AXPONA Coverage Part 4: The Wrap Up

JansZen had a big surprise at AXPONA this year – working portable electrostatic prototypes. Dubbed the ‘Lotus’ headphones, they work a bit like a wireless headphone. JansZen claims that you only need to charge these twice a month to get 4 hours of listening a day, and that all the necessary electrostatic circuity has been miniaturized in the cups.

Although you can’t see it in the pictures, the cups actually have small vent holes in them, isolating some sound but not everything. The pricing structure was a bit confusing to me, but as near as I could tell, the first 20 pre-production orders will start at $795 USD, with each subsequent 20 orders increasing by $100 dollars, followed by a kickstarter price of $1,195 USD, and a final retail price of $1,495 USD. Clear as mud.

In any case, these did actually sound nicer than I expected. They were a bit fuller sounding than I’m used to with a Stax headphone, and had a very natural treble and bass presentation, but there was a very forward upper-midrange spike that I didn’t care for. Overall though, much nicer than I expected.

Next up on the unusual things docket was the Weiss company’s booth. I was frankly shocked to see them, though I suppose considering other pro audio companies such as Manley and Rupert Neve Designs have increasingly popped up at shows, it shouldn’t strike me as that odd. The Weiss folks are well known for making top notch converters and some really good digital limiters. They were showing off their DAC502 and MAN301 units, a DAC/Amp and Digital Signal processing Unit, and streaming and storage box respectively.

The DAC502 sounded quite nice and transparent, and also had a spatial processing module for headphones that actually sounded the business. The smaller DAC501 counterpart had a set of four demo tracks demonstrating this capability. Of the four examples I thought the first crossfeed example sounded the subtlest and most natural, although the room acoustics/reverberation demo was much better than I was expecting – again, on the less colored and subtler side than most consumer devices, which I think is a good call. I’m interested to see where they go with this technology.

My final two stops were the Hifiman and Dekoni booths.

None of the more expensive stuff at the Hifiman booth charmed me, in fact, I liked things less and less the further up the price chain I went. The Ananda at $1,000 USD and the Sundara at $500 USD though were really nice sessions. They have that kind of soft transient sound that I’ve associated with post-HE-1000 Hifiman headphones, but the tonal balance and richness of these headphones made for a wonderful listen at the price.

I would seriously consider these headphones if you’re looking for a relaxed, non-aggressive presentation to your music but dislike the overly dark, colored signature often associated with that listening experience. I’ll be checking these cans out a bit more and taking a second listen.

The Dekoni booth had a few new things, namely ‘audio nuggets’ which are a headband replacer. They have a bit of adhesive on them and can easily attach to exiting headbands, a nifty solution that I can see a lot of uses for.

They also have a new Shure pad made from a microfiber, velour-type fabric. Everett from Dekoni told me they sound changes were modest, and to check the upcoming measurements on their website, but did mention that the pads provided better seal and comfort without getting hot so easily. I didn’t have a stock Shure headphone to compare against, but the Dekoni pads usually do seal a bit better and can help clean up some bass and low treble issues in my experience. Definitely check these guys out if you haven’t already.

Finally, in a really nice post-show meet on Monday I got to hang out at F1 Audio a local dealer here in the Chicagoland area. They’re located right down the street from AXPONA, in Palatine IL, and they’ve recently brought in a ton of headphone gear: Chord, Mr. Speakers, JPS Labs, Meze, Campfire, MOZero, and they told me they’re looking into adding even more.

This is probably the most seriously equipped headphone store I’ve ever been to, and Jameson, the guy running the headphone side of things is a serious head-fier who knows his stuff. They were nice enough to give me some head-time with their products before and after the show so I could get some quieter, longer-listening sessions in. Definitely check them out if you’re in the area

To sum up AXPONA 2019 from a headphone perspective – this is just a really nice place to be. The ‘eargear expo’ as they called it was more focused this year than last, and I hope it will attract some of the vendors who refrained from coming due to last year’s experience. Furthermore, I noticed that there were far more folks from the headphone realm wandering into two-channel rooms than the other way around. Many more headphone folks are young, eager for audio and able to get around. If I were an audio company or enthusiast, I would be paying attention to the headphone area at shows just for that reason.

The other, and more important reason is simply that there are a lot of good sounding headphone setups at shows, where you don’t need to worry about the difficult acoustical spaces of hotel rooms. Show noise wasn’t even particularly bad this year, a tremendous feat in itself. AXPONA has, in a very short time, become the largest audio show in North America, and even despite terrible weather on the final Sunday, the show seems to be growing every year. This one is well worth the trip if you want to see the biggest and best that the audio industry as a whole has to offer, yet still like your headphone areas cozy, familiar and not too noisy.

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davidJanszen's picture

Hi, All. Just thought I'd post a link to a frequency response plot for those headphones. https://www.janszenaudio.com/zh7-response

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