AXPONA 2018 EarGear Expo Show Report
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.