Astell&Kern introduced three new models in 2015 – the AK Jr, the AK380 and the AK320 – and took their DAP range from three to six. Cynical ploy or smart business? Probably a bit of both. Fresh meat arriving in such rapid succession is not without consumer-level challenges: for every pragmatic consumer untroubled by the introduction of a newer, better model there’s an ego-driven idealist no longer able to tell himself (and others) that he owns ‘the best there is’. After the AK380’s introduction, the idealist might look upon his AK240 SS forlornly whereas the pragmatist understands that the new flagship model doesn’t suddenly render his previous top-ender any less enjoyable. The AK380 doesn’t make the AK240 SS sound any worse – it remains a terrific sounding player.
Astell&Kern went the whole nine yards at e-earphone’s Portable Audio Festival last weekend. Complementing the listening stations, glass cabinets housing static displays lent the dental-surgery-bright booth a suitably high end feel, queues for which formed all weekend long. Astell&Kern’s collaborations with headphone manufacturers were also in full effect.
High-end headphones that play nicely with the weaker output of Astell&Kern players aren’t easy to come by. Why urge owners to brick it with an external amplifier when you can persuade Germany’s Beyerdynamic to make co-branded IEMs and headphones of sufficiently low impedance (and high efficiency) that render third party amplification redundant? The AKT8iE IEM and AK T1p headphone make it easier for A&K owners to love the one that they’re with.
Joining the symbiotic three-way in Tokyo was a refreshed Siren series from JH Audio. The all new Rosie IEM is essentially a fully-reworked JH 13 with 6 x balanced armature drivers in a 3-way configuration and sports the Siren series’ in-line trim pots for fully adjustable bass.
At US$899, Rosie also makes Jerry Harvey’s highly regarded Freqphase time alignment tech more affordable. Like the other three Siren series models, those larger-than-average earshells accommodate the tubing that ensures all frequencies arrive at the ear at precisely the right time, without which (according to Harvey) headstage specificity and vocal definition suffer.
Jerry Harvey didn’t take the audiologist route into the IEM world. He spent twenty years as a (touring) sound engineer before turning his hand to making in-ear monitors for members of Van Halen and Skid Row in an attempt to lessen hearing damage wrought by fold backs and side fills on stage. This initial tinkering led to the formation of Ultimate Ears in 1995 from which Harvey made a “volatile exit” (his words) in 2007. Since then he has helmed JH Audio. A more detailed history can be found at Harvey’s Wikipedia entry.
I had a brief listen to the new Rosie in Tokyo and noted the meaty midrange of the Layla, which incidentally are the only IEM I’ve heard to date capable of standing in for a full size headphone. Alas, quality control issues with cables blighted an otherwise impeccable product. I went through three before finding one that didn’t drop a channel after two months’ usage. JH Audio’s Andy Regan stepped in to explain how those QC wrinkles have since been ironed out and that Moon Audio are now supplying a much higher quality cable for each of Rosie, Angie, Roxanne and Layla…
…which brings us to the other significant piece of JH Audio news: Angie, Roxanne and Layla have each been upgraded to “Full Metal Jacket” v2 status. Gone is the carbon fibre, acrylic and Kevlar of first generation models, now replaced by aluminium and for Layla, a full titanium work up. In this eight minute walk through Jerry Harvey takes us deeper on specifics:
Does the second generation Layla strip any enjoyment from listening to the original? Not if you’re a pragmatist. Idealists demanding the best-of-the-best always and forever will likely have a tougher time knowing that their IEM choice no longer sits at the summit of the JH Audio range. Them’s the breaks of progress. And of business.
All but Rosie will be available in custom variants but pricing on universal versions is as follows: Rosie (US$899), Angie II (US$1299), Roxanne II (US1899) and Layla II (US$2799). Astell&Kern are handling Siren series distribution worldwide.