A good Dr. should never insist on having his patients pushing themselves to the limit but this is audio and the limit of what is possible is a good thing with only one major hiccup, it’s rather expensive.
Audiohub.gr of which yours truly is the publisher organized the most expensive headphone demo since… ever? It was a unique occasion to listen to the cream of the crop in headphones currently produced. The difference between the “Date With The Flagships” event and any other headphone meeting was that all headphones were using the same state of the art amplification, DAC source and streamer, so for this particular event conclusion were theoretically possible. You ever wandered which one is the “best”?
Mind-boggling system details
Amplification was provided by the Viva Audio Egoista 2A3 headphone amp, good for several Watts of pure class A goodness. The 2A3 is the less powerful but more persuasive among the two available Viva Egoista headphone amps, both of which I had the chance to listen to extensively. The Egoistas are among the finest examples of what direct heated triode amplification can do and since headphones usually employ less than a watt both these amps have no obvious shortcomings in terms of bass response or top octaves extension. You can read all about the 2A3 version here. Keep this number in mind, 7.500.
Then you need a DAC, mind you, not an off the shelve ΔΣ one but a proper ladder design that will provide natural timbre without any added harshness or sibilance. We brought in the latest dCS Rossini. Michael Lavorgne in his review concludes with nothing less than: The dCS Rossini DAC is capable of exploding the listening experience into a fabulous psychedelic adventure constrained only by imagination and time and who am I to argue? This is easily among the top digital to analog converters in the market and offered us the perfect window to high res music. Another number to keep in mind is 24.000.
To do things properly you clearly need a streamer and this was after all a full out assault on state of the art headphone reproduction. Enter the new A10 caching network server from industry leader Aurender, a brand whose name is almost a synonym for streaming. 5.500 is the number here.
You see where this is getting?
You need cables of course. Not the cheapo black ones that come up with some devices, you need the ones that let through every single drop of detail, that allow those electrons pass as freely as possible (if this makes any sense). The menu had top of the line Nordost Odin and Valhalla power cords and interconnects, Stealth and Wireworld Platinum power cords along with various headphone cables from Wireworld and Double Helix. This number is easily above the 50.000 mark.
And then headphones
Nowadays a “properly ” expensive headphone sets you back something like $4.000 give or take. For our meeting we had the Audeze LCD-4, the new Focal Utopia, the Abyss AB-1266, the Final Audio Design Sonorus X and the Stax SR-009 earspeaker with matching energizer. The dCS Rossini packs both single end and balanced outputs that can be used contemporarily so we used the RCA output for the Viva Egoista amp and the XLR for the STAX, both with Nordost Odin interconnects.
We tried to do this as fare as possible, we wanted to come up with some conclusions. On major head-fi meetings you can probably find all these cans and more but it won’t be easy to listen to them on the same room, side by side while using the same hardware, cables and music. Not to mention the final number, adding everything makes up a staggering $120.000 system that few can say they have had the luck of listening to.
Not really. You see I made my mind and my choice was the Abyss 1266 for the deepest bass and overall flat response with wide soundstage and great tonality. The Audeze LCD-4 though had that magic mid-range that set it ahead of the competition for female voices while the STAX 009 was probably the most natural sounding managing acoustical instruments like nothing else, though it lacked a bit in the bass area. The Focal Utopia which has received wide compliments from the entire industry packed a highly compact sound and seamless integration throughout the audio band but lacked the air among instruments of the big planar magnetic headphones. The Sonorus X was a bit harder for me to decipher but I still recall this friend who told me that on his book it was the clear winner, hands down! and he would have bought it if he had the money.
Was this of any help? Yes and no, even with the same gear it is actually very hard to make any meaningful conclusions, in the end matching might be the key to best possible sound and chances are some of the aforementioned models might have worked better with a solid state amplifier not to mention personal taste which will eventually be more important of a decision maker factor than anything else. Besides, we must never forget that headphones correlate closely with each listener’s personal audiometric sensitivity. No such thing as “best” in audio gear.
Still this was huge fan and let me tell you that even the worst? combo was simply fantastic sounding.
Abyss and Woo Audio in Munich High End 2017, the $120.000 system
For those visiting Munich in a few weeks for the 2017 High End Show there will be a system of this caliber, courtesy of Abyss and Woo Audio. Abyss will be showing their upgraded AB-1266 Phi model and Woo has a new, fully balanced 2A3 amplifier, the WA33. Rest of this mega-system will include the Aurender W20 streamer and Lampizator Golden Gate balanced DAC. Make sure not to miss this opportunity of pushing audio to the limit!