Ear Gear Expo Part 2 – AXPONA 2014

There was a surprising amount of younger attendees and families at this year’s show. It was very refreshing to see a little variety [from your typical show goer], I even saw a young gentleman of about 8 years old dancing his heart out like no one was looking to the beat of a pair of Sennheiser Momentums. It was equally refreshing to see such a raw example of the reason we are all drawn to this hobby.

Noble shared a little of this audio love with everyone by bringing a wide assortment of their diverse In Ear Monitor line to sample. Providing IEMs in both custom and universal fits, their maiden line of products is a welcome one. Available in drivers ranging from 3 to 10 per ear, silicone or acrylic, and now even array switching, the available options are truly tailored to an audiophiles specific needs. Co-owner John Moulton (a.k.a. the Wizard) has been know to raise the design of his IEMs to a near art form. His custom faceplate options know no boundaries, from glittering gold to dynamic marble or metallic sliver, there is even a selection of one-of-a-kind Wizard creations available on the Noble site.

Noble also brought along the UK-based manufacturer Chord Hugo ($2.4k). This premium portable DAC and headphone amplifier includes a staggering amount of inputs/outputs including 5 digital inputs, 3 headphone outputs, a pair of full size RCA outputs, Bluetooth, DSD and tablet connectivity. That is quite a bag of tricks, but did I mention the dial changes color with the volume level? There was a significant buzz around the show for this product. Supply is currently a bit limited in the US after its CES announcement, but expect to hear more from this little reference class piece in the near future.

Allnic audio represented by Michigan dealer On Song Audio brought along some flagship  OTL tube amplifiers called the HPA 3000 and HPA 5000 connected to the fantastic T1 headphone by Beyerdynamic. On Song also showcased the detailed and dynamic [Calyx Integrated Amplifier] and the company’s reference DAC the Femto, which is one of the few DACs available to incorporate Femto clocking technology.

In what was perhaps one of the sweetest sounds of EGX, Dan Clark of Mr. Speakers had his top-tier 3-D printed Alpha Dog connected to Cavailli’s Liquid Glass and the Auralic VEGA DAC. This lethal combination really showcased the capabilities of the Fostex T50RP mod. Spatial reasoning, soundstage, dynamics and vibrancy were all on par with some of the best this hobby has to offer, a simply stunning rig. The most recent news coming out of the Mr.Speakers pound is a new product called the Mad Dog Pro ($449), which falls in between the Mad Dog ($299) and the $599 Alpha Dog pictured above. Dan also showed me his new “doggie treats” tweak product. These removable felt-like discs fit over the drivers inside the headphones and allow the user to even further customize the treble response of the headphone to their liking. Treble is nearly a polarizing, salt-to-taste preference as bass, so I’m sure many DIY-ers will appreciate Dan’s efforts here.

A relatively new company within the US scene, oBravo has put a new spin on traditional headphone technology. Their headphone line includes one of the first 2 way designs that I have seen. Incorporated into the HAMT-1 headphone is an AMT tweeter that resides in the belly of a neodymium dynamic driver. The HRIB-1 featured in this image contains a ribbon tweeter and is connected to the company’s HPA-1 headphone amplifier.

Focal may be typically known for their giant sounding loudspeakers, but their first attempt into headphones had certainly drummed up some serious interest. Launching a three headphone line with specific, individual voicing (and target markets) the Spirit One, Spirit Professional, and Spirit Classic all have their different appeals. While the Spirit Classic is sold in as “a music lovers dream” the Spirit Professional seems to be gaining ground as the audiophile favorite.

[Part One of EGX 2014 coverage]