This is Part 2 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 CEntrance, Fosgate, HiFiMAN, Kingsound, Koss, and MartinLogan.
Key Product: HiFi-M8 balanced output headphone amplifier/USB & Apple IOS-compatible DAC ($699)
CEntrance is a fascinating company in that it was a well-regard digital audio technology development and consulting company (complete with a client list that read like a Who’s Who of High-End Audio and Pro Audio), long before it began building products consumers could buy. But once CEntrance took the plunge, it has built a series of winners including the DACport, DACmini, and MasterClass 2504 desktop monitoring speakers, to name just a few.
Now CEntrance brings us the HiFi-M8—one of the most ambitious portable headphone amp/DACs we have seen thus far and an amp that provides high-resolution iDevice and USB inputs, plus a fully balanced high-output headphone amp that provides extensive controls for master gain adjustment, bass and treble EQ, and more. As heard at T.H.E. Show (which was staged in conjunction with, but not under the auspices of, CES), the HiFi-M8 was used to drive a pair of Beyerdynamic T1 Tesla headphones that had been modified (rewired, actually) for use with balanced output amplifiers. The resulting sound was stupendous—easily some of the best headphone sound we heard at the show.
Key Product: Fosgate Signature headphone amplifier ($1500)
Now up and rolling along in full production is the Jim Fosgate-designed, tube powered Fosgate Signature headphone amplifier. Apart from an elegant and very wide bandwidth (2Hz – 200kHz) amplifier circuit, the amp also includes two other Fosgate inventions: a special user-controllable bass EQ circuit (using Fosgate’s patented “Single Element Controlled Twin T Filter”) and a switch selectable surround sound or imaging control circuit (using Fosgate’s also patented “Panorama Control”).
Prospective buyers may be interested to know that Fosgate enjoys an almost Thomas Alva Edison-like reputation as an inventor/designer. He is credited with having created the worlds first high-powered/low-distortion/bass EQ-equipped car audio amplifier (the famous Fosgate PowerPunch amp), the Fosgate/Audionics surround sound decoder (which ushered in the era of surround sound-equipped home theater as we know it), the Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound decoder circuit, and now a growing line of Fosgate Signature high-end audio components.
The Chinese headphone/earphone specialists at HiFiMAN conducted a press breakfast where it announced both its new RE-400 Waterline earphone (available) and prepared the way for the release of its very ambitious HM-901 high-resolution portable music player/DAC (slated to arrive within the next few months).
The RE-400 is intended as the middle model in a three-model range of high performance earphones. Company founder and President Dr. Fang Bian explained that he had always like the Dire Straits song “Down to the Waterline” and had, in a sense, named the RE-400 for the song. But he then quipped that any competing ‘phones that cost as much as the RE-400 but failed to sound as good could be considered, “…below the waterline.”