Interestingly, the K3003 comes with three pairs of screw-in, precision machined sound-tuning filters that can be fitted into threaded mounts in the earphones’ sound outlet tubes. The filters allow users to dial in three distinct acoustic profiles for the earphones, with one filter set designed to allow slightly elevated treble response (which AKG calls simply “High Boost”), another filter set that offers neutral voicing (which AKG calls the Reference Sound or “Son De Référence”), and a third filter set that provides elevated bass response (which AKG calls “Bass Boost”).
The K3003 debuted in Europe last year, but so far as I am aware CES 2012 marked the first time the product was shown in the US (and the very good news is that it will be sold here).
Is any earphone worth $1300/pair? You’ll hear some heated debates on that question, both pro and con, but at the end of the day the answer comes down to sound quality. Though I only got a brief chance to listen to the K3003 at CES, my initial thought was that it was easily one of the most—if not the most—revealing earphone I’ve ever heard. In short, it’s a sure-fire candidate for “best of the best” honors. If all goes as planned, Playback will be able to review the K3003 later in the year.
For CES Alpha Design Labs (which is essentially the affordable audio equipment division of the ultra high-end audio company Furutech), showed one recently released product, plus two new ones—all three likely to please Playback readers and headphone/earphone/desktop audio enthusiasts everywhere.
• Recently released: the Cruise portable headphone amplifier with both a 24/96 USB digital input and an analog input ($540). Visually, the Cruise is distinguished by its sleek, wedge-shaped case, which is made of a high-tech combination of stainless steel and carbon fiber (more so than many audio firms, the Furutech people are absolute fanatics about materials sciences, so that material choices in ADL/Furutech are always made with specific performance objectives in mind, and not just as styling exercises). One very cool aspect of the Cruise is that it can be powered by an onboard battery that can be charged via your computer’s USB port, or by a wall-wart type power supply.
• New: The Stride portable headphone amplifier with both a 24/96 USB digital input and an analog input ($395). From 10 feet away, it would be almost impossible to tell a Stride from a Cruise and if you read the manufacturer’s specifications blurb for the product the same is also most true. So what’s the difference? In a nutshell, the Stride is a Cruise whose chassis/case is made of aluminum, rather than of stainless steel/carbon fiber. You might interpret this to mean that differences between the Cruise and Stride are purely cosmetic, but according to an ADL spokesperson I talked to at CES, there is said to be a sonic difference between the two that is ostensibly attributable to the differences in casework materials. This is a fascinating claim that Playback would love to put to the test, perhaps in a future Cruise vs. Stride comparison test. Stay tuned.
• New: The Esprit DAC and preamp ($999) will look awfully familiar to those already familiar with ADL’s GT-40 USB DAC/Analog Recorder, though it is substantially different on the inside and uprated in ways that should make for noticeable sonic improvements. For now, let’s review the basics. The versatile Esprit features a 24/192 DAC, a 24/96 USB DAC, and 24/192 ADC—all with “a low jitter clock recovery system, and it also serves as a high-quality preamp that includes a useful set of both analog and digital inputs and outputs. Finally, let’s also note that the Esprit incorporates what Furutech describes as “an exceptional headphone amplifier that drives 32 Ohm to 600 Ohm ‘phones with aplomb.” While the Esprit does not include the phonostage that made the GT-40 so distinctive, it offers worthwhile advances over the GT-40’s performance in every other area.