It has been another landmark year for high fidelity audio. Some great loudspeaker advancements have been introduced, but the push of technology was felt even more in personal audio. Amazing audiophile products continue to raise the bar it what seems an almost monthly event. I’ve put together a few items here that are some of the standout products that have made their way through the Audio Head lab in 2013.
A lovely portable headphone amplifier – ALO International
Whilst many a portable headphone amplifier has come and gone this year, the standout mobile DAC and headphone amplifier combination that has stood out to me was the ALO International. With both balanced and single ended outs and ins, this little dandy of an amp does an excellent job of convincing you that spending $600 on a portable amp is actually a good idea. A dark black background, outstanding dynamics and plenty of power keeps the International at the top of list for this year.
On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BQ6EWMO/
The original audiophile DAP – Astell and Kern AK100
The AK100 started out as a standout product early in the year, but was quickly surpassed by the higher priced AK120. Regardless, the original AK100 holds on to its value. At nearly half the cost of its big brother, it is still my favorite pick for a digital player under a grand. The sound is stellar and even the custom interface is quite agreeable.
On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00A6LX0F0/
The closed-back headphone for everyone – Sennheiser Momentum
Sennheiser’s attempt at catching a piece of the mainstream consumer into the folds of the head fi hobby bore some delicious fruit this year. The Momentum deviated from the company’s more traditional audiophile stylings in favor of multiple colors and a simple yet elegant design. Sonics came in ruler flat with nice bass extension and tonalities. While it’s not the companies’ most resolving ‘phone, its does make for a really fun listen at $300 and earns an AH recommendation.
On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AZZNXOK/
The luxurious cost-no-object DAC – Auralic VEGA Digital Audio Processor
All the connections you could want with a preamp section to boot. The Auralic VEGA has a sound so sweet you might mistake it for Christmas angles singing. Refined yet relaxed, focused but not overly processed, this pricy meatball pulls out all the stops with a cool demeanor that looks at home on any modern desktop.
One micro DAC to rule them all – Audio Engine D3
The USB-sized complement to your computer audio listening sessions is probably hottest category in audiophillia. The D3 from Audio Engine combines a tiny size with big sound as well as big output. Low end texture and pitch definition are simply outstanding and a massive upgrade from your computer’s lowly headphone output.
On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00GCDVNHI/
The CIEM flagship of flagships – Jerry Harvey Roxanne
This little beauty was on display on this year’s RMAF and some serious listening sessions have me convinced that Jerry is really on to something special with his designs and Freqphase technology. While the Roxanne was still only in a “universal” form during those sessions, the imaging from these custom in-ears was instantly noticeable as cut above. The Roxanne will even be available in a carbon fiber version for the more adventurous types out there.
Personalized personal audio – Audeze LCD-XC & Prototype Amp/DAC
Price: XC – $1,799, Amp -TBD
While closed-back headphones never seem to “breathe” as well as their open-back counterparts, the Audeze LCD XC seems to adapt to this changeover better than almost any other before it. Complemented by a “frequency correction” prototype Audeze amp/DAC (unique to the individual headphone) at RMAF, it was obvious the team at Audeze was pushing headphone tech in the right direction.
An innovative twist for your desktop – Auralic Gemini 2000
Its not easy to produce a completely original idea in such a product-saturated hobby, but that didn’t stop Auralic from churning out a new accessory you never knew you needed until now. The Gemini 2000 is a premium headphone stand/amp/DAC triple threat with a class A amplification and DSD capabilities to complement all your listening needs in one convenient package.
The new electrostatic on the block – Kingsound H-3 Headphone
In an market that has been prominently dominated by Stax, the H-3 is actually more budget-consious than the $5k flagship “009” that currently rules the roost. Combined with the M-10 solid state amplifier, the sound was quite delightful and in definite need of further investigation. My initial impressions are based only on a single listening session, but expect more details to come.