Some smaller companies at the high end show in Munich that didn’t do quite enough to get their own individual report but are certainly worth a mention. So here are 4 more companies to sink your teeth into.
I really need to apologise to these guys as I forgot to take pictures or get a contact card, what was I thinking. Because we saw them on the first day of the show, I thought I handled all those things then so when we returned to have a listen, all we did was listen. Big mistake on our part, because in all honesty, these guys deserved their own individual report, their booth was great.
Shanling do a whole range of products, tube amps, CD players, media servers and even speakers but as they were unable to demo, we had a quick glance at their beauty with a wish to one day try and gave all our attention to their portable line up. They had 3 DAPs on show but only one that was currently on sale, the M3. At $350 and having already heard quite a few DAPs at the show, we didn’t expect much, boy was we surprised, energetic, great treble presence, dynamics, detail, a huge soundstage, yes a little bit of grain and not the most refined sound but man we were blown away at its price. Throw that in with the fact it does DSD and the rest of it and you have a great little package. It did have a fairly basic UI and a funky control system but you get over that quickly. The other two DAPs were new models, the M2 and M3 Mk2. These have a completely new interior and exterior and these two looked similar, with the M2 just being smaller. They had a similar idea in how the control works but it was much more clearly laid out and easy to use.
You then had their portable amp, the H3 (circa £220), I tried with the analogue in from my modified AK120 (as I did for all portable demos at this show) and found it very warm and smooth, not as technically impressive as the M3 but the smoothest and butteriest of all the portable amps I heard at the show. I was then asked, “what do you think of a Bluetooth input?”. I was confused and the realised the amp had a DAC section with both a Bluetooth (something that doesn’t bother me personally) and USB input.
Also they had some FitEar IEMs, which being Japan only are something me and Josh had never heard. Apparently the main man at FitEar, Keita Suyama loves the M3 (I remember see him upload his usual Japanese artwork with the Monet girl holding an M3 on Facebook) and even gave them an un labelled prototype as a gift, lucky them. They had the FitEar fitear and ToGo 334 with them, the fitear was softer and the 334 a very thick, musical and mid centric sounding earphone, I actually rather enjoyed it.
I know, no Shanling pictures but one of Josh wearing the FitEar fitear.
Lars & Ivan:
Oooh what’s this? A portable amp company I have not heard of? Is that a little tube inside it, Raytheon perhaps? Yes sir! That’s right, at this point there are few portable audio companies I have yet to come across so I am always a little surprised when I find a new one, especially when they are using tubes, because let’s face it, tubes are KOOL. They were showing off a few new products, ones that aren’t listen on their website yet and because I am mentioning them, they must have sounded half decent, that’s the idea right.
First of all we have the two little portable amps, both have the same circuitry using the Raytheon tubes but one was a bit more expensive ($310) due to having a digital volume control, bass boost function and the tube on show. That was the THA-30. The cheaper model with the proper volume pot was only $250 and that is the THA-8, I tried that model as I have no time for bass boosts and it showed off its cards early with a musical and charismatic signature into my Heir Audio 10.As. They also had a model coming out with a DAC in it as well called the dac-32 but I didn’t catch the price on that.
They also some bigger gear such as the THA-21, which was a desktop DAC/Amp that had digital and analogue inputs. It caught our eye with a big green VU meter and an angular approach, very Astell & Kern like for both the unit and its power supply. I tried with some headphones I am not to familiar with so will restrain from sound impressions.
Lastly they had some speakers (RR-45) that were wireless and had a tube based amplifier inside, which if you peeked in you could see. They sounded a bit off though, maybe the show had stressed them out. On top of that Josh didn’t seem impressed by the driver units they were using, I was much more interested by the portable stuff, that’s for sure.
Now these were a company I was aware of and they were showing off quite a range of products, both portable and desktop. I took the time to try out their Aune B1, a trendy looking portable amp that comes in at $199, has a gain switch and the ability to turn on its class A amp section, which coincidently is how I listened. It seemed both powerful and dynamic, which are good qualities in a portable amp and it seemed quiet with our IEMs, something that’s harder to tell in a noisy environment but even more impressive that it was something to stand out. In fact it stood out almost as much as the how sexy this amp is with its glass windows peeking into the neatly laid out circuit boards, even if the big CE logos at the bottom take away from the aesthetics a little.
We also sneaked a peek at their upcoming DAP, the M2 but it was locked away in a glass cabinet, maybe to too listen another time. Worth noting is its choice to use the AK4490 DAC chip, same as another much hyped DAP released at the show!
Final Audio Design:
It feels rude to not get a headphone of some description involved so let’s have a quick glance of what Final Audio Design were up too and we got to hear their new uber bling, ultra expensive Sonorus models. These were originally going to be Pandora models but they have decided the lower two models will keep that branding and the flagships will get the new name. You have the X and the VIII. If there is one other thing that FAD are know for its high prices and these don’t deter from that. The VIII comes in at roughly £2750 and the X a staggering £4000. They also both have 50mm drivers with both the diaphragm and driver housing being made of titanium.
Josh wearing the Xs
Don’t get me wrong they sounded good with the X having clean, balanced sound with an open soundstage and the VIII sounding thicker, more closed in and not quite as detailed with a bit more presence in the bass but if you do decide to get one of these then you’re not just paying for sound, your paying for the aesthetics, premium materials and the branding. If you want the best headphone and are without a budget then these clearly aren’t it, the HiFiMAN HE-1000 were obviously a better headphone and so are the Stax SR-009 and I heard both of them within the hour of these and even more shockingly is that they are both cheaper. These aren’t a headphone if your searching for the best, but more off if your searching for a very special unit, one that guests in your house may see on a swanky stand and be like, dayum they look swag.
The “cheaper” VIIIs
Opera were another brand that like Shanling had a whole host of stuff, including all sorts of turntables, amps and yes you guessed it, a brand new DAP that was finally ready for release, the Suzanne. I was told it may go for around $1500 so not cheap at all. The Suzanne was a very chunky unit that you could get a cool dock for, which is to allow external storage and the ability to connect to the LAN for internet radio and stuff, if that’s your thing. For those that still wonder it does DSD and all that jazz. While I remember it sounding nice and clean, it was the least memorable of all the DAPs I tried in terms of sound signature, not as resolving as the AK380, dynamic as the M3 or thick and lush as the QP1-R. I think that’s because it wasn’t coloured and didn’t do a lot to draw attention to itself, good in real world use, not at a busy show.
They also had a desktop tube headphone amp that had a separate power supply but they were demoing with a pair of cans I am not the biggest fan of in the HD700 and even though I had owned them at one stage, I can hardly make a good impression from that combo.
A Good Show for Portable Audio:
Considering this is know as HiFi Show, full of loudspeakers and the sorts, it was great to see so many portable audio brand getting their nose in!