This is Part 3 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 NAD, NuForce, Onkyo, Paradigm, Polk Audio, and Pro-Ject.
Tracking closely with developments from its sister company PSB Speakers, NAD electronics announced at CES its first-ever headphone—the HP50. Interestingly, PSB founder Paul Barton designed the HP50 for NAD. In a brief conversation at CES I asked Mr. Barton to compare and contrast the NAD HP50 with his own PSB M4U 1 headphone. Barton explained that while the two models are internally similar, the NAD version has been voiced to provide just slightly more bass lift than the PSB model does, although both headphones follow Barton’s philosophy of voicing headphones to provide low-end response curves that simulate the natural bass “room gain” that most loudspeaker enjoy in real-world rooms (as opposed to anechoic test chambers).
Moving forward, NAD also preview three impressive new compact audio components that each, in its way, speaks to headphone and/or desktop audio enthusiasts. The largest of the three components is the D7050 Digital Network Receiver, which is aptX/Bluetooth-enabled, Apple Airplay-enabled, provides and asynchronous high-res USB DAC, is UPnP compliant, and provides a 2 x 50Wpc digital amplifier.
Next in the lineup, and of direct interest to headphone lovers, is the D1050 USB DAC, which incorporates a high-res DAC with asynchronous USB and three S/PDIF inputs (AES/EBU, coax, and optical). Moreover, the D1050 incorporates a built-in headphone amp and provides both balanced and single-ended analogue audio outputs.
Finally, and this one will resonate the NAD fans of a certain age, we have the D3020 Digital DAC/Amp (and yes, that “3020” is a deliberate homage to NAD’s classic C 3020 integrated amp of yesteryear). The D3020 is aptX/Bluetooth enabled, provides a 24/192 asynchronous USB DAC, S/PDIF coax and optical inputs, a built-in headphone amp, a subwoofer output feed, and a 2 x 30Wpc digital amplifier. Think of this product as NAD’s “3020” for the digital age.
Key Product: HP-800 headphone ($149)
NuForce’s newly announced HP-800 is the firm’s first ever foray into full-size, over-the-ear, monitor-class headphones. From the outside the HP-800 appears very nicely made and on first listen it appears to offer decent bass depth and definition with an overarching “vibe” of clarity and transparency. NuForce set us up with review samples of the ‘phones, but ours have so few hours on them at this stage that I am reluctant to offer further comments on sonic characteristics until we have given them some more run-in time. Any way you slice things, though, the HP-800 looks to be a lot of headphone for the money.
Though best known for its home theater electronics components, Onkyo has now entered the world of headphone/earphone manufacturers with its new ES-FC300 headphones and ES-HF300 earphones. Interestingly, both models are offered in two versions—a lower priced version offered with standard signal cables and a slightly higher priced version fitted with higher quality, audiophile-oriented cable. If nothing else, I think this shows Onkyo’s heart is in the right place.