The US-based planar magnetic headphone maker Audeze had a very good year in 2014, with both the firm’s LCD-X and LCD-XC headphones ($1,699 and $1,799, respectively) garnering considerable acclaim from the high-end audio press. But for 2015 Audeze has moved in a new and unexpected direction to create two new, very high-performance, yet easy-to-drive and decidedly cost-reduced new planar magnetic headphones: namely, the open-back EL-8 and the EL-8 closed back models, both selling for $699 each. But do not be deceived by the accessible prices. Judged purely on the basis of sound quality, either of the EL-8 models could easily pass for mid-$1000 range units. They’re that good.
How did Audeze achieve this result? Well for industrial design assistance, Audeze turned to none other than the BMW Design Group, which helped create a fresh, distinctive, upscale, and up-to-the-minute look and feel for the new ‘phones. On the inside however, Audeze pulled out even more stops, leveraging three distinctive patent-pending technologies known as Fazor, Fluxor, and Uniforce technologies.
In simple terms, Fazor technologies offer a waveguide that helps smooth wave launches from the ear side of the headphone’s driver. Fluxor technology, in turn, is a proprietary magnet configuration system that focuses the lion’s share of the magnet array’s flux field toward the diaphragm side of the magnet array—thus dramatically increasing the headphone’s efficiency. The only minor catch is that Fluxor technology does tend to introduce flux field ‘hot spots’ in certain localised areas across the driver diaphragm. To address this issue, Uniforce technology is a proprietary method of widening or narrowing conductor traces on the driver diaphragm to compensate for the aforementioned flux field hot spots. As a result, the driver diaphragm experiences uniform driving for across its entire surface area. A clever solution, no? I heard both EL-8 (pronounced ‘elate’) models driven from the new Pono player, whose electronics were developed by none other than Ayre. The results were very impressive indeed.
Finally, Audeze also announced its first ever headphone amplifier/DAC, called the Deckard ($699). The Deckard uses a Texas Instruments TI 51028 DAC and can support 32/384 DXD files and 24/192 PCM files, but does not support DSD. The class A amp section of the Deckard is quite powerful, putting out 3.2 watts at 20 Ohms (for purposes of driving Audeze’s LCD-X headphone), 2.1 watts at 30 Ohms (for the Audeze EL-8), 900mW at 70 Ohms (for the LCD-2), and 581mW (for the LCD-3).
AudioQuest, heretofore known best for its high-end audio cables and Dragonfly-series USB dongle-type DAC/headphone amps, entered a new product category in a powerful way with its impressive new full-size, semi-open-back, Nighthawk headphone ($599). The Nighthawk is the brainchild of designer Skylar Gray. Innovation is everywhere in this subtle design starting with the ear cup housings, which are made of injection moulded ‘liquid wood’, on through to the elastic ear cup mounting system, which is patterned to a degree after the elastic mounting systems sometimes used for ultra-high-quality studio microphone mounts.
Then, the rear vents of the ear cups feature an elaborately textured venting system so complicated that it can only be produced via a 3d printing process. The headphone uses a 50mm dynamic-type driver that uses a bio-cellulose diaphragm said to offer the stiffness of titanium with the damping of paper cones.
Based on a brief listen, we think AudioQuest has created an attractive and comfortable headphone whose sound would not seem out of place in a model selling in the $1,000 - $1,200 range, but whose actual price is half that sum.
Up to this point Aurender has been best known for its exotic, very high-quality music servers and streamers and it continues its strengths in those areas but has now expanded into a new category with its absolutely gorgeous Aurender Flow portable headphone amplifier/DAC/player ($1,300).
The Flow, which honestly looks like something Constellation might have built, can support DSD128, DXD, and of course high-res PCM digital audio files, while making provisions for up to 1TB of MSATA storage for music files.