This is Part 4 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 Sennheiser, Soul, Urbanears, WESC, Westone, and Woo Audio.
Like many established manufacturers of serious high-end headphones Sennheiser has felt some commercial pressure to create an upscale (but not too upscale) mid-priced “lifestyle” headphone. Unlike at least some other manufacturers, however, Sennheiser chose to address this requirement as perhaps only it could: namely, with a new headphone called the Momentum that is exquisitely made using high-grade materials, that looks cool, that feels great to wear, and that—most importantly—sounds terrific. Expect a Hi-Fi+ review of the Momentum in the coming year.
While at the Sennheiser booth, I had the honour of meeting Axel Grell, the gentleman responsible for the design of Sennheiser’s landmark HD 800 headphones and for several of the firm’s other top-tier components. Mr. Grell took time to show me both Sennheiser’s new HDVA 600 balanced output headphone amplifier and its sister product, the DDVD 800 balanced output headphone amplifier and high resolution DAC (for which Mr. Grell says he prefers through the USB input). Both these products are intended specifically to complement Sennheiser’s top-tier headphones such as the HD 700 and HD 800.
But another new top-tier model destined to garner a lot of attention will be the Grell developed IE800 earphone, which takes its place alongside AKG’s K3003 in defining what might be considered a new class of what might be termed “über-earphones.” Unlike many other top-class universal-fit earphones, the IE800 deliberately does not use multiple drivers, nor does it use balanced armature-type drivers. Instead, it uses a single, small-ish diameter, very high performance dynamic driver fitted in ceramic earpiece enclosures that sport rear-facing vent port. Grell told Hi-Fi+ that the IE800’s design was influenced in no small part by several of Sennheiser’s resident microphone experts, who suggested that various ear canal resonance issues might be solved through damped vent port in the rear of the enclosure (apparently, analogous techniques are used in designing housings for dynamic microphones). The end result, based on a too brief listen, is what I suspect will prove to be a world-class earphone that exhibits exceptional transparency and loads of performance potential.
Where some contemporary headphone makers like to have their products endorsed by music-related celebrities (Beats has Dr. Dre and SMS Audio has Fifty Cent, etc.), Soul takes a somewhat different approach, frequently associating its top-tier models with high-profile athletes. A perfect case in point would be the firm’s SL300 headphone, which is offered in both Usain Bolt and Tim Tebow models, to name but a few (Euro readers may want to know that Tim Tebow is a controversial but also charismatic figure in the world of American football). Personally, I found the striking, Jamaican flag-influenced green/yellow/black colour scheme of the Usain Bolt model particularly attractive. Based on a brief listen, I’d say the SL300 is more a “fun” headphone (in a dub/club sort of sense) than a truly accurate audiophile’s headphone, but even so I think it will certainly find its share of followers.