One of the great things about high performance headphone audio is that there is such a diverse selection of great sounding gear now. Back in the day (oh, 30 years or so) there were far fewer options on the table. Now, one would have to listen every day of the year to make it through all the variety in headphones that promise high fidelity within a personal space. This review of the LSA HP-2 ($799) covers one of that market’s newest entries. It’s not perhaps the most widely known option out there, but it definitely has its place among the enthusiasts’ high expectations for headphones in the $500+ category.
The headphone itself is sourced from the Russian-based manufacturer Kennerton. Under the LSA moniker, Underwood HiFi now offers their own take on the headphone line via three options. The HP-2 sits in the middle of the lineup and is based around Kennerton’s Gjallarhorn model. The website describes it as containing “a superb new horn-loaded 50mm driver with a bio-cellulose and paper membrane with a graphene coating”. It is a closed-back design with ear cups that appear completely made of wood, with a small vent hole located near the center of a dark contrast faceplate.
The build is somewhat of a unicorn in the sea of black and grey plastic. The wood cups have a more handmade feel to them, with the logo etched directly into the side of the cup edge. The suspension system is most reminiscent of the Meze 99 Classics I reviewed some time ago, with two steel headbands connecting the one-piece yoke around the earcups. The actual headband can retract or expand and is covered in a supple leather. The texture is pleasing to the touch and the overall the device feels well built and sturdy. The earpads are made up of the same leather material and feel on par (or better) with what you will find on most headphones in the $1k+ range. The only slight deviation is that, like the Meze, the design of the suspension system is prone to more microphonics than some other options. This usually doesn’t prove to be an issue in real world execution however, as very little usually comes into contact with the steel headband pieces while listening to music.
Cables are detachable, and connect via a standard TRS 3.5mm jack. The individualized cable-to-driver option allows for more freedom and mobility in the cup rotation, and permits more easy access to the aftermarket cable hobby. Total weight on the kitchen scale came in at a reasonable 370g without cables. By comparison our reference Audeze LCD-4 weighs 708g on the same scale. Overall comfort is high, only light caliper pressure is needed to keep the LSA HP-2 fit securely on the head. On the volume dial, the sensitivity of the 33 ohm load made it easy to drive the headphone at lower levels of applied amplification. However, I would still recommend pairing the HP-2 Ultra with an external headphone amplifier for it to sound its best self (as opposed to running straight out of a mobile phone). The latter can be done in a pinch with the right set of adapters. Normal listening levels through my iPhone managed to squeak out at around the 65-75% mark.
Sound from the headphone stands out a bit from some of the more traditional planar magnetic tunings one might find on the market. Perhaps the horn-loaded, bio-cellulose, or graphene has something to do with it, but there is a firm sense of resolution packed into the upper-mid to highs. The tonality bend here is noticeable as well, leaning to a slight emphasis in the spectrum than either the LCD-4 or DCA Ether 2. Now, that is merely a slight lean, and could undoubtedly come as a preference for many with its acute translation of information from source. This sonic texture proved very favorable for female vocals. Listening to Don’t Know Why from Norah Jones the transparency to source coupled with a sense of sonic dexterity felt like a solid fit to a wide range of musical genres. Norah’s voice felt pure in its delivery, with a vibrant texture that complemented the fantastic production done on the song.
What really caught me off guard was how much I enjoyed the bass, especially in reaction to what the HP-2 puts out across the rest of the spectrum. It reaches deep, but it does such a good job of running along that fine line between fun and educational. The headphone begs for an audition, to give the listener a taste of its unique sensibilities and uncommon sonic delights.
The sub-bass section is perhaps the source of much of the fun to be had in the lows. Listening to Bangarang by Skrillex, the bounce and controlled boom from the lowest depths of the electronic sounds and bumping bass was pleasantly filled out perhaps just a bit more than even the DCA Ether 2 on hand, however, that may also be attributed to the closed to open changeover in design as well. Also typical for the closed back category, a slightly diminished soundstage illusion to the left and right by comparison – something to be expected because open back headphones are usually… more open sounding. The soundstage mirage front to back wasn’t exceptionally diminished, and overall expansion in and about the head was pretty good for the tradeoff with outside leakage.
Listening to The Planets, Op. 32: IV. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity by Andre Previn, it was easy to pick out horn texture, as it wasn’t presented as brash or frumpy, but rather with the cool finish of almost custom automotive paint qualities. Again, the low-end support from the beating heart of percussion was kindly rewarded from the robust bass recreation from the HP-2, allowing for a solid alignment with symphonic genres.
On hand, the closest headphone I had to the LSA was the Dan Clark Audio AEON Flow, which aligns a little closer in terms of price point in a closed back design. Perhaps mimicking the DCA bigger brother, the contrast of AEON vs. HP-2 is similar across the Clark family line. Resolution was at least on par with the mid-sized favorite, with comfort slightly higher for the HP-2, at least for my head. Continued listening to The Planets revealed that the LSA HP-2 offered up a little more extension at the top of the spectrum, while the DCA output more mid bass as well as a little more lower mids. Closed-back headphone bass is extremely hard to manage, so extra kudos to the LSA for managing it in a respectful, but still representative manner. It should be known that I’m not a basshead by any means, so my preference leans towards the HP-2 presentation on this front. Some might like a little more bloom into the low frequencies, but the tightness and reverence to real world listening felt closer to home in my ears.
The longer I’m involved in this hobby, the more I appreciate sounds and products that break outside of the norm in terms of enthusiasts’ collective expectations. The LSA HP-2 Ultra is one of those headphones. From the rustic woodwork to the textured midrange, it is a pair of cans that set themselves apart from the crowd in more ways than one. It would be hard to consider this review complete without mentioning the bass response as an excellent representation of what can be done, but isn’t always achieved. The layered, enthusiastic representation of the low end is both familiar and unique. The way it sits with the rest of the spectrum gives it a chance to shine without encroaching on anyone else’s territory. It is distinctly different from the more traditional planar magnetic vibrations in this range. It’s a fun recreation, if not one that gives off a more vintage feel through both the sound and the build.
If the LSA HP-2 was a structure, it would be a classic bespoke log cabin that sits eloquently on a hill in the woods. The exterior inspiration draws from natural materials, and the interior is welcoming, intimate and an escape from the bustle of city life for many. You might notice that I didn’t mention the term “warm” in this metaphor. It’s not that log cabins aren’t often described as warm or cozy, but rather for the simple fact that warm as a descriptor for sound between two channel and headphone enthusiasts is often used to mean different things. Confusing things even more is its tremendous overuse within forums and social media.
The above average comfort while on the head helps add currency to the feature set as well, as even the best sounding headphone in the world holds little value if you can’t wear it for long listening sessions. It makes the LSA HP-2 a solid recommendation for those looking to expand their collection, or even for consumers looking for something a little more off the beaten path in the $500+ category. I found the looks, bass and wearability very refreshing among the many choices for high fidelity in this range of personal audio.
More info: Underwood HiFi
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