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Headphone mania hits White Plains, NY

Head-Fi's NY celebration of all things related to headphones was a feast for the ears.

Head-Fi founder Jude Mansilla and the Audiophiliac Michael Trei

I attended the Head-Fi "meet" last Saturday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, in White Plains, NY. Head-Fi is a grass roots online community that reviews and discusses headphones, in-ear monitors (IEMs), headphone amplifiers, and music. Head-Fi's core is its discussion forums, where on average 3,000+ posts covering all aspects of headphones are made nearly every day. Head-Fi started in the U.S., but now has meets in Canada, England, Australia, Denmark, Singapore, and all over the world! You can join Head-Fi for free or just enjoy the site. I've attended a number of NY meets over the years, and had a good time at each one.

If you have a more than casual interest in headphones, check out the Head-Fi Web site, and see if there's a meet coming up near you. Head-Fi-ers are a friendly lot, and the meets are a great way to hear all sorts of exotic and rare headphones, and check out the members' home-made headphone amplifiers. A few small headphone gear manufacturers were also on hand to demonstrate their wares.

A Ray Samuels RB-71B prototype headphone amp, with my Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor in-ear headphones. Steve Guttenberg
My friend Michael Trei checking out the Jecklin Float headphones Steve Guttenberg

Ray Samuels Audio was showing a prototype of a fully-balanced portable headphone amplifier, the SR-71B. Balanced technology is the hot ticket for the Head-Fi crowd, and one listen will convince newcomers as to its effectiveness. The SR-71B uses a custom-designed lithium ion battery pack that produces 16.8 volts DC. I first listened to the 3.25 by 0.7 by 2.25 inch powerhouse amp with a set of full-size Sennheisers, which were sounding better and more dynamic than ever before. The fact that I heard that much oomph from a portable amp was just that much more amazing. I also listened to the wee amp with a set of Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor in-ear headphones (review in the works). The SR-71B will be on the market sometime around the end of the year for $600 or $650, but Samuels has other models with prices under $300.

I had never heard a Jecklin Float Electrostatic headphone before the Saturday meet, but a Head-Fi member had one there and it was really cool. The headphone's upside-down "U" shape design barely presses against your ears, so it's nice and comfy. The sound wasn't my taste, but it's a really interesting design, manufactured from the 1980s into the 1990s.

Head Direct's Fang Bian was demonstrating his new HM-601 player, which is similar to the HM-602 ($439). The new one lacks some of the HM-602's features like the USB digital-to-analog converter, and it has a smaller onboard flash memory, but the HM-601 retails for just $259! It sounded big and beautiful playing a Sennheiser HD-600 full-size headphone, which is something my iPod Classic can't do. Bian was also showing off his HE-6 headphone, which might be serious competition for the Audeze LCD-2 headphone I recently raved about.

Head-Direct's Fang Bian is a regular fixture at Head-Fi meets Steve Guttenberg