Editor’s Note: I had intended on taking it easy for the past week and hoped someone else would cover #HPFES Spring 2013, but alas, our very own AnakChan laid moribund (minor exaggeration) on his bed with a sore throat on the day of the show, and thus I had to flex my web crawler muscles and look up all the cool news. To my joy (perhaps?), this year’s show was composed of mostly in-ear and portable showings; the prospect of having to write about all of it, unfortunately, caused my initial elation to transmogrify into fear and loathing… here are the best bits:
Even before the show began, there was a lot of buzz in the air — several *notable* manufacturers made substantial announcements before the show even began, lending more excitement to show goers and watchers. The trend, as it has been for several years, has been that portable products such as in-ears have taken over and become the stars of the show. The slower-moving full-sized segment has been standing pat, relatively. So let’s not dawdle and get started, shall we?
The star of the show was unquestionably the Shure SE846. Save for a few minor component and cosmetic/ergonomic changes, Shure hadn’t updated its flagship since 2006’s E500/SE530, so the SE846 announcement caused a minor riot amongst earphone fanatics.
Although the outward appearance of the SE846 preserves the look and feel of the concha bowl design adopted by the current Shure lineup, the internal fortitude of the new Shure flagship is all-new. Along with its dual woofers, single mid, and single high balanced armature drivers (presumably custom-sourced from Sonion), is a series of ten, laser-cut metal plates designed to port sound from the woofer spout to the exit bore, acoustically cutting-off all woofer output above 90 Hz.
It’s immediately evident that Shure spent a good deal of effort not only designing this custom manifold system but also worked intimately with Sonion engineers to obtain drivers that fulfilled their requirements as well. Shure is actually not the first company to come up with a path-based solution for low-pass porting of bass frequencies. Back in 2007, Klipsch and Sonion implemented a similar design (see patents here and here) in the Custom 3, but didn’t go nearly as far as Shure did with the metal plates, and the cutoff frequency wasn’t nearly as low.
Shure then went a step further and implemented a removable metal exit stem that features exchangeable acoustic dampers for different sound signatures, a la AKG K3003. The mid and high frequencies stay within a single sound bore, while the bass frequencies output concentrically around it, somewhat similar to the FitEar TO GO! 334. Thus, as a technical achievement, the SE846 is a landmark piece for universal in-ear monitors.
The aesthetic is a first for earphones, as Shure takes advantage of the large metal surfaces of the BA drivers an manages to laser-etch its logo and other information onto the sides. The much-maligned MMCX connectors are also supposedly modified for better retention and durability, and for prevention of cable rotation, problems common in previous Shure models.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the SE846 is the thousand dollar pricing. Many people have lamented the recent massive uptick in flagship product pricing; the trend began with the AKG K3003 (preceded by Final Audio’s stuff, but let’s ignore them for now and consider only the big, well-known brands), followed by the Sennheiser IE800. I’m sure that the suits on the top floor of Shure tower thought, “Why devalue our product when it clearly is on-par acoustically with the rest of the big boys?”
For some reason, people feel that a company is unreasonable in charging a thousand bucks for the SE846: they want a flagship to look and feel like a luxury item — hand-molded acrylic, forged titanium, and ceramic composite layups, rather than a mere two pieces of plastic.
However, Shure has never been accused of bringing great value to the consumer; I’ve always personally considered their products overpriced, so why expect any different from the SE846? The fact of the matter is that Shure is a publicly traded corporation with responsibilities to the company’s shareholders and not to ramen-suckling audiophiles.
Even with this kind of exorbitant pricing, like the sales darling before it the FitEar TO GO! 334, I have no doubt that the SE846 will sell like hotcakes. Why? Because Shure follows the money, and all the rich people live in Asia these days. There’s a reason why Shure chose the Asian arm of their corporation to handle the launch of the SE846, and a reason why they chose Fujiya-AVIC’s #HPFES as the venue for the launch. The Chinese will snatch these right up (leading me to wonder why Shure chose to sandwich the ‘4’ in between the auspicious ‘8’ and ‘6’), as will the Singaporeans and the Koreans. And the Japanese? Well, if the crowds at these shows are any indication, they will keep buying these things, despite any grievances about a weak Yen or struggling economy.
All in all, in spite of the price, the Shure SE846 appears to be an excellent product, and Shure product developers paid excellent attention to detail, along with solid acoustic philosophy. Listening impressions have currently been limited to those who were at the show, but CYMBACAVUM will be hot on their heels and put up some thoughts the first chance we get!
2012 was a banner year for FitEar. Despite being priced well-above competing products, he MH335DW, TO GO! 334, and F111 were runaway hits. And save for a minor hiccup with the Monet, FitEar seems to be continuing its hot streak in 2013 and the Parterre, Suyama’s latest universal-fit creation, had Japanese show goers lining up for auditions.
Price-wise, the Parterre seems to slot in between the 334 and the 111, and utilizes a “multi-BA” array of drivers. Keita Suyama is keeping mum about what and how many are inside, however. He seems to want listeners to concentrate on the sound it produces, rather than what its tech specs are. Fair enough, but as someone who’s into the design of IEM products, I’m still curious.
The interesting aspect of the Parterre is that, like the F111, it too utilizes a titanium acoustic horn. I’ve been liberal of my praise of the acoustic horn design on the F111, and I’m glad that FitEar is utilizing it once again in the Parterre. It’s currently on pre-order at Fujiya-AVIC for 84,800 円 (~$836 USD).
Japan’s second-largest custom IEM maker has largely been overshadowed by the panache of Suyama’s FitEar. Still, Hayashi-san is holding his own in this rapidly evolving industry, coming out with two new products.
The first is the CW-L12, a dual driver design (almost certainly) powered by Sonion’s new 1723 AcuPass driver assembly. With a minimum impedance of 22 ohms and an impedance of 75 ohms at 1kHz, this driver setup should pair exceptionally well with almost all DAPs and amplifiers, not to mention a relatively neutral and balanced frequency response.
Interestingly, the Sonion 1723 driver is also my best guess for what FitEar is using in the Parterre. The size and dimensions fit, and the single output spout fits as well. The Sonion driver manual even specifies an “optimized design” for the 1723 when used in conjunction with an acoustic horn. However, FitEar isn’t divulging what they’re using for the Parterre, or even how many drivers there are, so I very well may be wrong. They could be just as well using some unknown (to the public) driver from Knowles, similar to the ones used in Heir Audio’s Tzar 90 and Tzar 350.
Back to CW — the second product unveiling is actually a product update, the CW-L51a. When the CW-L51 was first shown at last year’s headphone festival, it caused a minor commotion with its unique PSTS (Personal Sound Tuning System); it featured a set of exchangeable resistors that dampened the bass response of the six-driver CIEM in accordance with the listeners’ personal tastes. The CW-L51a seems to improve upon that six-driver design even more.
When it comes to CanalWorks, however, much is still unknown about the brand, as it hasn’t ventured outside of Japan at all. While it has thus far only serviced Japanese clients, there are indications that it may have global aspirations. Hong Kong’s Mingo-HMW has become CW’s first official overseas dealer, with JM-Plus in Taiwan following as the second.
While it’s not really a premium brand, Zero Audio has been an interesting company with its designs. Last year’s dynamic-driver based Carbo Basso and Carbo Tenore certainly looked cool, and Zero has come back with two more carbon-wrapped in-ears in the Carbo Doppolo and Carbo Singolo. Both are supposedly BA based.
The OEM giant is once again stepping forward with more self-branded efforts, this time with an exchangeable cable in-ear. Equipped with MMCX sockets, this Fostex TE-05 dynamic driver prototype is rumored to be priced around the century mark.
Japanese audio accessory maker SAEC was showing an interesting Korean brand at the show called Dynamic Motion. Despite the RM-8008 appearing like the mutant love child of Beats and the K3003 (technically most similar in appearance to the LG QuadBeat, a smartphone-bundled OEM earphone popular amongst enthusiasts as a TF10 “killer”), the frequency response of the earphones appears to be pretty good. Dynamic Motion is supposedly a large-scale manufacturer of dynamic drivers , and apparently the model being shown at the festival utilized a diaphragm with special (undisclosed) materials. Let’s hope these earphones pan out to be something good, at least for the mainstream listener.
While Shure went upmarket, Westone went downmarket (sorta) at this show, giving people a better glimpse of their ADV Adventure Series of dynamic-driver delivered IEMs.
First teased at CES 2013, Westone made the ADV Alpha its center of focus at the festival. This is clearly a more consumer-oriented product, aimed toward outdoor enthusiasts, so at least those MMCX connectors shouldn’t break down immediately like they do on the Shure and UE models. Also, it does utilize their new ‘Precision Surface Tuning’ technique with their 6.5mm driver for better bass, whatever that means.
Australian manufacturer Audiofly was on hand for the launch of their brand in Japan. Their entire product lineup, including the yet to be released Performance Series, was on display. CYMBACAVUM will be covering the Performance Series at a later date.
Ocharaku (音茶楽 Sound Customize)
Always a hit with audiophiles, Yamagishi-san showed off his Flat-4 Kuro (玄) alongside the Sui (粋) and Kaede (楓), as well as the Donguri (ドングリ).
Ω Image, a good friend to CYMBACAVUM, has also written a great journal entry about his #HPFES experience…
Unfortunately, the sight of acorns makes me hungry for some donburi, so I’m going to leave the rest for Part 2…