AXPONA 2019 Show Report: Hands-On With The Best Audiophile Headphones Part 2

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Budget/Affordable Audiophile Speakers And Electronics

Hands-On With The Best Audiophile Headphones Part 1

High End Audio In Pictures

ZMF Headphones makes some of the most beautiful wood headphones out there, both in looks and sound, and they had a large presence at AXPONA this year. Their booth was a feast for the eyes, with all the different types and colors of wood, along with the satin-lined wood boxes they displayed them in. BTW, their dynamic headphones are so smooth and natural sounding, it’s no wonder headphone enthusiasts love them so much. Their table is always swamped at the show!  No matter what you listen to in their line, you can’t go wrong, they all sound that good. My personal favorite is the $1400 closed-back Eikon, but the open-back Auteur ($1900) is a work of art!

Empire Ears had a nice display of their high-end IEMs, which can be ordered in million different colors and fit to your ear if you want them custom, or you can get the universal models which have the same driver configurations but of course not the same custom fit and look. I tried a couple of them, namely the entry-level $599 2-Driver Bravado, and the top of the line $2300 7 Driver Legend X…both sounded very smooth and resolving, but the Legend X had a soundstage that was out of this world…I could’ve listened to those all day!

Schiit Audio also had a huge display with much of their line out for an audition. Their featured item of the show was the new Ragnarok 2 integrated pulling headphone amp duty with a pair of Mr. Speakers Ether 2 headphones. The Ragnarok 2 will also power speakers with 60W RMS into 8 ohms and 100W RMS into 4 ohms. It also adds a new modular architecture not found in the original Ragnarok allowing the addition of up to two expansion modules. Modules available are a phono pre module, and a DAC module with USB input.

Outside the Ear Gear Expo was some other interesting headphone demos. Music Direct had a nice Audioquest setup in the Expo Hall with the $300 Nighthawk Carbon and $200 Dragonfly Red headphone amp/dac. As I stated in my Best Affordable/Budget Audiophile Headphones (2019) list, the NH Carbon is one of the best values in Hi-Fi right now, give them a listen if you have a chance!

The most interesting headphone of the show was in the Woo Audio room up on the 12th floor. The $4000 MySphere 3 hangs the drivers out in the open next to your ears instead of enclosing your ears and the driver within a cup. When I first picked them up I was like WTH? I mean I took me a minute to even figure out how to put them on, but after I figured that out, it was all good after that. I wish I could’ve checked them out in a quieter room, but they were amazing even in a noisy hotel room. The experience was about the closest I have ever been to sitting in front of speakers while using headphones. The pair I listened to was driven by Woo Audio’s $1800 WA8 Eclipse portable headphone amp, but they also had the new $1400 WA11 Topaz portable headphone amp/DAC out to try as well.

Last but not least, in a far off corner of the show, was the Warwick Acoustics suite. It was way off the beaten path, and to be honest I almost walked right past it. But their location was a good thing in a way, because their room was probably the quietest room around, very conducive to enjoying their $5000 Sonoma Model One (M1) electrostatic headphone system. The system comes with an energizer/DAC combo unit, plus the matching headphones and it was one of the best sounding headphones at the show. It has all the natural, linear electrostatic goodness you would expect, plus it just looked cool. I would love to have this package on my desk!

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