Introducing The New And Improved... Everything!
Refine, refine, refine. That was unquestionably the prevailing theme of Rocky Mountain Audio Fest's personal audio segment, CanJam at RMAF 2017. The good folks over at Head-Fi always put on a humdinger of a show, and this year was no exception with a mountain of great gear and every possible price point.
More than anything else, we saw newer and better versions of just about everything. Whether it was pushing the limits of a great design with premium parts, leveraging customer feedback to bring at new product to market, or launching an open back version of a popular closed headphone... the gear just keeps sounding better and better. We have lots to cover, so let's get right into it.
Gear That Impressed
The Clear greatly improves upon the Elear, and perhaps veers a little closer to the Utopia sonically in some ways. Relative to the current flagship, Clear adds a robust bass response and a nice sense of weight to the Utopia's already likeable sound, for a bit more fun. Additionally, the very top of the midrange and treble have been toned down a touch for a slightly mellower presentation. To my ears, this tonal balance is as close to perfect as I have heard. Even the Utopia seemed a little fatiguing in comparison.
The clarity and imaging on the Clear were also quite impressive, living up to the name with an open, transparent and balanced sound. While detail was a step back from the Utopia, it was a small one that only the most demanding audiophiles would miss. From first impressions only, I have a feeling this headphone is going to be a big, big hit with the audiophile community – one of those headphones like the MrSpeakers Ether or Sennheiser HD800 that serves as a near omni-present reference piece. But again, that's just a first impression. Time and further listens will tell if it can live up to the bar set by those two aforementioned headphones.
Ether ES And AEON Flow Open
Since its debut at CanJam SoCal 2016, the Ether ES has been one of the most anticipated headphones in the industry. Now the long wait is finally drawing to a close, as the MrSpeakers first electrostatic headphone is hitting the market before the end of this year, for a price that I'm assured will be under $3000. The sound on the final pre-production demo unit was grain-free with solid punch – not just for an electrostatic, but for any headphone. To my ears the performance easily rivals that of the venerable Stax SR-009, but with a warmer tilt. I hope to compare them one day in a quiet listening environment to really parse out the finer nuances.
The AEON Flow Open is also hitting the market and is on sale now at $799. This headphone looks and sounds quite a bit like its closed-back sibling, but with a slightly larger soundscape and a little more general "ease" to the sound. It is also one of the most comfortable headphones in all of high-end audio and an absolutely stellar dollar-for-dollar value. Look for our hands-on review in next month's issue!
Benefiting from the open cup design, Auteur adds a wide-open stage and a stunning level of detail that absolutely embarrasses many competitors at its popular price point. It is ZMF's most neutral headphone by far, but still runs a little on the warm side overall. It's a good place to be, with a versatile sound that I think will please most listeners.
The Auteur also manages to avoid a common pitfall of open back designs with uncompromising bass impact that is absolutely first class. If fun and musicality are your top priorities from a headphone, this is one you definitely should not miss. The Auteur will be available for preorder on 11/10 with a special $200 preorder discount off the above prices and a bonus set of ear pads.