Review and Lab: Keith Howard

Review and Lab: Keith Howard, Review: Christopher Breunig  |  Sep 03, 2019  |  0 comments
hfnedchoiceThe Chinese company claims a decade of planar driver technology development with these robust mid-priced open-backed 'phones – are they a cause for celebration?

With HiFiMan's UK distribution now switching to Signature Systems, we are at last able to get our hands on this idiosyncratic range of headphones from China. What makes them idiosyncratic is not merely their use of planar magnetic (aka isodynamic) drive units – something which is becoming increasingly mainstream – but that these drivers are reminiscent of isodynamic units of the past in respect of their low sensitivity.

Review: Christopher Breunig, Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jul 05, 2019  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingThe French speaker company has upped its game with this de-luxe closed-back design – perhaps aimed to make a 'mocha-ry' of the competition? Let's see how well it sounds

Hot on the heels of the Elegia [HFN Mar '19] – the first closed-back model in Focal's revamped, post-Spirit headphone range [HFN Dec '15] that launched in 2016 with the open-back Utopia [HFN Feb '17] – comes the second closed-back design, the £2799 Stellia. These two flagship models, both featuring beryllium diaphragms, effectively bookend the range, their less costly siblings being based around the same M-cone drive unit concept but with a less exotic aluminium-magnesium diaphragm.

Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jun 26, 2019  |  0 comments
hfncommendedA development of the earlier M4U 2, this new design adds Bluetooth and internal battery charging while listening, via micro USB. How do the improvements stack up?

Although it received a lukewarm review in these pages [HFN Dec '13], the M4U 2 – predecessor to the M4U 8 we're looking at here and still available – proved to be a success for PSB, garnering plaudits and awards along the way. The M4U 8 looks very similar and it would be easy to suppose that it's just an M4U 2 with wireless capability in the form of Bluetooth and NFC (near-field communication) bolted on. In fact it's a bit more than that, principally because its onboard DSP capability allows it, in active mode, to deliver a more precise adherence to PSB's RoomFeel target frequency response.

Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jun 19, 2019  |  0 comments
hfncommendedShort of having a dedicated generator in your garage, you are not going to get cleaner mains than from PS Audio's new Power Plant, which is bigger and better than ever

In a game of audiophile word association, 'mains regenerator' will elicit the response 'PS Audio' just as surely as 'electrostatic headphones' does 'Stax'. PS Audio can't claim to have introduced mains regeneration to high-quality sound reproduction – that distinction belongs to Linn Products and the Valhalla board for the LP12, introduced in 1982. But nobody generalised on that specific, realising that a regenerated mains waveform might bring improvements to audio components other than a turntable's synchronous AC motor, until PS Audio introduced its original Power Plant, to a somewhat bemused hi-fi industry, in 1998.

Review: David Price, Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Sep 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfnoutstanding.pngIf you've admired Vivid Audio's design philosophy but baulked at its styling, the new Kaya range is for you

Audiophiles can be a conservative bunch. Me, I sometimes feel that if I ever see another wood veneered box loudspeaker I'll attack it with a chainsaw but others of you, I know, prefer the old aesthetic, or at least a modern take on it, to curved, organic cabinet forms – especially if painted in primary colours. For a company like Vivid Audio, which appreciates and exploits the benefits of curved cabinets in respect of structural stiffness and clean diffraction behaviour, this is a problem.

Review: David Price, Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Aug 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfnoutstanding.pngIf the BeoLab 90 wowed you with its tech but daunted you with its size and price, here’s a pint-sized alternative

Kii Audio’s THREE is an exemplar of what can be achieved when the hi-fi industry’s, and hi-fi buyers’, lingering obsession with passive loudspeakers is set aside and a 21st century approach – active operation in conjunction with digital signal processing (DSP) – is adopted instead. In short order we’ve experienced the B&O BeoLab 90 [HFN Dec ’16], the KEF LS50 Wireless [HFN Oct ’17] and now the Kii (pronounced ‘key’) THREE.

Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jul 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfncommended.pngFollowing a succession of top Audio-Technica headphones that were variations on a familiar theme, this latest flagship open-back model rings some significant changes

Audio-Technica currently offers a bewildering 22 headphone models to its European customers in the hi-fi category alone, and goodness knows what exotica there may be which never escapes Japan. Prices range from £30 at the bottom end to £1990 at the top, that latter tag dangling from this new model, the ATH-ADX5000, but if you thought you knew what to expect from A-T’s most expensive headphones, it may surprise you a little.

Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jun 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfncommended.pngAn engineering tour-de-force informed by the latest research in ‘targeted sound curves’, the miniature N5005 in-ear headphone features no fewer than five drivers

The hi-fi industry throws up some wonderful contradictions. If this were a review of a five-way loudspeaker you’d expect it to be a monster and question whether five-way wasn’t one way too many. If the subject of the review were a five-way over-ear headphone you’d think the world had gone mad: most over-ear headphones make do with a single drive unit, and while there have been two-way models they have rarely been successful. Yet going down the size scale one more notch to the insert earphone (aka in-ear headphone), here we have a new £800 flagship model from AKG boasting, yes, five drive units within its compact exterior dimensions.

Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Apr 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfnoutstanding.pngA staple at the Hi-Fi Show Live, Magnepan's largest Magneplanar finally gets its first in-depth test

Back in the 1980s, when the UK hi-fi scene began, belatedly, to experience products from places more exotic than Glasgow, Bradford, Huntingdon, Maidstone and Salisbury – ones that didn't say 'Made in Japan' on them – the USA provided a stream of surprises, one of the most memorable being Magneplanar loudspeakers. For most audiophiles, isodynamic drivers were something you found in a left-field Wharfedale headphone of the early 1970s, yet here were full-range panel speakers using essentially the same technology.

Review: David Price, Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jan 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfnoutstanding.pngIt may not look as outrageous as the iconic B&W Nautilus, but this is its younger, and arguably superior offspring

When B&W introduced the Nautilus in 1993 it created what is surely the most iconic loudspeaker any of us will ever see. Its 'snail on steroids' look projected it on to countless magazine pages around the world and gave B&W the kind of PR boost company CEOs dream of. Only it wasn't a PR man that contrived the Nautilus, it was B&W's then senior design engineer Laurence Dickie. And though it looked like something created by H R Giger for the set of Alien, the Nautilus was actually an exemplar of the Bauhaus diktat that form follows function. It looked that way because it needed to be that way.

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