Situated in the heart of London's university district, the Hotel Russell has an almost forgotten audio history - back in the 1970s, it was the home to one of the first hi-fi shows. But in the last weekof April 2013, it became the temporary home to Head-Fi, as one of its meeting rooms was the Saturday-long home to the UK's largest collection of headphone and IEM enthusiasts, an extension of the online community.
The show is given over to the enthusiasts, although it was heavily sponsored by Sennheiser, who paid for the venue, the food and the all-important coffee. But it was all about the fans. Several tables were given over to the enthusiasts meeting, listening and sharing their experiences... and their headphones. Even Head-Fi founder Jude flew in for the experience, and came away wowed by the UK's enthusiasm.
A large table typically was given over to one or two enthusiasts, with their diverse and fascinating collections of equipment. Most of this was too diverse to list; one IEM enthusiast had a table almost to himself, and had so many models, the table was spilling over with wire.
One of the forum regulars - shipsupt - pitched up with a monumental collection of his own equipment, that put many of the commercials to shame. A lot of electrostatics, a lot of Stax (including the ultra-rare enclosed 4070s), some vintage, some new, as well as the Sennheiser HE60 'baby Orpheus', Koss ESP 950, Woo GES amp, NAD M51DAC, nuForce CDP 8 and a 717 energiser. this barely scratches the surface of headphone black beltery. His 'desert island' kit though would be a pair of Stax 007 Mk 1, and the NAD M51 DAC.
Another forum regular - MrQ - was using the excellent HiFiMAN EF6 headphone amp, playing off a Mac through a Schitt Gungnir DAC into a pair of HiFiMAN HE6, with Audeze LCD-2 Mk 1 as back-up, all running balanced. In addition, he has a lot of classic and vintage equipment, but on the other side of the pond.
A Head-Fi hardcore gathered win the middle of the room with an impressive selection of in-ear, portable equipment. It's almost a bewildering array of in-head excellence, a toy store of audio loveliness. Duncan has been a Head-Fi maven since day one, and he was showing a HTC1 phone through a set of Sony HPA-4 IEMs. Excellent performance, from one of the most basic, yet thoroughly well-sorted set-ups. Next to him, Fortisflyer75 showed off JH16 pro IEMS, with a Whiplash/Twag hybrid cable, running into a Sony X1060 with TTVJ Slim headphone amp. There was also a pair of $500 Heir Audio 5.0 IEMs. These draw controversy; some liked them for the richness, some found the richness thick. Whatever, they are the IEMs to watch... as are the Sony MH1's at a pocket-chummy £10 or so!
The pros were showing new products. Sennheiser's Club Orpheus network of specialist dealers with demonstration facilities is an ideal way to show off what the Sennheiser HD700, HD800 and IE800 headphones - and the company's new amplifiers - can do in the right settings. Sennheiser's high-end product manager Axel Grell - one of the main engineers behind the HD800 - was on tap to discuss the design and construction of the top headphone.
Essency was showing Awareness! the Headphone App. The logic behind this clever iPhone App is obvious, when you think about it. Wearing IEMs or closed headphones drowns out the wider world - which is often lovely, but not when you step out in front of 5,000 tons of train. Awareness! allows the user to set volume levels from the microphone on the iPhone, and when your loud, impending doom beckons, the outside world cuts in on your listening. Death-avoidance-related concerns aside, it allows you to also introduce some background noise (for example, listening out for announcements or telephone calls), and even works as a sound pressure meter. Not being dead is well worth the £5/$8 purchase price, IMO.