There’s a revolution going on in the world of performance-minded audio and it is taking place—and will continue to take place—with or without the approval or participation of the traditional high-end audio world.
It is a revolution involving enjoyment of very high performance headphones (and earphones) as driven by serious, purpose-built headphone amplifiers and exotic source components. It is a movement driven, as all great high-end audio movements are, by a sincere love of music and a passion for seeing just how well music can be reproduced.
But it is also a movement driven by pragmatism, good humor, a spirit of open-minded exploration, and a clear-cut desire to push the performance envelope without necessarily spending the stratospheric sums of money that top-tier speaker-based systems so often seem to command. So, think of the high-performance headphone revolution as a movement designed to re-frame or re-imagine high-end audio in terms that are accessible for Everyman.
This past weekend, I took the opportunity to visit a Head-Fi meet staged in the very much music-minded city of Austin, Texas, USA (Head-Fi, www.head-fi.org, is a member-led organization that is at the forefront of the high-performance headphone movement). In keeping with the tradition for such meets, exhibits included a number of tables from product manufacturers as well as many more tables occupied by Head-Fi members who brought their personal systems to the meet to show and to share with fellow enthusiasts.
What follows is a brief illustrated report designed to give you a sense for the great good fun to be had at the meet.
NEW EQUIPMENT/NEW DEALERS
Austin, TX-based Avenson Audio is for the most part a pro-sound-oriented company that bills itself as a “manufacturer of fine audio tools”, among which are: reference quality omnidirectional condenser mics, active DI boxes, and several other specialized, recording-studio-oriented components. Over time, however, Avenson wanted to create an ultra-accurate and ultra-pure headphone amplifier that could be used to evaluate the firm’s STO-2 reference mics. Feeling that there were many good headphone amps on the market, but none that precisely fit Avenson’s requirement, the firm created its own small but highly capable headphone amp, called simply the “Avenson Headphone Amp”, priced at $750.
Based on brief listen, we came away impressed by the Avenson amp’s power, neutrality, resolution, and robustness. It will certainly bear a follow-up listen.
Cable Pro is a Dallas, TX-based specialty cable manufacturer who has come up with an interesting new take on high performance cable harnesses for headphones. Since many headphone makers (e.g., Audeze, HiFiMAN, Sennheiser, etc.) use differing types of cable connectors, the tradition is for aftermarket manufacturers to build full-length (4 – 5-foot) cables fitted with appropriate headphone-specific connectors. This works well, but can quickly become very expensive for those who own more than one set of top-tier phones.
Recognizing this problem, Ted Paisley at Cable Pro came up with a clever modular solution. First, he offers a high performance headphone extensioncable such as the Freedom UP-OCC (~$169), which is deliberately terminated not with headphone connectros but rather with a general-purpose stereo connector.
Then, CablePro offers so-called “pigtail cables” that have CablePro’s general-purpose stereo connector on one end and headphone-specific connectors on the other. Two examples would be the firm’s Freedom UP-OCC “pigtail” cables (~$169) or Reverie “pigtail” cables (~$299).
The concept, clearly, is that you buy and pay for the extension cable only once, but then acquire additional pigtail connectors as your headphone collection grows. A clever approach, no?