IFA 2015: HiFi and Audio Roundup
Ed walks the halls so you don't have to.
Quite rightly, the main talking points of IFA 2015 have been around the continuing developments in 4K, HDR and new players in the OLED sector.Next to these categories, what is happening in audio terms is rather more low key but still interesting. A sense of positivity that had appeared at
Bristol and been reinforced at Munich is still present. The two channel audio market in particular is no longer fighting against how we listen to music but instead trying to offer a real world quality boost to this and win over new listeners. There was a huge amount of product on display but here are some of the highlights.
Mere feet from that state of the art OLED screen was something a little more retro. After denying that there was any chance of a new Technics turntable at
Bristol and Munich, IFA sees the formal announcement of a new Technics turntable. The prototype has no name, little in the way of pricing info and no release date but we know it is built around an evolution of the classic direct drive principles and features improvements like twin rotors and spindle control that weren't previously possible. While people have been banding around talk of it being a new SL1210, the Panasonic press conference quite deliberately used 'SP' which would make it closer to the old SP10. Is that a big deal? Well, the SP10 is one of the best decks ever made so no pressure.
Audio TechnicaIf you like the idea of direct drive but don't have the sort of money that the Technics is likely to set you back, the good news is that a much more terrestrially priced offering has broken cover. The Audio Technica AT-LP5 is a direct drive home deck with an arm based on an evolution of an older Audio Technica design. It mounts a hot rodded version of the AT95E cartridge and has a phono stage that can be switched in and out of the circuit if you need it. The really good news? It is set to cost less than £400. A quick listen on the Audio Technica stand suggests that it should be good out of the box and potentially great with a tweak or two.
Beyerdynamic AK T8IE
I have been a huge fan of the Sennheiser IE800 and rate it as the best all round earphone on the market. After looking at some of the competition, IFA threw up a rival to the crown. Beyerdynamic has been producing their Tesla drivers for full size headphones for some time but they have now shrunk them into an earphone. Designed to work with the Astell & Kern players (hence the name), the T8IE is built around a single dynamic Tesla driver and this means it is small and beautifully built. It also sounds absolutely incredible. At €990, this is a pricey earphone but equally, it could be the best.
Sennheiser haven't been doing nothing of course. As well as a demonstration of the new Momentum family, they were making a big play of the HD630VB. This £400 design is a closed back 'Nomad' type design suitable for use on the move and at home. A quick listen suggested that the 630 has some of the same sense of fun that the Momentums have and the build and comfort levels are extremely impressive. Release is imminent.
One of the traditional mainstays of IFA, Yamaha's large stand was laden with new product and it was tied together by the common theme of the MusicCast multiroom system. Pretty much every Yamaha product will now talk to one another and the reality of how flexible this is going to be was apparent. Special mention must also go to the Yamaha YSP-5600 running Dolby Atmos demonstrations (pictured above). For a single point source, it is a seriously capable performer and gave an exceptional sense of overhead sound.
Sony NC-NW A25 HN
Sony's vast stand had all manner of devices on it, many of which have been covered elsewhere but one of the most technically accomplished was the A25HN noise cancelling earphones. While the demonstrations were a little too locked down for my taste- no choice of equipment, no choice of music, the way that the A25HN handled the very noisy surroundings was amongst the best I have heard from any noise cancelling device and they sounded pretty good with it.
Having said that they would be taking two channel audio very seriously in the coming months, Pioneer have been good to their word and launched a portable audio player. The XDP-100R is a relatively big unit and combines internal storage (not confirmed by Pioneer but rumoured to be 32gb) with two
Micro SD slots. Based on the Android 5 platform, it looks and feels slicker than Android 4 based rivals and this coupled with the very solid construction makes it an interesting new arrival and competition to the existing pack. No word on pricing yet.
Having dominated the sub £100 market with their offerings, SoundMagic is looking upward and were displaying the prototype of the upcoming P55. Intended to be pitched at the £200, the all metal design and clean industrial aesthetic should allow it to compete easily. The performance is also exceptionally good even though these samples hadn't been through final voicing yet. The P55 will be launched towards the end of the year and I'm looking forward to a more in depth test.
More headphones? Yes, but the aspect of the Exod Helios that is of interest is how it goes about solving a common issue of short battery life in active bluetooth headphones. Built into the headband of the Helios is a flexible, high yield solar panel. This is able to generate enough power than 30 minutes in daylight (not sunlight) should translate to 30 minutes of playback time- more conventional USB charging is also available. Unusually for a headphone with the styling it has, the Helios also produced a very listenable and well balanced sound that is rather better than many of its more established rivals. Already on sale in their native
France, the Helios is coming to the UK soon.
RHA Headphone amplifier
Glasgow based headphone manufacturer RHA took the wraps off their first piece of Electronics at the show with the as yet unnamed headphone amp. As they have made a reputation for very attractive metalwork, the amp is no exception to this and has some very impressive design touches including rotary controls hidden behind a guard to prevent them being triggered in your pocket. Specs, pricing and exact availability are TBC at the moment but RHA claims, the price will be very competitive.
Philips NTRX 900
Possibly the most ambitious device to ever be classed as a Mini System, the NTRX 900 sports drivers 20 inches across and packs a total output of 3,600 watts (albeit at a terrifying 30% THD). It has a range of mixing effects and (naturally) has a bass boost function presumably in case you fancy using it as a piece of earthmoving equipment. Sadly, no amount of pleading could persuade the ladies on the stand to turn it on- possibly for fear of the side effects but it certainly cut a dash.
IFA is an interesting point on the calendar for audio. Unlike dedicated shows, the product has to be present for sound commercial reasons and this means that we don't often see really bold ideas breaking cover. What it does do very effectively is show trends. The good news for a vinyl nut like me is that analogue continues to do well but on a wider level, clever affordable audio is back in the mainstream and that is something to be very thankful for. Next, we turn our sights to Vegas.
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