Hi-Fi+ Editor Alan Sircom and I spoke about the magazine’s coverage of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, NV, USA and decided we would take a “divide-and-conquer” approach where each of us would focus on a handful of specific product categories. As it happens, one of the product categories assigned to me is a personal favourite; namely, high-performance headphones, earphones, and related electronics components. Below, I will summarize highlights from the headphone category as seen and heard at CES, providing photos of most of the products I mention.
Let me apologize in advance to any manufacturers whose worthy products I fail to mention in this report. The show was a dauntingly large one, so it is perhaps inevitable that a certain number of vendors and products will be missed. But, as you will learn in a moment, there were many excellent products on display and sounding great.
This is Part 1 of a four-part Hi-Fi+ report on headphones and related electronics as seen at CES 2013. This section of the report covers new products from Abyss, Alpha Design Labs/Furutech, April Music, Audio Technica, Beyerdynamic, Bryston, and Cary Audio.
Key product: AB-1266 planar magnetic headphone ($5500)
The Abyss AB-1266 headphone was shown in a prototype form at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2012, and shown in an updated pre-production form at CES. To state things simply, the AB-1266 is pursuing a single-minded goal; namely, to be the finest ultra-high-end headphone in the world (one capable of doing battle on an equal footing with the impressive and class-leading Stax SR-009 electrostatic headphone). On the road to production, the AB-1266 has undergone several changes, with refinements to the headphone’s voicing, a new and more rigid (but still adjustable) frame, new foamed aluminium driver protection screens, specially gauged JPS Labs Illuminati signal cables, new asymmetrical magnetically-attached and position adjustable ear pads, and an exquisite tool leather carrying case. All in all, the AB-1266 should be a very impressive offering—one that we look forward to reviewing in final production form.
For CES, ADL/Furutech showed two key products: a prototype of the firm’s upcoming X1 portable, high-resolution DAC and headphone amp, which was sounding extremely good at the show. Of particular significance is the fact that the X1 DAC section has been designed from the ground up for iDevice, Android device, and USB compatibility, and is also fitted with optical outputs, giving the little portable exceptional flexibility. The X1 should make a terrific follow-on to the firm’s already popular Cruise and Stride portables.
The H118 headphones had debuted at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2012, but Hi-Fi+ learned that the headphone had in the intervening months been re-voiced in a beneficial and very musical way. Stated simply, the production version H118 sounds not just a little but a lot better (warmer, more natural, and more organic and musically correct) than the version shown at RMAF. Good work, ADL.
Key Product: Stello 100-series HAP-100 headphone amplifier/DAC ($1200)
As many of you know, April Music offers three ranges of components, with Eximus models at the top of the range, Stello 100-series models in the middle, and Aura components representing the (relative) entry level. April’s newest offering, as shown at CES, is the Stello 100-series HAP-100 headphone amplifier/DAC, which was sounding very promising during a brief listening session. What words (and for that matter, photos) cannot easily convey is the exquisite but understated fit and finish that makes all April components—the Stello 100 HAP-100 included—a joy to behold and to use.