Print

RMAF 2018: Headphones, Part 1

The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF), one of the biggest consumer audio shows in North America, kicked off Friday, October 5, at noon in Denver, Colorado. Part of the Audio Fest is the CanJam RMAF headphone show, which packs (by my rough estimate) about 70 headphone, headphone amp, and headphone accessory companies into a single large ballroom at the Denver Marriott Tech Center. I spent most of the afternoon there, listening to as many new headphones and earphones as I could. Here’s the first batch of interesting headphones I found. All prices in USD.

Focal

At $899, the Elegias are the most affordable model in Focal’s line of high-end headphones. They are sort of a closed-back version of the Clear open-back headphones, which I reviewed earlier this year. While the Elegias are much less expensive, they share most of the Clears’ slick industrial design and impressive fit and finish. The Elegias’ drivers share the same basic configuration as the Clears’ drivers, with a 40mm aluminum-magnesium diaphragm in an M-shaped profile that increases the radiating area of the driver. Watch for a review on SoundStage! Solo on October 10, complete with measurements.

Spirit

RMAF was the US debut of Spirit Sound Design, based in Torino, Italy -- thus the Torino designation on the side. The general style is Grado-like, but they’re made from aluminum, which is said to decrease resonance. The most interesting by far are the Twin Pulse headphones ($2945), shown at right. They use an isobaric dual-driver arrangement, with two dynamic drivers per earpiece positioned concentrically. We’ve seen the same arrangement in a few subwoofers; Spirit Sound Design says it allows quicker transient response and more detailed low-frequency reproduction. The Superleggera headphones (Italian for “super light,” $1790), shown at left, have a single dynamic driver per earpiece. All of the company’s headphones are available in custom colors with custom leather headbands.

ZMF

ZMF’s new Aeolus open-back headphones ($1199) shocked me with their light weight and delighted me with their warm sound. Although the wood earpieces and the large size of the headphones had me convinced they’d be heavy, they felt as light as a typical pair of mass-market over-ear headphones. This is a prototype; it’s said there will be a few cosmetic changes, but the sound of the RMAF samples is pretty much what the sound of the production version will be. The company starts taking orders on November 16.

HiFiMan

After seeing the $50,000 price of HiFiMan’s Shangri-La electrostatic headphones and amp, I was shocked to see that the company’s new electrostatic headphones, the Jade IIs, sell for just $2499 with the amp included. Price of the headphones alone is $1399, and the amp alone is $1599. The amp has RCA unbalanced and XLR balanced inputs. I thought the Jade IIs sounded exceptionally clear and detailed, although I had to turn the amp all the way up to get a satisfying volume. (Insert joke about professional reviewer going deaf here.)

Meze

I’ve seen prototypes of the Meze Empyrean planar-magnetic, open-back headphones ($3000) before, but now they’re finally finished, and shipping in about a month or so. (The company’s just waiting for the magnetically attached earpads to arrive.) The Empyrean headphones feature a unique planar-magnetic driver that’s almost like a two-way speaker. If you look closely at the photo below . . .

Meze

. . . you can see that the narrower, bottom part of the driver has a coil wound in a tight circle. This serves, effectively, as the tweeter. Above that, on the wider part of the diaphragm that serves as the woofer, the coils wind back and forth across the diaphragm, closer to the way conventional planar-magnetic headphone drivers are made.

Beyerdynamic

Beyerdynamic’s Lagoon ANC ($449) is the company’s first noise-canceling model. It has Bluetooth wireless, and uses an app to test your hearing and then upload your hearing characteristics into the headphones to tune them to your hearing. The most interesting thing about the headphones is the lights inside the earcups. When you first turn them on, the light in the right earpiece glows red, and the one in the left earpiece glows blue. When they glow orange, as shown here, that means the noise canceling is on. The lights go out after a few seconds.

Cleer

Cleer’s new Flow noise-canceling headphones ($279) feature Bluetooth wireless and an ambient mode that lets in external sounds. If the silver trim ring is too blingy for you, the Flows also include a gray ring. If the silver trim ring isn’t blingy enough for you, the Flows also include a rose gold ring.

Brent Butterworth
Senior Editor, SoundStage!