Headphone geekfest in Babylon, NY

The Audiophiliac explored the Head-Fi headphone club get-together in Babylon, N.Y.

The Blue Hawaii headphone amp and Stax SR 009 headphones Steve Guttenberg

Head-Fi is a national headphone club, and I went to the local meeting in Babylon, N.Y., last Saturday.

The vibe was friendly, and it was great to hear Head-Fi members' home-built gear, but there were a few surprises popping up from the headphone and electronics manufacturers in attendance.

Logitech Ultimate Ears' Personal Reference Monitor in-ear headphones feature a new twist on custom-molded-to-your-ears headphone design. Lots of brands now make custom in-ear headphones, and Logitech's have been among my favorites for years, but the upcoming Personal Reference Monitor takes the personalization to the next level. Once your ear canals' "impressions" have been taken by a designated audiologist in one of four U.S. cities, you can fine-tune your headphones' frequency response to personal taste. I will soon have ear impressions taken and tweak the sound at a New York City audiologist; look for my report based on my experiences in a month or so.

Justin Wilson sells headphone amps, and he had a tiny prototype portable amp making great sounds with a pair of Sennheiser HD 800 headphones and his big Blue Hawaii amp running a set of transparent Stax SR 009 electrostatic headphones. Really superb sound, his Pico portable headphone amps and digital-to-analog converter prices start at $299. I'll try and get one in for review.

One of the things I love about the high-end headphone business is that it's not so big you can't meet the designers at events like this face-to-face. If you can't make it to a Head-Fi meeting you can call the factory to ask a technical question not covered on their Web site. Try to reach a designer who had a hand in creating your Porsche 911 or Nikon DSLR, right, that's next to impossible. American high-end audio designers are pretty accessible.

Red Wine Audio's Vinnie Rossi is easy to reach and he was on hand with the latest version of his battery-powered, vacuum tube Corvina home headphone amps. I reviewed the still available basic Corvina, and it's one of my reference amps.

Hifiman's Fang Bian was showing a prototype of his new high-resolution, up-to-96-kHz/24-bit, portable HM-901 music player (review to come), and his amazing planar magnetic headphones. I'm working on a CNET review of his $399 HE-400 headphones.

Head-Fi founder, Jude Mansilla, was there, chatting with members and manufacturers. Jude's a great guy, a total gear head, and he's always up on the latest headphone news. He showed me the new $250 AudioQuest Dragonfly USB digital-to-analog converter/headphone amplifier (review to come).

Here's a slideshow of the coolest gear at the Head-Fi meet.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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