Well this one came out of the blue, last week Focal announced their new Highend closed back headphones, the Stellia, and today we had 2 pairs arrive, I had no idea they were this imminent but it is great news as from what I can tell this is a closed back version of the Utopia which I consider to be one of the best headphones currently available, so if Focal can get a similar performance from a closed back they are going to have a real winner on their hands.
At the moment I consider the Sennheiser HD820 to be the best closed back headphone on the planet but just maybe it’s reign at the top is about to come to an end, we’ll find out tomorrow once we get them un boxed and up and running.
Introducing the Focal Digital Headphone Amp - Arche!
Again, another surprise from Focal, they are about to release their own digital headphone amplifier called Arche, what is unique about this is that it will have presets built in to get the best from which ever Focal headphone you own from the Elegia to the Utopia which is a cool idea.
This isn’t due for another couple of months but needless to say we will have it on demo once available.
We are delighted to have added Meze Audio to our headphone portfolio, Meze are a headphone brand that have generally been at the lower end but with the Empyrean they have definitely gone up market and have created a headphone that is causing a lot of interest due to a world first in a new driver design, they are a Planar Magnetic but they certainly don’t sound like any Planar I have heard before so please feel free to pop in to experience the Empyrean in our dedicated headphone showroom -
Focal really have hit the spot with their range of open back headphones released over the last couple of years which have been very popular indeed so it is great news that they have now added a closed back to their range with the Elegia which we are pleased to say we now have on permanent demo, priced at £799 these are definitely going to carry on Focal’s success in the headphone market.
If you’d like a listen anytime or to compare against other closed back headphones on the market please feel free to get in touch to book an appointment in our dedicated headphone shop.
I have to say a big thanks to OPPO UK who have just popped in with both the new OPPO PM-1 headphones and HA-1 headphone amp so that I could spend the afternoon playing with both as I couldn’t make the launch last Friday as I was setting up for our PMC/Bryston event.
It really isn’t everyday that a new brand enters the headphone arena, we all know that OPPO have proved their worth with their stunning Blu-Ray players over the last few years but the headphone market is a very competitive place at the moment, particularly at the highend so as a big fan of what OPPO have achieved with their disc spinners I have been looking forward to both these products for some time now.
Obviously they come with the fantastic OPPO packaging that OPPO are renowned for, as for the headphones they are extremely light, beautifully made and one of the most comfortable headphones I have tried. They use Planar Magnetic drivers but they really are very easy to drive, I tried them on the Astell&Kern AK240 and that was a brilliant combination with plenty of volume, I have yet to compare with other headphones at the same price point but knowing the lengths OPPO went to for the development of the PM-1 I’m very confident that they will take the fight to the establishment, they are priced at £1099.
As for the headphone amp, well I have been really excited by this since talking to the guys from OPPO when they paid me a visit a few months back, it really is extremely well built and caters for all inputs, has low and high gain setting, balanced and single ended inputs and outputs, runs in Pure Class A and is based around the ESS 9018 Sabre32 Reference DAC which will decode everything including the latest DSD codecs, best of all though it has VU meters or a Spectrum analyser which you can choose between :-) The first thing I did was set it to high gain and grab the notoriously hard to drive HiFiMan HE-‘6’s which to be fair most headamps can’t drive but the OPPO HA-1 really didn’t have any problems which is a great start. I’m still waiting for the price to be confirmed 100% but hopefully it will be a similar price to the PM-1’s, which to be fair will be an absolute bargain, oh yeah, and you get full remote control which is quite rare with headamps.
In other OPPO headphone news, OPPO announced last week the PM-2 Headphones, which won’t come with all the goodies of the PM-1 but uses very similar drivers, looks the same and will cost £699, that should be an extremely successful headphone for OPPO.
Anyway here are a few pics, I will have both the headphones and amp here hopefully towards the end of the month on permanent demo, both are available to order now with delivery due later this month all being well.
Just a quick update as I had a good listen last night to the AK240 using my favourite headphone at the moment, the Audeze LCD-XC’s, I really did wonder how Astell&Kern could improve on the sound quality of the AK120 but they certainly have, not to say that the AK120 is a bad player, it is still excellent but the AK240 is a clear step up, the AK120 in comparison now sounds a little ‘Digital’, what the AK240 manages to do is keep all the detail but present it is a far more natural, organic way, it is an easier listen which really comes into its own with acoustic and vocal music.
The AK240 actually reminds me of the Naim NDS, which is by far the best digital source I have ever heard, as it is almost analogue in its presentation whilst retaining the dynamics and openness of digital, with the Naim NDS costing over £13k with the 555PS it actually makes the AK240 seem like pretty good value if you are looking for out and out sound quality.
It may not be cheap for a but I if you want the best portable device out there at the moment then I really can’t see anything topping the Astell&Kern AK240 and the fact that it can be partnered with a headphone of the quality of the Audeze LCD-XC and still offer plenty of volume and drive really makes it a very high-end HiFi system that you can use at home and take with you when you go travelling, you certainly wouldn’t want to do that with a Naim NDS :-)
Just a quick blog to let everyone know that we now have the latest, and greatest, portable player from Astell&Kern on demo, the AK240.
I think it is fair to say that Astell&Kern are leading the way when it comes to portable devices, especially when it comes to sound quality, but the AK240 certainly adds some interesting features like a balanced headphone socket, something I need to look into more as this is something I have not seen before on a portable device, plus the AK240 supports native DSD files, I’m in the process of loading some now onto our demo AK240 as we speak and the other new feature is that it has wifi built in so it can stream wirelessly direct from your computer and as it is connected to your network it will search automatically for firmware updates and alert you and download once available and with 256GB of storage built in, expandable to 384GB it has plenty of storage for those large 24 bit files, finally it has a 3.31in AMOLED touchscreen with 800x480 resolution which looks stunning.
The AK100, now on its MKII version with higher output, DSD support and a leather case in the box, and the AK120 have been extremely popular, the AK240 looks to take things to another level with improved sound quality being its main selling point, this is something I will be trying later, if it can indeed sound better than the AK120 then it is going to be something very special indeed.
The only draw back that I can see is the price as at £2199 it certainly isn’t cheap but once you get it in your hands it certainly feels like a quality product, it is reasonably bigger than the AK120 and certainly has some interesting styling, apparently it is designed to show light and shadow with the front asymmetric look of the unit designed from the shape of the shadow when light was shining on it, all very clever.
Needless to say we know have all 3 of the Astell&Kern players on demo all loaded with the same mix of 16 and 24 bit music so you can compare the differences between the different models so please feel free to pop in to try any of them for yourself.
With the huge CES trade show on at the moment in the states there are bound to be some exciting announcements coming over the next few days, the big one for us is what exactly is Naim’s ‘Vertical Form’ which is due to be announced later today, it all looks very high end, can’t wait to find out though.
Yesterday though Astell & Kern announced the new flagship AK240 which joins the excellent AK100 and AK120. This is being billed as the 'Ultimate Portable Player’ and I have to admit that I was a little surprised to see this announced as I thought that the AK120 was as high as portable players would ever go as at £1099 it certainly isn’t cheap, saying that the performance really does make it worth every penny so I really can’t wait to get my hands on the AK240 :-)
No prices have been mentioned yet but obviously it is going to cost more than the AK120 but rest assured as soon as it becomes available in the UK then we will have it available on demo, here are a few of the specs, the first one is very interesting if true -
1, The AK240 will be Wi-Fi-enabled, which can stream music from a computer on the same network, and connect directly to online stores that sell hi-res tracks.
2, The AK240 will include 256GB internal memory and one microSD card slot supporting up to 64GB of microSD card storage – resulting in a total of 320GB of music storage.
3, A dual-core processor allows the AK240 to handle requests and play high-res audio files with no lag time.
4, The AK240 will also include a 3.31in AMOLED touchscreen with 800x480 resolution; Dual Cirrus Logic 4398 Digital-to-Analogue Converter chipsets and native DSD support – including DSD64 and DSD128 files.
Certainly sounds interesting, here are a few pictures that I’ve managed to find -