As at other recent headphone/earphone shows, Ultimate Ears focused on demonstrating its optical ear scanning system, with which the firm has had a great deal of success thus far. Many would-be CIEM buyers feel more than a little bit queasy about the idea of having ear mould impressions taking (and, in fairness, it does feel somewhat strange to have thick, viscous ear mould compound squirted into one’s ear canals and outer ears). Happily, UE’s optical scanning methodology solves this problem in the scanner probe is no more scary or intrusive than a typical otoscope as most if not all of us have encountered when having check ups with our physicians. It’s a quick, painless, and more-or-less anxiety-free substitute for having traditional ear mould impressions made and one that leads to the creation of comfortable and precisely fitted CIEM earpieces.
UE’s main product highlight for the show involved its newest model of CIEM; namely, the Pro Reference Remastered ($999, and covered in a preliminary way in a recent Hi-Fi+ blog), which is a significant update on the firm’s well respected, earlier-generation In-Ear Reference Monitor or Pro Reference CIEM. As with the earlier model, the new Pro Reference Remastered has been developed by UE in conjunction with the engineering team at Capitol Studios, which has approved the Pro Reference Remastered for studio monitoring and mastering applications.
As a side note, let me point out that our photo, here, shows what is plainly a universal-fit version of the Pro Reference Remastered CIEM. So far as I am aware, this universal-fit version is not an actual product, but rather is a convenient demonstration vehicle that lets prospective Pro Reference Remastered buyers get a chance to hear the product’s voicing and other sonic characteristics in action before finalising their purchase decisions.
Verisonix is, along with ENIGMAcoustics, co-owner of the technology rights for a self-biasing electrostatic driver that can be used in conjunction with a dynamic driver to create comparatively easy-to-drive hybrid electrostatic/dynamic driver-equipped headphones. Thus far, we have seen this technology applied in a pointedly high-end orientated way in the ENIGMAcoustics Dharma D1000 headphone, but there is also interest in applying a presumably cost-reduced variant of the technology in considerably lower priced headphones that will be brought to market by the value-minded audio company Mitchell & Johnson.
To show what is possible, Verisonix/Mitchell & Johnson joined forces to demonstrate two of the models they have in development: the I502C (~$199) and the N501 (~$499). If all goes according to plan, Mitchell & Johnson will ultimately bring both of these headphones (and several other hybrid electrostatic/dynamic models as well) to market, though the units on hand at CanJam carried Verisonix badging and logos. I had heard even earlier variants of these headphones in January at CES and I’m pleased to say that they appear to have taken some sonic strides forward since then. In fact, in my CanJam notes I wrote that the I502C seemed to offer “good value for money,” while the N501 struck me as having made “great forward progress” since CES. This is a technology and these are brands to watch closely in the future.
As a spin-off from development work conducted at the Coventry, UK-based University of Warwick, Warwick Audio Technologies may just have found a way to reduce the high costs of electrostatic headphone drivers while also greatly improving their unit-to-unit consistency. Using processes pioneered at the University of Warwick, Warwick Audio Technologies has found a way to produce laminated, three-layer sheets or rolls of electrostatic driver material that can be trimmed to virtually any driver/diaphragm size or shape a designer might desire. Warwick calls this the HPEL (High-Precision Electrostatic Laminate) driver, with the three layers of the material consisting of a polycarbonate layer that serves as the driver’s electrostatic charge-bearing diaphragm, a thin film insulating layer, and a conductive mesh layer that serves as the driver stator (the HPEL is a so-called ‘single-ended’ electrostatic driver).
To power its HPEL drivers, Warwick has also created proprietary Class A and Class AB amplifiers that provide an appropriate 1300V bias signal for the HPEL drivers. Warwick has created a promising proof-of-concept/demonstration electrostatic headphone and amplifier(s), but in the long run the firm is less interested in manufacturing headphones or amps on its own, but rather hopes to license its technologies to an already established headphone manufacturer.