Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

High End 2018: Headphone Highlights

Given the overwhelming number of innovative speakers, amplifiers, turntables, and other gear being introduced at High End 2018, it’s easy to overlook new headphones, DAPs, and portable DACs. Unless you’re specifically looking for them, of course, which is something we made a point of doing. Here are a few highlights from the headphones category, which more than once provided us with a moment of peace and escape during an otherwise frenetic show.

Beyerdynamic

German manufacturer Beyerdynamic was showing two new on-ear headphone models at High End 2018: the Amiron Wireless (€699) and Aventho Wired (€329), both available now. The Amiron Wireless headphones (above) charge using a USB-C connection and receive signals via Bluetooth with AptX HD support. Beyerdynamic’s MIY iOS/Android app also provides sound personalization -- you take a hearing test and the app customizes the sound output for your ears.

Beyerdynamic

The Aventho Wired is a close-backed model that Beyerdynamic designed for portability and comfort. According to the company, the Aventho Wired headphones’ leatherette earpads provide sufficient insulation to block out ambient noise, while their three-button control module lets you control playback of a connected device.

Sennheiser

Representing the pricier side of the personal audio spectrum are Sennheiser’s new HD 820 closed-back headphones. Billed by Sennheiser as the “new audiophile standard,” the HD 820 headphones feature a glass transducer cover to minimize resonances. For your €2399, you also get extra-comfortable earpads and a lightweight form factor -- both of which I can confirm from my audition on the busy High End show floor. Available in July/August.

Audio-Technica

Another statement set of audiophile headphones on display at High End is Audio-Technica’s ATH-ADX5000 (€2190). Available now, the ATH-ADX5000 is a dynamic open-back model that uses the company’s Core Mount technology. According to Audio-Technica, this improves airflow efficiency by optimally positioning the drivers, creating the effect of increasing transparency of the mid and high frequencies. Each headphone housing is hand-assembled in Tokyo and features Alcantara, a comfortable suede-like material used in luxury automobiles, on the headband and earpads.

Astell&Kern

Astell&Kern introduced two new portable players, the A&futura SE100 (right) and the A&norma SR15 portable players. Both models will play back just about every conceivable audio format, have balanced and unbalanced outputs, and offer Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. The SE100 supports up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD256, while the SR15 supports 24-bit/192kHz PCM and DSD128. The SE100 has an Octa-core CPU and utilizes the ESS Technology ES9038PRO Sabre DAC chip. The SR15 has a quad-core CPU and a Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC chip. Priced at $1799 and $699 respectively, both will be available in June or July.

Lehmann

The Linear USBII headphone amplifier-DAC (€1800) from Germany’s Lehmann Audio improves upon the company’s Linear model through the addition of a new digital input board. Like the original Linear, it features an analog RCA input and preamp output plus three gain settings. Also like the original, you can purchase it with three finish options: silver, black, and chrome. Lehmann’s Linear USBII DAC is available now.

iFi

The xDSD (€449) is the latest portable DAC to emerge from UK manufacturer iFi. Around the size of a four-pack of AA batteries, the xDSD supports up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512, provides Bluetooth connectivity, and is MQA certified. According to iFi, the xDSD’s balanced 3.5mm output can drive any portable headphone. Sound processing features include XBass and 3D holographic settings. The xDSD is available now.

Al Griffin
Senior Editor, SoundStage!