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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

 

InEarz
Coming from the pro audio world, InEarz was on hand with their variety of stage monitors. I got a chance to listen to the InEarz Zen 2 ($369), which features ADEL technology to reduce ear fatigue.

 

 

The Zen 2 was bright, sparkly and clear. I wouldn't really call it my cup of tea personally, as I felt it could use a bit more body in the midrange and bass, but for those who are looking for an ultra clear and present sound, it's worth an audition.

 

JH Audio
Jerry Harvey and Co. have developed a very nice spread of products, and I took a little time to sit down and re-familiarize myself with their line-up. While the Siren Series is excellent and grabs the lion's share of attention, I was also reminded of a couple of frequently over-looked models in their line-up that are really quite good.

 

 

At just $599, the JH3X Pro is the entry-level CIEM in the lineup, and it is one of my favorites. It has a punchy and impactful sound that is great for rock, metal, EDM, and it is good enough across the board that it makes a pretty strong all-rounder, too.

I also took some time to check out the JH filtered ear plugs ($150), and was surprised by how uncolored they were. Hearing protection is so important, and ear plugs that can turn down the volume without destroying the sound should really be a higher priority for audio lovers. I'm definitely going to look into getting a pair of these for myself.

 

JVC
One of the coolest demos of the EarGear Expo wasn't on the show floor at all. JVC was in a private room upstairs showcasing their new Exofield technology. While they are a well-known name in audio overall, they haven't done much in the high-end personal audio space, so I think this was overlooked by a lot of folks.

 

 

JVC Exofield takes individual measurements from your ears and then is able to perfectly fool the brain into thinking sound from inside the headphones is actually coming from speakers in the room using DSP software. I've had a similar demo before with the Smyth Realizer A16, and JVC Exofield was every bit as impressive.

JVC is still working out the details of how to package and sell this in North America, but the Exofield playback technology is implemented through a mobile app or Foobar 2000, which means you can experience speaker-like staging at your desk or on the go! The folks at JVC expect this to become available in North America later this year, so keep an eye out for more developments on this exciting piece of tech.

 

LB-Acoustics
The MySphere 3.1 ($3,999) may very well be the new soundstage king of headphones. Descended from the legendary AKG K1000, it is essentially a headband with a pair of speakers attached. The speakers are mounted on a pair of hinges, allowing the listener to adjust the stage presentation to his or her liking.

 

 

With the speakers fully extended, the soundscape is impressively wide and deep, placing the listener maybe 20 or 30 rows back from the stage. Folding the speakers inward toward the ear puts the listener closer to the stage, increasing the warmth an intimacy of the music along the way. With the cups all the way in, you are right in the front row. What is really amazing about the MySphere 3.1 is its ability to transfer that emotional gravitas of moving closer to the stage. I would have thought the MySphere would be most impressive in the wide-open position, but in reality, it's equally impressive with the speakers all the way in or all the way out.

There is still a bit of a wait, if you want to get your hands on a MySphere, but they are taking reservations for delivery via their website and shipping on a first come-first-serve basis when they become available.

 

Lindemann
Lindemann wasn't on my radar at all, but I stumbled across them on the show floor and got a chance to spend some time with their flagship Musicbook DSD ($3,999). This all-in-one serves as a network player, DAC, headphone amp and preamplifier. It features USB, Wi-Fi and aptX Bluetooth connection modes, and is able to upscale any incoming audio streams to full-blown DSD, regardless of native resolution.

 

 

The sound was impressively clean and quiet, and the Musicbook DSD had more than enough juice to milk top-flight performance out of the Audeze LCD-MX4 ($2,995). I'd be interested to hear this one in a quieter environment.

 

M&O Electronics
Good headphones are tough to find at $129, much less one that has both good sound and useful features. Enter the M&O Electronics Mozero Beryllium Acoustic ($129). Using beryllium drivers, this wireless Bluetooth headphone is a great bang-for-buck value with a big, punchy sound.

 

 

The signature definitely runs on the warm side, but the Beryllium Acoustic worked well with pretty much everything I threw at it. The aptX Bluetooth connection was solid and they informed me that the headphone can run for an astounding 32 hours per-charge! Don't go in expecting a Focal Utopia, but if you're looking for a punchy, value-priced headphone, this one is definitely worth your consideration.

 

Meze
Meze has earned the affection of just about every audiophile with their modestly-priced 99 Classic ($309) and 99 Neo ($249). While many companies might have played it conservatively, jumping to $500 or even $1,000 with their next headphone, Meze has taken a big swing for the fences with Empyrean, which will run about $3,000 once it hits the market later this year.

 

 

Meze's Empyrean is a first-of-its-kind design, utilizing dual trace patterns on its planar diaphragm to align frequency response with ear position and varying levels of efficiency across the driver. The larger pattern (further away from the ear) emphasizes bass response, while a smaller trace pattern (closer to the ear) emphasizes treble. This allows treble to be smoother and more detailed due to cleaner decay patterns, and keeps distortion levels low across the whole frequency range.

The sound is quite impressive, with high marks in every sonic area. I wouldn't say that it's the "best" at any one thing, per se, but if you were to add up the average performance score across all categories, it would start to look very impressive against competitive flagships. It's the very definition of an all-rounder.

 

 

Meze will also be introducing a flagship IEM this summer in the Ri Penta ($999). The Ri Penta is very cleverly cut and molded in way I haven't seen before for an incredibly comfortable fit. For as good as that was, the sound was even better. The Ri Penta was nearly perfect with everything I threw at it, with a sound that was simultaneously engaging, sweet and impactful. Keep an eye out for this one, as I think it's going to be a big hit.

 

MrSpeakers
MrSpeakers has graduated from upstart to hot brand to industry leader by launching solid product after solid product for the past several years. Leading the way is the all-new electrostatic flagship Voce ($2,999). Voce manages the unique combination of electrostatic effortlessness and big, dynamic bass response a feat that has really only been accomplished by megabuck setups like the Sennheiser HE-1. Voce sits nicely between the ultra aggressive sound of the Stax SR-009 and the darkened Stax SR-007, delivering better balance and transparency than the 007 and a harder hitting dynamic presentation.

 

 

The ETHER Flow Open and Ether C Flow models remain very competitive at $1,799 after almost 2 years on the market at an extremely competitive price point. And perhaps the most impressive models are MrSpeakers' brilliant entry-level headphones, the Blue Note Award-winning AEON Flow and AEON Flow Open (both $799). Descended from the ETHER Flow models, the AEONs get incredibly close to the performance level of their big brothers for $1,000 less. Quite the impressive feat.

In my opinion, it's pretty tough to go wrong with any product in the MrSpeakers lineup.

 

Mytek
Mytek makes some of the cleanest, most detailed DACs around with the Manhattan II ($5,995) and Brooklyn ($2,195). They can be found in abundance at audio shows, though they can be prohibitively expensive for many audiophiles. Now Mytek has launched a DAC/amp harnessing much of what they've learned with their end-game pieces at a much more affordable price point with the all-new Liberty ($999).

 

 

The Liberty is ultra clean, quiet and versatile. Its headphone amplifier drives just about any headphone with ease and offers very fine volume control with a digital stepped attenuator. It has balanced and unbalanced outputs in the back, along with a variety of inputs and AC or DC power options. It can also perform hardware-level decoding of MQA files, which is becoming a must-have for more and more people. It's a formidable piece that checks a heck of a lot of boxes. Look for our full review in the coming months.

 

NAD/PSB
Paul Barton has been hard at work researching and developing the ideal frequency response curve through his work at the National Research Council laboratories in Ottawa, Ontario Canada. Now he has implemented that technology in two new headphones, the PSB M4U 8 and the NAD HP70.

 

 

Both headphones feature passive and active modes along with active noise cancelling (ANC). They also feature APT-X Bluetooth connectivity and a nice feature that allows you to mute the music and engage external microphones, so you can more easily hear things like airplane announcements, etc.

Engaging the "Active" or "ANC" modes will activate a digital processing filter that will EQ the music to Barton's target response curve. I have to say, activating the curve is very, very impressive. Once either one of the active modes was engaged, the musical presentation gained a wonderful sense of neutrality that sounded very "correct" to my ears. Bass was rich and full, but not overdone, the midrange felt relatively free of any coloration whatsoever, and the treble was nicely detailed without being off in either direction. I like this headphone a lot, and we currently have an evaluation under way. Keep an eye out for our full review this summer.

 

Pathos Acoustics
One product I've been meaning to try for quite some time is the Pathos Aurium ($1,495). Designed in Italy, Aurium is a well-regarded performer at a popular price point. It's an all Class-A design, providing a fairly robust 3.6W into 16 Ohms. The sound itself was neutral and spacious with a sort of lovely softness to the treble. It didn't quite have the dynamic, impactful slam of some of the other tube hybrids I've heard, instead it seemed to opt for a more light and gentlemanly approach. It's just a smooth, easy listening type of amplifier.

 

 

Also sitting at the table was the flagship Pathos InPol Remix MKII DAC/Amp ($4,995). I suppose one could call this "bold Italian design", as they certainly make it difficult to forget what brand you're listening to, flanking the sides of the amp with four giant, ostentatious molded Pathos logos.

 

 

InPol Remix MKII is rated at 2.65W into 32 Ohms, all Class-A and fully balanced. The sound was a little like an Aurium on steroids: tons of space and dimensionality, a little more warmth and fullness, and a whole lot of that soft, velvety musical refinement. If I were to boil the sound down to one word, it would be "sophisticated".

 

 

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