High End Munich 2019 With Warwick Acoustics

At the start of High End 2019, I had never heard of electrostatic headphone manufacturer Warwick Acoustics. Then, on the second High End day, I noticed the $24,000 USD pro-styled Aperio electrostatic headphones and their associated power-supply-energizer, streaming DAC, headphone amplifier, and line stage, sitting on a spot-lit stand outside the Warwick auditioning room.

When noticed it, I stopped. Took a picture. Walked around back and looked. I determined it was a member of an emerging category of headphone products I casually refer to as “one box” – meaning they do everything except drive conventional loudspeakers.

Warwick Acoustics’ open-back APERIO headphone utilizes a new “Balanced-Drive HPEL Transducer (BD-HPEL)” – a “symmetrically-driven” variant of Warwick Acoustics’ High Precision Electrostatic Laminate (HPEL) transducer, originally developed for the Sonoma Model One headphone system.

Uniquely, the Aperio system includes a form of EQ that matches the amplifiers’ output to its input. This by-passable EQ is executed in the digital domain (DSP) for PCM sources but in the analogue domain for analogue and DSD sources.

The Aperio’s one-box features S/PDIF, AES, and coaxial inputs alongside a USB input that doubles as firmware updater. There is also an Ethernet-fed network streamer that supports 32bit/384kHz PCM and DSD 256 (DoP or native).

The sound of the Aperio was very un-Stax-like. It had that Stax 009’s illusion of speed and high-levels of midrange texture; but the Aperio made familiar music sound fresh and newly-detailed. Plus! Compared to other electrostatic headphones, the bass went lower, with more strength and definition. Think deep and refined.

Way back at RMAF 2017, I auditioned what was then a new British-made electrostatic headphone called the Sonoma Model One. I thought at the time, that Sonoma was their company name; which, it was --- back then! Sonoma has now become the model name of a $4,995 headphone, and Warwick is the name of the company that manufactures it. Same headphone, same people, same company, new names.

The $4,995 Sonoma Model One electrostatic is now Warwick’s entry level electrostatic energizer/headphone amp/DAC system. I re-auditioned the Sonoma after spending time with the Aperio. Whereupon, I was deeply impressed with the relaxed-but-detailed ‘non-static’ sound of these well-built nicely-styled headphones. They didn’t play super loud but they did make music super-elegant and well-drawn. Their beauty was just as I remembered: the treble was sweet and elegant; the bass was full and seemingly complete.

Warwick’s Sonoma and Aperio are definitely contenders for top electrostatic headphone of 2019 in this scribe’s humble opinion.

Warwick Acoustics Ltd.