Most often thought of as a loudspeaker manufacturer or pro-sound company, Altec-Lansing is entering the headphone fray with not one but two lines of earphones, plus a line of ACS-built custom fit in-ear monitors (as noted above). Altec’s earphones are offered in two series: the Bliss family of earphones ($29.95 - $69.95) and the Musx Core family of earphones ($29.95 – $99.95).
The Swiss firm Phonak Audeo followed up the Fall 2011 release of its spectacularly good flagship earphone, the PFE 232 ($599), with a new mid-priced model called the PFE 132 ($239). In essence, the PFE 132 is a “made for iPhone” version of the superb PFE 121/122, which we at Playback regard as one of the best sounding mid-priced earphones we have tested to date.
The desktop audio specialists at Audioengine have been on a roll of late, as evidenced by three new products on display at CES. First, we have the Audioengine 5+ (or “A5+” for short) self-powered desktop/whole-room speaker ($399/pair), which is a updated version of the original A5—arguably the single product most responsible for putting Audioengine on the desktop audio map. Next, we have the adorably small, but definitely not toy-like D1 DAC ($169)—a 24/192 DAC with both USB and optical inputs, and outputs for both headphones and for purposes of driving audio systems (or self-powered speakers such as the A5+). Note: Playback will soon be reviewing the combination of a D1 DAC and a pair of A5+ speakers, which together promise to serve as a fine (and not terribly expensive) standalone high-performance desktop audio system.
The third product Audioengine revealed at CES was its way cool D2 Premium Wireless DAC ($599). Actually, though, the D2 is more than just a DAC. As Audioengine points out, the D2 serves in three different though related capacities. First, it’s a high-resolution USB wireless DAC (the DAC can accept and process digital audio files at up to 24/192 data rates, but sends the music over-the-air at 24/96 resolution). Second, the D2 functions as a wireless USB-to-SP/DIF converter. Third, the D2 also functions as a wireless optical PCM-to-stereo link. Two important points to note are that the D2 functions completely independently from your home Wi-Fi network—if any, and the D2 transmitter can simultaneously send HD audio to as many as three wireless receivers spread throughout the user’s home.
2012 marks the 50th Anniversary for the respected Japanese high-end audio/pro-sound company Audio-Technica. In celebration of its anniversary, Audio-Technica released a series of five very limited edition products, including two phono cartridges, a DJ-oriented headphone, a set of high performance earphones, and the latest in Audio-Technica’s well-regarded “W-series” full-size headphones (headphones that enjoy something of a cult following worldwide).
Of particular interest for Playback readers, we feel, will be the ATH-CKW100ANV earphones ($549.95) and the spectacular new ATH-W3000ANV headphone ($1299.95). I took an opportunity to listen to the ATH-W3000ANV headphones, and –judging by admittedly brief first impressions—I’d venture the opinion that it just might be A-T’s finest W-series model to date. What I particularly liked about the 50th anniversary model was that it retained (and perhaps even expanded upon) the natural warmth and dynamic expressiveness that have been the hallmarks of past W-series models, while introducing a much higher level of tautness and control (especially in the bass region) than I’ve head from earlier-generation W-models. In short, the 50th Anniversary W3000ANV might be one of those “best of two schools of thought” designs that do all (or at least most) things very well.