I had the good fortune to demo two of the world's finest headphone setups at CanJam NYC in the HiFiMAN Shangri-La ($50,000) and the Sennheiser HE-1 – also known as the Orphus II ($55,000). I've heard the Shangri-La on several occasions, and it is hard to fault anything about the sound. It is uncompromisingly dynamic, the frequency balance is nothing short of perfect, the speed is unparalleled and music just seems to come alive through it in every way possible. But as great as the Shangri-La is, hearing the Sennheiser Orpheus II was another level of awesome.
So what makes the difference? For starters, I've never heard another headphone with the fine level of depth layering of the Orpheus II. The sound was uniquely three-dimensional and I was able to hear deep down into the music in a way I never have before. The detail and resolution were so startling, yet so natural, it is easy to see why this is considered the world's best headphone. Like the HiFiMAN, frequency balance is essentially perfect, though if I had to choose between the two, I might say the HiFiMAN's balance is very slightly better due to a little bit softer treble and slightly fuller bass. But in terms of technical performance, presentation and overall sound, I'd absolutely have to give the points to the Sennheiser. At the end of the day, they are both a cut above everything else out there and it was a genuine pleasure hearing them both.
CanJam NYC 2017 Best In Show
Best Headphone: Abyss
But the sound is really what makes the Diana special. Inside the petite and dainty outer shell there is a full-blown fire-breathing, diesel-fuel-guzzling dynamic monster waiting to be unleashed. Diana hits with a powerful impact rivaled only by her bigger brother and maybe a very tiny handful of other headphones. The presentation is quite spacious and the overall level of resolution is unquestionably elite. With a target price of around $2,999, I think this headphone is going to be extremely competitive among the other top flagships, and I'll be very interested to see how it performs against the best-of-the-best, head-to-head.
Best Product Overall: Smyth
At the beginning of the demo, two small microphones are placed inside the ears and a variety of sounds are played on an 11.1 surround sound system to capture your individual HRTF. A small sensor is then placed on top of the headphone to allow head tracking, and then the fun begins. We launched into a demo of Star Wars: Battlefront and my ears could not tell the difference between the 11.1 system and the headphone running through the Realizer A16.
Thanks to the aforementioned motion sensor on the top of the headphone, removing the headphone would automatically reactivate the surround sound in the room, so I was able to directly A/B the sound from the surround system with that of the A16. I removed the headphone again and again, and I could not tell the difference by anything other than the feeling of air pressure from the speakers when I would remove the headphone. The fantastic imaging, excitement and impact – it was all there.
After the show, I asked a group of four friends what their highlight of the show was, and every single one of them had the same answer: the Smyth Realizer A16 demo. It was that good.