AXPONA 2019 Coverage Sponsored By Underwood HiFi Pt 5

Focal was a big hit at the Ear Gear Expo. The booth was crowded with enthusiast listening to the new Focal Stella priced at $3000 The reference closed headphones in the Cognac finish sounded majestic. The comfort levels are comfortable and you forget you have a headphone on and the room was loud and busy but listening to the Stellia removed the noise and maintained excellent isolation from the outside noise and filled my listening time with nothing but music.

Romain Vet (center) with the Focal team continues to work hard at shows and show the Focal line of headphones.

Focal has done a great job with their closed headphones, such as the Elegia priced at $899 driven here by an SPL amplifier that was able to extract inner detail and made the Elegia come to life. The reference Focal $4000 flagship Utopia was an amazing listening experience serving up excellent detail retrieval and vivid clarity with exceptional decay depicting room acoustics in a way unmatched in another headphone in my experience and delivers a magical musical experience. The Utopia recreates the recording space and takes the listener on a magical ride to the venue and sounds realistic making the performance come to life.

iBasso was showing their single driver  IEM priced at $99. The sound was musical and hit all the ranges perfectly with good bass and a terrific midrange with excellent highs. Spectacular value.

Headfi.org member John D’amato and Steve Adair were showing the entire iBasso lineup which includes their fantastic IEM’s, DAP’s and limited edition sold out headphone that sold for only $495. The sound was spectacular and all 500 pairs were sold but they may have another run coming soon. iBasso makes great products that everyone can afford.

Meeting Jim Moulton who now is co-owner of Noble the company his brother John (the Wizard) started was enlightening. After taking a short break from all the shows Noble is back stronger than ever. Eric, who had a big smile on working the busy booth with Jim and his wife Mrs. Moulton (pictured next to Eric), was busy showing the new Universal designs from John Moulton. Great seeing the Noble team in full swing and back to offering some of the best IEMs in the planet.

The Noble Khan is the King of Kings in Universal designs, the striking artwork that the Wizard put into the design is only surpassed by the sound of this 6 Driver IEM. The Khan uses Tri-level Hybrid technology with 4 balanced armatures 1 10 mm dynamic and 1 10mm piezoelectric driver. iPhone users will have to use Noble’s lighting cable or an in-line amplifier to get the best sound from the Khan. The sensitive IEMs will work with most smartphones as well as portable amps and DAPs. The sales for the Khan have been spectacular and they are on backorder with a wait time of approximately 3 weeks. Priced at $2399 this remarkable IEM needs to be heard!

Shure was showing both their open-back and closed-back headphones. The closed-backed SRH1540 priced at $499 has an excellent soundstage with clear extended highs and a textured bass. Ideal for quiet listening sessions and offered at an attractive price. The SRH1840 open design has the same $499 price tag and sounded excellent with all recordings. Both are exceptionally good headphones that deliver excellent midrange with extended highs and textured defined bass. Excellent value for the money.

Shure  Electrostatic universal IEM’s come in a couple of models. The KSE1500 has electrostatic drivers and includes a USB DAC and electrostatic headphone amplifier and is priced at $2999 with amplifier included, and the KSE1200 model priced at $1999 offers an electrostatic headphone amp without DAC designed to work with portable players. The  IEM was transparent but I had trouble getting a good seal and they sounded bright and revealing but bass was fair.  I would need to listen to these in a quiet environment with tips that can give me a better seal to get the most out of them.

The Ayre Codex priced at $1799 is a headphone amplifier, DAC and preamplifier all in one unit that has both USB and optical inputs providing DSD and PCM conversion. The unit does DSD64, DSD128, and PCM up to 384khz up to 24 bits. The Codex can also be used as a high-quality pre-amp and incorporated into a 2 channel system. Attractive casing and design from the folks at Ayre. The sound with the HD800 S was vivid with excellent vocal clarity and the soundstage soared. The midrange and treble were pristine and the bass had excellent texture.

Rupert Neve a Pro Audio firm founded 80 years ago is entering the consumer market with the Rupert Nerve Precision amplifier.  Well known in the recording industry this company founded by Rupert Neve is offering Pro design to consumers for musical precision and quality listening enjoyment.

Priced at $499, this class A design will drive any headphone currently in production. The state of the art Rupert Neve RNHP 24 volt design offers +4dBu XLR balanced along with single-ended 1/4″ TRS, RCA, and 1/8″ TRRS stereo inputs. The steel chassis is rugged and the amplifier will drive your headphones without compromise and sounded spectacular driving the LCD2 Closed-Back headphone. The sound was transparent and was able to extract the best bass and midrange from the LCD 2.  Impressive product from a Pro Audio company that can build affordable products that let you hear everything from your headphones in an affordable package. Excellent design and this rugged little beauty is a super value that offers exceptional musicality and clarity for audiophiles, music lovers, and pro mastering engineers.

Our friend Vinu Vu owner of Gingko Audio was showcasing spectacular products from Wells Audio and other magnificent companies including products from Dana Cable, Lampizator, Salk, and VPI.

The system featured the  Gingko Audio Clarissa LE speakers on ClaraVu stands.  The speakers sounded transparent with excellent soundstaging and midrange that were alive and loaded with transparency. The Majestic priced at $4400 is a 150-watt integrated amplifier from Wells Audi0 that has a built-in phono stage and was driving the speaker easily. The chassis was exceptional and beautifully designed. The Majestic delivered big and bold sound that had transparency, sounded musical and was able to get the most from the system. The Salk StreamPlayer Generation III($1700) with the Lampizator  Amber II DAC($2475)  and the VPI Cliffwood with the Grado Green cartridge ($900) was spectacular and delivering the best from both digital and analog recordings. The cables were all DanaCable Sapphire series which included an 8ft run to the speakers priced at $995 for the pair. The Sapphire Reference 2 interconnect priced at $700 per meter was installed throughout the system.  Completing the system was Gingko’s excellent Acoustic Resonance Clarifier vibration control feet priced from $200 to $400. Impressive and exciting, I left the room satisfied with the musicality and the experience of listening to a well-designed system from Gingko. Truly an impressive room and sound that was inviting and musical.

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Frank Iacone

Frank started his journey in high-end audio in 1978 and was quickly hooked. Frank’s passion for music and great sound reproduction is stronger than ever. His main focus is with high-end headphones and portable related gear. He is a regular Head-Fi.org contributor and is a co-founder of Headphone.Guru.

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