In Ear Monitors
Westone were present just like last year and this time they had two new models for the show. The new B30 & B50 will most likely be on Headfonia for their respective reviews.
Fit is excellent as usual with Westone as they disappear in your ear. The sound of the B30 is warm and smooth, very comfortable to listen to. There is a bit of veil and the resolution is therefore not too high, but for such a mildly warm and pleasant sound at this level it is acceptable. The bass response was quite satisfactory and I found the quantity spot on. The presentation of the treble is slightly behind, and the mid section is nice and very smooth. Staging is realistic and the size is ideal.
The B50 sounds even warmer and it has more bass . The sound is still smooth and the resolution in the mids is slightly better. The treble part is still slightly behind and the presentation is very similar, but the treble is better in resolution. It overall is dark and ideal for those who like this sound. The tonality is quite nice.
JH Audio was there like the last year and they had their full line up for the attendees. I again listened to the legendary Layla and it’s one of my all time great IEMs. You just can’t get enough of the Layla. We were expected to see a Layla III at the show but it wasn’t there. JH Audio will release it very soon we suppose.
Obravo had their first “realistically priced” IEM, the Cupid in their booth. It turned out to be a star of the show with its great sound for that aggressive price level. I got a sample from Obravo guys to review the Cupid here and it won’t take too long for it to appear on our main page.
With the electrostatic drivers, the IEM market shifted its focus on great treble presentation and great resolution. The Jomo Audio Trinity is a very impressive IEM in that regard, but we liked the SS model more (nozzle). The brass version has a very strong subbass so it wasn’t our pick of the two. Lieven also agrees.
In the SS model, the treble is truly flawless. Extension, resolution, details are all spectacular. The dynamic driver is very well tuned for bass, not the fun kind of bass response but it’s strong when needed. The IEM sounds very airy and it has a very wide stage. Only the sub bass part is a little too strong at times.
The Empire Ears Valkyrie has a very round, strong and impactful bass. In terms of quantity, I would say it is definitely more controlled and more reference than the Jomo Trinity. The mids are kept very colorless and have very good resolution. It produces a satisfactory sound with good timbre, but also works very well in micro detail level. Treble is not aggressive but is quite pronounced. The least prominent point in the IEM are the mids, but the mid presentation was nevertheless satisfying. The stage of the IEM is also very good but not as big and wide as some of its competitors. The fit is very good by the way.
The 64 Audio U18t is an excellent IEM if you seek a brighter sound with great resolution and treble presentation. It has a great soundstage, dynamic treble and impactful bass response. One can’t imagine how they achieved to put 18 drivers on those small shells, but they did.
I also checked out the Audeze LCDi4. The bass response is good, but I didn’t like the treble presentation. The performance of full size headphones is not present with the LCDi4. Mids are not bad in tonality and resolution is good, but I personally expected more from this planar IEM.
Oh boy… The IER-Z1R is just wonderful. It has a strong and high quality bass response, quality and quantity are together. The mid tonality is awesome and the cymbals are quite airy. The stage is both wide and deep. The sub bass hits a little hard at times, but it’s better and more controlled than the Jomo Trinity Brass version. The instruments have an incredibly pleasant tone. I’d say it’s a bit mid-oriented overall. Fit is much better than I expected considering the shape of the IEM. I have to repeat, the mids are gorgeous and the timbre is really satisfying.
The Noble Khan at the show (V2?) has a slightly thinner sound than I expected. The bass seems to give weight to the sub side, but the balance, impact and recovery are very good. The treble is quite distinctive, rich and pronounced. A very very rich treble presentation. I found the staging a bit tight and not too wide. But the separation is very impressive. High level of resolution and transparency is everywhere with the Khan. I thought it was a little bit like electrostatic headphones. It doesn’t have a very warm or full sound, but it’s technically very high-end. The design of the IEM is very pleasant and the fit is very well done. Obviously I didn’t expect it to be so treble-oriented though.
And last but not least, there’s the Vision Ears Elysium. Well, not much to say really. It is incredibly coherent, the treble is great and the stage is very realistic. The resolution and transparency are great. Very good tonality. They produced one of the best IEMs ever in my opinion. I sensed similarities with VE8, but Elysium’s bass response is better and fuller. Obviously, this IEM deserves much more time on HFN, but the only thing I can say is that we are really approaching perfection in IEMs. Just wait for Lieven’s review.
DACs & DAC / Amps
Since we focused on IEMs and headphones at this show, we did not have much time to test DACs and DAC/Amps. However I created some time for this special Chord setup; the M-Scaler with the Hugo TT2. Well, I was simply blown away by the sheer transparency that this pair produces. Norah Jones was literally right next to my ear with her sweet vocals and believe me, you won’t hear that kind of a special sound everywhere.
I also gave the wonderful Hugo 2 a shot with a few songs again, and all I can say is that it’s such a great, great device. I still have the original Hugo in my inventory, but I think it’s time to switch to the second model already. Do note that it’s a little bit analytical sounding compared to the original though. But it has a larger sound stage with a more separated sound. If you find a matching IEM/Headphone, it sounds amazing.
Effect Audio was present just like last year and meeting with Suyang himself was great. I’ve particularly listened to the Cleopatra cable, and the 8-wire version to me sounds incredibly good. I was blown away by the Horus last year, but the Cleopatra technically is extremely good.
EA also showed their new series which were latest prototypes but I think they’ll be released to the market very soon (announced yesterday). These new models will replace the existing and very successful premium series.
Another cable manufacturer I visited was Brise Audio. The Japanese brand has great audio cables and I’ve personally tried two of them. I should say these guys have very reference sounding cables and I was impressed by the craftsmanship and sound. You might see a new review collaboration in the future on Headfonia.
The report continues with Lieven’s show notes on the 4th page HERE.