Headed by personal audio/headphone enthusiast Fang Bian, HiFiMAN builds a remarkably diverse array of headphones and headphone related products, which are sold in the U.S. through Head-Direct. At Can Jam, HiFiMAN previewed its upcoming new flagship HF6 planar magnetic headphones (~$1000) and demonstrated its current high performance HF5-LE planar magnetic headphones, ($699), which several Can Jam exhibitors were using as reference headphones. I am currently working on a review of the HF5-LE for Playback and can attest to the fact that it is a serious top-tier contender, offering sonic qualities of timbral purity and overall lucidity that just won’t quit.
For in-ear headphone enthusiasts, HiFiMAN showed three models: the flagship RE-262 (~$170), the RE-ZERO ($100), and the upcoming RE-242 (~$70). The RE-242, which sounded extremely good for the money by the way, offered an interesting design touch that I hope catches on in a broader way. The cable strain reliefs for the RE-242 are flexible, which isn’t unusual, but once flexed the strain reliefs will hold whatever position you bend them into, which can greatly improve wearer comfort and makes it easier to obtain a good fit.
On the personal audio front, HiFiMAN also unveiled two new high-end oriented portable digital music player/DACs—the HM-801 ($790) and HM-602 ($350). The new HM-801 is said to be the first product on the market to handle high-res 96/24 FLAC digital audio files, and also provides an SD cardslot for storage plus a user-accessible amplifier bay that can accommodate the listener’s choice of high or lo-gain amplifier modules.
The “JH” in JH Audio stands for Jerry Harvey, who was originally the founder of Ultimate Ears. Now that Logitech has acquired Ultimate Ears, Harvey has gone on to launch JH Audio where he has developed an ambitious line of custom-fitted in-ear monitors. At Can Jam, JH Audio’s demonstration focused primarily on the firm’s top two models: the five-driver/3-way JH 13 Pro ($1099) and the eight-driver/3-way, triple bore JH 16 Pro ($1149). The JH 16 Pro is offered purely as a custom-fit model, but for Can Jam JH had rigged up a pair to use universal-style eartips so that event attendees could try them out. I took a turn with the JH 16 Pros and found their sound very, very promising (I can only imagine what they might be like with properly fitted custom earpieces).
In a more forward-looking vein, JH Audio was previewing a new, even higher performance variation on the JH 13 Pro and JH 16 Pro themes where the in-ear monitors’ passive 3-way crossover networks will replaced by—get this—a new JH-3A outboard, DSP-controlled active crossover/tri-amplifier module (co-developed with Cypher Labs and ALO Audio). I briefly heard a very impressive demo of the system, shook my head in disbelief, and walked away—much like the Howard Hughes character in the Martin Scorsese film Aviator—repeating the phrase, “the way of the future, the way of the future…”
Though perhaps best known for its high-end, studio grade DACs, Lavry Audio also builds products that will appeal to enthusiast consumers, too. One such component is the very sophisticated DA11 DAC/headphone amp whose 96/24 DAC can accept digital audio files with data rates up to 192/24, but deliberately downsamples them to 96/24 for reasons best explained by a Lavry white paper. The DA11 provides USB, Coax, Toslink and AES inputs and balanced XLR outputs. Interestingly, the DA-11 also provides independent left/right “stereo width” adjustment controls that allow fine-tuning balance settings to perfection. Based on a brief listen, I’d say that fans of musical subtlety and of deep “inner details” might find the DA11 much to their liking.