cellphones, it’s fairly predictable where the growth will be next. Not to mention that people are living in a smaller and smaller space by the day, making serious hi-fi speakers an unfeasible hobby.

Last but not least, 2009 saw the birth of a small headphone website. I want to thank you all for being a supportive and loyal reader. 2009 is going to be remembered as a good year for headphone enthusiasts.

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