We have mentioned PSB’s upcoming M4U2 active noise-cancelling headphone ($400) in show reports from CEDIA 2011 and Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2011, the fact is that the eager awaited M4U2 (along with associated packaging, etc.) now appears to be in its final production form. Along the road from prototype to production model, it appears that there may have been a few subtle changes in the M4U2 (the ear pads of the current version, for example, look slightly different from those shown on the earliest version demonstrated last Fall at CEDIA), but all of the key features and ingredients happily remain intact. It also appears that the M4U2 will be offered in colors other than the basic black in which it was first shown (see photos, where you will see there are now black, white, and grey versions).
For those of you who may have missed our earlier coverage of this important new design, let me summarize the basics:
• The Paul Barton-designed M4U2 was voiced in accordance with extensive research conducted at Canada’s NRC research facility.
• The M4U2 is an over-the-ear design with swiveling ear cups and exceedingly comfortable ear pads.
• By design, the M4U2’s detachable signal cable can be plugged in to either the left or right ear cup of the headphone—whichever the wearer find more comfortable.
• Unlike most active noise-cancelling headphones the M4U2 offer not two but three operating modes: passive mode, active mode with noise cancellation disabled, or active mode with noise cancellation turned on.
Playback is scheduled to receive review samples of the M4U2 as soon as full production commences. Stay tuned.
Scansonic is a Danish loudspeaker manufacturer that is one of several audio brands managed by the Danish firm Dantax Group (Dantax also oversees the perhaps better-known high-end speaker company Raidho Acoustics). Through talks with Lars Venning, managing director, I learned that Scansonic’s mission is focus on building speakers that are affordable, eminently musical, and deliver unexpectedly high performance for the money. One such product that caught my ear was the lovely little Scansonic S5Active loudspeaker (US pricing TBD, but roughly $599/pair), which is an attractive and sweet sounding little 2-way monitor driven by a built-in 2 x 50 Wpc stereo amplifier. While not a spectacular performer in any one area, the S5Active is very well balanced, hardly ever puts a foot wrong in sonic terms, and is easy and engaging to listen to.
The German firm Sennheiser came to CES, as the old expression goes, absolutely “loaded for bear” with not one but rather five significant new headphone/earphone products. Let me address each in turn.
Earphones: Not long before CES, Sennheiser announced two new top-tier earphones called the IE80 ($449.95) and IE60 ($249.95). If I am reading the “tea leaves” correctly, the IE 60 effectively replaces the next-to-the-top-of-the-line IE7 model, featuring dynamic drivers equipped with Neodymium magnets, and promising “impressive precision and high resolution bass reproduction.” The IE80, in turn, replaces the earlier IE8 as the flagship model in the line. Like the IE8, the new IE80 offers an adjustable sound tuning feature that allows users to set bass output levels to suit their tastes or to address environmental conditions (e.g., environments with tons of low frequency noise). Interestingly, the IE80, like many other top-tier earphones, now introduces user replaceable signal cables. Playback has a set of IE80’s on hand for review and will present a “First Listen” article and subsequent full-length review on them in the near future.
Wireless Headphones: At Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) 2011, Sennheiser debuted, but was not ready to release pricing on, its very high performance RS 220 wireless headphones. Now, however, pricing for the RS 220 has been set at ($599.95). Without repeating all the comments I made on the RS 220 in my RMAF 2011 report, let me simply observe that the RS 220 sounds a fair amount like Sennheiser’s HD 600 model, yet costs only about $200 more, which seems a fair price to pay for the greater freedom and flexibility that a self-powered, wireless phone confers (especially when you consider that you won’t have to spring for an outboard headphone amp with the RS 220, as you would with the HD600). The RS 220 uses 2.4 GHz DSSS wireless technology and has an effective range of up to 300 feet. Very cool.