Whilst most audio gear at CES was exhibited on several floors high up in the Venetian Hotel, most of the world’s bigger headphone companies could be found in a single (large) area of the convention centre. It was interesting to see Audeze now punching in the same space as big boys like Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic and Audio-Technica.
Readily apparent when visiting the rather swanky Audeze booth were the fruits of recent collaborative labour; CEO Alex Rosson has clearly been busy sideways integrating the Audeze brand with other field players.
First up Subpac. Their ‘Tactile Bass System’ ran on the couch at one end of the booth. The Subpac S2 (US$379) is a seat pad that sits between the listener and the back of the chair where it vibrates the lowest frequencies directly in the spine. Gamers who remember rumble seats will probably know the deal. I think of it as an on-skin subwoofer.
The S2 can be used with any audio source or hardware setup but I listened to Plastikman’s EX with the Subpac seatback working in tandem with Audeze headphones. The amount of low frequency information left off the table when listening to the Audeze ‘phones solo is, frankly, startling. And that’s no slight against the Californian cans – the S2 can reach all the way down to 5Hz.
That said, the Subpac S2 isn’t for everyone. It’s for headphone listeners who want the very deepest bass or for mastering engineers who need to monitor super-low frequencies with greater accuracy.
E-late. I’m holding back some key information here. See – the Subpac session was this fella’s exposure to Audeze’s all-new EL-8 headphones, their first planar-magnetic shot fired below the $1000 mark. The EL-8 headphones could also be found in several rooms in the aforementioned Venetian.
Selling for somewhere in the region of US$700 (TBC) and available in open and closed versions, the EL-8 deploys single-sided magnets and double-strength diaphragms in a way that Tyll Hertsens of Inner Fidelity (and also at the Audeze booth when I stopped by) described as “ingenious!” Hertsens kindly spent a few minutes talking me through how the single-sided magnet works its magic the upshot of whch is the EL-8 are quite a bit lighter than the higher end models. Audeze have definitely heeded listener feedback.
I took both versions of the EL-8 for a run using the Audeze-supplied PonoPlayer and emphatically preferred the open-backed model – it served up better, deeper bass and a more lucid midrange. The closed-back model’s presentation was too hemmed in, too claustrophobic for my tastes. However, as much as I dig the PonoPlayer, I don’t think it has sufficient gusto to do the EL-8 proper justice. I noted FAR superior results when juicing the open-backed EL-8 with the Hugo TT in Chord Electronics’ room the following day. (Comparison’s with AudioQuest’s Nighthawk to follow).
What I really dig about the Audeze EL-8 is the super-sleek industrial design introduced through collaboration with BMW Design Works. BMW’s design smarts also presents in Audeze’s brand new Deckard headphone amplifier. It too was being launched at this year’s CES but caused far less social media buzz than the EL-8.
The Deckard’s circuit is the work of fresh-faced Cyrus Legg, an electrical engineer and project manager who has previously worked in medical devices and underwater robotics fields. Legg tells me that the Audeze headphone amplifier is his first audio project but that the crossover with the medical world is substantial. “Nowhere was this more apparent than when dealing with the sensitivity of analogue parts, particularly in the Deckard’s input stage where the signal is smallest,” said Legg.
Did I mention that the Deckard is also a DAC? An XMOS USB input hands off to a TI 5102A DAC chip – so no DSD, only PCM up to 24bit/192kHz. Immediately adjacent to the analogue input on the rear is a variable output – the Deckard will also run as a pre-amplifier. The output stage isn’t discrete – anti-op-amp purists will likely tut-tut but that’s mostly par for the course at the Deckard’s US$699 asking price.
Wake up, time to die.
Further information: Audeze
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