Headroom 2016

Metropolis Studios in Chiswick is a choice location for an audio event. Built in a former Victorian power station the building has numerous rooms, open spaces and a café serving pounding beats! The Headroom show attracted a broad array of exhibitors and a fair few enthusiasts, the latter getting the opportunity to hear some of the world’s finest headphones in studios that are regularly used by major recording artists.

It proved quite an interesting event because, unlike putting loudspeakers in hotel bedrooms where the room and its inhabitants can get in the way of the result, headphones make their own universe. Which means you can make some decent comparisons, especially if you take your own source. The following are a few of the more interesting products we found at Headroom this year.

Audeze were out in force at Headroom with more than one cable brand using them to dem with, Vertere had made up some prototype cables using its new Double Dfi cable with distinctive orange casing connected to the Audeze XC. The upgrade over standard cable was quite significant.

Technics introduced the T700, the first headphone since the brand’s rebirth, which features a 14mm supertweeter and angled drivers for a more spacious sound in a closed back design, price is £899.

Michell Engineering brought along Gyrodec and Orbe of turntables to the event and demonstrated just how good vinyl can sound using Trichord electronics and HifiMan headphones.

Schiit introduced a new entry level headphone amp and preamplifier in the Vali 2 for £140, it’s pretty small but it does have a nice glowing valve.

QUAD continues to plow the glass audio furrow with some style, the VA-One is an integrated amplifier with a 15 Watt output, 24/192 DAC with USB and Bluetooth and the now obligatory headphone jack for £1,300.

Snugs make custom tips for most models of in-ear monitors and achieve a ‘snug’ fit by laser scanning your ear prior to creating the tips with a 3D printer. The precision fit is claimed to deliver high comfort with minimal noise leak or intrusion alongside minimal likelihood of them falling out. They come in full shell and half shell variants and prices start at £159 including fitting.

Chord Co had applied its ARAY topology to a prototype headphone cable for the event, it has carbon shielding which Nigel Finn describes as “smooth on the outside but hairy inside”. Price looks to be in the £200 - £300 ballpark. I also spotted the first example of Shawline, a more affordable Super ARAY interconnect to be launched at Bristol Sound & Vision.

Living legend Alan Sircom dons a pair of Audeze for the Chord Co ARAY dem

Headroom was the first UK outing for the Ultrasone Edition M, the least expensive Edition model and the smallest yet. This £650 on-ear design has offset drivers and uses the company’s proprietary S-Logic tech.

Final showed the Sonorous II and III headphones that bring the entry price down for this Japanese brand but remain full size models. They apparently have a more bass heavy sound presumably in attempt at competing with Beats’ notoriously phat balance. Prices are £249 and £319 respectively.

ADL announced its range topping Stratos DAC back in May 2013 but it’s only just appeared in the UK. It’s a 32-bit DAC with a 24-bit ADC (analogue to digital converter) that does high res PCM and standard rate DSD, it also drives headphones. Price is £995.

Atlas Cables is getting into the headphone cabling market and process engineer Michalina Kulinska was on hand to reveal how the company has built its own solder free minijack plug. The Zeno cable range comes in numerous variations to suit different headphone types and both unbalanced and balanced connnectors.

One of the most desirable new models on dem was the Audeze LCD-4, at £3,299 it’s top dog in an aspirational range. Claimed to be the most advanced planar magnetic headphone on the market it has a carbon fibre headband and “nano grade diaphragms”. Note the orange tint of Vertere Dfi cables, not a standard option.

Stax the Japanese electrostatic ‘earspeaker’ specialist showed two new models. The SRS-5100 is a headphone and energiser package that replaces the SRS-3170 with refinements to the diaphragm and a new energiser design incorporating a FET front end for £1,395. The SR-L700 (below) is the top model in the Lamda range and incorporates elements from the 009 Reference model including thinner bars on the cups for even more openness as well ase goatskin leather on the pads for a better seal. Price is £995.