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AXPONA 2018 Show Report By Enjoy the Music.com
AXPONA 2018 Show Report -- Audio Expo North America

AXPONA 2018 EarGear Expo Show Report
Personal audio products that impressed at AXPONA's EarGear Expo 2018.
AXPONA 2018 Show Report By Dave Hanson

 

Benchmark
I spent some time with the new Benchmark HPA4 and DAC3 ($2,995 and $2,195, respectively) the week prior at CanJam SoCal 2018, and found them to be supremely capable, but a bit boring to listen to with the HiFiMAN HE1000 and Sennheiser HD650. Giving them a second listen at AXPONA yielded a vastly different result.

 

 

This time, the Benchmark combo was paired with the HiFiMAN Susvara ($5,999) and the combination definitely clicked. Together the Susvara / Benchmark combo was open, airy, transparent and dynamic. I came away quite impressed and I'm glad I gave it another try. Given the two vastly different experiences, I'd be interested in hearing this in a quieter, controlled environment to test different headphone synergies.

 

Campfire Audio
The Campfire Audio brand is scorching hot right now, with the ever-popular co-flagship IEMs Andromeda and Vega in-ear monitor I recently reviewed ($1,099). But while some others might sit back and be content with their success, the folks at Campfire have kept innovating and pushing forward.  Their most recent products include the their first pair of over-ear headphones, Cascade, and two new IEMs, the Comet and flagship Atlas.

 

 

The Comet is a terrific entry-level IEM at $199. Using a single balanced armature, it delivers a sound that is cohesive and surprisingly punchy. While Comet isn't quite as full sounding through the midrange as some of the higher-end models, I think people will be surprised at how well balanced it is overall, and it's a nice all-purpose sound for rock music.

The Atlas ($1,299) pushes the technology from Vega to its limits, using a single 10mm ADLC dynamic diver. ADLC is a synthetic diamond-like material, and in-turn it offers great damping properties and powerful dynamic impact. Atlas may very well have the most visceral, jaw-dropping bass I've heard from an IEM. I was also really impressed with the level of detail it was able to convey. It's like a slightly more well-balanced Vega on steroids.

 

 

Finally, Campfire introduced their first over-ear headphone earlier this year, and many people were eager to see and hear it. The Cascade ($799) has 42mm beryllium PVD dynamic drivers, and like the Vega and Atlas, it packs a real punch. Good closed headphones under $1,000 are hard to find, and the Cascade provides a lot of excitement for the price. Fans of EDM, hip-hop, hard rock and heavy metal will definitely want to give this one a listen. Look for our full review, coming soon.

 

Cayin
Cayin's booth was like an audio show within an audio show, with a huge variety of products. But the centerpiece of it all was undoubtedly the new flagship HA-300 amplifier ($3,999).

 

 

The HA-300 uses a push-pull design with 6SN7 dirvers and 300B power tubes. The signal is then fed to specially made dual output transformers for single ended and balanced output.  The amplifier uses an outboard power supply with four 22DE4 rectifiers and a custom-built toroidal transformer to provide a steady stream of squeaky-clean power with a stunningly low noise floor.

I spent time listening to this monster amplifier with the Focal Utopia ($3,999) and the sound was absolutely sublime. Nuanced with layer upon layer of sophisticated dimensional depth. Clean and quiet with effortless detail. Wide open with rich micro and macro dynamics. It's everything you want. Cayin has made a name for themselves by delivering great bang-for-buck value, so it's pretty incredible to see what they're really capable of on a cost-no-object design.

 

Clear Tune Monitors
CTM has recently launched a duo of impressive flagships with their Da Vinci IX ($2,000) and Da Vinci X ($2,400). The Da Vinci IX features a nine-diver configuration with a four-way crossover. The sound was well-balanced with a wide-open soundscape, but I also felt the dynamics were a little too smooth for the price. At the $2,000 price point, I expect a little more explosiveness, but for those that want a more laid-back sound, it might be a good fit.

 

 

The Da Vinci X was a bit more to my liking. It features a 10-diver design and a five-way crossover. The frequency response here was slightly warmer than the IX with much more visceral dynamics. I felt like it was a better, more exciting sound all-around for my personal tastes.

 

Cleer
The Cleer NEXT ($699) was easily one of the most visually striking headphones at the show. One might call it "upper crust" made to be paired with a artisan wood turntable and a glass of 10-year-old Scotch. Cleer teamed up with BMW Design Group to achieve these sharp aesthetics, and from the soft sheepskin leather earpads to the tasteful metal accents, it looks and feels premium, through and through.

 

 

The open-back NEXT uses ironless magnesium drivers and I found the sound offered a good sense of overall frequency balance including a nice, robust bass response. The soundscape was very good, with very solid depth projection and a strong center stage which is impressive at $699. They were fun, exciting and easy to enjoy. I'd be interested to hear more of these in a quiet environment to get a better feel for the level of nuance and detail they offer, but from what I heard at the show, they were quite impressive.

 

Dekoni
It seems like Dekoni Audio is cranking out aftermarket pads for just about half the headphones on the market right now. Their well-crafted designs have a pretty established reputation at this point for improving both the comfort and the sonic properties of headphones like the Sennheiser HD800 and HD600/650, Fostex TH-900 and T50RP, and many more.

 

 

Fostex, seeing the potential for a partnership, approached Dekoni about producing a custom T50RP, and the result is the Dekoni Blue ($299). This custom-tuned T50RP is a nice price-to-performance headphone, especially if you have a good amp to pair with it. Like many T50 mods, it has a nice bass and midrange response. I've certainly heard better takes on the T50RP headphone (Alpha Dog, Paradox and Ori, to name a few), but those headphones are all a bit more expensive than the modestly-priced Blue.

 

Eartech Music
I'll admit, I'd never heard of the fine Southern gentlemen before, but it was a genuine pleasure visiting their booth. The Tennessee-based company specializes in custom in-ear monitors, mostly targeted to the musician market. I demo'ed the Dual Driver ($299) and Triple Driver ($399) IEMs, and felt both offered superb bang-for-the buck.

 

 

Both models offered a nicely balanced all-around signature that works with just about anything, as I threw a wide variety of music at them. The soundscape wasn't huge, but it was very well-defined with strong imaging. The bass was fast and placed at a good level where it was a bit fun, but not unnaturally tilted toward the warm side. The Triple Driver was the warmer and more full-bodied IEM of the two, and I definitely came away feeling that it was worth the $100 difference.

 

 

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