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T.H.E. Show at Newport Beach 2013: Part 3, The Headphonium

Perfect Sound

Taiwanese maker Perfect Sound was demonstrating their stylish in-ear headphones as well as their full-size d901 "Dido" cans. I listened briefly enough to the d901 think that the sound and build quality seemed to fit the just-under-$800 price tag. Kirsten made noise about just being happy that headphones felt comfortable on her head.

Astell & Kern

Astell & Kern (by iriver) had a table demonstrating their now-familiar AK100 DAP as well as their new AK120 “Mastering Quality Sound” DAP. Despite the sometimes idiosyncratic nature of the brand’s marketing, the AK120’s sound is basically the only sales pitch. It delivers an obvious sonic improvement over the older model, and the user interface feels as though it’s become just enough faster to be pleasantly usable.

Schiit

I have to admit that I’d never really gotten Schiit. It was solid, competent gear with snazzy case work and fun marketting, but my experiences had always been… well… bad. This time was different. I finally get all the buzz.

Schiit Audio‘s Jason Stoddard and and Mike Moffat manned a table with all of their wares, and enough headphones to assemble some pretty neat demo systems. The Mjolnir/Gungnir pair (at around $1500) was sounding fantastic through a pair of Audeze LCD-3 when I stopped by.

I was even more impressed with the $200-ish Magni/Modi pair of amp and dac. These things may be the bottom of the line, but they make serious, credible sound. The Modi USB dac — at less than a hundred bucks — might be the gateway drug right now.

Centrance

I gave a quick listen to a CEntrance Audiophile Desktop system that these folks had set up at the edge of one of their folding tables. The room was crowded, people were talking, and the little CEntrance speakers hooked up to their DACmini PX were doing yeoman’s work. If I wanted a tiny stereo in basic black for my office, this would definitely be something I’d want to check out. It’s about $1500, and just as cute as a bucket full of puppies.

ALO Audio

ALO Audio‘s Ken and Caleb were down from Portland to show of their in-production, you-can-buy-it-soon, for-real Studio Six headphone amp.

This thing is just ridiculous. And I mean that as a compliment.

It has more tubes and more iron than even most fetishists dream. It had plenty of juice to drive every set of cans that the ALO folks brought with them. It’s tight, it’s relaxed, it’s musical, and it’s a looker. Since the ALO guys are locals, I only listened to it long enough to realize that, yes, this thing is real.

This is a classic waiting for a cult to build around it. Ken and Caleb had good reason to be proud.

Audeze

Audeze was there. Audeze was mobbed.

Mytek

Mytek‘s table shared space with the music vendors next to the Atrium pool. I’d guess that they were demonstrating their DAC to the general public, but I couldn’t tell. What looked like an unshaved sasquatch was taking up all the available space when I had the chance to wander through, and there was just too much tempting vinyl in that room for me to go back.

Mozeax

New-to-me propellerheads from Mozeax were demonstrating a headphone system built for multichannel recordings. The glare of sunlight, an insufficient amount of caffeine, and a desperate desire to run screaming from the overcrowded Headphonium room led me to give this less of a listen than it deserved. Their system is a little wacky if you’re used to stereo sound, but it does seem to deliver a credible surround experience. I expect to hear more from these folks soon.

— Mal Kenney

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