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Ear Gear Expo, AXPONA‘s headphone showcase, is one of my favorite parts of the show every year, but this year it seems like it shrunk. Some of my favorite exhibitors like Final Audio and Fiio didn’t show up, and others scaled down their booths, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty to see. The best audiophile headphones in the world were on display, and as usual, I took my time with all of them.
Focal was there with a huge booth, and they had several pairs of their new flagship closed-back headphone, the $3000 Stellia, available for audition. I listened to them mated with the SPL Phonitor, a $2000 headphone amp, and it was amazing, just as advertised. Since I was one of the first people to hit their booth on Saturday, I was able to go back and forth between them and their $900 Elegia closed-back model. The Stellia was more open sounding and more resolving, but the Elegia probably gave about 80% of the sound for a lot less. I enjoyed listening to them both.
iFi had their “Pro” stack on display, incorporating the $2500 Pro iDSD DAC, the $1800 Pro iCAN headphone amp, and the $1500 Pro iESL electrostatic headphone energizer. I was able to listen to an Audeze LCD-XC iCAN hooked up to the Pro iCAN, and it was great, but the Final D8000 Planars hooked up to the balanced output of the iESL, was so smooth and liquid I was transfixed, even though I would’ve loved to hear a pair of Electrostatics hooked up to it.
ABYSS Headphones had their beautiful sounding planar magnetic headphones available for listening, and I fell in love with the $4000 Diana Phi. It was so light and comfy. The sound was rich and vivid. The original AB-1266 Phi was also there to listen to.
The Mr. Speakers Booth was buzzing with founder Dan Clark discussing the many models they had on display. The new $2000 Ether 2 Planar headphone was on display and while it wasn’t a huge departure from their other offerings, the combination of the Ether drivers with the lightweight frame similar to their VOCE electrostatic headphone was a nice package. It was so easy to wear, and it carried over the Mr. Speakers house sound that I love in my Aeon Flow Closed that I listen to at home.
Speaking of the $3000 VOCE electrostatic headphones, the HeadAmp booth next door had it on display with its $9000 Blue Hawaii energizer, which was a dynamite combo. But for that money, I guess it should be. The Gilmore Lite mk2-Meze Empyrean combo also sounded really good showing that the $500 amp was more than up to the task of driving the $3000 Meze headphones.
HiFiMAN also had their Jade II electrostatic system on display, and at $2500 it was a great deal cheaper than the VOCE-Blue Hawaii setup. I liked Jade II as well with its rich electrostatic sound. It might have been the best sounding thing on their table. I also enjoyed the $850 Ananda Planars. I’m hoping to get a set to compare with my Aeon Flow Closed at the house.