Ear Gear Expo Part 1 – AXPONA 2014

AXPONA’s Ear Gear Expo featured a collection of the finest wares in personal audio, collected into a single ballroom of sonic bliss. From classics like Sennheiser to T50RP mods to new 2 way headphone designs, a wide range of products were on display to delight and entertain.

For personal amplifiers and DACs, the name of the game has quickly evolved to DSD compliance. Its been interesting to see how quickly the market has adjusted to consumer demand for support for the still relatively unavailable file extension. Sony of course has DSD playback throughout its new product line, no surprise there. The portable PHA-2 is included in this compliance, but also the company’s new line of media servers, DACs and desktop headphone amplifiers.

What’s really interesting here is how DSD has spread to nearly every new product, like a relative mandate from the market. This in turn leaves several top performers less than a year old in a wasteland of non-current audiophile technology.

Perhaps a champion of good product launches and top tier sound, Auralic has bested many a DAC to reach a much sought after status within the audiophile community. Their VEGA D/A converter has graced the cover of Stereophile magazine (along with the Benchmark DAC2) and has turned over a full stack of glowing reviews. DSD 64 and 128 out of the gate along with a Femto timing clock round out just a few of the products highlights. Auralic was on hand in full living color at EGX, showcasing the prestigious VEGA along with its matching new headphone amplifier the Taurus Mk2.

 

 

 

Astell and Kern are well tapped into the growing wave of portable audio. Their newest DSD-equipped flagship player the AK240 arrived in steady succession after the Ak120 update (also available in an upgraded titanium addition). After our [review of the AK100] we didn’t think we would be left wanting more,  but these subsequent iterations continue to make us wonder how far up the ceiling can reach. Player, amp and DAC in one with no interconnects can make for a killer combination. While $2k prices don’t immediately evoke value for some folks, you can’t deny that you could spend much much more on desktop separates within this hobby, and you still wouldn’t even then have a portability option. Owen and Jimmy from Astell and Kern had the whole lot on display with some very impressive headphone combinations. We should have fully flushed out impressions of the AK240 in the near future.

Sennheiser was well represented. A few standout islands like the one pictured above greeted attendees upon entering the room. The consumer-friendly Momentum [reviewed here] were on full display with multiple colors and sizes (on ear and around ear). The Momentum is one of our favorite mass appeal headphones and delivers a fantastic linear response that is still very fun to listen to.

Of course, Sennheiser also brought along all the classics to sample as well, the 600, 650 and 800 were all available to listen to attached to the companies newest HDVA 600 ($1,600) and HDVD 800 ($2k) headphone amplifiers. The HDVA is a standalone headphone amplifier with balanced inputs and outputs, the HDVD 800 also includes a Burr Brown DAC section with USB and AES inputs.

JH Audio’s mid west rep Kevin Glendinning made the trip into Chicago for the show. Along with him he brought the well received Jerry Harvey flagship CIEM Roxannes, now also available in a universal fit. This flagship piece can be housed in carbon fiber for an additional cost and features a 3 way integrated crossover that allows you to adjust the bass to your liking via small dials located on the cable. In addition to the Roxannes, attendees could check out the newest iterations of the JH13 Pro and JH16 Pro with Freqphase technology.

Another Fostex T50RP modder made their first appearance at EGX. ZMF Headphones had two new takes on the popular DIY headphone attached to a Ray Samuels Darkstar amplifier. Their wood-backed Vibro comes in a multitude of color options with earlier ZMF models retaining the original T50RP shell.

 

Check out more EGX coverage in part 2 [here].