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Another hi-fi high-five from IFA 2019

  • This is our second slice of IFA 2019 coverage. Read Part 1 here.


    The first thing that hits you upon entering one of the Messe Berlin’s 20+ exhibition halls is the noise cacophony of a thousand conversations. Exhibitors attempting to cut through with loudspeaker systems find themselves on the losing end. Neighbouring exhibitors might duke it out for a short while before embracing bilateral surrender or perhaps – as per NAMM – a fine from show organisers.

    For the consumer, this is a show to see, to touch and to talk. It frees (most of) the press from the tyranny of making bold claims about gear with which they’ve played for no more than an hour. It’s the perfect location for testing the efficacy of a headphone’s active noise cancellation circuitry but not its prowess with music playback. Per RMAF and SDHT, if press commentary is to be reliable, the product at hand has to be lived with.

    Here we detail five more audio hardware highlights from the show floor:

    Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3.0

    The German company’s third iteration of their immensely popular active noise cancelling Momentum Wireless headphone sees the addition of aptX Low Latency (to the pre-existing set of aptX, AAC and SBC), USB-C charging, ambient noise pass-through, a simplified button array that moves on/off to unfold/fold and a partnering smartphone app that offers EQ and two features I’ve not seen before: the targeting of wind noise reduction and tile tracking (that allows the user to locate a misplaced pair). Driver size is 42mm. Battery life is rated by Sennheiser at 17 hours between charges. Your choice of black (now) or white (before Christmas). Price? €399.

    Further information: Sennheiser

    Audio Technica AT-LP5X

    For direct-drive turntablism on a budget, we turn to a Japanese company who is perhaps better known in high-end audio circles for its phono cartridges and headphones. The AT-LP5X refines the DC servo motor system of its non-X predecessor (now with lower noise), externalises the power supply in an outboard ‘brick’ and upgrades the factory-fitted cartridge to an AT-VM95E. Add to this a bypassable MM phono stage and internal ADC that spills ones and zeroes via USB and we have all the hallmarks of a Future-Fi turntable aimed at those with fewer dollars than Technics’ asking. Price: €399.

    Further information: Audio Technica

    TEAC NR-7CD, NT-505, AP-505, CG-10M

    I bypassed TEAC’s extensive array of turntables for the electronics displayed along the back wall. Why? Like you, I’m a sucker for VU (‘peak level’) meters and the Japanese company’s NR-7CD puts one on either side of its front fascia. The meters point to the unit’s dual-mono ICEpower amplification circuitry (230 wpc) that draws on a pair of AK4490 DAC chips (DSD/MQA) who in turn take their digital input from an internal CD transport, OpenHome Wi-Fi/Ethernet streaming module or Bluetooth input that, interestingly, not only specifies aptX but also Sony’s LDAC. That’s a whole lotta hi-fi hardware for €2499.

    Next to the NR-7CD, a stack of three half-width units: the NT-505 DAC, headphone amplifier and streamer (€1399), the bridgeable Hypex nCore AP-505 power amplifier (€1499) and, in-between, the CG-10M OXCO master clock generator (∼€1200).

    If I have my facts correct, all units are made in Japan.

    Further information: TEAC

    Sony SA-Z1

    First seen (and heard) in the A-ZH1ES, Sony has repurposed their Signature Series’ DAC and headphone amplifier’s hybrid circuitry for a pair of pint-sized desktop active loudspeakers – also placing in their Signature Series – that could easily double as mains for the small apartments of Tokyo.

    Quality over quantity is the name of the SA-Z1’s game in which horizontally opposed bass drivers (that Sony calls a “Tsuzumi” layout) cancel out each’s internal vibrations to exit via side vents. An “I-ARRAY” of three tweeters are coaxially aligned with time alignment further dialled in by way of FPGA-powered DSP, customisable via top-panel rotaries. The enclosure comprises six plates of aluminium connected, according to Sony, using a method inspired by traditional Japenese construction techniques.

    The Japanese giant has yet to expose the SA-Z1 actives’ behind but we can expect USB for a PC or Mac and connections for Sony Signature Series music players like the NW-WM1Z and the DMP-Z1. And like the latter transportable player, the SA-Z1 won’t be cheap when they begin shipping in the Spring of 2020. Yours for a cool €7000.

    Further information: Sony

    Master & Dynamic ???

    I’m this close to filming a video review that pits Sony’s WF-1000XM3 against another luxury True Wireless IEM, Master & Dynamic’s MW07. One is hot on features, the other on looks. Both are hot on sound quality. Seeing Master & Dynamic at IFA 2019 was a twist I didn’t see coming. Their booth  is as attractive as their headphones and loudspeakers. Neither did I anticipate a new product on full display in the back corner that the New York company’s German PR team requested I not publish photos of – or write about – until its official launch at the end of the month. Whilst acquiescing to their wishes, be advised that the new product throws a large spanner into those video review works. And if you really want to know what the new product is, you have until the end of tomorrow (September 11th) to visit IFA before it closes for another year.

    Auf wiedersehen, IFA. Bis nächstes Jahr!

    Further information: IFA

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile. John used to live in Sydney. Now he lives in Berlin.

    Follow John on YouTube or Twitter

    A hi-fi high-five from IFA 2019

    Letters to the editor: Curious, Flare, MagicLX & more