TAMPA, FL (PTA) — Finding an oasis at an audio show is a rare thing. Usually it requires less people, isolation from neighboring rooms, and a shared goal for peaceful listening. Typically that doesn’t present itself at audio shows when it comes to headphone exhibits.
The Story of Sound
First up, the Benchmark / Audeze system, which I’ve heard before but usually in a busy expo hall setting. Not the most ideal environment for open-back headphones. Using a Benchmark HPA-4 headphone amplifier and DAC3, I found a new level of admiration for the use of THX technology used in the design. I don’t know exactly how to describe what I heard, but the sound was exceedingly layered upon a dark background. Distortion was at the absolute minimum even when program material wasn’t playing and I cranked the volume to listen for the noise floor. When listening to music — as I should — I found that raising the volume only brought more of everything without changing character as the amplifier worked hard to keep up.
Upping the anti in a different way, a Chord stack with Audeze Mobius headphones. More aligned for gaming and computer cinema experiences, I definitely appreciated the level of detail and control found in the Chord stack. Nothing about the more affordable Mobius seemed outclassed or restricted on the Chord’s compared to higher priced cans I’ve tried on them. Really a great statement made by Audeze to include a system like this with a somewhat unrealistic disparity in pricing.
New for me, Nagra headphone equipment. Of course I’ve experienced their two-channel offerings, so expectations were high as ever. But I still wasn’t prepared for a new type of reference sound. Previously, that honor was held by the Abyss headphones and a massive Woo Audio tube amplifier. Though that sound is extremely exciting, I found that massive rig to be a little much. Fun to visit, but I would have reservations about living there if you know what I mean. The Nagra Classic PSU and Tube DAC used to drive the Audeze cans was extremely high-end sounding from top-to-bottom along with being a distinctly livable sound. I could drop everything and set up residence at the Nagra doorstep.
Tubes in headphone systems always work better for my tastes, and I know that’s more a preference than opinion, but in this realm I like to keep things closer to subjective. Aside from being tube-a-licious the DSD 4X and 384kHz PCM specs let me know that Nagra is a serious player in the digital domain. Compromises are seemingly eschewed for the sake of meeting the highest levels of refinement and it shows.
Also on display, a christmas tree full of headphones that truly made me wish the show was another day longer. Considering the closed room environment, my experiences with Audeze definitely echoed my real world experiences and left me in wonder about what could be with a personal foray into high-end personal audio.