Hi-Fi At High Altitude
Meze's other prototype is the in-ear RAI Penta ($1000 range), which translates to "Heaven 5" in Meze's native Romanian. This IEM is going to be a serious contender, with its incredibly balanced sound and slick form factor. The RAI Penta just feels good in your ear, with smooth edges all around. It uses a single dynamic driver and two dual balanced armatures, for a total of five drivers. Like the Empyrean, its hard to fault the RAI Penta in any area sonically. It is fun, but uncolored. It's not fatiguing but it's far from dull. It's spacious, but dynamic. These guys are really working on a couple of special pieces, and I'm excited to hear how they turn out.
The Raal Requisite is a true ribbon headphone with an open design that recalls the AKG K1000 and the MySphere. The ribbon drivers are on articulating arms that allow you to adjust the position of the earspeaker to fit your preferences. Pushing them all the way out puts you back further in the audience with a huge soundscape, while pulling them in brings you closer to the stage for a more intimate sound. All-in-all, the Requisite has one of the most impressive soundscapes I've ever heard. The sound was super clean and detailed with very punchy bass. Surprising, since ribbon drivers are so closely associated with tweeters, but it was really some of the most crisp and tactile bass I've heard. The folks from Raal informed me that the bass response was flat down to 30Hz.
Like the K1000, the Raal Requisite will be a bit of a pain to drive. The impedance is just 0.2 Ohms, so getting the appropriate amount of current requires a 50-100W speaker amplifier and a special adaptor. Thankfully, the adaptor is included with the headphone, but many people see this type of thing as a deal breaker. Still, for those who are willing to shell out the cash, the combination of staging, clarity and bass response is absolutely unheard of.
The frequency balance on the D8000 via Cayin's end game HA300 tube amplifier ($3,999) was absolute perfection, showcasing dead-on neutrality and stellar performance across every range. The bass response was especially crisp and uncolored, delivering a satisfying sense of snap and slam with every note. Mids were lush without getting too thick, leaving the headphone sounding both euphonic and airy at the same time, which is an extremely rare combination. This is definitely one setup I'd like to spend more time with.
Finding a good all-rounder for non-audiophile friends is always a bit of a challenge, as most headphones in their acceptable price range come with one major sacrifice or another. Well, the MC-250 is going to be my new go-to recommendation for those folks. It has a nice neutral balance for the pro audio creators and a fun sense of dynamic punch for the general music fans. I also found it to be pretty comfortable with soft pads and good isolation. Really, at $99, it's pretty hard to knock anything about it. The MC-250 is just solid, through and through.
This year, Alclair caught a lot of people's attention with the introduction of their new flagship, Electro ($1,499). This hybrid design features four balanced armatures and two electrostatic tweeters. The clarity and detail is absolutely remarkable, and this IEM was a favorite among many people I talked to at the show.
The Electro was pretty close to flat neutral with maybe just a tiny smidgeon of extra warmth in the deep bass. Transients had a super crispy front edge, giving the sound a nice sense of immediacy, transparency and strong imaging. The upper midrange is maybe a tiny hair forward, which makes these IEMs especially great for those who want to listen at lower volumes, as detail and edge clarity remains nicely upfront.
Spirit's top models, the Twin Pulse and Ragnaar Edition ($2,945 and $3,195, respectively) use an isobaric system, with two drivers on each side moving in sync. Both drivers cover the entire frequency range, offering more dynamic range with less linear movement from the coil.
I gave them a listen and felt they were missing a bit of sparkle and energy. They also didn't really have they dynamic pop I expected. Perhaps I was expecting Grados, given the look. For somebody that wants a very warm and smooth headphone, these might be worth a look, but I found them to be a little lacking given their lofty $3000 price tag.
The latest edition to the Focal Lineup is Elegia ($899), which is the first high-end closed back in the Utopia / Elear family line. I spent a little time with Elegia and found it to be a nicely balanced neutral reference headphone that does very little wrong. The Elegia is entering into a red hot price bracket right now for closed headphones, moving in alongside the MrSpeakers AEON and ETHER CX ($799 and $899, respectively), the Audeze LCD-2 Closed Back ($899), and the Campfire Cascade ($799). It will be interesting to see how it fares in relation to these others over time.
I spent the most time with the Amiron Wireless and Lagoon ANC. Amiron Wireless ($699) certainly features a sound traditional Beyerdynamic fans will like: it is crisp and bouncy, while running a bit on the cold side through the midrange.
The Lagoon ANC ($449) is Beyerdynamic's first active noise canceling headphone and is loaded with features like 30-hour battery life and customizable sound via Beyer's MIY app. The app wasn't connected to the Lagoon just yet, so I only heard it in stock form, which to my ears was very colored and a little "sucked out" through the midrange. For my money, I think the slightly less expensive the Sony WH-1000X ($349), PSB M4U8 or NAD HP70 (Both $399) give you much better sound in an ANC headphone for your dollar.
The pads also sounded great during a short demo, and interestingly enough, actually improved the passive noise isolation on the headphones by a few decibels before the ANC was even engaged, according to measurements.
His latest creation is overkill to a borderline hilarious, but very sonically compelling degree: the DanaCable Lazuli Nirvana ($3500). This thing looks like a couple of tastefully-sleeved garden hoses wrapped together, it is absolutely massive! Dana informed me that the Nirvana has twice the copper if the Lazuli Reference cable, his former flagship.
Comparing the Nirvana against the stock cable and the Lazuli Reference on the HiFiMAN HE1000 was a very interesting affair. Comparatively the stock cable sounded thin and plasticky. And while the reference sounded much better, the Nirvana offered more air, more transparency, better tone, deeper bass and a more wide-open sense of staging. As I always say with the DanaCables, you will definitely hear the difference, the question is whether or not you're willing to pay for it.