By Japanese standards, the portable rig with which I walked the Fujiya Avic show floors was quite modest: an Astell&Kern AK120 w/ ALO International+ and NAD Viso HP50 headphones. Doing the rounds it wasn’t uncommon to see ‘portable’ setups the size of two house bricks. That’s impractical in this guy’s book but not for these Japanese fellas – they are committed to good sound on the go like few I’ve ever seen. Perhaps this is why CEntrance’s HiFi-M8 – and larger portable DAC/amps like it – continue to sell well. Here’s where an iPhone + DAC/amplifier get bagged over the shoulder.
To accommodate the need for more slender, lighter solutions, CEntrance this weekend launched the Mini-M8 portable DAC/amplifier. It’s two thirds the width of its bigger brother. When strapped to the back of a Google Nexus 5 the whole shebang is pocketable. I call that a win! The Mini-M8 one ups its predecessor with DSD playback (assuming the connected transport can stream it) whilst some go juice has been trade in for a longer battery life – this model will run for 10+ hours. CEntrance mainman Michael Goodman says the Mini-M8 is squarely aimed at the IEM user. Upon launch in July the Mini-M8 will sell for US$599.
Also upping the portability stakes were the exceedingly convivial gentlemen from Bakoon. Two new headphone amplifiers are coming our way, both battery powered portables. The HPA-01 (US$1600ish) and the HDA-5520 (US$900ish), both of which house the same SATRI circuit. The former is rechargeable whilst the latter is not – there you’ll need to BYO 12 x AA batteries for which you’ll get 12 hours listening time. The 1/8″ output sockets on the HDA-5520 tell you where’s it at – it’s a roadie. The HPA-01 packs 1/4″ sockets for homeboy status.
To assist with more copacetic headphone matching I tend to categorise portable amplifiers as either bombastic or elegant. The ALO International+ is a real kick-puncher, emphatically more powerful than the headphone staging in the AK120 which is softer, milder. The Bakoon units offer both types of presentation with a choice of voltage and current output. Current output is Bakoon’s point of difference and I definitely preferred it to the voltage output when driving a pair of Sennheiser HD800; current flow sounds more civilised, less eager to get you out of your chair. This qualitative difference was less stark with a pair of Fostex T50RP.
The BIG event of the weekend was the launch of a new open-backed headphone from the Japanese giant. Fostex’s press briefing for the TH500RP came without subtitles so I plugged their Japanese sales manager with a few questions, opening cheekily by asking Kawahata-san what Fostex thought of Dan Clark’s (Mr Speakers) mods to the T50RP. His reply was suitably diplomatic: the feelings were ‘mixed’. “We already think the T50RP is perfect so…the TH500RP is our response to Mr Clark!”. Take that, Dan!
After the briefing, demo units landing at the table met with an eager collective demand for a first listen. I found them to be bright, breezy and airy – detail retrieval rode ahead of tonal mass. If I were to own a pair I’d likely go with some tube amp colouration. You can try for yourself come July when the TH500RP will begin shipping in Japan for close to US$600.