Sound Days #7: 2019’s latest generation of headphones and DAPs

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In addition to turntables, this 7th edition of the Sound Days show also showcased the latest generation of portable systems and the best current models of DAPs, headphones and earphones. Here are some of the latest products that were on display at the Carreau du Temple on May 18 and 19.

Sound Days #7: an abundance of DAPs

Let’s start with Cowon, a big name and a true pioneer in this domain. The brand showcased its Plenue range, in particular the iconic Plenue 2 MKII, Plenue R, Plenue V models, and the premium Plenue L that features a powerful DAC capable of handling 8 channels at 32-bit/384kHz, as well as DSD files up to 11.6MHz. The Cowon Plenue D2 was also present among the latest releases. The latter takes over from the Plenue D to which it adds support for a wide range of audio file formats up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD64/128.

FiiO, a major player in the portable audio market, presented its latest DAP, the FiiO M11. This ultra-comprehensive model is compatible with 32-bit/384kHz files, DSD256 files, WiFi, Bluetooth and AirPlay and can be used as a USB DAC. The brand’s many other DAPs, such as the FiiO M7, M9 and X5 III, could also be listened to with the FiiO FA7 and FiiO F9 Pro in-ear headphones.

As the inventor of the famous Walkman, Sony rapidly secured a choice position in the DAP market. During this 7th edition of the Sound Days, the Japanese manufacturer had different models on display, from the entry-level Sony NW-A45, to the ultra high-end Sony NW-WM1A, a Hi-Res Audio, 32-bit/384kHz, DSD256, Bluetooth aptX and LDAC certified model. It was also possible to try the Sony TA-ZH1Es headphone amp with the Sony MDR-Z1R headphones, the Japanese brand’s flagship model.

The manufacturer Shanling also attended the show with its Shanling M0 and Shanling M1 DAPs. These are both compact models compatible with 32-bit/384kHz files for the former and DSD256 for the latter. It was also possible to listen to the iconic Shanling M5s. This DAP features a double DAC compatible with 32-bit/768kHz and DSD256 files, an LDAC and aptX Bluetooth controller and a DLNA WiFi receiver (DMR), and also supports AirPlay.

Lastly, the American company HiFiMAN chose to showcase its HiFiMAN HM-901S, HiFiMAN HM-650 and HiFiMAN MegaMini DAPs which could be listened to using the high-end HiFiMAN Susvara, HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2 and HiFiMAN HE-560 headphones.

Sound Days #7: the latest generation of headphones and earphones

When it came to headphones and earphones, visitors were able to discover many new products from the biggest hi-fi brands starting with JBL, who showcased its brand new series of Bluetooth headphones, JBL Live, which includes the JBL Live 400BT, JBL Live 500BT and JBL Live 650BT. All of these models can be used in Bluetooth or wired mode and are compatible with Amazon Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant if they are installed on the smartphone paired with the headphones. They have a battery life ranging from 24 to 33 hours depending on the model. The American brand also had its new True Wireless JBL Free X and JBL Tune 120 TW earphones on display.

Concerning True Wireless earphones, we can also mention Klipsch’s new range of in-ear headphones. This range includes the Klipsch T5 True Wireless earphones that come in a charging case resembling a Zippo lighter. Streaming is ensured via Bluetooth 5.0 transmission and the manufacturer announces 24 hours of battery life. The other models in the range were also at the show: a pair of Bluetooth earphones, a pair of wireless earphones with a neckband and a pair of wired earphones marketed as being the perfect solution for sporting activities. The American brand also showcased its high-end Klipsch Heritage HP-3 headphones, along with the Klipsch Headphone Amplifier.

Jabra, a pioneering brand when it comes to creating sturdy, waterproof True Wireless earphones, presented its new Jabra Elite 65t earphones, as well as its brand new Jabra Elite 85h headphones. These “smart” headphones incorporate eight microphones to analyse the acoustic environment and surrounding sounds in real time and adjusts the restitution based on these external elements. This is similar to the function provided by Sony with its WH-1000XM3 headphones. Furthermore, the Elite 85h’s microphones also allow you to take phone calls and interact with the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice assistants. These headphones, which feature two 1.5” transducers, provide protection against dust and rain, along with a battery life of 32 hours. Jabra’s other headphones and earphones were on display, including the Jabra Move Wireless headphones and the Jabra Elite 45e Bluetooth earphones that feature a neckband.

Focal also presented a new product at the show: the Focal Stellia headphones that were released at the beginning of the year and that won us over during our review. This circumaural model which encloses a custom-made transducer featuring a pure beryllium cone in each ear cup was also displayed at Audirvana’s stand. The Focal Listen Chic Wireless and Focal Listen Wireless Bluetooth headphones, along with the Focal Listen Pro, Focal Elegia, Focal Elear, Focal Clear and Focal Utopia hi-fi headphones could be tried at Focal’s stand and at many other stands displaying DAPs.

In addition to its DAPs, Cowon also showcased its audiophile 3-way in-ear headphones. Boasting a large chassis in anodized metal, their shape has been specifically designed to provide great comfort and a perfectly clear sound. Inside, each earpiece features no less than three balanced armature transducers combined with a 3-way passive radiator.

Technics released a lot of new products this year, and headphones were no exception. The brand presented its new Technics EAH-F70N and EAH-F50B headphones, two aptX HD and Bluetooth LDAC compatible models. The only difference between the two models is the Technics EAH-F70N’s three-level active noise cancellation technology, which can either completely eliminate exterior noise, or simply reduce it using microphones to ensure the listener can still hear background sounds. This function is called Ambient Sound Enhancer. These headphones also include support for the Amazon Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant voice assistants.

The 7th edition of the Sound Days was also the perfect opportunity to test the Sennheiser HE-1 audiophile headphones in an auditorium. The Sennheiser HE-1 is a premium electrostatic model, designed to be used exclusively with its dedicated headphone amp, which is fitted with retractable vacuum-tubes. If you missed out on this opportunity, you still have the chance to listen to these headphones at the Bordeaux, Lille and Lyon Son-Vidéo.com stores during the Sennheiser tour.

Audio-Technica attended the Sound Days to present its range of Bluetooth and wired headphones, including the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7B, a balanced model inspired by the iconic ATH-MSR7. It features large, 2” dynamic drivers specifically designed by the Japanese manufacturer for listening to Hi-Res audio files.

Audio-Technica presented its different Bluetooth and wired headphones.

Audio-Technica also showcased its gaming headphones, the Audio-Technica ATH-AG1x, at the show’s video game stand. Players could therefore enjoy a particularly immersive gaming experience on the latest generation of Sony televisions. Better still, retro arcade machines, a specialized gaming chair and several VR headsets were available to try.

At FiiO’s stand, their different DAPs could be tried with the FiiO FH5, FiiO F9, FiiO F9 Pro and FiiO FA7 in-ear headphones. These are 4-way, Hi-Res Audio certified models perfectly suited for listening to HD audio files with a DAP.

The Sound Days was also the opportunity to try the flagship models of leading headphone manufacturers, notably the Meze Empyrean, which provides a wide frequency response from 4Hz to 110kHz at a level of distortion inferior to 0.1%. Lastly, Earsonics, Beyerdynamic and Sennheiser were also present with, amongst others, the Sennheiser HD 4.50BTNC Wireless, Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless, Beyerdynamic T5P, Earsonics Purple and Earsonics Velvet V2 headphones and earphones.


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